Sitting in a Connecticut warehouse, the very first Poulsen Hybrid looks like a standard Honda Civic with immobilizer boots attached to its rear wheels. It is, one would have to say, not the most visually elegant of solutions to the pressing problem of using electric power to extend the range of the internal-combustion automobile. But it's also both practical and affordable.
Ulrik Poulsen and his converted Honda Civic.
Ulrik Poulsen is a mechanical engineer and Danish immigrant whose Shelton, Connecticut-based Bridgeport Magnetics Group makes a range of transformers, power supplies, magnetic cores, audio cables and other products. One new product for Con Edison is an isolation transformer designed to prevent people from getting electric shocks from defective streetlights. But Poulsen is branching out with a bolt-on kit that, he says, can transform ordinary cars into a form of plug-in hybrid. And he's entered his invention as a contestant in the Progressive Auto X Prize, which carries a $10 million purse.
The concept is relatively simple: Two of the company's seven-horsepower (five kilowatt) disc-shaped DC electric motors are bolted onto the rear wheels of the host car, connected by cables to a controller, battery charger and 4.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack in the trunk. The system, adding approximately 200 pounds to the car and taking up 20 percent of trunk space, acts as range extender. The motors do not drive the car, but kick in to provide a power boost between 15 and 60 miles per hour. Regenerative braking helps keep the batteries charged.
There are several companies converting Priuses and other hybrids to plug-in status, but Poulsen may be the only contender starting with ordinary gasoline cars. For $10,000, for instance, HyMotion will turn your ordinary Prius into a 100-mpg plug-in with a five-kilowatt-hour battery pack.
Poulsen installation is not a do-it-yourself operation, but an authorized dealer can accomplish it in as little as four hours. If the system works as advertised, a 30-mile-per-gallon car will be raised to 55 mpg.
The disc-shaped seven-horsepower Poulsen motor.
"The spark for this was reading that the great majority of personal trips in the U.S. are relatively short, 25 miles or less," Poulsen said. His battery system can keep the electric motors supplied for 25 to 30 miles, after which the car reverts to being a slightly heavier Honda Civic. Recharging, through an onboard battery charger, takes four or five hours from ordinary household current and costs less than $1.
Alas, the Poulsen Civic looked purposeful sitting in the warehouse but was not actually drivable at the time of our visit. The white-coated engineers were conducting tests, working on some electrical issues, and a range of meters and gadgets were plugged in to the halfway disassembled battery pack and controller. We'll follow up with a ride-and-drive opportunity.
Like most such startups, Poulsen Hybrid has ambitious plans that may not be realized. Mr. Poulsen thinks he can have 50 cars equipped with his kits by January. By mid-2009, he projects the capacity to produce 100 kits a day. Installed with lithium-ion batteries, the system is projected to cost $8,600. There is a lead-acid battery option that will be much cheaper.
This is an exciting time for automotive dreamers. And Ulrik Poulsen would appear to have more realistic dreams than most.
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