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Thoughts on a plug-in hybrid conversion

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Hello!
I am the founder of a Seattle-based startup. We are developing a family of universal retrofit kits that convert existing vehicles into plug-in hybrids. Our first product will be for pickup trucks, and I am hoping to get some thoughts from this and other RV communities on what features may be desirable, what the major concerns would be, etc. My thinking is that for people who use their trucks for daily driving but also frequent towing, our product could be very attractive, especially because it can be used as a generator.

In a nutshell, the kits add an electric propulsion system good for 30-45 miles of range without removing the engine. The battery pack and power electronics get mounted in the bed like a small bed toolbox. We remove a section of the tubular part of the driveshaft and install a “coaxial drive unit” that has an electric motor stack, a planetary transmission, and a multi-mode clutch that can shift-on-the-fly. The clutch allows EV operation while disconnecting the engine/tranny, engine operation while disconnecting the electric motors, and generator mode which uses the engine to spin the electric motors without turning the wheels. A linkage that connects to the axle tubes provides reaction torque. We’ve prototyped a simplified version of the system and tested in on real roads.

Because the systems are universal, we can mass-produce them, have them installed by third-parties, and hit a much lower price point than other conversions (approximately $7k-10K covering the range from midsize to ¾ ton). I’d love to get the group’s thoughts and gage the level of interest.
23 REPLIES 23

toedtoes
Explorer III
Explorer III
I'd also be interested in what your warranty for this would be. Would you warranty just the retrofit? Or would you warranty the entire drivetrain since you are messing with it? Or would you only warranty the power pack and expect the local installers to warranty the work?
1975 American Clipper RV with Dodge 360 (photo in profile)
1998 American Clipper Fold n Roll Folding Trailer
Both born in Morgan Hill, CA to Irv Perch (Daddy of the Aristocrat trailers)

toedtoes
Explorer III
Explorer III
I agree with the others.

1. It would cut too much into the payload. Even those who aren't towing will most often want to haul stuff and permanently reducing the truck's payload by 300-350 pounds is going to cut into that ability too much. From their website, Ram 1500s range from about 1310 - 2300 lbs payload with the average around 1730-1860lbs. That 8000lb trailer would take up about 1200lbs of the payload. Lessening those payloads by an additional 300-350lbs would make this a major deal breaker.

2. 30-45 miles isn't a lot. Most hybrids allow for a 20-35 percent mpg increase. If all you do is drive to work and grocery shop, then the 30-45 miles would most likely meet your needs. But if you live in hilly terrain, have a long commute, etc, then that's not going to save you much overall.

3. As this would void warranties, it would not be practical for trucks under 6 years. Putting $7,000 - $10,000 into a 6+ year old vehicle for something other than necessary repairs would not be something most truck owners would be willing to do.

Realistically, I would be your main target as I would prefer to have a truck as my one vehicle. It would be used as a daily driver as well as for towing, hauling and long distance drives. Having the option to "go electric" in town for errands, etc, but still having the ability to tow and haul would be nice. The $7000 - $10000 price tag is nicer sounding than the cost of a second vehicle.

However, the permanent reduction in payload, the potential issues of finding someone to work on the vehicle who understands the modifications (and won't mess things up when they do repairs), and putting out $7000-10000 on a 6+ year old vehicle for an retrofit when that vehicle is hitting the age when it will start needing increased maintenance, well that to me isn't worth the minimal benefit.
1975 American Clipper RV with Dodge 360 (photo in profile)
1998 American Clipper Fold n Roll Folding Trailer
Both born in Morgan Hill, CA to Irv Perch (Daddy of the Aristocrat trailers)

ROBERTSUNRUS
Explorer
Explorer
🙂 Hi, my 2014 Ecoboost F-150 lacks engine braking; Could the motor assist in this department?
🙂 Bob 🙂
2005 Airstream Safari 25-B
2000 Lincoln Navigator
2014 F-150 Ecoboost
Equal-i-zer
Yamaha 2400

valhalla360
Nomad III
Nomad III
I suggest doing more research on how payloads work out when towing. No half ton will have 1700 left when towing an 8000lb trailer. There are half tons with upwards of 2000lb payload but they are very rare. Even those can struggle with the 1200lb hitch weight, say 600lb for a small family and misc stuff in the truck bed maxing the truck out.

You haven't dealt with warranties have you. If they say you voided the warranty, you are going to have to prove they are wrong and likely take them to court.

Folks priced out of the new market are unlikely to buy a $10-20k truck and add a $10k system.

Without additional towing capabilities, I don't see rvers as your target market. Sounds like non towing owners would be a better target but as said, it is likely a short term market as the new trucks filter into the used market.

PS: I think a plug in hybrid pickup is a great idea. The problem I see is an aftermarket system comes with too many compromises.
Tammy & Mike
Ford F250 V10
2021 Gray Wolf
Gemini Catamaran 34'
Full Time spliting time between boat and RV

rjstractor
Nomad
Nomad
Interesting idea for sure. Does it offer comparable performance in stop and go driving to an ICE? Would not be practical for me since I don't daily drive my pickup, an older 7.3 diesel F250. It's mission in life currently is to make five trips to Montana this summer pulling 12-13,000 lb loads of cedar logs.
2017 VW Golf Alltrack
2000 Ford F250 7.3

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Thanks for the comments! A half ton option would be about 350 pounds, though some recent advances in the types of batteries we're using will likely drive that down to under 300. We understand that some people run their trucks right up to their payload capacity, and this wouldn't be a good fit in that case. But some half ton configurations could use our system while towing an 8,000 lb trailer and still have 1750 lbs of payload available.

We have a design that allows parallel power delivery like you're describing, but we're not planning on launching with it. The problem is regulatory...things get iffy when you're doing something that interferes with the native engine and emission control systems. Our hope is that once we're in the market and demonstrating the emissions reduction potential of the technology, we can advocate for some favorable regulation.

We're not targeting vehicle's in warranty. But it's worth pointing out that the burden is always on the manufacturer to prove that something an owner did caused a failure. The average vehicle lifespan is 21 years, so we still have plenty of room to work with, and the systems can be transferred to a new vehicle easily.

For people who can afford a new truck that has everything they want, we're not the right answer. We're specifically going after the people who have been priced out of the new car market (especially EV pickups). Plus, no one makes a plug-in hybrid pickup, which kinda blows my mind.

valhalla360
Nomad III
Nomad III
What's the total weight of the system? A lot of 1/2 ton trucks only have 1000-1500lb of payload. Most trucks run out of payload before they run out of tow rating.

Would they system be able to feed ICE and EV power simultaneously? A towing mode where the electric motor kicks in on uphill grades and regenerates on downgrades would be nice. That would improve MPG, keep the ICE from potentially overheating and act as an engine brake. Combined with even the smallest engine option, it should be quite capable.

Of course, I think cost is likely the deal breaker. Most won't want to risk the warranty on a new truck and dumping $7-10k into a 5-10yr old truck is harder to justify. If buying new, better to just buy an OEM drivetrain and not have to worry about it.

Obviously, easier to implement via a toolbox in the bed but I would want it underneath, so the bed is still available.

With the manufacturers pursing various powertrain options, at best I see it as a short term business plan.
Tammy & Mike
Ford F250 V10
2021 Gray Wolf
Gemini Catamaran 34'
Full Time spliting time between boat and RV

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Thanks for the feedback. The return on investment depends a lot on local fuel price and an individual's use case. Someone in my neck of the woods driving like an average American would break even in 3.3 years and would save about $15k over the life of the product.

fj12ryder
Explorer III
Explorer III
JMO, but even at the present price of fuel, I can buy a lot of it for $7,000-$10,000. JMO of course.
Howard and Peggy

"Don't Panic"