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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

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Thanks Huntindog, that kind of support is very buoying. I've devoted years of my life and hundreds of thousands of my own $ to bring this thing to life, and, like you say, there's no guarantee of success. Certainly can't imagine taking on that kind of risk without reaching out to as many potential customers as possible to figure out what people actually want.

APT, the Cherokee (on super swampers) gets 32-34 backroad miles on 13 kWh of usable battery. The final product should have some efficiency gains and be lighter.

Huntindog
Explorer
Explorer
Do not let the contrairians disuade you.
There are some people that cannot even agree on what color the sky is.
Your product is not for me, but it could work well for others. Will you be sucessful? Who knows. But you gotta be, "the man in the arena" to have a shot at it. Herman Lay started out in his garage...turning the lowley potato into a salty snack. Potato chips are in just about everyones homes now. Ray crock had a dream. McDonalds is just about everywhere now. More recently we have Apple. Each of these one time startups took a chance, and changed the world... And made a few bucks while doing so. I wish you well.
Huntindog
100% boondocking
2021 Grand Design Momentum 398M
2 bathrooms, no waiting
104 gal grey, 104 black,158 fresh
FullBodyPaint, 3,8Kaxles, DiscBrakes
17.5LRH commercial tires
1860watts solar,800 AH Battleborn batterys
2020 Silverado HighCountry CC DA 4X4 DRW

mkirsch
Nomad II
Nomad II
How did I miss this thread? Was it in some other category and was just moved to tow vehicles?

My comments are along a different vein. It's regarding this "COMING SOON" mentality that you, like so many others with pie-in-the-sky aspirations, present to the public.

I for one do NOT want to hear about what you are "going" to do, or what you "want" to do or what you "plan" to do. I want to hear about what you are DOING. I want to hear about the product you have in stock and ready to ship TODAY.

So many times it's just hype hype hype, "COMING SOON!" and never comes to fruition. Either that was the plan all along (i.e. take the investor's money and run), or it turns out that it's not possible to make good on your claims, so you quietly disappear.

Case in point, a new building goes up a couple miles from here. Sign goes up, "ITALIAN DELI COMING SOON!" I'm thinking nice, a new place to get a sub, maybe open in a month or two. YEARS later, sign still says "COMING SOON!" and the building sits empty.

In my mind you don't put up a sign until you're ready to open, with meat and cheese in the display case, bread on the shelves.

Putting 10-ply tires on half ton trucks since aught-four.

APT
Explorer
Explorer
I own an EV and would consider a PHEV type vehicle for personal uses, but not this system. What is an estimated miles per kW on something like the Jeep Cherokee features in some videos?
A & A parents of DD 2005, DS1 2007, DS2 2009
2011 Suburban 2500 6.0L 3.73 pulling 2011 Heartland North Trail 28BRS
2017 Subaru Outback 3.6R
2x 2023 Chevrolet Bolt EUV (Gray and Black Twins)

valhalla360
Nomad II
Nomad II
BlueDotTom wrote:
Lastly, just to clarify, $10K would be for a system that gave ~45 miles of range to a 3/4 ton. 30 miles would be cheaper, smaller vehicle would be cheaper, etc.


Didn't realize you were thinking of the 3/4-1 ton market. That would open up fleet buyers as a market.

Lots of those do a lot of sitting around at construction sites and they are out every day. So long as they aren't towing heavy and go back to a yard where they can charge overnight, the financials might work out. Particularly if you can do some sort of finance deal where you provide the system and get paid back via the fuel savings, you might be able to sell it. Of course, that means overly optimistic fuel savings comes out of your pocket.

Really no need for a 200-300hp motor that you mentioned. With ICE, they go bigger so that the low end torque is enough to be peppy off the line. For commuting, 100hp electric motor might be viable as it can output max torque from zero RPM.

A system that can provide power from both sources (ICE & Battery) still makes far more sense and that would allow for an even lower HP electric motor. A 50hp designed to maximize torque more than HP could be fine up to 35-50mph at which point the ICE kicks in. For a lot of urban commutes, the ICE may rarely if ever kick in.
Tammy & Mike
Ford F250 V10
2021 Gray Wolf
Gemini Catamaran 34'
Full Time spliting time between boat and RV

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments.

Completely agree that the product is not for everyone. The data sources we've found suggest that a 30 mile range covers about 60% of daily driving in the US. 45 miles covers about 75%. There is, of course, a huge geographic component to this. Urban folks might be quite a bit less on average, and rural folks quite a bit more.

Also completely agree that someone already in the market for a new car would generally be better served by upgrading to a PHEV from an OEM. We're trying to address the portion of the market who don't want to or can't afford to buy new...the used car market in the US is twice the size of the new car market. And of course, there's the complete lack of any PHEV pickups on the market, which really blows my mind.

I started thinking about the RV market because my buddy is really anxious for our products to come out. He and his family hit the road for months/years at a time in their 5th wheel. They stay in one place for weeks/months, and use their pickup as a daily driver at the destinations. They'd love to do all that under electric power, but they also put in 500+ mile days of towing, so pure EV isn't a great option. He may be a niche use case, but the same factors apply to someone who uses their pickup as both a daily driver and a tow vehicle.

Lastly, just to clarify, $10K would be for a system that gave ~45 miles of range to a 3/4 ton. 30 miles would be cheaper, smaller vehicle would be cheaper, etc.

Thermoguy
Explorer II
Explorer II
Viewing your website you have an interesting idea - www.bluedotmotorworks.com

Personally, I would not have a use for something that gave me 30 miles of electric range. Might get me to the store or somewhere once a day, but the hassle would not be worth the investment. I think your product has more promise outside the US than it would in the US with our markets, our drive habits, our desire to have a new car vs maintain older and older cars. In the RV market, the low power supply and short range offers no impact to an RV owner, or someone going on a RV vacation who might drive 200 miles then sit for a week. One of the issues all along with RV's is battery power. If you have read any of the RV threads on EV's then you know, 150 miles with an EV F150 is not of any interest to 99% of RV owners. For an RV owner that wants to boondock, now your plug in hybrid is of no benefit, only benefit is that you still have your ICE engine to get you home.

I try not to keep my cars longer than I have to, but if I was in the market for a plug in hybrid, I would be taking that $10K and investing in a car newer than the one I have and "upgrading" vs taking my old car with its issues and adding an electric motor that can only get me 30 miles. At $2-$3K I might think different. The other issue is the LFP battery, this is not necessarily a good thing. All the EV manufactures that now recommend not parking your car in the garage... How does that fit with your model? If you aren't already, I'm sure you will be looking to the future of battery technology vs the current generation with the range problems and high cost of replacement.

Not to sound negative - but I guess I just did... The concept is great but a long way from being something I would be interested in. I really think outside the US this might be a promising technology. Since this is an RV forum and that is how you expressed the market you saw an interest in, a product that expands current EV range would have much more use. If someone could buy a Rivian or Lightning and get 500 mile of towing range, now you have something some this group would be interested in, given it has a reasonable economic impact.

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
The hitch mount sits low enough to avoid the tailgate (adjustable height). It can be paired with our helper suspension system (basically a spring system that connects the hitch to the axle) so that the mass acts like it's right on top of the axle.

The regulations get muddy when what you're doing affect the emissions control system of the vehicle. When I talked to CARB they were like, oh yeah, you're going to have a much easier time if you keep things separate.

In terms of which class of truck we go to market with, we haven't decided yet. My opinion changes on a daily basis. Right now I'd say I'm sort of 40-30-30 class I-IIa-IIb. Lots of Tacoma drivers who just put mountain bikes in the bed on the weekend and a home depot run twice a quarter!

The math on payback is super situational. I have a spreadsheet I can share if wanted. Our first beta customer to sign an LOI gave us all the data for their 59 vehicle fleet and the payback period for specific vehicles ranged from under 2 years to over 10 years. The fleet-wide average was 3 years. Their gas is $5.96 a gallon and their electricity is pretty cheap (gotta love hydro).

We do have some IP about electrifying just the front axle. The space is much more constrained, though, which makes achieving universality a lot more challenging. Plus then you still need to add a driveshaft disconnect for the rear or a tranny oil pump. Probably something we'll pursue someday, but not our initial focus.

Bedlam
Moderator
Moderator
Maybe a better option is to only target 4wd vehicles. Power one axle via combustion engine and the other via electric motor. Offer exclusive and mixed power train drives. The engine could also spin a larger output alternator when duty cycle for 4wd exceeds battery capacity.

Host Mammoth 11.5 on Ram 5500 HD

valhalla360
Nomad II
Nomad II
BlueDotTom wrote:
I should mention that there is also a hitch-mounted option which can be quickly removed before hooking up a trailer if payload is a limiting factor.

Regarding engine braking...we will, in the future, offer a blended operation mode where you can use both the engine and the motor, in which case you would get regenerative braking. As I mentioned before, this gets tricky with regulations in some states, so we won't tackle that until we're established in the marketplace.

PHEVs in general are a great solution for a lot of people, based on how most people actually drive. But definitely not for everyone. For a big chunk of people, the payback period for a system like this would be less than a financing term, so you can go into it only saving money. And this is without any gov't incentives (which we're working on) or leveraging carbon credits (in states that have cap-and-trade systems, they can cut the price almost in half).

Thanks so much folks...this is all fantastic info.


A hitch mounted system wouldn't be helpful as that's the worst place to add weight for payload and presumably it would block the tailgate. Then there is the issue that in a rear-end crash (the most common type), the system would be the first thing to get damaged.

I'm still not getting the regulation issue. Once you mess with the drivetrain, you've messed with the drivetrain and you will have to meet the emissions regulations...of course, adding an electric motive force obviously wouldn't make the emissions worse...teamed with the ICE or not.

I do agree Plug-in-Hybrids would be a great option for many pickup owners. Few people commute more than 30-40miles per day but even if you commute 80miles per day, a 40mile battery range would convert 50% of your miles to electric. But ganging the ICE and EV together is where I see it as a game changer for folks who actually want to use their pickups capability.

Also, care to share the math behind a 3yr time of return. Assuming a typical 12k mile annual usage and modern 1/2 tons able to get in the low to mid-20mpg, I'm coming up with around $1500 fuel savings per year but that needs to be discounted by the electric consumption you have to pay for. I'm coming up with 6-8yrs payback.

Maybe look at it for the small pickup market (ie: rangers, etc...) Far fewer of those are used for towing or otherwise maxed out use, so the loss in payload would be less of a concern.
Tammy & Mike
Ford F250 V10
2021 Gray Wolf
Gemini Catamaran 34'
Full Time spliting time between boat and RV

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Looks like they did sell to fleets for a couple of years.

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Thanks for reminding me of them. As far as I can tell, Via never make it into production. They've changed ownership and pivoted a few times and are now getting ready to make full electric vehicles (just in time to have to compete with the big 3). Hard to say why they never made it to market 10 years ago with the PHEVs. They were using batteries from A123, so it's possible that when they went down Via went with them (like Fisker round 1).

free_radical
Explorer
Explorer
BlueDotTom wrote:
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.

Fyi
GM tried that many years back and it went nowhere
100 mpg ev hybrid truck,

https://youtu.be/4XHbQLfgI6g

BlueDotTom
Explorer
Explorer
Ok, thanks for all the comments...super valuable feedback. I'll try to respond to everything here:

We'll be offering our systems in basically small-medium-large configurations. Our target power is 200-250-300 hp, but we might tweak that.

Totally hear the payload capacity argument. Not a good idea for someone already pushing the limits. We're not exclusively going after the RV market, just trying to get a sense for how attractive it would be to how much of that market. I should mention that there is also a hitch-mounted option which can be quickly removed before hooking up a trailer if payload is a limiting factor.

Regarding engine braking...we will, in the future, offer a blended operation mode where you can use both the engine and the motor, in which case you would get regenerative braking. As I mentioned before, this gets tricky with regulations in some states, so we won't tackle that until we're established in the marketplace.

PHEVs in general are a great solution for a lot of people, based on how most people actually drive. But definitely not for everyone. For a big chunk of people, the payback period for a system like this would be less than a financing term, so you can go into it only saving money. And this is without any gov't incentives (which we're working on) or leveraging carbon credits (in states that have cap-and-trade systems, they can cut the price almost in half).

Thanks so much folks...this is all fantastic info.