[social_buttons] The 16 MPG  F-150 is one of the most ubiquitous vehicles on the road today. What if you could convert them all to get 41 MPG?

The Illinois Institute of Technology’s masters program has spun-off a start-up with big plans for our aging fleet of big trucks. The company, called Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technology (HEVT), has built a bolt-on module that will convert a standard F-150 into a 41 MPG plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

HEVT demo’d their first prototype at the Plug-In 2008 conference in San Jose earlier in the month. The suddenly attractive F-150 PHEV (which is not the 1994 model depicted above) gets 15 miles of emissions-free driving on electricity before it switches over to gas/electric hybrid mode, where it will continue to get an impressive 41 MPG for a typical day’s worth of driving.

Why Plug-in Hybrid Conversions Matter

Dr. Andrew S. Grove, former chairman of Intel Corporation, said in his keynote address: “Trucks, SUVs and vans are the least-efficient vehicles on the road, so retrofitting them should be a high priority if we want to make a meaningful, near-term difference in oil consumption.  Rapid commercialization of prototypes like HEVT’s is the way to go.”

Adding a hybrid drivetrain to large vehicles was one of GM’s premier concepts at this year’s Detroit autoshow, until sales of new SUV models failed miserably. Retrofitting older vehicles into plug-in hybrids makes perfect sense since they’re already on the road:

“HEVT’s solutions apply to not just smaller passenger cars and hybrids, but almost any vehicle including larger gas guzzlers,” said HEVT founder Ali Emadi. “Our laboratory simulations show that the larger the vehicle, the greater the benefits – in gas costs, particulate and greenhouse emissions, and sound pollution.  For this reason we are currently focused on PSVs and will later expand to school buses as well as transit buses.”

Ok, let me beat you to the punchline. “Typical days driving” means 30 miles in a day, which is the amount most of us drive, on average.

Unfortunately, if you drive more than 30 miles between charges, the straight hybrid mode drops to a paltry 21 MPG. That’s still a 31% fuel efficiency increase over the standard F-150, but HEVT is going to have to bring the price way, way down for this to be an even remote consideration for the vast majority of F-150’s out there. Prototype conversions currently cost $60,000.

HEVT’s Business Plan

Luckily, HEVT has plans to bring the cost down. I know $60K is a lot of money, but keep in mind that it’s impossible to estimate the conversion cost if/when these modules are massed produced or installed by automakers. It also wouldn’t hurt to throw out here that a brand new F-250 costs as much as $100K in the first 5 years of ownership.

HEVT will be starting a pilot demo project that should complete 20-50 conversions by end of year. Once they prove viability, there are two potential business models: a) develop modules that would be sold to partner who would do the retrofitting, or b), sell the modules directly to car manufacturers. It makes sense that they would do both.

HEVT is currently in discussion with unnamed OEM’s and hopes to have the first commercial prototypes out next year. They’re also working on modules for a range of other vehicles including SUVs and transit buses, and in the video (below) they specifically mention Hummer H1’s and Humvees (maybe they should talk to Jonathan Goodwin).

How the Hybrid Conversions Work (+Video)

For their conversions, HEVT is creating a “series parallel hybrid drivetrain” by integrating an electric motor/generator with the F-150’s existing drive train, along with an advance battery that can store regenerative power, and an “adaptive control unit” that optimizes fuel economy and performance. The system has an in-dash monitor to display realtime information.

The video goes into a little more detail:


More On Hybrid and Electric Cars:

Thanks to MPGoMatic for this story.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia commons