Thinking About Electric 4x4's
Jul 26, 2010
My friend, Clay, is the head of a research dept. at BCIT that's working on intelligent power grids and an electric vehicle plug-in infrastructure. As part of the micro-grid symposium they had in Vancouver last week, Toyota delivered a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid to its testing partners (BC Institute of Technology (BCIT), BC Hydro, City of Vancouver, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, and the University of Victoria’s Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic)). That's how I was able to get a ride in one of these unique vehicles (only 5 of them in Canada).
The plug-in is differentiated from a typical Prius by the presence of more battery packs and the ability to plug-in to 110AC, 220AC and some exotic DC service. That's significant because it means that if your daily commute is short enough (around 30km), you won't need to run the gas motor at all. And even if your commute is longer than 30km, you can shave off 30km worth of gas consumption.
It got me to thinking about the advantages an electric vehicle would have in a 4x4 application. For starters, the motor would be dead easy to maintain. Very few moving parts so it should have a very long life span, too. Batteries would be a problem, of course, but at least lithium ions are easy to recycle. Plus millions, if not billions are being spent on improving battery technology, so lots of improvements should be on their way. The motor's ability to operate at any angle, and the insanely flat torque curve should make it extremely easy to control off-road. For long trips, a diesel generator pack mounted in the back of a pickup box, or perhaps pulled along in a small trailer, could re-charge the batteries. The off-roading experience itself will be dramatically changed. An electric vehicle is spooky quiet. When you see one backing out of a driveway, you can't shake the feeling that the parking brake just slipped off and the vehicle is rolling away. Spotting someone through a difficult obstacle will require a whole lot less yelling. Drivers of electric 'wheelers will probably see more wildlife, too. And probably run into more wildlife as well. It will definitely be a very interesting transition.
The Chevy Volt is set for delivery later this year, and I think the Nissan Leaf is, too. How long after that before we see the first electric 4x4? I'm looking forward to seeing what the next 5-10 years will bring.
Trivia: the plug-in Prius has very little trunk space since most of it is occupied by additional batteries. So in lieu of a spare, Toyota has equipped it with a leak repair kit and air compressor.
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