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Japanese Automaker, US Firm Team up to Convert Cars to Electric Power

As gas prices in the U.S. soar, electric hybrid cars have grown in popularity. To meet this demand, the Japanese carmaker Toyota has teamed with a small company in (the southern state of) North Carolina to create an electrically powered hybrid vehicle. For producer Liu Enming, Elaine Lu has more in this Searching for Solutions report.

"Our cars are very different from a gasoline car in that it uses no gasoline, it's all electric, lithium battery and with a proprietary battery management system by Hybrid Technologies," Ron Cerven said.

Ron Cerven is a project development engineer at Hybrid Technologies, a research and development company focusing on electric vehicles powered by lithium batteries. The cars, like the Toyota Yaris, look like any other until you peek under the hood. Inside, the gas-powered engine has been replaced by a powerful electric motor that is powered by a stack of lithium batteries.

In the company's plant in Morrisville, North Carolina, many familiar car models are being transformed into electric vehicles: The Toyota Yaris, Chrysler PT Cruiser and the SmartCar.

Cerven says the electric cars offer consumers a brand-new driving experience. "The first time you ever drive an electric car, (you notice) how much road noise you hear from tires and stuff," Cerven said.

"That's because you are not use to, even though you don't realize the exhaust isn't very loud or the gasoline motor isn't very loud, you don't realize that actually it is. Very smooth, very quite, they take off real smooth, they accelerate. One thing that an electric motor has is a very large torque band."

Cerven says not only do the cars save gas - they are also low-maintenance. "Maintenance-wise, the majority of the stuff we took out is what needed to be maintenanced. You have no spark plugs, no oil filters, and no air filters, all that stuff went away. So your maintenance costs are very much lower than what (you) originally had," he said.

Cervan says the cars powered by Hybrid Technologies are a big leap forward from earlier electric vehicles.

Cervan says, "I think in the past, the electric vehicle ware held back by the batteries. Battery technology in the past 10 years has come a long way. We were running at about 600 pounds [72 kilograms] of batteries to get the same mileage we use to be running at about 2,400 pounds [1088 kilograms] of batteries," he said.

Cerven says lithium powered cars are just as powerful as vehicles fueled by gas. For example, with ten packs of these lithium batteries, a PT Cruiser can accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour in seven point two seconds, rivaling the performance of a six cylinder, gas-powered car. A six-hour electrical charge provides enough power to drive the car nearly 200 kilometers.

"This one was designed for military. To fit in an aircraft it has a very small cargo area," Cerven said. "This vehicle is very fast and agile, 87 miles an hour [140 kilometers per hour] almost 200 miles [320 kilometers] on the range but fits in a five foot-by-five foot [1.5 meter by 1.5 meter] container. So it's very easy to deploy.

These electric vehicles are not cheap. But Linda Hill, the marketing and public relations manager of Hybrid Technologies, believes after factoring in the gas and maintenance savings over seven to 10 years, she believes the vehicles are competitive.

Hill says, "We want to make lithium powered, electric-powered vehicles (a part of the) mainstream in America, moving towards more electric-powered vehicles, electric-powered products, and electric-powered energy."