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Hyperdrive for a New Millennium

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Pundits and Critics

A half-dozen years ago Ford Motor, in jest, produced a video to hint of a "secret technology" meant to tease the insatiable appetite of auto journalists looking for a good story. Former journalist, Art Spinella, now an analyst at CNW Marketing/Research in Oregon (www.cnwmr.com), experienced the search for a better technology first hand.

"In the '70s I was the publisher of a periodical for the electric vehicle industry and I had an electric vehicle that I drove every day on the Los Angeles freeways, up to 85-miles-an-hour, between Newport Beach and Silent Valley, roughly 20-miles in each direction, and was never left stranded," said Spinella. "The technology has been around and there's nothing new to it and if there was, it would be used now by one of the big automakers, Toyota or Honda."

He called it unlikely that Paice could eliminate the transmission without causing performance to suffer, otherwise Toyota would have gotten rid of the transmission on its Prius hybrid car.

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA, at www.nada.org) agreed with Spinella. He said his uncle had built a hybrid electric car with
an electro-mechanical shift, but the lack of a transmission always caused a problem. "The only way to get rid of the transmission is if you have a much stronger electric motor than is available on current hybrids, and whether Paice can develop the technology needed to provide seamless performance," Taylor said.

Another potential drawback is the reliance on lead acid batteries, Spinella said. "There is no way get 120,000 miles out of a lead acid battery, especially in climates where you have weather extremes, like Detroit." He referred to Corbin Motors, near San Francisco, which makes battery-powered motorcycles. The enclosed, one-person, three-wheeled Corbins provide good transportation in urban areas. "But, the reality is, they have 200 (discharge-recharge) cycles for (the) Corbin battery pack. You go through 200 cycles real quick. The costs of replacing a battery pack are real expensive." An added problem: The "horribly expensive" controllers, used constantly, that often fail.

But Severinsky said the availability of high-voltage semi-conductors, only commercially available since 1998, make Paice's controllers cost effective and reliable.

Making a Case at the Top

If past history is a guide, Paice faces an uphill battle to convince auto makers it has the solution to their needs, Spinella said, referring to other abandoned technologies such as rotary engines meant to replace the IC engine, although Mazda announced it will try that technology again.

"On paper, the rotary engine is incredible and does all sorts of things at a fraction of what it costs to make a conventional engine, but they never took off," Spinella said. "The problem has been the tooling costs. You would have to change production lines, and totally reconfigure the universe of engine manufacturing and that doesn't happen easily."

The key is what Toyota and Honda are doing with the most reliable combination of an internal combustion engine and a very simple electric motor system, he said. "Both Toyota
and Honda are losing money like crazy on their hybrids.
That's why (they) keep volume relatively low until they reach critical mass and get the costs down. Once the costs come down, you'll see a lot more hybrids on the road, but that's years away."

Yet, CAR's Cole said the Hyperdrive has the potential of being a great concept. And if obstacles prevent it from becoming a reality, parts of the project still would be of great use to the auto industry.

"Is it the silver bullet that will change the rules? We just don't know," he said. "But, there are some real savvy car people involved in this project. Bob Templin and Ted Louckes are not easily fooled. I've seen a working demonstration of the powertrain. It's impressive and this is not a fly-by-night group. They've been working on it for a long time and need to be taken very seriously."

Louckes was more positive in his assessment: "In my 50-odd years of automotive experience, I've had a lot of wonderful schemes brought to my attention. But, there is something here...something of great consequence."

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