Zipcar's plug-in hybrid on-demand car service launches in San Francisco

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The service offers a fleet of pooled vehicles to members

The service offers a fleet of pooled vehicles to members

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Would you give up your car for the chance to use a fleet of them? Or do you prefer your own, highly specialized vehicle? Though many companies predict highly individualized modes of transport, down to personal mobility units like Toyota's i-REAL, others see a future where a communal pool of vehicles is shared as a common resource. In reality, both models are progressing at full speed.

Zipcar's plug-in hybrid fleet of on-demand cars is a case in point. By combining highly efficient plug-in hybrid cars with the distributed ownership model, Zipcar thinks it is helping to support a sustainable form of individual transport.

"Zipcar encourages sustainable lifestyles in several ways -- fewer personally owned cars, less driving overall, and now the addition of these super efficient plug-in cars," said Mark Norman, President and Chief Operating Officer of Zipcar. "Our members strongly support the notion of adding next-generation clean cars, and this program is an important first step in exploring the potential."

The cars used in the trial will be converted Toyota Priuses with an A123 Systems Hymotion L5 Plug-in Conversion Module (PCM) - not to be confused with Peugeot's HYmotion hybrid system. Similar cars, converted with a unit from the same company, achieved fleet averages of 74mpg in a Google-sponsored test in 2007.

Zipcar and A123 Systems say the new PCM gives the converted Prius economy up to 100mpg during the first 30-40mpg of electrically assisted driving. After that the vehicle functions as a normal hybrid until recharged.

Zipcar claims 250,000 members and 5,500 vehicles in 26 cities in North America plus London.
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Comments (3)
  1. My idea is to marry a few nascent technologies: electric vehicles, computerized car-sharing networks, and robot vehicles, all of which are improving rapidly. With appropriate subsidies (and, of course, the political will), this could be made a reality in quite a short period.

    It would work as follows: A person needs a car for a short period of time, which is true for 90% of our personal transport use. The person would make a reservation on the internet for the appropriate vehicle for the task, for example, 10:00 am: take one person to the supermarket, or 7:00 am: take two people to the airport or train station, or 8:00 am: take one person from home to work. The fleet of various-sized robot electric vehicles would be everywhere, waiting and recharging on municipal charging spots equipped with inductive connectors. The nearest appropriately-sized vehicle would automatically drive itself from its parking spot to the person's location, take the person to wherever they want to go, then proceed to the nearest available charging station to wait for its next task.

    Does this sound too pie-in-the-sky-ish? Maybe so, but all of these technologies have been demonstrated, including demonstration robot vehicles (with human back-up observer-drivers) driving on the streets of NYC.

  2. There is an inventor from Wisconsin who invented an all-electric car in the form of a Ford Ranger that was shown at the KARE 11 fair booth at the 2008 Minnesota State Fair.

    It is capable of reaching 100 miles per hour in speed, has a range of 300 miles, charges in 10 minutes and is pollution free with only the pollution that is done to make the electricity to charge it.

    The inventor of this invention has, to my understanding, approached Ford Motor Company with his invention. The Ford Motor Company, in my estimation, should latch onto this idea, pronto.

    My understanding is there are members of Congress who are trying to shoot down this idea of an electric car.

    Where is there any common sense in this country?

  3. jdoniach, your idea is a good one but I think it will be a while before self driving vehicles become a reality purely due to the safety and navigation issue. How many times have you used a GPS device only for it to give you slightly wrong instructions that could potentially result in an accident? That is the quality of the road navigation we have at the moment. Until it improves, and we get every single car on the road talking and sharing data with other cars wirelessly this idea will not be feasible. A lot of car companies are prototyping this technology but I suspect it will be at least 15-20 years before we see the first of them on the road.

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