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High-tech car battery puts the brakes on gas
The Doings - Western Springs Illinois

Trish Moran of Western Springs is a fan of batteries. Especially batteries for cars and, in particular, the battery that powers her Prius.

So when she needs her car, she unplugs it from a socket in the garage, pushes a button on the dashboard and drives away, powered by the overnight battery charge.

That charge adds up to a lot of gas she's not using.

"My best mileage is 86 miles per gallon," she said.

While saving money on gas is fine, Moran is far more satisfied with what she's doing to save the environment. Energy alternatives like wind turbines, solar panels, atomic power are great for buildings, she noted.

"But how do they help you drive your car?" she asked.

Moran has done a lot of thinking and research about battery-powered cars. So two years ago, when she read a Newsweek article about A1-2-3 technology being developed for Toyota's Prius models, she knew enough to be impressed.

Battery quest

"It took me a long time to get through to somebody and find out what I needed to do," she said.

What she needed to do was buy a new Prius and have the Hymotion L5 Module, that new A1-2-3 technology, installed in it. The only dealer nearby offering that option was in Madison, Wis. The next closest were in Washington, D.C., and Denver.

Last summer, Moran became the third person to have her car converted at Madison's Smart Motors, and is now the only driver in the Chicago area who has that "plug-in conversion."

The Hymotion technology, first developed in Canada in 2006, uses a battery installed in the spare tire well of a standard Prius. An electrical connection through the rear bumper allows Moran to plug the car into her ordinary, 120-volt garage outlet with an extension cord.

After a five-hour charge, the car is capable of going almost 40 miles without using gas. When the charge wears down, the Prius switches to standard hybrid power.

For now, this technology is available only with 2004-09 Generation 2 Prius models, because, explained Moran, "They figured out how to integrate it into the car's existing technology."

This high-tech battery is not cheap. It adds about $10,000 to the cost of the car. However, said John Dolan, a Smart Motors sales consultant who's an expert on Hymotion, this adaptation qualifies for a federal tax rebate for hybrids, and the battery should last a very, very long time.

"The beauty of this lithium polymer battery is that it can tolerate over 100,000 charges," he said.

Moran points out that winter cold does cut the gas savings a bit.

"When the car starts, the (gas) motor has to run for, call it five minutes, to warm the catalytic converter. The battery won't warm it up enough," she said.

Nor will the battery keep the car warm in sub-zero temperatures. That too requires the gas motor.

Zero gas mode

However when the car and converter are warm, or in warm weather, says Dolan, "she can drive, maybe all day, without using any gas at all."

Another plus, said Moran, is that her driving habits have improved. A computer screen on the Prius' dashboard shows her just how the car is using its power sources.

"My son says it's like a video game," she said.

Her object in this game is to keep the car in electric mode as long as possible. That means she slows down.

"Quite honestly, I've always been an aggressive driver," she said. "But I don't accelerate like I used to at stop signs, most of the time. I'm not perfect though."

She also finds herself slowing for stops much sooner than she used to and driving at lower speeds when she can to take full advantage of the battery.

"You just let yourself go into your electric glide," she said.

As Moran adjusts in her driving, the car automatically shifts from electric to gas and back as needed.

"If I need to pick up speed to pass somebody, the motor kicks in with gas as long as I need it," she said. "The A1-2-3 battery finds the most efficient way to power the car for how fast you're driving."

The car runs smoothly and quietly, and Moran is happy her decision to support new technology got her a good car.

"And you know," she said, "my next car could be a full electric. They have them coming down the pike now."


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