The Hummer is the poster child of excess consumption and inefficiency, but a Utah company is converting the much-maligned SUVs into a range-extended electric vehicle good for 100 mpg and a range of 40 miles.
Raser Technologies will unveil the Raser H3 on Monday in Detroit. It promises a 90 mph top speed, off-road capability and a lithium ion-battery you can recharge in as little as three hours. What’s more, the company says the drivetrain can be installed in other trucks and it hopes to have 2,000 converted vehicles on the road by the end of next year.
That’s a tall order, and there is no shortage of companies promising us wonder cars with miraculous fuel economy and impressive range. But Raser is taking a different approach. It isn’t building a car from scratch like Aptera Motors or Lightning Hybrids. Instead, it’s essentially cribbing from the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma to convert existing vehicles with off-the-shelf parts.
“We’ve taken the worst environmental offender on the road and made it greener than a Prius,” David West, the company’s vice president of marketing, told Wired.com. “It truly is incredible to see and hear a Hummer that truly hums.”
But why start with a Hummer?
Because SUVs are popular but get lousy fuel economy, they’re great candidates for electrification, said Jim Spellman, company vice president. Spellman came to Raser from General Motors, where he worked on the Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid.
“SUVs and trucks are the number one selling vehicle in America,” he said. “Unlike the Prius, which is a mild hybrid vehicle, an eco-friendly SUV will get people’s attention.”
Spellman says there are practical reasons as well: Trucks are big enough to package the gasoline engine, electric motor and lithium-ion batteries without radically altering the bodywork or designing an all-new vehicle.
“Unlike the Volt and other hybrid cars we didn’t have to build an entire car around the battery packs,” Spellman said. “There was plenty of room in the back of the Hummer to install them, and they don’t affect the ground clearance of the vehicle.”
Raser Technologies has been building electric motors and developing geothermal electric plants since 2003, and Spellman says it started “cutting steel” on the H3 prototype 15 months ago.
The prototype we’ll see in Detroit at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress on Monday features a series-hybrid drive train similar to the Voltec system in the Chevrolet Volt. Like the Volt, the H3 will be driven solely by electricity. The engine — the 260-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder used in the Pontiac Solstice — will drive a 100-kilowatt generator to recharge the three lithium-ion battery packs. Fisker Automotive is using the same engine in its Karma range-extended EV.
All together the battery packs have a combined capacity of 40 kilowatt hours and total weight of 600 pounds. Raser claims a recharge time of between 3 and 10 hours, depending upon the voltage of the outlet the batteries are plugged into.
For the sake of comparison, the Volt uses a 16-kWh pack that weighs 375 pounds, while the Tesla Roadster has a 53-kWh pack weighing 992 pounds.
Tying it all together is something Raser calls the Hybrid Master Controller, which is a fancy name for the software that manages the engine, generator, motor and batteries. It was designed by FEV, a hybrid drive train engineering firm that is working on a range-extended EV based on the Dodge Caliber. General Motors provided some expertise along the way, said GM spokesman Kyle Johnson.
“We’re well aware of this project,” Johnson said. “We helped them with some of the electronics integration and did some consulting.”
Getting all the hardware to fit required modifying the Hummer’s chassis. The transmission was moved back, the drive shafts altered and the exhaust re-routed. The Raser H3 also has a smaller fuel tank — 11 gallons instead of 22 — and it’s been moved to make room for the batteries, which are mounted under the vehicle near the rear axle. Despite the mods, Raser says the vehicle doesn’t lose any of its off-road utility.
West says production will begin “soon” and the company hopes to have 2,000 vehicles in the form of SUVs and trucks on the road by the end of 2010. He says Pacific Gas & Electric has requested two of them.
No word yet on how the project will be funded or what the vehicle will cost. Raser promises more details when the vehicle is unveiled Monday.
Above: The Raser H3 uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine to drive a 100-kilowatt generator, which recharges the lithium ion batteries as they approach depletion. It’s the same engine Fisker Automotive is using in the Karma range-extended electric vehicle.
Above: Raser says it started with the Hummer H3 because it’s big enough to package a gasoline engine, an electric motor, three battery packs and the control unit without extensive modifications.