The idea of plug-in hybrids is generating a lot of buzz in energy circles because of the work of a start-up Monrovia firm, Energy Control Systems Engineering. The firm bought a Prius and converted it with its own system.
Co-owner Greg Hanssen now tools around Southern California in the bright blue plug-in Prius prototype. The car can deliver 150 to 180 mpg for up to 35 miles of low-speed, around-town driving and can average 70 to 100 mpg on longer trips at higher speeds.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District recently gave the company $130,000 to convert four Priuses to plug-ins that will be tested in several car fleets.
The nascent plug-in hybrid movement is also gaining traction in Congress. This month several senators introduced the topic amid a national debate over foreign oil dependency and soaring gasoline prices. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said high-mileage plug-ins provided "extraordinary hope" to reduce the nation's insatiable appetite for oil.
DaimlerChrysler is also working with the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto to develop a prototype plug-in hybrid version of its Sprinter delivery van.