Professor Franks Has Given Birth – Day Three at Plug-In 2008

P1000542-filteredIn an earlier Plug-In 2008 Greenius post I called Professor Andrew Frank of UC Davis the Godfather of Plug-In Hybrid vehicles, not only was I probably inadvertently quoting Sherry Boschert from the PIA website, but as you can see in the above photo of him I wasn’t giving him nearly enough credit for he truly is the Father of PHEVs not merely the godfather.


Professor Franks gave the keynote address at today’s lunch session at the conference and he was brilliant.  His topic was the Impact of the PHEV on Society and he had the audience hanging on his every word.


Not only did Professor Frank give a superb overview of the history of PHEVs – easy enough to do because he himself was part of all of it from the beginning – but he also had one of the best produced PowerPoint presentations of any of the conference guest speakers.  His slides not only look great, they had compelling content and messaging.  


Everything about this man impresses the hell out of me. Not the least of which is the fact he’s attending this conference with a broken foot and a walking boot cast.  He claimed he suffered the injury from kicking his students one time too many.


Professor Frank believes that Plug-In Hybrid vehicles are our most viable solution to reducing oil consumption and his reasoning is sound and convincing.  He’s been building his own hybrids since 1993 and he’s built them better than anything GM, Ford or Chrysler has built or is planning on building soon.  Here’s why PHEVs are his vehicle of choice:



The gas stations and the electric outlets are already in place to fuel PHEVs, unlike pure Electric vehicles, BEVs which need a high power charge .  Using direct wind and/or solar renewable energy is an option and because of the gas engine, range is not a problem.  And the cost of the zero C02 substitute for the global warming gas is less than any other proposed solution.  Frankly speaking it’s a no brainer.  


So Professor Frank has no problem sharing Andy Grove’s vision of trying to get 10 million plug-ins on the road in four years.  But he knows we can’t get there from new car sales because the 15 million new cars sold annually isn’t a large enough pool to draw from.  Once the high volume manufacturers like Toyota, GM, Nissan, Ford and others DO start  PHEVs they won’t be able to capture enough of that new car market in their first decade to get to 10 million.


So he says, we need to modify existing vehicles at the rate of 10-15% a year.  someone needs to help with the cost to make it possible until oil goes up enough to justify the expense out of pocket.  One way to pull that along he suggests is to start installing outlets at every parking spot and I agree.  


Once the public sees the abundance of potential charging outlets everywhere they park in public, the sense of being able to charge up wherever you go will will become part of the mainstream consciousness.  


How hard could this be?  After all, as Dr Frank pointed out, Canada has already done this.  They use the outlets to power the block heaters so many of our friends in the great white north carry throughout the cold weather months.  And as another speaker in one of my breakout sessions enlightened us, there is already electricity going to most parking meters in the United States, so the idea of adding an outlet or two per meter is a practical one.



Besides being the hands-on guru at UC Davis, Professor Frank is also in business as Efficient Drivetrains Inc (EI) and is doing everything in his power to accelerate PHEV development including collaborating with vehicle companies to develop PHEVs and supplying drivetrains and systems components as well as licensing existing technology solutions.  

EI can provide a huge savings in R&D fundings and more importantly in time to market.


If any of the American car companies had a man like Andrew Franks at the top or close to the top he could teach them the same thing he’s been teaching his students for the past 15 years and they’d be pumping out PHEVs with the same energy and passion they do the Hummers that used to get them $15,000 in profits for every car sold.  But I got the impression from listening to Professor Frank today that he doesn’t think too much of the efforts being made by GM, Ford and Chrysler and that he’s not putting great odds on any of them catching plug-in fever in a big way anytime too soon.



One last note before I hit the hay tonight.  At this evening’s big conference gala at the San Jose Tech Museum I was lucky enough to be checking out the Baker electric car from the late 1890s when Professor Frank came by with a few colleagues to discuss the car.  I got to listen to him talk about the history of the car and how it had been turned into a hybrid with the addition of a gas engine after the intro of the Model A by Ford.   I joined in the impromptu discussion and got the tiniest taste of what a joy it must be to study with Professor Frank.  Wow.  


And it gave me renewed confidence, knowing how many of Professor Franks former students are now the key players and leaders in this quickly growing new industry.  It’s a good thing they’re all here.  We’re going to need them.

Electrifying Day At Plug-In 2008

P1000368-filteredThat’s Mark Duvall of the Electric Power Research Institute, EPRI.  He’s the program manager of Electric Transportation and he’s been working with plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles for 16 years since his days as a student at UC Davis.  There are few people who know more about Plug-In cars than Duvall and few who are more impressive when presenting or answering questions.


Tuesday’s session started with “The Potential and Challenges of PHEVs to Reduce Petroleum Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions” and I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Mark’s boss, Steve Specker who seemed cautious and short of vision to me.  His presentation was weak at best.



The same can’t be said of Peter Schwartz, the co-founder and chairman of the Global Business Network.  He spoke about climate change and didn’t pull any punches.  


The one statement he made that will stay with me a long time is that you can already kiss Bangladesh goodbye.  “Bangladesh is over,” is the way Schwartz put it.  


He said there will be 150 million refugees that India and China would have to assimilate. 





Nothing Schwartz said gave me a single ounce of hope that climate change is being treated with the sense of urgency it needs to be reckoned with.  He might as well have said you can kiss your current way of life goodbye.  “The good time is over,” is what I heard.


Increasing climate change is what we are headed for…




One of the worst presentations I’ve ever seen by a corporate exec was given by the monotone and soul-free Jonathan Lackner, a GM VP.  


He was there to talk about the Volt and the Saturn plug-in hybrid SUV and after listening to his lackluster and detached read of his poorly prepared remarks I came away thinking that GM will never deliver on their promise.  


A small but telling note about Jonathan, he sported a Hitler style mustache that only served to add to his lack of credibility.  Any corporate exec at his level that doesn’t even understand the optics of his own face and the message it sends with his choice of stash style doesn’t understand the American public, what they want and what they don’t trust.  The fact that this is the guy GM sent to the premier plug-in event speaks volumes about where Detroit is still coming from.


I was equally unimpressed with Nancy Gioia from Ford.  In fact, after hearing both these American car company employees talking about their plug-in offerings, I don’t give either one of them much of a chance in succeeding.  I don’t think Ford or GM get it and frankly I don’t believe their spokesman.  I believe both Ford and GM and Chrysler as well are the problem, not the solution.  I hope I’m wrong, but I would bet against both of them and put my money on the Japanese and the entrepreneurs.


Fortunately there were many speakers and presentations that hit home runs and gave me great hope for the plug-in future.  Ed Kjaer, the Director of Electric Transportation for So. Cal Edison was superb.  His expertise and enthusiasm for his work were inspiring.



When it came to providing real inspiration Andy Grove, Intel’s former Chairman and CEO was right on the money.  He gave the keynote speech at lunch and his vision was as sharp as his remarks.


Grove called for a World War II level effort to convert 10 million pickups, SUVs and minivans – the low hanging fruit of bad milage, big vehicles – to plug-in hybrids within four years.  


Grove wants to see an inter-industry task force made up of the utilities, vehicle manufacturers, high tech companies and academia to put together the plan to make it happen.  Grove said only disruptive action on this scale can curtail greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently and cut our use of gasoline in half.  While nay-sayers whine about how soon it can be done, Grove has been there before when an industry went from zero to sixty as fast as a Tesla.



Maybe we should just turn the entire job over to UC Davis.  Before this conference I had no idea just how influential and significant the work done at Davis has been.  But now it’s clear that UC Davis is to plug-ins as UCLA has been to NBA basketball.  So many stars of this new industry have come out of Davis or are part of Davis now.



The godfather of plug-in vehicles, Dr. Andrew Frank is here and must be proud of what his work has fostered.  I’ll write more about Dr. Frank in future posts.  


I sat next to Professor Frank in the PHEV Conversions breakout session moderated by Felix Kramer of and I was pretty much spellbound by the panel that included Sanjeev Choudhary of A123Systems/Hymotion and Alec Proudfoot of the Google RechargeIT.


This session made it clear that plug-in hybrids are ready right now to deliver close to 100 mpg for American drivers.  It is only through the efforts of the people on this panel and those working with them that the auto companies are making plug-in hybrids at all.  These plug in pioneers pushed the car companies kicking and screaming all along the way to the brink of production they’re on today.  That’s not what any of them said, but that’s what the Creative Greenius is telling you is true fact.




The day ended with the public night in the exhibition hall and over 700 members of the public came to see the cars they’ll be driving next.  The enthusiasm and passion of the public was a welcome vibe by the exhibitors and plug-in supporters attending the conference and a big boost for all.






The evening wrapped up with a 90 minute panel session featuring a tremendous panel of well spoken, exceptionally smart plug-in experts.  UC Davis Director of their PHEV Research Center, Tom Turrentine moderated the panel featuring Mark Duvall, Dan Reicher, the director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives for and Chelesa Sexton, former GM EV1 Specialist.  


The session had to end at 9pm, but if the public had their way we’d still be there talking about Plug-ins and asking and answering more questions.


Two bits of good news came out of the conference.  GM is now working with 37 different states and their electric companies to speed bringing plug-in cars to market.



And Google announced two new investments in the plug-in development field.


$2.75 million went to Aptera, the three wheel BEV and PHEV vehicle that looks like a flying car; and to ActaCell the lithium-ion battery maker.


I’d write more, but I have to get back to the conference.