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.

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