Electric vehicles of various sorts are just now showing up in dealer showrooms. But that leaves a quarter of a billion gasoline vehicles running around U.S. roads. What to do to clean them up?

Various entities have proposed to retrofit existing vehicles with various types of electric powertrains.

One is ALTe (pronounced "alt-eee"), which announced today that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will test a 2007 Ford F-150 pickup truck that ALTe has retrofitted with its extended-range electric powertrain.

Like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the ALTe system lets the vehicle travel a certain distance on battery power alone (in this case, 30 miles). After that, a gasoline engine switches on to turn a generator that provides electricity to the electric traction motor that actually moves the vehicle.

The lithium-ion battery pack holds 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity (25 percent larger than the Volt's pack). ALTe quotes a charging time of four hours on 240-Volt power or eight hours from a 120-Volt wall socket--indicating a 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger.

2008 Ford F-150 pickup chassis with ALTe extended-range electric powertrain

2008 Ford F-150 pickup chassis with ALTe extended-range electric powertrain

The electric motors provide similar power and more torque than the V-8 engine, the company claims, and it says the truck's towing capacity is unaffected by the conversion.

Because the battery pack is installed under the pickup bed in two modules, one either side of the driveshaft, there's no loss of cargo capacity.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine used as a range extender is from a recent Ford Focus.

Combined with an 8-gallon gasoline tank (reduced from 27 gallons!), it can provide up to 270 additional road miles before refueling or plugging in. That works out to more than 30 miles per gallon in gasoline mode--twice as high as the V-8 engined truck.

ALTe claims that compared to a base V-8 gasoline engine, its system raises fuel economy from 80 percent to 200 percent. As with all series hybrids, however, those results depend entirely on how much the vehicle is driven on grid power versus using its gasoline range extender.

2008 Ford F-150 60th Anniversary

2008 Ford F-150 60th Anniversary

ALTe's prototype vehicle was a 2008 Ford F-150 crew-cab rear-wheel-drive model; the company and PG&E didn't specify the details of the 2007 pickup to be tested.

In some ways, the heaviest and highest-mileage vehicles are the best candidates for retrofit. Despite the higher cost of the retrofit, the reduction in fuel cost from replacing a 12- or 15-mpg gasoline powertrain with a series hybrid system like ALTe's can be far higher than replacing a compact car with a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.

The company, based in Chrysler's headquarters town of Auburn Hills, Michigan, hopes to make its powertrain available for third parties to install in both existing vehicles and "gliders," or engine-less new vehicles direct from the assembly plant. It's targeting trucks of up to 26,000 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight.

ALTe hopes to start accepting orders for its system in December, and it projects that installations of the first conversions could begin next summer. The company has not publicly discussed prices for its system.



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