Plug-in Day: Electric Cars, Plug-in Hybrids Whizz and Whirr Up the Winding Road to Acceptance

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Automotive, Community, Driving, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 15-10-2013


DSCN0480The Third Annual National Plug-in Day held recently, included events in nearly 100 cities around the world.  Plug-in and electric car enthusiasts came together for an annual celebration of driving cars with a cord.  Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are increasingly popular and the world-wide event drew more than double the attendees compared to the year before.  The primary feature of each event was displaying the plug-in vehicles from the major automakers as well as the newcomers.  Scores of people had their first experience with vehicles that burn little or no gas.  This was the most important element of the event because most advocates believe that familiarity is the absolute key to popular acceptance of these vehicles and National Plug-in Day raised the bar on what is possible!

National Plug-in Day is ongoing proof that Americans, and drivers the world over are keen to drive vehicles that use little or no gasoline, cut down on airborne pollutants and keep1383193_365819993552808_2127503790_n our fuel dollars local.  The Silicon Valley event in Cupertino was a perfect example of the growth of the event, where approximately 2,000 attendees checked out nearly 300 vehicles on display from 20 major automakers.  Events in Seattle and the Los Angeles area had similar turnouts.  In Nashville, Nissan decided to promote electric cars by giving away free gasoline.  Cities from Maine to Hawaii hosted similar events and many saw a big increase in attendance compared to last year.  Initial numbers from Plug-in America, a coalition of first generation RAV4 EV owners and former lessees of Honda EV+, GM EV1, Ford Ranger and Ford Think City electrics from the “Who Killed the Electric Car?” era and long-time Plug-in advocates, pegged total US attendance at between 40,000 and 50,000 people.  According to the organizers, that’s a 43 percent boost in participation.

Closer to home, the Upper Midwest Plug-in Day held in Madison, Wisconsin featured over 25 electric vehicles on display, along with demonstrations, owner testimonials and test drives.  Some of the vehicles on display included home-built and concept vehicles along with all-electrics (Nissan LEAF and Tesla).  Various Plug-in Hybrids (Plug-in Priuses, Gen ll Prius Plug-in modifications, Ford C-Max Energi, Chevy Volt, and Wheego) were all equally represented.  Electric bikes and mopeds were also featured at the event.  Flux Mopeds of Madison, Len’s Electric Bikes and Ride Green Bikes of Milwaukee showed off their clean, quiet, 100% electric offerings.  In addition, Madison Gas and Electric was on hand to talk about their Madison-wide electric vehicle charging network and answer all power-related questions.  There were plenty of EV owners on hand sharing information on what its like to own and drive a plug-in vehicle.

National Plug-in Day was also marked in Sauk City, Wisconsin where the Free Congregation of Sauk County held a Free Forum on Energy, Climate and Our Future.  The social and environmental responsibility of cleanDSCN0557 energy was the theme of the day and Plug-in vehicles were on display outside of Freethinker’s Hall.  A Prius Plug-in, a Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Volt were on display and there were representatives on hand to answer all the questions.

Electric drive enthusiasts had plenty of success to celebrate on Plug-in Day.  Still, plug-ins only make up a tiny segment of the total auto market.  Slowly but surely, as National Plug-in Day underscores, many people are making that change, and the mainstream auto industry has taken note.  Higher fuel-efficiency standards and government subsidies have shifted the center-of-gravity a little more toward Plug-in and EV vehicles and it appears no automaker wants to be the one not moving forward with this technology.

The good news for consumers is that automakers have been dropping the prices of hybrids and EVs, making it easier to get into the game.  Reuters says that “automakers have slashed prices on their electric cars to help overcome consumer qualms about high costs and fears of driving range.”  This has been borne out by plug-in sales which have remained high month by month this year.  Sales rose as prices for these vehicles came down.  Recently, the Plug-in Prius joined the Volt and the Leaf at a lowered price-point as Toyota dropped the price of the 2014 model.  Toyota has always been very good at making complex electromechanical systems smaller, cheaper and more reliable.  And a lesson learned from the early history of the Prius just might indicate that Plug-ins may have an advantage at this stage of their history that the Prius did not – when the 2001 Prius went on sale in the United States Toyota sold only small numbers of that first gas-electric from 2001 through 2003, but it had big plans for the little hybrid from the start.

DSCN0558With the re-designed second-generation Prius in 2004, Toyota had a winner.  Since then, Prius sales have never looked back and now there is a family line of separate Prius vehicles, which are now Toyota’s third best-selling passenger car in the United States market.  The success of the Prius and the company’s hybrids in general, has paved the way for a much earlier acceptance of plug-in hybrids and EVs compared to early hybrid history.  According to the United States Department of Energy, around 40,000 plug-in electric vehicles were purchased by Americans in the first six months of 2013, that’s more than double the amount sold throughout the same period last year.  In 2012 there were 52,000 EVs sold, which was an increase from 17,000 in 2011.

So, compared to hybrid cars — which took about a decade to catch on in the U.S. and now represent four percent of the total car market — electric vehicles are doing better earlier in the cycle, historically, than hybrids after their first 30 months on the market. There were about 3,000 hybrids sold per month 30 months after the cars were first introduced.  Over the same time period, plug-in electric vehicles are selling at a rate of about 9,000 per month.  It is clear that there is a growing segment of car-buyers who are ready for this technology.


DSCN0559Toyota has always taken a long-term view of hybrid-electric technology planning not only in five year and ten year cycles, but twenty-five and even fifty year plans, as well.  This has worked out very well for Toyota.  Today, the company has built 5 million hybrids and sells 23 different hybrids around the world – and has plans to launch additional hybrid models each year going forward along with a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle coming on the market in 2015!  DSCN0560


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“Smart Charge” Plug-in Electric Vehicle Charging at Smart Motors

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Events, Hybrids, News | Posted on 20-06-2013


IMG_0226Charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles are now available for guest use, free of charge, at Smart Motors in Madison, Wisconsin.  The new charge stations or “Smart Charge” as they are called, feature a ChargePoint-enabled Leviton CT-2021 public station that offers Level 2 (208/240 V @ 30 Amp) charging via a standard SAE J1772 connector and a fixed 18-foot cable.  This is a two-head bollard charger capable of charging two cars at a time.  The station is network-enabled and embedded with an on-board computer, a fluorescent display, a standards-based RFID reader and a utility-grade meter that provides precise, bi-directional energy measurement.  It is located at the Toyota Showroom main entrance and sits on a space with two reserved parking stalls.  At Smart Motors car-charging with be available free of charge day and night with a ChargePass card which will be available at the showroom desk.  The Toyota Prius Plug-in, for example, can be fully charged in 90 minutes with Level 2 charging.

For EV drivers, GPS information on ChargePoint-enabled locations are included on all ChargePoint mobile phone apps for iPhone and Android.  These ChargePoint mobile apps provide an easy wayphoto to locate stations near any specified address, get turn-by-turn directions, even start and stop a charging session directly from a smart phone. Additionally, these applications allow drivers to utilize ChargePoint’s station reservation feature.  Drivers can locate reservable stations, and then make, view, and cancel a reservation directly from a smart phone.

A second wall-mounted electric vehicle charger is located just outside the entrance to the service bays at Smart Motors.  This wall unit is a Leviton Evr-Green Electric Vehicle Charging Station and it provides the same quick charging of any SAE J1772 charger. Like the Smart Charge bollard charger it is available free of charge however, the wall unit does not require a ChargePass card and can be accessed anytime it is available.

IMG_0193“The electric vehicle infrastructure is in its early stages and we see an opportunity for Smart Toyota to help make a real difference by expanding the nascent car charging infrastructure that is already in place here in Madison,” said John Dolan, the network administrator for the charging stations.  “At this stage, the goal for us is not merely to explore and understand the technology, but to expand it and in turn, support our guests who choose to go electric.”

Last year Toyota paired up with Leviton, selecting the in-home electrical giant as an approved Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) provider for Toyota’s customers and dealers.  Toyota understood that Leviton with its high level of customer service would benefit both customers and dealers who were interested in setting up in-home or dealership charging stations for the Prius Plug-in and later on, the RAV4 EV.  Leviton’s charger line, including some home chargers, are all network-enabled by the ChargePoint Network through an open interface architecture that provides Leviton customers advanced features similar to all charging stations on the ChargePoint network. coulomb-logo-solid_02

ChargePoint is the largest online network of independently owned EV charging stations operating in 14 countries.  In a recent Pike Pulse report, Polk Resarch ranks ChargePoint (formerly Coulomb Technologies) as an industry leader as a result of their range of charging products and services.

“As Plug-in Hybrids and electric vehicles become a more attractive alternative amid climbing gas prices, a city’s EV infrastructure has to be ready to accommodate growth in this area, and we believe Madison is a leader in this regard,” says Dolan.  “A key goal of our business is to provide our customers and guests with the services they need and vehicle charging infrastructure choices is just one IMG_0191such need.  With vehicles like the Prius Plug-in on the market today we have seen strong interest in the market for networked electric vehicle charging solutions.  This emerging trend is just like we saw when hybrids first came to market over a decade ago, so we are excited to offer the ChargePoint product line to our customers.  We believe that Smart Charge will provide added value to our guests seeking smart features in an EV charging solution.”







Sources: ChargePoint:  ChargePoint Station Finder Smart Phone Apps:  PlugShare EV Station Locator App:   Leviton:




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Hybrids offer “best value” for new-car buyers

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News | Posted on 03-06-2013

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Toyota Prius tops the list, costing half as much as an average car to operate

President Obama’s Inaugural address emphasizing the importance of addressing climate change dovetails with reports of rising sales of hybrid vehicles and a recent Consumer Reports study suggesting that hybrids offer the best value for those buying a new vehicle, with the Toyota Prius ranking No. 1.

CR (Consumer Reports) estimates that the Prius costs owners 49 cents per mile — less than half the cost of operating an average car.

Americans in the heartland are keeping pace or pulling ahead of politicians and reviewers in recognizing the importance and value of conserving energy. At the Wisconsin’s oldest automotive vehicle dealer, Smart Motors, hybrids account for 40% of the dealership’s new car sales. Compare that to 2008, when only 25.2% of the dealership’s car sales came from hybrid vehicles, and their growing popularity and mainstream acceptance are clear.

“When these in-demand hybrids roll in, they almost immediately roll right out the door,” says Allen Foster, vice president/general manager of Smart Motors.

Not only do rising hybrid sales suggest the nation is ready to embrace energy-efficient products and programs, but stronger sales of cars in general and hybrids in particular are a leading indicator of our nation’s economic recovery. USA Today reports that if the industry can keep up its momentum, sales could climb back to 16 million in 2013 — on par with the best banner years of a decade ago.

“As the market begins to rebound, it’s obvious people are more aware, and are planning for the future with fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, Prius V, Prius C, Prius Plug-In, Camry hybrid, Highlander hybrid and Avalon hybrid” says Foster. “During the past few years, the entire auto industry saw customers scaling back on their purchases, but hybrid vehicles have always been a solid product line for us, and in 2013 it is getting even stronger.”

The demand is there to quite literally drive intense and quick sales. A $20,885 Prius C hybrid drives off the lot almost daily.

About Smart Motors: Founded in 1908, Smart Motors is one of the nation’s oldest automotive dealerships and the Midwest’s largest hybrid dealer. In Wisconsin, Smart Motors is the No. 1 volume dealer for both Toyota and Scion. In the Chicago region, Smart Motors is the No. 1 Prius, Prius c, and Prius v dealer. Located at 5901 Odana Road, in Madison, Smart Motors is Wisconsin’s only two-time President’s Cabinet Award recipient from Toyota Motor Sales for superior customer service and sales volume. For more information visit

Check out this quick video of just a small sample of our hybrid inventory!

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We Get a Charge Out of That…

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News | Posted on 15-01-2013

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DSCN0479Now that plug-in Priuses and EVs are becoming more commonplace on our roadways the sight of one of these Plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) hooked up to a public charger in the wild is no longer such an isolated event. Plug-in electrics offer many advantages, especially in city driving, including reduced gasoline use, reduced emissions and electricity costs that are less than gasoline per mile driven. So, as the technology evolves it’s not surprising to see plug-in hybrids and pure electrics catching on here in Madison.
Most owners are charging their cars at home, but here in Madison we are fortunate to have access to a network of public charging stations. Madison Gas and Electric is the biggest player with a network of 26 charging stations through-out the Madison area. Each charging station offers Level 1 charging that uses a standard 120-volt outlet and the adapter that is provided with the vehicle (auto manufacturers do not recommend using an off-the-shelf cord set and this may void the manufacturer’s warranty). The ChargePoint chargers in the MG&E network also provide Level 2 charging at 240-volts using the SAE J1772 electrical connector which is the North American standard for electric vehicles. Using a Level 1 or a Level 2 charger only changes the amount of time it takes to charge the car, not the charging cost. For example, the Prius Plug-in has a 4.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that takes 3 hours to charge with Level 1 charging (120-volts). That same charge only takes 90 minutes with Level 2 charging (240-volts).
Anyone interested in using one of MG&E’s charging stations can find a specific station and even see if it is currently in use at . ChargePoint also offers a mobile phone app to locate and determine station availability. Another popular smartphone app for finding electric vehicle charging stations is PlugShare which is available at . PlugShare will not only help you locate public charging stations, it will also direct you to private home charging stations that the homeowner’s have made available to PEV owners (with permission).
Dave-Toso-MGECharging your vehicle at an MG&E public station is gratis for now as the utility is operating the stations free of charge within a trail period during which they are, among other things, gauging personal charging patterns and their demands on the power grid. There will be a cost in the future. As part of its Electric Vehicle Charging Research, MG&E is evaluating different cost options. Addresses for all of MG&E’s PEV charging stations in the network can be found at . MG&E’s charge station map will also indicate which stations are ADA-compliant (American Disabilities Act) stations. Only vehicles with the proper disabled parking permits are allowed to park in these designated stalls.

250px-SAE_J1772_7058855567In addition to MG&E’s charge network, a number of local businesses have seen the value of installing charging stations for their customers who own electric vehicles. Kohl’s Department Store on Madison’s west side, Hy-Vee Grocery Stores, the east and west-side Willy Street Co-op locations and Copps in Shorewood have led the way in this regard. Other businesses, like Smart Motors have plans to install PEV charge stations for their customers in the very near future.
In practice, most people do their charging at home. Here you have the same options of Level 1 or Level 2 charging using a standard 120-volt outlet or you could install a home charging system connected to a 240-volt outlet. Check with an electrician to determine if your home is ready. Most auto manufacturers can provide information on home charging systems that are compatible with your vehicle and may even have a list of qualified electrical installers. Toyota has paired with Leviton, as an approved Electrical Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) provider for Toyota customers and dealers. Leviton offers a variety of charge equipment for home use, an extensive customer service center and deals with local, certified installers. Information and a pre-qualification survey are available online at . Installation and equipment costs can range from $500 to $3000 depending on the type of equipment and the level of electrical work needed.

So, how much does it cost to charge an PEV at home? The maximum cost to charge the Prius Plug-in equals the battery capacity multiplied by MG&E’s per kilowatt-hour (kWh) electricity rate. The Prius Plug-in’s battery capacity is 4.4 kWh and MG&E charges 14₵ per kWh. So, the maximum charging cost for the Prius Plug-in is $0.62. However, the Prius Plug-in can be programed to charge over-night during off-peak hours when less electricity is used. Keep in mind, you must be enrolled in your utility’s time-of –use rate plan to take advantage of lower off-peak prices. Off-peak hours vary by rate plan and you pay more for electricity used during on-peak hours. The more energy you shift to off-peak use (not just EV charging), the more money you save!

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Smart Motors Employees Donate over $12,000 to United Way of Dane County

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, News | Posted on 14-11-2012


Each year Smart Motors employees come together to raise funds needed to create progress in the United Way’s Agenda for Change. For 2012/2013 campaign we have 3 areas of focus for Dane County, Education- preparing all students to succeed academically and graduate from high school, Safety- decrease family homelessness and reduce violence in family settings, and Health- helping seniors stay in their homes and early detection of health issues.

Here at Smart our campaign consists of the initial pledge form, our coveted Privilege Week (dress code violation), and our Giveback Celebration. During our Privilege week those employees who pledge a dollar a day get to violate dress code and participate in the judging of our Annual Chili Cook-Off.

Smart Toyota Employees Ashley Payne, Blane Einbeck and Celia Kaiser sporting their favorite NFL Teamwear during United Way Privilege Week. Hey wait, that’s not a Packers jersey Blane…

Our Giveback Celebration ends our campaign by thanking our employees who generously donate time and money to the United Way efforts. Last year Smart was able to raise over $12,000 for the Dane County United Way. Here is to another great campaign year!

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Great Job Dave Marks and the Smart Motors Service Department!

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, News | Posted on 31-10-2012


Here is a letter from one of our Service Advisor’s, Dave Marks’ customers. Great job Dave Marks and the Smart Motors Service Department!


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Oh Deer!

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, News | Posted on 29-10-2012

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Just beyond the beam of your headlights, there’s slight movement. It’s barely perceptible, and you keep driving. Several hundred feet later, you see something move again. It’s a deer! There’s no chance to stop. You slam on the brakes, but an impact still occurs.

Welcome to Fall in Wisconsin.

This frightening scene happens surprisingly commonly in this season. According to 2011 reports, the state saw over 18,000 deer-car crashes.  And they’re the worst in the Fall. Less dense foliage and harvest time pushes the animals out into the open, while earlier sunsets makes them harder to see. It’s no surprise over 40 percent of deer crashes occur from mid-October through November, which is during their mating season.Deer Crossing Sign

When a crash does occur, there will be damage. It’s the simple physics of a vehicle traveling at 60 MPH strikes a 150 pound deer. While this situation is unfortunate, Ball Body Shop, a division of Smart Motors, has the expertise required to fix any deer crash incidents.

“The broken windshields, crumpled bumpers, busted headlights, we can definitely fix those,” says Jeff Hepp, body shop manager at Ball Body Shop “We can make any vehicle look like it never met a deer.”

Jeff Hepp recommends avoiding areas where deer congregate after dark. Rural roads, which might lack adequate lighting or feature sharp corners, are a prime area for deer crashes to occur. Over 90 percent of deer crashes occur on the rural backroads, so when traveling through the area, make sure to remain extra vigilant and keep your eyes open—especially at dawn and dusk.

In addition, Jeff offers these tips to make a safe fall driving season:

  • Always use caution when driving—especially at peak hours from 5-10 pm.
  • Deer generally travel in herds. If you see one crossing the road, slow down, as more might be coming.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to hit the deer. This might sound callous, but if the choice comes down to hitting a deer or swerving over the center line, a deer will cause less damage and present less of a risk to human life.
  • Keep an eye out when traveling on rural and country roads.
  • Flash your highbeams to scare deer away. If they freeze in the headlights, just wait for them to move and then slowly proceed.
  • Deer crossing signs do show where deer are more likely to cross.
  • If on a rural road, intermittently honk your horn. Deer have perceptive hearing and will know to avoid an area with such high pitched noise.

By keeping yourself aware of these handy tips, you can reduce your chances of an unexpected deer encounter this year.

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Driving the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle – A Better Prius!

Posted by John Dolan | Posted in Community, Hybrids, News, Uncategorized | Posted on 22-10-2012


When you get behind the wheel of the new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV) — indeed before that — the car seems very familiar.  With so many Prius models traversing our roadways these days that should not come as a surprise.  The hybrid icon is the most popular vehicle in a growing automotive segment: over half of every hybrid sold is a Prius.  This broad appeal makes the Prius an ideal platform to refine and improve Toyota’s hybrid technology.  It’s also reassuring to know that the Prius Plug-in has the reliability and dependability of Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive engineering behind it. Since the car company has well over a decade’s worth of experience figuring out how to sell a simple-to-use hybrid car to the masses, it is pretty obvious the engineers and marketers at Toyota realize these things, too!

Inside it is pretty much all standard Prius, complete with the futuristic dashboard, plenty of space and the familiar little drive selector protruding from the familiar flying-buttress raised center-console.  The driver-selectable mode switches are there too.  However, the EV mode is now a combination HV/EV switch which enables greater control over vehicle performance and efficiency.

Powering up the car, which is the same push-button experience that Prius drivers are used to, calls up a new multi-information screen, but results in very little sound — also familiar.  At start-up the car automatically defaults to EV (Electric Vehicle) mode.  The main difference here is that on the move the car isn’t so intent on getting out of EV mode as the regular Prius.  The car accelerates with reasonable power and driving up to 62 mph without the engine kicking in is a pleasant driving experience.  This experience alone is enough for many of us to figure out that this Prius is yet another step down an evolutionary timeline towards the Prius we’ve always wanted!

The new HV/EV mode extends this ability and is designed for city drivers who do not want to frustrate traffic, as in the standard Prius when they would resolutely creep away from the stop light trying to keep it in electric drive.  The HV/EV switch allows the driver to select between HV (Hybrid Vehicle) mode — which behaves like a regular Prius and EV (Electric Vehicle) mode.  An advantage of this would be when one was say, heading out on a longer highway trip.  The driver could select HV mode and the vehicle would perform like a standard 50 mpg-plus Prius on the highway.  Once the driver returned to stop-and-go city driving — they could then switch over to EV mode and the Prius Plug-in reverts back to electric-only driving. Smart, isn’t it? It’s just like a regular Prius — only better.  Driving in EV mode it is easy to think this switch makes your Prius PHV operate like an electric car, but crush the gas pedal and you’ll be quickly reminded that it is still a Prius — close to electric at times, but not quite!  

As you ease away from the curb and briskly accelerate, the most noticeable difference between the standard Prius and Plug-in model is how a hybrid-adept right foot can move the PHV forward into traffic and maintain speeds of up to 62 mph using electricity alone. The PHV’s electric/gas threshold is slightly higher than the regular car’s, but apply anything more than steady pressure on the go pedal — as might be required to enter the freeway or accelerate up a hill — and the 98-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder begins to stir to life.  Forget that it is after all, a regular Prius and press the pedal aggressively and the PHV will fire up its internal-combustion engine if you’re not careful.  In true-to-Prius form you can easily engage the gas engine at speeds well below that threshold if you punch the go pedal. Any sudden throttle input will force the combustion engine to burn some of your precious petroleum. If you’re cruising on the highway at say, 60 mph and let your speed dip to 55 and then nudge it back up to 60, you can do so on battery power. But, if you try to go from 55 to 60 more quickly (in a passing situation, for example), you will certainly start to burn gas.  Maintain a judicious, somewhat geezerly driving-style though, i.e., drive the speed limit, and a Prius PHV with a full charge can travel up to 15 miles in electric mode, which becomes considerably more pleasurable the faster one travels.  Once the battery pack is depleted, the car reverts to the conventional hybrid 50 mpg behavior of the standard Prius.

Even under full throttle, the PHV behaves like a standard Prius though a tad slower with a 0-to-60-mph time.  Blame the heavier battery pack and its ancillary hardware—which add about 330 pounds to the car — for the  slightly slower time.  But then, the Prius never has been and never will be, about driving celerity; it is more about maximum fuel economy. At the end of the drive there is PHV vindication — the driving experience is not about getting to the next stop light faster, but rather the numbers that are neatly displayed on the dashboard. Over an average week of driving it is entirely possible by utilizing multiple charging cycles, to move about the city and short highway loops powered solely by electricity much of the time.

Station[1]Every Prius Plug-in comes equipped with heated front seats, even those with fabric upholstery.  The seat heaters come in handy on those cooler days and for short trips because the heaters give you the option to not use the car’s heater.  Reduced heater (and defroster) use will have fuel economy benefits for those of us who dwell in the colder, northern climes, since the role of EV (electric vehicle drive) is diminished once the snow begins to fly.  In all practicality, this is because heater and defroster use will turn on the internal combustion engine (ICE) to supply warm coolant to the vehicle’s heater core.  This is a given. When this happens, the Prius PHV is not in EV because the engine is running, but the hybrid system is still getting more electricity from the battery-pack than it would in HV mode.  The Prius with a plug is designed to take advantage of this since the engine needs to run to supply heat during the winter anyway.  Consequently, you will not get as many pure EV miles during the colder months, but you will still get outstanding fuel economy.  Since diminished fuel economy over the winter months in the upper Midwest is a given in any vehicle, including the standard Prius, loss of EV range in cold months is to be expected.  On the positive side, hybrid system warm-up in the PHV is faster than with the regular Prius.  Also, the battery-pack can be pre-heated simply by timing your vehicle recharging to conclude close to your departure time.  Having more electricity and more motor power available will deliver a nice improvement to winter efficiency.

Just as it is behind the wheel, an obvious take-away from looking over the Plug-in’s exterior is familiarity.  The Prius PHV looks, feels and drives pretty much like the standard version of the world’s most popular hybrid.  The Plug-in does receive some important advances – ones that hardcore Prius chat-room fans will notice right away — but it’s more than obvious that Toyota’s thinking with the design of the Plug-in is evolution, not radical change.Although the changes start with the PHV’s new lithium-ion battery pack, the most noticeable changes are on the outside.  The body work is essentially that of a familiar Prius liftback, but there are subtle detail changes like an extra ‘filler cap door’ concealing the charge port.  Other detail garnishments include matte-silver door handles, front bumper and rear hatch trim with blue-tinted headlamps and 15-inch alloy wheels.

Trunk space hasn’t suffered despite the larger battery.  It is still a Prius in the cargo area, too. But one with a more potent 4.4 KWh lithium-ion battery instead of the standard 1.3 KWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack.  The specs of the hybrid system are the same as the standard Prius — combining a 98hp Atkinson-cycle gas engine with a 80hp synchronous AC electric motor with a total system output of 134hp.

The larger lithium-ion battery pack is modular in design and consists of three modules – with the middle module charging up via the inverter and the two outside modules getting their charge from an outside source.  Though much smaller than the packs used in the two of the other plug-in vehicles on the market, the Prius Plug-in’s 176-pound, 4.4-kWh battery pack is, according to Toyota, “a balance of cost, capacity and weight” and offers just enough juice for an “electric-only driving range of up to 15 miles at a maximum speed of 62 mile- per-hour”.
After you charge it up — which takes just two-and-a-half to three hours from a standard 110-volt outlet (or around 90 minutes with one of the 27 or so Level 2 chargers that are strategically placed around Madison, Wisconsin where we live) you can muster 12 to 15 miles of city driving without any emissions.  By driving with the typical Prius ‘pulse and glide’ technique it is possible under some driving conditions (undulating terrain, not too hilly) to easily attain the 15 mile range.  This is because the battery pack does receive a small amount of charge via the inverter and through regenerative braking.  Incidentally, the Prius Plug-in comes with a 24-foot all-weather charge cord that stows conveniently in a recess below the cargo hold floor.

From the driver’s seat, the Prius PHV is like any Prius in that it surrounds you with information. Only more of it! A heads-up information (HUD) display is available on the Advanced trim level, and Toyota has also re-designed some of the information you can get from the info screen on both trim levels. For example, the new multi-information display in the Prius Plug-in now includes a EV Drive Ratio display that records the ratio of driving distance covered by EV power and the Hybrid System Indicator shows possible EV driving range when in EV mode. There is also a monthly fuel consumption record available, which emphasizes the sort of futuristic, computer-based driving experience that the Prius has always encouraged. Toyota’s Entune info-tainment system — that junction where cell phone and car begin to merge is also standard equipment. Entune provides access to Pandora, iHeartRadio, Bing, Movie Tickets and OpenTable. The Advanced trim level adds Premium HDD Navigation and other plug-in vehicle-specific apps to the standard Entune system such as: Charge Management, Remote Air Conditioning System, Charging Station Map, Vehicle Finder and Eco Dashboard. There is also a way to log-in to XM Stocks — as if you need to check on all this stuff while driving!?

All in all, driving the Prius Plug-in Hybrid conveys the exact same feeling as driving a standard one. When driving is mostly confined to the city, especially when that city is as progressive as Madison, you may not ever have to use gas throughout your urban travels. Most of us would not mind topping the battery off on the move or in our garages at night (utilizing the charge management timer that is standard on the Prius PHV). Prius Plug-in owners do most of their charging, in fact, at home. Minor life-style changes like this are essentially trade-offs — in this case trips to the gas station are exchanged for frequent, mostly at-home, battery charging. And seeing the gas gauge needle barely move for weeks at a time would not be a bother to anyone! With the Prius Plug-in it seems that Toyota is targeting buyers who want a better Prius. Not necessarily the enthusiastic early adopters who have the wherewithal to pay out bigger dollars for a Tesla Roadster or a Volt, or those who desire the all-electric purity of the Leaf. Because that’s really what the Prius Plug-in Hybrid is — a better Prius.

Now let’s compare the Prius PHV to other cars with a cord: The all-electric Nissan Leaf has an official range of 73 miles from its 24-kWh pack and the Chevrolet Volt is rated at 35 miles on a full charge of its 16-kWh pack before the range-extending gas engine kicks in. In the interest of self-preservation, none of these plug-ins use all of the energy capacity that their batteries can hold.  Prius PHV covers 29% of the miles on electricity with 4.4 kWh battery. Volt covers 64% with 16 kWh battery. Which plugin makes the best use of battery? The Prius PHV covers 71% with a 50 MPG gas engine. Volt covers 36% with a 37 MPG gas engine. Which plugin makes the best of gas? It takes 10 hours to fully charge Volt with the bundled charger. It takes Prius PHV 3 hours. Gas, of course, refuels in minutes. Which plugin takes longer to refuel?

The EPA bestowed the Prius Plug-in with a fuel economy rating of 95 mpg equivalent and a rating of 50 mpg when operating only on gasoline (same as the standard Prius). Compare this to the Volt, which gets just 37 mpg combined (using premium fuel) when the battery runs out (after many more EV miles, granted!).


Even though the Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s pack is small compared to other plug-ins, it is clearly light years more sophisticated than the standard Prius’ 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride pack.  It is the battery pack that allows for a significant increase of electric-only range in stop and go city driving — the type of driving that is the hardest on fuel economy. Of all the changes to the Prius PHV, this is the one that is the most important from an evolutionary standpoint. Whether operating on battery or gasoline, the Prius Plug-in drives and handles almost exactly like the familiar, standard Prius. The only difference — gas goes in on the left side and electricity goes in on the right side!

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Smart Bumps Volleyball Team hits the sands for the Fall League

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, Events, News | Posted on 14-09-2012


Volleyball Courts at The Sports Pub

Fall Volleyball is here! Team “Smart Bumps” has kicked off their fall season at Sports Pub on Madison’s East Side.  Smart Bumps was up against the Oscar Mayer team last night.  We started strong, winning the first game of the match but we just couldn’t seem to pull out the star power in our last two games.Smart Bumps Team Members Ashley Payne and Celia Kaiser

So starting a little like the Packer’s; with a loss, we hope to pick up the pace in our second game on September 27th at 7:40pm.  We added some new players on the team and are still trying to find our groove but with the competitive and fun personalities of the players a great time was had by all! If you find yourself on the East side of Madison over the next two months stop on over and support Smart Bumps…just look for us in the bright green!

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Get Ready for Winter Driving With These Helpful Tips

Posted by Smart Motors | Posted in Community, News | Posted on 25-10-2011

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Now is the time to start preparing your car for the upcoming winter driving season. Believe it or not, most of the problems we have with our cars in the winter are caused by the heat of the summer. Don’t wait until the weather turns bitterly cold to get your car ready.

Here are some basic but essential things to check to make sure your car is ready for whatever the elements throw at it:

TIRES Your tires are arguably the most important components of your car when it comes to winter driving. Tires in good condition will help you get going in the snow, but more importantly will help you stop when it is slippery, allowing you to avoid obstacles and maintain steering as much as possible. Tests have shown that on a wet driving surface, tires that are new will stop 20% shorter than tires that are half worn. This is an important consideration when deciding if your tires are safe going into the winter. Your tires should be checked for tread depth and pressure, and for any uneven wear. The general rule of thumb is that for safe winter driving you need to have 5/32” or more tread remaining. The tread should be worn evenly across the three tread grooves. The pressure should be at what the vehicle manufacturer recommends for the car, which is listed on a label either inside the driver door jamb or possibly in the glove compartment. The tire pressure “max” listed on the sidewall of the tire is what the maximum amount of air the tire can hold, but is not what is recommended for the proper and safe handling of your particular car. In cold weather, tires tend to lose air pressure more quickly than in warm weather so it is important to check the pressure and adjust more frequently. It is generally not enough to have them checked just when your car is being serviced. Check them at least once a month.

WIPERS Check the rubber part of your wiper blade for tears or nicks in the rubber and replace them if there are any. Make sure the wipers are making good contact with the glass and not leaving any streaks. Also check your washer fluid; keep the reservoir full of solvent that is good to at least 0 degrees. Test them to make sure they spray all over the windshield.

ENGINE COOLANT Your engine coolant should be clean and test to at least -30F. It should be changed at the interval the manufacturer recommends. Coolant may test ok as far as antifreeze strength but start breaking down and lose its rust inhibiting qualities so it is very important to change it when recommended. The radiator and hoses should be checked for leaks.

BATTERY The heat of summer is harder on a battery than the cold of winter, but it is when it is cold that a bad battery is likely to keep your car from starting. Check the battery terminal connections for tightness, and make sure there is no corrosion buildup on the terminals. Have the battery tested for load strength. Most batteries in cold climates are at their best for about 5 years. If you don’t drive your car frequently in the winter, or are storing it while you are away, consider adding a battery tender. This is a small charger that will charge your battery when it detects the charge is getting depleted. The battery should stay ready for you to start when you need it.

OTHER BASIC MAINTENANCE Make sure you are up-to-date with oil changes. Air filters for the engine and ventilation systems should be checked and replaced if needed. Spark plugs should be changed at the manufacturer recommended interval. Clean oil and good spark plugs will help the car start in the coldest weather. Make sure all of your headlights and tail lights are working because visibility tends to be worse in the winter.

EMERGENCY KIT Being prepared is the best way to stay safe when you are travelling in the winter. These items are important to have with you in case of an emergency:

  • A fully charged cell phone
  • Jumper cables
  • A small shovel
  • A blanket
  • Cat litter for traction
  • Large plastic trash bags (to kneel on in snow or as rain protection)
  • Ice scraper/snow brush
  • Flashlight with fresh batteries
  • Extra hats and mittens for occupants

OTHER GADGETS Some people like to get into a warm car in the winter. Remote starters have become very popular so you can warm your car up before you get in. That also works in the summer for air conditioning. Also, for very cold areas where vehicles have to be parked outside, block heaters are available. Most are designed to keep the engine coolant warm so you get warm coolant circulating for your heater more quickly. Others will warm the engine oil up so it circulates more easily when it is cold.

OTHER WINTER DRIVING TIPS Let’s start with the obvious: If the weather is bad and you don’t need to go out, don’t! Check the weather services, and the DOT websites, for any road closings or travel advisories for the area you are travelling before you go. When it is below zero, it is good to let your car warm up, but don’t let it idle too long. Let it run long enough to clear the frost off the windows, and then start driving, slower speeds if possible, to get the fluids circulating. The heater will warm up faster this way. Wash the sand and salt off of your car when it is warm enough to do so. Typically if it over 20 degrees your locks won’t freeze if you wash the car. Make sure the underside gets flushed out, too, so the salt isn’t chewing on your chassis! Most cars now have anti-lock brakes and traction control/ stability control systems to help you maintain control on slippery surfaces. They tend to make a lot of noise, so don’t be surprised to hear a grinding noise from the wheels if you are braking or taking off on a slick surface. It is normal, keep your foot on the brake and let the system do its job. If these things are new to you, find a quiet parking lot to try them out and get used to them. Then you won’t be alarmed in a panic stop situation. Following these basic tips will help you weather the winter driving season more safely and with fewer trips to the shop. But like I said before: don’t wait for the cold weather to strike; get ready now!

A short video discussing all of the winterization techniques:

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