Here’s the thing about mass electrification of the global automotive fleet for environmental benefit: logistically, it won’t be perfect. Last week, a study from Polestar and Rivian said that even if the world’s supply of cars goes fully electric in the next few years and those cars are powered by fossil fuel-free energy, it still might not be enough to keep temperature increases in check. Plus, that’ll likely never happen anyway — not for decades. And as things stand right now, we can’t make every single car electric. In fact, doing that would introduce all sorts of associated problems and resource issues and would be massively wasteful, considering the world is filled with over a billion cars.
What actually would help more is if there was some way to make a significant portion of the current global car fleet burn less fuel most of the time – I say this not because I’ve crunched all the numbers, but more because I know that a rapid switch to 100% electrification is effectively impossible, and doing something is much better than doing nothing. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just better.
Plug-in hybrid combustion-electric vehicles are an ideal solution here because they can be completely electric for the short trips that form the bulk of how we use cars, but at the same time be able to use a combustion motor for longer trips and recharging, avoiding the need to build a staggering amount of EV chargers.
A startup called BlueDot Motorworks seems to get this idea and is developing an interesting and pleasingly basic-seeming universal unit to retrofit pretty much any car into a plug-in hybrid.
Will this actually happen? Who the hell knows, but let’s look at what they’ve got.
Oh, and it appears that their prototype unit has been fitted to what looks to be a 1997-2001 Jeep XJ Cherokee:
That video, which makes the case quite well for the need for retrofitted partial-EV solutions instead of trying to re-make the whole automotive landscape as pure EVs, shows their prototype driving around, a battery pack with what looks like fake taillights hanging off the trailer hitch of the XJ. I can’t tell if the system, which they call the Narwhal, is actually providing motive power or how that power would be moving the Jeep’s wheels, but you can at least get a general sense of what they’re going for.
Their website provides a couple of diagrams that provide a bit more insight:
Their planned line of cetacean-named add-on-hybrid kits actually has two entries: Narwhal, which we saw in the video in trailer hitch mount form, is for solid-axle vehicles and somehow connects to the rear differential to provide power from a co-axial motor/clutch system.
The other version is the Humpback, which can also mount the battery pack off the rear bumper, presumably via a similar trailer hitch-type mount, but provides power via what looks like a pair of external motor units that connect to the rear wheel’s mounting bolts/nuts.
This is an interesting if clunky way to accomplish this, and I suspect would be best used on FWD cars, of which there are plenty. It looks like the sort of thing an owner could install in their driveway in an hour or so, which is fantastic. Oh, also interesting: the SUV that they’re using in that image is a Mahindra XUV500, an unexpected but very cool choice for their diagram here. I bet they chose it in the hopes that it would be unrecognizable to most non-Indian readers, but they didn’t count on us, did they?
The graphic also notes they’re planning on an EV-only range of 30 miles, with “up to 200 hp” from the EV motor. My guess is that these are just target numbers, but as far as targets go, they make sense. A 30-mile range would, on average, cover most Americans’ daily commuting distance, and around 200 hp would be enough for that sort of commute, too, easily.
For me, the big appeal of Blue Dot’s solution is the simple straightforward, even almost crude design. These seem like plausible ways to cheaply add hybrid functionality to just about anything. They remind me of some goofball ideas I had back in 2012 for clamp-on motor units (the drawings show a gasoline version but I played with electric options, too) that would help push a broken car back home:
The notion of a completely separate, independently-contained power and energy storage unit means that it really can be applied to just about any car, even the old vintage heaps I gravitate to. Now, I’m not sure about the implications of a lithium iron phosphate battery effectively replacing your rear bumper, so that would likely take some figuring out and destructive crash testing, but I feel like there must be some solution there.
Of course, there are more issues involved in a system like this, too, which our resident suspension engineer Huibert Mees lays out for us:
We are targeting a nominal weight for a 15 kWh pack of approximately 250 lbs. Using the wheelbase and weight of our XJ test vehicle, if a vehicle started with 50% of the weight on the rear axle, our system would increase that to 56%. While this will have some effect on at-the-limit handling, it will be a second-order effect as the increased lateral load is offset by increased traction. This is completely in line with many currently accepted practices, such as a hitch cargo carrier or the tongue weight of a trailer. There is also the option of mounting the pack inside the vehicle, which, especially for pickup trucks, will be preferred by many customers.
The anti-sag is an additional spring that is connected from the hitch to the axle by either an arm underneath (Narwhal) or by the external swing arms (Humpback). The preload is adjustable so normal ride height can be achieved.The normal use case would be to use the system until the battery is depleted and then turn on the engine. We do not anticipate frequent switching back and forth, and may actually include a timeout function that prohibits this.
Will these guys actually get a product to market? I have no idea. But, I hope that someone will get into the business of easily and cheaply adapting conventional combustion cars into some sort of plug-in hybrid. Plus, it could also be a great limp-home solution the next time one of my shitboxes has some stupid failure of some part I’ve neglected for years!
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We’re getting close!
I’ve been waiting patiently for years for a plug n play solution to add some EV power to a sports car. The narwahl sounds like it is getting close.
I want a motor I can bolt between the driveshaft and the rear diff. Hooked to a smallish battery and activated by the push of a button somewhere up front. Instant “turbo” button.
Would need a shortened driveshaft. All else just bolts on.
Specs: 100 lbs total weight, extra 100 ftlbs of torque. Total of 5 minutes operation before recharge. Cost of about $1,000.
Simple, basic, powa.
Oh, and if you want to get fancy some sort of safety that won’t allow the system to engage unless the driveshaft is spinning and spinning and in the correct direction.
I’m curious if they could use hub motors instead of that clamp-on looking thing at the wheels. A battery of that capacity might fit in a cargo area instead of hanging off the bumper but that loss of space would probably be unappealing to most people.
It seems like access into the rear of a car would be hampered by the presence of that big housing on the rear. Imagine the barked shins you’d get trying to get the groceries in and out.
Having something that goes in/with/through/attached/replace to the rear driveshaft of a rear drive truck seems like an idea to investigate.
As a concept I don’t put too much stock into what will look like if it goes to market.
I like the idea of retrofitting, much like the idea of updating a ICE guzzlein to use Hydrogen.
You can keep the classic/car you like and still move towards other solutions.
As far as range, my commute (when I need to do it) is over 40 miles and there may be an open charger at work. I would still need to redo my 60s electrical system and add an outside line (not required when house was built).
“What actually would help more is if there was some way to make a significant portion of the current global car fleet burn less fuel most of the time”
Yep. There are loads of things that could be done, and some of them are free. I got the mpg on my GT86 to go from 32 to 49 (UK gallons, I’m not doing the maths for you). It’s WLTP mpg is 33.2.
In 2021 the media induced panic buying of fuel in the UK and as a result fuel became very hard to find. I work from home so should have found this amusing, but I was on holiday in Wales, 320 miles from home, when this bullshit started.
So I drove economically. Instant massive reduction in CO2. For free. We could all do this, but we don’t care enough, so we don’t. Watching my average mpg fall slowly back to 32 over the next few months was depressing, but apparently I care more about enjoying speed than reducing climate doom.
Anyway, with a calibration tweak all cars could be beating their WLTP mpg, and all it would cost us is some time and some fun. So it won’t happen, not even in the EU.
In summary: people are selfish and short-sighted.
He saw a battery booster plugged into a cell phone and said, “Wait a minute….”
With the ICE needing to run under all conditions to keep the heat / ac / lights / power steering / power brakes functional, I don’t see this being of much benefit.
Anyone who wanted a hybrid version of their vehicle could have purchased one. Those who didn’t go for the hybrid version won’t care enough to spend a few thousand to make their car some kind of less good half hybrid.
Factory hybrids have the steering, brakes, A/C and heat made to work electric with the engine off.
Newer cars with electric power steering could get around this but A/C compressors are almost all belt driven. Power Brakes could be made to work with an electric vacuum pump but that is more than a simple hook up to the trailer hitch. Heat won’t work unless you’ve got the coolant hot and then have an electric pump to circulate the coolant through the heater core. You also need to supply 12V to the regulator vehicle system or you’ll drain the normal battery.
I like the idea of keeping older vehicles going and reducing emissions but this will require quite a bit of work and unless you’re a gear head I don’t think it will be worth it.
The companies rationale for the effect of the extra weight is pretty hilarious.
They think having an extra 250 pounds several feet behind the rear axle has the same dynamic effect as 250 pounds directly over the axle?
That’s a bit of a silly fantasy, and a 250 pound tongue weight is something you’ll only see on a frame based truck, and you will definitely feel it there.
That being said, I love the concept and the spirit of this. I think that modular in-wheel mounted electric drive is a better way forward, as long as the wheels can be made light enough to not ruin the ride or require a rock hard suspension.
Just think of the awesome theft potential! Screw cats, or maybe grab those while you’re at it. lol
This reminds me of the company who made hybrid, or rather, electric assist kits for Panther platform Fords. It was basically a battery and a motor controller in the Crown Vic trunk above the rear axle, and a small electric motor mounted on the rear axle, driving the rear driveshaft with a belt.
Probably just enough to shave off a few MPGs in city traffic.
I don’t know if they are still around, but I thought it was a simple but effective idea.
Torch, in thinking of hybridizing a member of your fleet, the Changli comes to mind. (-;
Maybe not a motorcycle engine that would be dangerous, so something like this:
As for the electric toothbrush bumper, it gets a Crack Pipe from me.
[Ron Howard “Accelerated Development” voice]
“It was, in fact, a bad idea.”
Yup. It’s like a turbonique rocket axle add on without any of the fun bits
How would this deal with the necessary engine accessories, power steering, brake booster, ac?
I think a better idea would be to not provide any all electric range and use the motor/battery to assist the regular engine improving milage
Let’s not forget that you can really fuck up an automatic transmission by towing it, even in neutral. My guess is you’d have to idle when the Narwhal is in use, if you want AC or heat.
There are some factory mild hybrids that have an alternator that provides torque to assist the engine, others have a motor as part of the transmission torque converter.
I’m looking for a slightly better thought out solution for a Suburban.
All I need is for that land barge to electric putter 3 miles into town and back. Or not lose 10 gallons of gas in a traffic jam.
It can spare some rear space, I doubt I’d notice.
you could look for one of those eaton hydraulic launch assist things used on garbage trucks.
it wouldn’t be as efficient as an EV, but it would help a lot in start-stop traffic.
alternatively, 3 miles? get a bicycle and use it whenever the weather isn’t horrible.
” get a bicycle and use it whenever the weather isn’t horrible. ”
Oh, I do.
I bike whenever I can. It’s an e-bike too, so the hills matter not to me.
So, actually been thinking about this for quite awhile, because I share a similar sentiment.
I have an old K1500 GMT400 Suburban, and, my thought was to remove the transfer case and front drive axle, and replace it with the standalone rear motor from a hybrid, the one that kept seeming to make the most sense was a Lexus RX400h/Toyota Highlander Hybrid. They’re designed for a relatively heavy vehicle, are old enough to be cheap, and, I figure are probably fairly overbuilt being a Toyota. Mine is currently a single battery setup, but, they all have a spot for a second battery, so I figure that space can be filled up with batteries for the electric FWD system. Obviously, the difficult part in all of this would be controlling it, but, either something to tap into the computers throttle & brake sensors, a gyro of some sorts (like on the completely standalone Curt Echo trailer brake controller I got), or just manual. Would be useful for reducing stress on takeoff, and could recoup some energy on braking as well.
The only downside I see would be if you end up in a situation where you need a lot of 4wd, but, that’s not my use for the vehicle. Could also add a method for charging the batteries from the alternator too, although it’s not going to produce enough current to keep up in real time.
Overly complicated and not worth it? Of course. But, it was a neat thought into ‘electrifying’ an old SUV. You could always take the same concept, but use a stonger motor (Volvo T8 RDU, some sort of electric car axle, etc), and just store more batteries somewhere in the truck that makes sense.
The Humpback? No. That is the J.Lo.
weird, it’s still over a month until April 1st
I was thinking, for simple citycar econoboxes maybe could exchange the rear drum brakes for hub motors and even eliminate the starter/alternator from the car for better/bigger battery possible
Enough battery and motor, and instant Carolina squat
The truck version is intriguing.
I am very confused. It seems like there’s a lot of talk and not a lot of product. How is this geared into the powertrain of the car? If it’s really some clutch packs mounted to the outside face of the rear wheel as shown in the diagrams wouldn’t that be incredibly lossy and thus diminish any tangible benefits of running such a system? I love the idea of hybridizing existing vehicles, but I’m just not seeing the vision here.
And to think everyone shamed me for using a “Bumper Bully”.
I agree Andreas anything that improves is better than nothing. These offerings are a whale of a tale. First considering batteries fire prone attributes i am guessing laws will require inside the bumpers at a minimum. Considering everyone has room for at least 5 and always drives with only 1 maybe a trunk or rear seat might work better. Of course cost and charging are a thing. If outside this is at the very least ugly and dangerous. If inside less ugly but not DIY. At least for most. Now noone buying a winter beater is paying extra for this in a car for just one season. The poor who probably drive the worst offenders can’t afford it. I think cash for clunkers was a great idea done catastrophically wrong. Instead do a EV incentive say $12,500 guaranteed for a trade in that has been licensed driven and insured for 2 years. But use the trade ins as a vehicle for anyone who has a worse vehicle that has also been licensed and insured as a equal split. Trade in that 89 Fairlane get a 2006 car. The rich get a taste the poor get a free upgrade.
Only problem is the politicians aren’t paying off their bosses.
This is infinitely less cool than the hover conversions promised to us by Back To The Future II
We live in the Worst Timeline. It’s been 23 years since Avery Brooks said’It’s the year 2000, but where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars!’
Sorry, have to agree with Mr. Mees. Hanging a giant firebomb on the rear bumper of your vehicle seems like asking to become a Pinto. The type that goes into a bed might be viable, but the bumper battery bomb just seems like asking for trouble.
Counterpoint: hanging a big bomb off your back bumper just might discourage tailgaters. Particularly if BlueDot advertised battery designs that focused the explosiviness away from the owners car, towards the car behind you.
Hanging a potential bomb off the back of the car? Batteries do not explode, they may burn and really hot but its not an explosion. All that gasoline it would be jammed up against in a rear end collision with that battery burning and the gasoline exploding would be quite the party.
Yeah, the first thing I thought of when I saw the Humpback was how easy it would be to damage the battery cells in a rear-end collision. This seems way too exposed a location, and I am surprised they didn’t put it on the roof. Mounting the battery high would result in lower cornering stability, but it could more evenly distribute the weight front-rear, doesn’t block rear-hatch loading, and it wouldn’t be as vulnerable from common fender benders.
Yeah there will be a battery fire at every other intersection from the super common following too close rear ending. If you instantly deployed 200,000 of these across the country, all of the US would be burnt to the ground before realizing it was a bad idea.
Nah, maybe you can jettison them, like Star Trek Warp cores
Yeah I like that, cruise safely away and watch that fire log burn in the rear view.
Horns would be a honkin’.
Just me and the boys on a Saturday night, rollin’ ‘lectrons.