The Gray Lady is now the proud operator of a Sprinter plug-in hybrid from DaimlerChrysler, the first medium-duty plug-in vehicle to get fleet testing on the East Coast. As part of a joint effort between the Times, DaimlerChrysler, the New York Power Authority, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Con Edison, this big plug-in will run routes between a printing press in Queens and headquarters in midtown, as well as trips to Jersey for fresh air and exercise. For those that aren’t familiar, a plug-in hybrid vehicle is like a typical hybrid, but has a beefed up battery pack that allows it to travel a certain distance on electric power alone (this is what you probably wish the Prius would do during those few blissful seconds of acceleration before the gas motor kicks in). The Sprinter will run in electric mode for about 20 miles, after which it will start behaving like a regular hybrid with its battery pack and diesel motor working together.
While plug-in hybrids may sound like only a minor variation on the hybrids we’re all used to, they actually represent some exciting new possibilities. For starters, since most trips, especially for working commuters, are quite short, a plug-in hybrid would do most of its work in pure electric mode. Also, because these vehicles charge mostly at night, this means they could help stabilize the power grid by charging during off-peak hours. It has even been proposed that they plug back into the grid during the day to share the charge they absorbed over night. Austin, Texas has hopes of seeing this come to life and is generally just buck wild over plug-ins.
There aren’t any plug-in hybrid cars in commercial production yet, but DaimlerChrysler has been developing the Sprinter for some time, and will likely be the leader in medium duty plug-ins. The first plug-in school buses in the US just hit the roads in Florida. GM caused a ruckus at the International Auto Show January when it showed off a concept car called the Volt, a spunky little plug-in sports car. Though just a proof of concept, GM claims to be quite serious about brining the technology to market. For more on green cars and how you can drive greener, check out our handy-dandy guide.