In 2004, CalCars modified a standard Toyota Prius hybrid electric vehicle, not only because they could, but also to prove a point, that a plug-in vehicle could hit the 100 mpge mark.
There have always been tinkerers and inventors who tried to improve things, but sometimes the results are disastrous, such this week’s unfortunate DIY Plug-In death by fire, as well as that of an innocent bystander (the owner’s cat).
Keep in mind, any kind of modification to say, a Toyota Prius, will probably void the warranty, or worse.
The conversion parts for this particular DIY plug-in came from Plug-In Conversions Corporation, which has done about seventy conversions since 2008 without incident. Equipment included the addition of a 6.1kWh nickel-metal hydride [NiMH] battery pack and additional controls to feed this power into the Prius hybrid system.
Unfortunately, while the vehicle was charging, just 8A on a standard 120V line, the DIY plug-in caught fire and was completely destroyed. Sadder still is about $250,000 in damages to the home, which isn’t covered by insurance. Ultimately, Ron Gremban, owner of CalCars and the DIY plug-in, lost his cat to the fire as well, an innocent bystander.
“This unfortunate fire unequivocally has nothing to do with today’s production plug-in hybrids,” responded CalCar.org’s founder, Felix Kramer.
Surely this DIY plug-in’s death by fire is distressing to Mr. Gremban, but shouldn’t be confused with the many thousands of plug-in vehicles that have been sold, about 80,000 in the last couple years. The exact cause of the fire is unknown at this time, and could have originated from the vehicle itself or any part of the charging system located outside the vehicle. The cause could have dated back to 2004 when the original conversion was completed, only surfacing now.
UPDATE: Checking out the CalCars.org blog, it turns out that this particular DIY plug-in has been a test-bed for multiple conversions and plug-in technology experiments. When fire investigators removed the battery cover, they found the battery pack intact and still charged. Investigation is ongoing.