Amberjac Plug-In Prius: Hail the 130mpg car

Clever new electrics and batteries have transformed a hybrid into an amazing car, says James Ruppert

Poking fun at the Toyota Prius has been a popular pastime. Owners including Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio were getting nowhere near the claimed fuel consumption, and, most amusingly, the CO2 emissions are not even low enough to qualify for Gordon Brown's latest zero rate car-tax band.

So stop laughing and start gawping at the Plug-in Prius. Not that there is a huge amount to gawp at, as it looks just like the standard-issue hybrid.

And it has the same Prius ingredients - an efficient petrol engine, automatic gearbox, electric motor and additional battery pack. However, this Prius returns in excess of 100mpg in petrol-powered mode.

Simon Sheldon, managing director of Amberjac Projects of Grantham, Lincolnshire, which is behind the Plug-in Prius, points to a tray of batteries. "Those are the original nickel metal hydride batteries, which we have replaced with lithium iron phosphate."

These have seven times the capacity of the originals and the cars in which they are fitted get 27 times the energy. Plus, they are safe: Sheldon stabs a battery cell right through with a screwdriver without causing a fire. Indeed, the cell still works.

As well as clever batteries there is also a cleverer battery management system, which helps this modified Prius to travel 30 miles in electric mode (30 times higher than the standard car) and allows it to return up to 130mpg compared with 50mpg in petrol mode.

"We thought we could do a much better job than Toyota. Doubling the car's efficiency seemed achievable. I've worked in the automotive sector and in battery industry and there is a huge skills gap between the two. One does not realise what the other is doing. That's given us a huge opportunity.

"To get to this customer-ready stage has cost about £150,000," says Sheldon. That is the annual coffee bill for major manufacturer boffins.

At the rear bumper of the Plug-in is a flap which covers a socket. Unlike a standard Prius, you boost the batteries overnight on cheap-rate electricity (it costs only 21.9p to fill up), and that is the key to its remarkable urban performance.

Engage the gears and you are off at a whisper, powered by the electric motor. You can have climate control and soothing music without flattening the batteries. There is a pod in front of the driver that tells you what the situation is.

"Our monitor shows the battery condition and the throttle position," says Sheldon.

In addition, there is the Toyota's own colourful and mesmeric energy monitor, which tells you what the power units are doing. After a few minutes in a standard Prius, the engine cuts in to help the batteries, but the Plug-in just keeps on going, and will travel under pure battery power for 30 miles.

"We have had a problem describing what this car is," says Sheldon. "It isn't strictly a hybrid, or purely an electric. It is in between. We still have to warm up the engine, and for that we do need to burn some petrol so that the catalyser works efficiently."

We accelerate to more than 31mph and the petrol engine kicks in. The display, which was showing 999mpg, tumbles down to 52.5mpg. But that figure does not last for long, even though we are now overtaking on a dual carriageway. At 60mph we are doing 100mpg.

Sheldon points out that it is reading in US gallons so I have to add 20 per cent, meaning a remarkable 120mpg. And when you coast up to roundabouts, you are only on battery power.

So why do standard Prius owners achieve such poor consumption figures? "Their driving style needs to change," says Sheldon. "You need to anticipate conditions - there is no point in accelerating hard halfway up a hill. Toyota claims 65mpg but we have found that under normal driving conditions it is more like 48mpg."

Unofficially, Toyota has seen the Plug-in conversion and could not believe that someone had reverse-engineered its baby so successfully. It will catch up, but is years of corporate development behind.

Amberjac can now turn its attention to the hybrid off-roader Lexus RX400h, which gets Sheldon very excited: "At just over 30mpg it doesn't make sense, but we can easily double that figure and I believe it will look much more attractive."

He's right. We could glide through the streets without upsetting any of the anti-4x4 lobby or, indeed, any wildlife. As I ponder this, an irate goose ignores the car and mounts a prolonged attack on our photographer.

The Plug-in Prius is what the car should have been anyway, but at a price. Turn up at Amberjac with your Prius, and for £7,700 plus VAT you will have one of the most environmentally friendly cars in the world.

The hardware can all be removed and transferred to your next Prius. Amberjac is also introducing lower-powered battery packs for drivers who don't need the ability to go 30 miles without an engine, and these versions will cost several thousand pounds less.

If you can't afford this, Sheldon is hoping that local authorities and government will back up their green posturing with orders. Currently, the C02 output is reckoned to be about 60kg/km. When this is officially confirmed, it will unusually qualify the Plug-in Prius for zero rate car tax. And later in the year, Amberjac will switch the fuel to bio-ethanol.

The Plug-in is a deadly serious piece of kit, perfect for A-list celebrities keen to offset the CO2 of their Lear Jets.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

    SQL Developer - Permanent - London - Up to £50k

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum 23 days holiday plus Pension scheme: Clearwater Peop...

    Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

    £85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

    KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

    £85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn