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
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
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

    Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

    C++ Quant Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    Java/Calypso Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

    SQL Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

    Day In a Page

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York