Middle Tennessee State plug-in hybrid kit

A plug-in hybrid kit that even a starving college student may be able to afford?

That might be a stretch, but a Middle Tennessee State University professor and a group of students are developing a PHEV kit that may ultimately cost far less than the premium some people are paying for electric-drive vehicles.

Dr. Charles Perry, a former IBM employee who's leading the effort, is working with nine students to create a plug-in hybrid kit that could cost as little as $3,000, once production is up and running. For that kind of scratch, buyers would get a lot of bang for their buck, as fuel economy could jump by as much as 100 percent.

The system, which is being tested on a 1994 Honda station wagon, involves a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery feeding an electric motor that powers the rear wheels of the car, giving the gas engine, which powers the front wheels, a break. The group, which has been working on the project for about four years, put together a six-minute video outlining the effort and you can watch it below.

Perry and the students are pitching the idea to companies and hope to get funding to make what they hope to be a production version of the kit. In 2009, Perry won a green energy competition from the Tennessee Technology Development Corp., which came with a $50,000 grant along with a matching investment to push the projecting forward.

Perry isn't alone in trying to make plug-in hybrid kits work. Early last year, Washington-based Vista Engineering Technologies started pitching a conversion kit that would be able to give any vehicle a 30-mile electric-only range for less than $10,000.