Hybrid vehicle conversion biz plugs into Boulder

By Alicia Wallace

Daily Camera

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 22 2010 6:14 p.m. MST

Josh Maynard, left, and Paul Guzyk ease a large battery into the rear space in a Toyota Prius at Boulder Hybrid Conversions in Boulder, Colo. on Dec. 17, 2010. With the larger battery, the Prius can get up to 100 miles to a gallon. Guzyk is the founder of 3Prong Power, electric vehicle conversion company. Officials for 3Prong Power inked a joint venture with Boulder-based EVolve Electrics, an electric vehicle components manufacturer, to form Boulder Hybrids Conversions _ a firm initially focused on converting hybrid Prius vehicles to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Daily Camera, Mark Leffingwell, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BOULDER, Colo. — When his Berkeley, Calif.-based electric vehicle conversion company had expansion in its sights, Paul Guzyk's eyes landed on Colorado.

Noting the Rocky Mountain state's favorable alternative fuel tax credit for consumers combined with the northwest Denver area's affinity for the Toyota Prius, Guzyk determined Boulder would be an ideal locale for a branch of 3Prong Power.

This fall, officials for 3Prong Power inked a joint venture with Boulder-based EVolve Electrics, an electric vehicle components manufacturer, to form Boulder Hybrids Conversions — a firm initially focused on converting hybrid Prius vehicles to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The way December's going, Guzyk is feeling like he made the right choice.

"This month we (are performing conversions for) 20 cars," he said. "Basically, we're working every day except Christmas."

Boulder Hybrid Conversions' process involves installing an additional battery to neighbor the existing electric battery and covers the spare tire chamber. The two conversion kits — a 4-kilowatt-hour system and 10-kilowatt-hour system — are promoted as having the ability to improve mileage on a 20 percent level to an 80 percent level.

Based on driving habits, one conversion could top 100 miles per gallon, he claimed.

Guzyk said the lures of increased efficiency and reduced emissions are boosted by the state tax credit — 85 percent for conversions completed between Jan. 1, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2012 — which could slice thousands off the approximately $5,000 or $12,000 installation.

"It's a much better value proposition for the customer," he said.

Boulder Hybrids Conversions' market is niche. There are about 10,000 Prius vehicles in Colorado and to qualify for the tax credit, the car has to be registered in the Centennial State.

Boulder Hybrids Conversions intends to expand to serve other hybrid models within the next year, Guzyk said, adding he's aware that conversions might not always be his firm's focus.

Toyota soon will release its plug-in Prius. A conversion could be less expensive than a new car, he said, but his firm is keeping its eye on new technologies.

"This is what we're doing now," he said. "It's hard to say where we'll be in the future."

The premium price point continues to be a barrier to entry in the electric vehicle industry, but the trends are favorable for declines, said Mike Simpson, an engineer researching electric and plug-in vehicles for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

"Part of the issue is cost and right now, costs are coming down in such as way that more and more hybrids are getting on the roads," he said.

The offerings have grown almost exponentially, he said, noting Toyota is projecting to reach the 1-million-a-year production mark and all of the major manufacturers have a hybrid option.

The release of the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt are prime examples that the electric vehicle industry's potential, said Matt Mattila, a consultant with Rocky Mountain Institute's transportation practice.

"We've all been excited that (electric vehicles) are actually on the ground today," he said.

The vehicles are becoming more affordable for the mass consumer, Mattila said, noting additional developments occurring in the laboratories and startups. Manufacturing prices for lithium ion batteries, for example, have dropped from $1,000 per kilowatt hour to $500 to $700, he said.

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