Minneapolis chosen to install new plug-in technology

Just in time for ever-higher gas prices, a new technology is coming to Minnesota that could get your car up to 100 miles per gallon. One catch, though: If you want it, you’d better get in line. Orders are booked full through December.

The technology, called a Hymotion Plug-In Conversion Module, is a large battery installed into the trunk of a hybrid car that allows up to 40 miles of driving on a single charge. Beyond that, gas picks up the load.

For now, conversions can only be done on certain Toyota Prius models.

The technology is an upgrade of what Mayor R.T. Rybak has been driving with since October. In conjunction with the announcement of installations coming to the Twin Cities area, Rybak’s car had the new battery installed at a news conference on July 15.

“I think more Minnesotans should do it as well,” the mayor said before the conversion process began.

Originally, they wouldn’t have been able to. Minneapolis was not on the list of six cities selected to be test sites for the technology. But when Rybak caught wind of this, he said he stepped in and told the manufacturer that he may be the only mayor in the country who drives a plug-in hybrid and that it therefore made sense for the technology to come here.

Now, the Twin Cities will have the only site in the Midwest to perform conversions. Other cities where the modules will be available are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New York.

The operations aren’t cheap, costing about $10,000. But the state is offering help in the form of a grant program meant to expand the use of plug-in technology. It’s expected to lower the cost by about $3,000, state Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) said.

“This is really the cheapest and environmentally best response to high gas prices,” Hornstein said.

For now, conversions will only be offered at Denny Hecker’s Inver Grove Heights location, where four technicians were trained to handle the intricate process, said Shelley Peterson, the dealership’s service director. But if sales of plug-in conversions go well, they could be expanded to the Denny Hecker dealership in North Minneapolis.

Orders have to be made through the technology’s developer, A123 Systems, Peterson said.

Exactly how many conversions the dealership is expecting isn’t clear, she said, deferring the question to Jim Strong, an A123 customer service representative. Strong said orders are booked full through December.

The modules come with three years of warranty, but Strong said they’re expected to last far beyond that. However, because the technology is so new, he said, it’s hard to predict exactly how long that would be.