Mayor Rybak gets plugged in -- and wants more converts

  • Article by: RODRIGO ZAMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2008 - 11:26 PM
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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak waited as Jim Strong of A123Systems of Massachusetts put a high-power lithium ion battery in his Toyota Prius. His hybrid will run up to 40 miles on the battery.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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When Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak decided to convert his gas-electric Toyota Prius last year to enable it to be recharged via an electrical outlet, he found that Canada was the closest place to get it done.

Having to drive so far didn't sit easy with Rybak, and he vowed to make a local option available.

At a media conference Tuesday at the IDS Tower in Minneapolis, Rybak's car became the first in the state to be fitted with new technology from A123Systems, a Massachusetts company specializing in high-power lithium ion batteries.

"There is a green revolution happening in the economy," Rybak said. "This is a signal that Minneapolis wants to be a player in that."

The technology -- called a Hymotion Plug-In Conversion Module -- enables a hybrid car to run up to 40 miles on its lithium ion batteries.

After 40 miles, the vehicle functions as a standard gas-electric hybrid utilizing a different set of batteries charged by the gasoline engine. The lithium ion batteries are rechargeable only via a standard electrical outlet.

According to Jim Strong, a representative from A123Systems, the company is already backlogged with orders, and Minnesotans may have to wait until December to have their cars retrofitted with the new technology.

The conversion -- which takes six to eight hours and costs just under $11,000 for parts and installation -- will initially be available only at the Denny Hecker Volkswagen dealership in Inver Grove Heights. If the program is successful, it will be expanded into Denny Hecker dealerships in north Minneapolis.

According to Jeremy Hanson, the mayor's spokesman, as much as $3,000 could be knocked off the conversion cost as part of a new state grant that is being finalized. The incentives come from legislation spearheaded by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis in 2006.

"Reducing oil dependency, both foreign and domestic is critical, both for the environment and the economy," Hornstein said. "Plug-in hybrids are the most effective way to do this at this point."

Rybak said he hopes that by signaling that a mayor of a major city is behind plug-ins, more companies that produce plug-in technology will move to Minneapolis, creating more jobs.

When asked how the city plans to dispose of the large batteries, Rybak said it is an issue that needed to be tackled as the technology matures.

Rodrigo Zamith • 612-673-4895

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