Battery Powered

By Jonathan Blum


Paul Guzyk and Daniel Sherwood are computer geeks who co-founded 3Prong Power, a Berkeley-based business that transforms standard Toyota (TM) Priuses into all-electric green machines.

In 1999 Guzyk sold his share of InfoHouse, a New York City-based Internet services business, and relocated to California. There he rediscovered an old passion for cars after tinkering with a Prius. He found that in many ways the Toyota hybrid was more like a computer than an automobile. Notably, it ran on recognizable computer standards similar to those found in an office network.

"I found that modifying the Prius is like getting your computer to do what you want it to do," says Guzyk, 44.

In 2006 he was introduced to fellow Prius tinkerer Sherwood, 34. Together they gave a 2004 model an all-electric makeover. First, they installed a bank of Prius batteries they had salvaged from a junkyard. That didn't work well, so they tried traditional lead-acid batteries, used in electric wheelchairs, which did the trick.

Next, they developed software that programmed the Prius to run only on its newly enlarged battery pack. Unlike the one in an unmodified Prius, the car's internal-combustion engine doesn't fire up -- and burn gas. Presto: instant electric car, albeit one with a range of only about 25 miles.

Being in Berkeley, where there are Priuses on every block, the two realized that there was a real business in treating the world's best-selling hybrid automobile as an upgradable gadget. In 2007, they launched their startup in a former Cadillac dealership with less than $100,000 of their own money. Since then they've added six employees and now expect to do 500 conversions, or some 40 a month, through 2010; at $4,500 per job, that works out to about $2.2 million in annual sales.

Critics worry that many unknowns loom in treating cars as electronic devices. Carter Brown, CEO of Boulder Electric Vehicle, in Colorado, warns that aftermarket upgrades create a variety of problems, including warranty, safety and liability issues. For example, who's to blame if a "hacked" car malfunctions and is involved in an accident: the manufacturer, the driver or the firm that altered the car's operating system?

"We opted to build our electric truck from scratch for just that reason," says Brown. "Engineering batteries is tough enough without having to deal with an uncertain history on a particular car."

Guzyk responds that a 3Prong-altered car is as safe as any automobile and notes that his firm's upgrade doesn't affect the gas engine; if the battery pack fails, the engine will start -- as long as there's gas in the tank.

"We can't see any reason to be concerned, with all the safeguards in the car," says Guzyk. "Plus, the people who buy this understand the product. They are willing to be on the leading edge."

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.99%4.00%
15 yr fixed3.06%3.10%
5/1 ARM3.20%3.19%
30 yr refi3.99%4.08%
15 yr refi3.07%3.18%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,827.75 12.81 0.07%
Nasdaq 4,787.32 29.07 0.61%
S&P 500 2,072.83 5.80 0.28%
Treasuries 2.23 -0.03 -1.15%
Data as of 11:32pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Kinder Morgan Inc 42.32 0.00 0.00%
Apple Inc 119.00 0.00 0.00%
Facebook Inc 77.62 1.99 2.63%
Pfizer Inc 31.10 0.00 0.00%
Bank of America Corp... 17.11 0.00 0.00%
Data as of Nov 26

Sections

The European Parliament has voted to break up Google and weaken its dominance across the region. More

Warren called it "hypocritical" for the White House to oppose corporate inversions but nominate a person who has worked in this area. More

Two pilots encountered drones while flying over college football games and another pilot saw one while flying over the Hollywood sign. More

Natalie's Cakes and More has raised $84,000 through GoFundMe after protests trash store. More

Retailers are promising big deals this Black Friday, but are the savings actually worth the shopping mayhem? Test your deal-sniffing skills. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.