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Colorado company speeds 100 mpg cars to market

SHELLEY WIDHALM
(Loveland) Reporter-Herald

LOVELAND ” What normally takes 10 years to research and develop, a family owned, Loveland-based automobile research and manufacturing company is trying to accomplish in just a few months. Lightning Hybrids Inc. is designing and building a hybrid vehicle that has the look of a futuristic sports car and makes a green statement.

The vehicle’s prototype and a hybrid drivetrain will be unveiled at the Denver Auto Show April 1-5.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase the car and its revolutionary hybrid engine technology,” said Tim Reeser, co-founder of Lightning Hybrids.

The idea for the car came after gas prices exceeded $4 a gallon and Sam Johnson Sr., father of two of the company’s founders, challenged his sons to build a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon. All three are engineers, and the company’s funding is coming from private sources, primarily from family members.

The result is the LH4, a biodiesel-hydraulic hybrid, four-seat sports sedan that will average 100 miles to the gallon and go from 0 to 60 in less than 6 seconds.

Add to that the LH3, a three-wheel version that is a cross between a motorcycle and the LH4, enclosed with four seats.

“The design was driven by aerodynamics,” said Dan Johnson, chief executive officer for Lightning Hybrids. “The car had to be very sleek and streamlined.”

The LH car is designed to be seamless, with a clamshell door that opens upward and cameras and screens in place of rearview external mirrors, which produce drag, Dan Johnson said.

Sam Johnson and his sons Dan and Sam, along with Reeser, founded the company in 2008, starting design work on the two vehicles in October.

The company added a staff of about a dozen people, mostly engineers, to help build the two prototypes and a hybrid drivetrain that can be retrofitted into existing cars. The staff began prototype manufacturing in January.

The staff designs, builds and assembles the components for the LH3 and LH4, except for the carbon fiber parts that are sent offsite to a composites company.

The hybrid drivetrain uses two different power sources, biodiesel fuel and hydraulics, which helps with acceleration, said Bonnie Trowbridge, director of marketing for the company.

The hydraulic system saves energy in an “accumulator” when the vehicle brakes, and that energy is instantly available for acceleration, according to Lightning Hybrids’ Web site.

The company estimates the cars will cost between $39,000 and $59,000.

“It’s pretty moderate for a high-performance car,” Trowbridge said.

The LH3 is expected to be on the market by spring 2010 and the LH4 in spring 2011.

The three-wheeled version can be developed more quickly because motorcycles don’t require the extensive regulatory process that sedans do, Dan Johnson said.

Once the LH3 and LH4 prototypes are finished, the company plans to start mass production in Loveland and hire more workers, branching out to other types of vehicles, such as convertibles and all-wheel drives.

“We’ll go from there and see what the market is requiring,” Trowbridge said.

After the auto show, the company staff will begin driving the LH3 and LH4 prototypes around Loveland, licensed as test-built cars, Dan Johnson said.

“We’ll be refining the design at the same time,” he said. “We want a practical, high-mileage car that looks good.”

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On the Net:

Lightning Hybrids Inc.: http://www.lightninghybrids.com/


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