The black Lincoln Town Car that Tod Hynes has been driving around Boston looks exactly like the sort of sedan that’d ferry a well-paid executive to Logan. But under the hood and stashed in the trunk is a system that has turned the gas-guzzler into a hybrid, nudging down its gas consumption.
Hynes, the president of Somerville-based XL Hybrids Inc., says the company is focused on retrofitting vehicles for customers who “drive a lot of miles in low mile-per-gallon vehicles.” He says that the company’s pilot vehicles have been demonstrating a 10 to 15 percent savings in fuel costs, and that the first commercially-retrofitted cars — they’ll mainly be Lincoln Town Cars — will save owners 20 to 30 percent a year.
XL (the name stands for “extra large” vehicles) is announcing this week that it has raised $2 million in new funding, and signed a licensing agreement with Ashwoods Automotive Ltd. in Britain, the company that makes the retrofit kit that XL will adapt for use in the States. Ashwoods has been retrofitting Ford vans in Europe with its kit (about 150 are now on the road), and XL has adapted Ashwoods’ kit for use in sedans, with light-duty vans to follow soon. XL had previously raised $1.8 million in convertible debt from angel investors; one of its backers is the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, which has invested $300,000 in the company.
“Some of these livery companies that own Town Cars have $20,000 fuel bills per vehicle, per year,” Hynes says. “But the economics of doing the conversion can give them a two-year payback, even just assuming they’re doing 60,000 miles a year in a car.” (Hynes is pictured above, in front of one of the company's hybrid Town Cars.)
The kit adds an array of lithium ion batteries to capture energy that would ordinarily be lost in braking; an electric motor to return that energy to the wheels during acceleration; and an anti-idling system that allows certain accessories (like heat or air conditioning) to run for extended periods without leaving the engine on. “You don’t need high-tech tools to install it, or much training,” Hynes says. “The retrofit can be done in a standard garage.” While Hynes doesn’t want to talk prices, co-founder Justin Ashton told the Globe last year that the kit will cost less than $10,000.
Initially, XL will be doing the conversions at its Union Square garage and headquarters, though Hynes says the eventual goal is to develop a network of partners around the country that can install the retrofit kits. In Britain, he says, Ashwoods can perform the conversion in less than four hours.
Hynes says that XL is focused on converting vehicles that get fewer than 20 miles per gallon (a Town Car traveling city streets may get about thirteen), and is interested in selling mainly to companies that operate large fleets, as opposed to individuals. While Hynes acknowledges that as more and more hybrids and electric vehicles are sold, there may be decreased demand for conversion, he believes conversion is “a fifteen year opportunity." He also suggests that the company has future plans related to connecting electric vehicles and hybrids to the electrical grid.
Founded in 2009, XL has 11 full-time employees, with plans to hire another five auto technicians and engineers this year.
I asked Hynes about Hymotion, a conversion company now owned by A123 Systems. It developed technology to turn Toyota Prius hybrids into plug-in hybrids, increasing their fuel efficiency to as much as 100 miles per gallon (for the first 30-40 miles driven). "I think there's not as much of an impact when you're taking a high-mileage vehicle like the Prius and making it more high-mileage," he says, "especially when it's being driven relatively short distances by a consumer." Hynes says that a typical Prius driver might buy 300 gallons of gas a year, while the XL Hybrids conversion can save more than 1,000 gallons in certain heavy-use scenarios.
Hynes teaches a course at MIT called Energy Ventures, and was a co-founder of the university’s Clean Energy Prize. He was previously the director of alternative energy at the Boston non-profit Citizens Energy.
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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