GAINSVILLE, Va. — Curry's Auto Service Inc. and Automotive Research and Design (AR&D) L.L.C. have partnered together to form The Hybrid Shop (THS), a joint venture "fractional franchise" that aims to give dealers the ability to specialize in servicing hybrid vehicles.
The program is designed to provide participating dealers with multiple new revenue streams, THS said, including hybrid battery conditioning and rebuilding; motor-generator testing, diagnosis and replacement; power inverter and control system testing; DC-DC converter testing; and other hybrid vehicle-specific maintenance services.
"The people that establish themselves first as the experts in this market are going to win the market," said Matt Curry, president and CEO of Curry's Auto, and co-founder of THS along with his wife Judy and Mark and Chris Quarto. "That's the thing that separates us is we've got the equipment and the expertise to get (other dealers) in business."
Matt Curry called the new franchise opportunity a "business within a business," which has already been implemented at Curry's Gainsville shop. Based around the "Battery Discharger Unit," the THS system allows dealerships to recondition rather than replace hybrid batteries.
"We can actually condition that battery and bring it up to within 95 percent of its original power, energy and capacity," Mr. Curry said.
The recharge price of $1,200 might seem steep, Mr. Curry said, but it's good news for motorists, who might otherwise be paying upwards of $4,000 for a replacement battery.
"It's better for the environment, there are no resources to build a new battery, there's nothing in the waste stream…. We can save the world and save their wallets," he said.
Mr. Curry said typical hybrid batteries will see diminished performance anywhere between five and seven years, depending on how the car is driven, the climate and other factors. "Around the six-year mark is at least a good time to have a state-of-health check," he said.
The THS program requires an initial sign-up fee of $50,000, which includes the necessary equipment along with four days of onsite training and five days of training with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) for hybrid service qualification. Program members also receive point-of-sale materials, Mr. Curry said.
After the initial fee, dealers are only required to pay a fee of $125 per battery charge. "The only time people are paying us is when they're using the machine," Mr. Curry said.
While he now considers himself a bit of a hybrid expert, Mr. Curry said it wasn't long ago that he knew almost nothing about the vehicles—that is until he was introduced to Mr. Quarto, chief technology officer for AR&D and inventor of the Battery Discharger Unit.
Mr. Quarto, long time veteran of General Motors Co. (GM), spent 16 years working on advanced vehicle development for the company as an engineer and engineering group manager, according to The Hybrid Shop's website. His responsibilities included management and development of control, diagnostics systems and service solutions for the Chevrolet Volt.
Mr. Quarto retired from GM in August and was looking for a way to bring his hybrid battery recondition technology to market, Mr. Curry said. In December, he visited Curry's Gainsville shop for an intensive four-day training session.
"I got five of my very best master technicians—and I have 10 stores with 60 technicians or more—I got the best of the best, and these guys were just blown away," Mr. Curry said. "By the end of the first day we were conditioning batteries. After the second day, we knew more about hybrid cars than probably 90 percent of the people in the country."
As the beta THS location, Curry's Gainsville store has been offering a variety of hybrid services to customers since January.
"We can basically diagnose, service, maintain or repair anything on a hybrid vehicle, from the battery systems to the electrical motors and transmissions," Mr. Curry said, adding that the company plans to add the technology at four of its other locations in the next few months.
Recently, Curry's invited more than 50 industry professionals—made up largely of U.S. tire dealers—to the Gainsville shop for a demonstration of the technology and a chance to be among the first to integrate it.
The company has already signed four dealers to use the THS system, including First Landing Auto Care in Virginia Beach, Va.; Lloyd's Tire Service in Santa Cruz, Calif.; Fifth Gear Automotive in Lewisville, Texas; and Good Works Auto Repair in Tempe, Ariz.
Dean Schwartz, owner of Lloyd's Tire, said the decision was an easy one.
"We've been pushing hybrids away. We do a ton of tire work on them, but we're pretty much afraid to do anything else," he said. "All the stories you hear or whatever it may be…. But out in California, it's a huge market for Priuses. It's a pretty green area.
"All this work is going back to the dealers because we're afraid of it, so we're out here learning about it and getting more comfortable with it," he continued. "It's not a big deal once you understand it."
Mr. Schwartz said the dealership has been turning hybrid owners back to the dealer for so long that many of them don't even ask for hybrid-specific services anymore.
"We do a ton of tire work, and we do brakes and oil changes, but if we're ever doing a safety inspection and we find something else going on, the customer's like, 'Oh, I got to get back to the dealer for that.' They've been trained that way—the customer has," he said. "And it's our fault for doing it, because we were afraid of the systems and we were afraid of the cars."
Mr. Curry said dealers interested in implementing The Hybrid Shop can visit the company's website at thehybridshop.com.