Spotlight on Ohlone:
Battery standard, gas is optional

By Japneet Kaur, Photo staff.

Thursday, March 12, 2009—Reprinted from Monitor.

Man pointing into car trunk. Professor Don Chu shows off the battery in his Prius. —Photo by Japneet Kaur.

In a time when both the economy and the environment have become controversies, political platforms, and the basis for personal reinventions, an Ohlone College professor has taken a personal step toward environmental reform, and it doesn’t hurt his pocket, either.

Don Chu is the proud owner of a converted Prius plug-in, meaning that his car can run entirely off of electricity for an extended period of time.

The Prius, in hybrid mode, runs off of electricity until the speed hits 40 miles per hour. However, once it has been converted, the plug-in can run off of electricity at higher speeds. It takes about four hours to fully charge the car, and it runs on electricity for about 10-12 miles—perfect for running errands or a night out on the town.

“I can go out to the theater, go for a drive, buy some groceries and make it back home, all on electricity. I can switch back to hybrid mode for longer trips, and still do better than regular cars that run on gas.”

Chu had taken his car in for regular 60,000 mile servicing, only to find he had to shell out $600 . He decided to try a different garage, and found Luscious Garage in San Francisco—a “green” garage specializing in Toyotas and, specifically, Priuses. Not only did he pay less for the servicing (a little more than $200), but the owner of the garage suggested the conversion kit, and he decided it was a step he wanted to take.

The garage is owned by Carolyn Coquillette, who has bachelor’s degrees in English and Physics from the University of Michigan, and a master ASE certification with L1 Advanced Engine Performance. The garage “combines the best of both worlds: factory-level training, parts, and equipment with the personal attention of a neighborhood shop,” according to

The car has been relatively trouble-free, aside from the time he was stranded because the car’s battery ran out. When he called for help, it was the technicians at the garage who helped him to get the car started in hybrid mode so he could continue on his way. This was his first experience that, like anything else, the plug-in Hybrid is not foolproof. Though Chu saves himself a lot of gas money, he didn’t decide to convert his Prius for financial reasons. In fact, the initial conversion cost was quite steep. His reasons for taking this pricey step lie elsewhere.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s been far too long with no one doing anything for the environment—it’s about time people started. That’s why I like teaching here at the Newark campus—everything is green. It’s great to think you can do the “right thing.”

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