Link to Article at NYT.com
Thanks to my father for sending this article!
SAN FRANCISCO — The fig tree and the philodendron are the first things that meet the eye in the repair bay of Luscious Garage. Then the two Toyota Priuses come into focus — one with a slightly dented rear door, the other on a lift with two tires off and rusty brake rotors exposed. Then comes the eerie sense that something is missing: grime.
“You could eat off her floor,” said Sara Bernard, the customer in need of brake repair.
The only hybrid specialty garage run by a woman has opened in the Bay Area, which has more Priuses — 70,000 as of 2006 — than most states. And while its owner, Carolyn Coquillette, has a preoccupation with cleanliness that may not be unique in a mechanic’s shop, her ubiquitous recycling containers (for paper, plastic, rubber, metal and oil) and the solar panels on her roof set Luscious apart. So does its specialty: giving hybrid owners the option of going fully electric.
Here in the district south of Market Street, a kind of harmonic convergence of early 21st-century trends is achieved as the latest incarnation of the car culture meets the new green culture in a feminist and thoroughly wired setting.
Luscious is a secular temple built to serve hybrids, the cars powered by both an electric motor (most often engaged when starting or stopping, thus most efficient in city traffic) and a gasoline engine (most efficient on the open road). But its owner’s forte is converting them to plug-in hybrids, which are functionally all-electric cars that can go 12 to 15 miles on one charge.
That’s right. Fifteen miles, maximum. For a mere $6,000. (If you go farther, the gasoline motor kicks back in. )
“People do it because they are ideologically committed,” said Ms. Coquillette, the co-founder and now sole owner of the garage, which employs two other mechanics, one male and one female.
She divides her conversion customers into three groups: “Some people are very tech-savvy, so they like it. Some people are extreme environmentalists, so they like it. Some just want to burn less gas.”
They do not void the car’s warranty, he added — unless company mechanics determine the conversion caused the problem.
If it all seems a bit self-conscious, well, it is. As Ms. Coquillette describes it, everything she has done since graduating from the University of Michigan about eight years ago with degrees in physics and English somehow led to Luscious. Her first postgraduate years were the time for career experimentation, philosophical reflection and — after she became irritated that she could not repair her own car — bonding with wrenches.
Now she owns one of perhaps three or four garages in the Bay Area that specialize in hybrids, said Dana Meyer, who runs Dana Meyer Auto Service across the San Francisco Bay in Albany. The newness of the hybrid drive train, Mr. Meyer said, causes some mechanics to shy away.
Not Ms. Coquillette. She also wants her garage, like the cars she works on, to do things differently. She recycles almost everything, picking up a used air filter, ripping out the latticework of filter paper from the plastic frame with a small knife, then separating the plastic housing from its rubber cover and putting each in its own bin.
She makes her own windshield-washing fluid from vinegar. In the waiting room, the works of Anne Sexton and Virginia Woolf sit near tomes on physics and car repair.
In a high-tech automotive environment, she added, what is needed is a shop focused on the heavily computerized car and the driver who must adjust to it.
“Driving is a necessary evil, even in a Prius,” she said. “So are garages.”
She added, “We’re trying to minimize the impact.”