If you like the idea of having a hybrid electric, fuel-efficient car but don’t like the idea—or price tag—of trading in your beloved if weathered Honda gas-fueled car for a shiny new Tesla, you’re in luck. NC State’s Flux Hybrids—winner of the Judges’ Award for Best On-Campus Startup in the inaugural Greppy Awards—is building hybrid and all-electric conversion kits that can easily turn any car or truck into a clean and efficient vehicle.
Flux Hybrids’ founders—Micah Ulrich (CEO), Clay Dowdey (COO), Cody Biederman (CTO) and August Erhart (Chief of Sales)—are all NC State engineers, Class of 2019. Ulrich and Dowdey are currently enrolled as Wolf Pack grad students in mechanical engineering. (To qualify as an “On-Campus Startup” for Greppys purposes, at least one founder must be a currently enrolled student at the undergraduate or graduate level.)
What started as a desire to convert Ulrich’s old Buick into an electric car when they were seniors in college spawned the founding of Flux Hybrids in 2019.
“Whenever people I knew hit it big they said ‘O.K., I’m gonna go buy a Tesla,’ and they then sold their gas car to someone else who kept driving it for the next five years or so,” Ulrich said. “So, buying an electric car didn’t really remove a gas car from the road, it just pushed it to someone else. Whereas our technology actively reduces the amount of gas cars emitting carbon on the road.”
By integrating seamlessly into a vehicle’s drivetrain, the kits greatly reduce the vehicle’s environmental impact.
The total cost of using the hybrid conversion system is also far kinder than that of, say, buying a brand-new Tesla. Due to the increase in fuel economy and resulting reduction in fuel expense, the savings of the kit exceed the cost of buying it within a few years of purchase. Ulrich said that the kits will start at roughly $10K and should pay for themselves in less than 66K miles.
Since successfully completing their first hybrid conversion of a truck (with funding help from NC State’s Entrepreneurship program), the team is working to create conversion kits that are suitable for a range of vehicles in different industries, from consumer cars and delivery trucks, to private and public transportation, to auto dealerships and commercial fleets.
To understand the specific nuances of different vehicles, the team has attended various conferences and expos, such as the Sustainable Fleet Technology Conference in North Carolina and the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in California.
Ulrich said their initial focus will be on acquiring customers in the fleet management industry, because for many companies managing fleets, switching to full electric isn’t a feasible option. Due to a highly variable driving cycle, those drivers can’t reliably charge their vehicle. That’s why the commercial fleet market is Flux Hybrids’ “perfect” market, Ulrich said.
“A lot of fleets are also crunched for capital,” Ulrich said. “So having to spend $30,000 on a new vehicle really doesn’t make sense when they can be cost-neutral within a few years with our technology.”
On April 13, Flux Hybrids received $2,000 for winning the Environmental Impact award under NC State’s eGames startup competition. Flux Hybrids was also one of the 54 startups invited to pitch live at the Rice Business Plan competition earlier this month.
Flux Hybrids has received funding also through NC State’s Sustainability fund and won other competitions in the past such as NC State’s Wolf Den pitching competition in 2019. However, Ulrich said a lot of their funding has come out-of-pocket, and he said they are actively seeking more funding sources in order to expand their operations.
Ulrich said much of the focus in the hybrid vehicle industry thus far has been on consumer cars and sedans. One of the aims of Flux Hybrids, he said, is to fill the gap, namely for things like commercial and semi trucks, delivery vans and cargo vans, for which there are far fewer electrified options.
“A lot of our market niches will be in that space that is kind of ignored by original automotive manufacturers,” Ulrich said.