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New technology to learn
Hybrid vehicle is first in a college automotive program in area
7 December 2011

NEW TECH at UTTC: 2006 Toyota Highlander with Hybrid Synergy Drive donated by American Family Insurance.

BISMARCK (UTN) - Across the automotive shop it rolls without a sound; driver behind the wheel—big smile on his face—and nobody pushing.

      The badge says it’s a Toyota. It looks like any other SUV on the road today. And it’s in the Automotive Service Technology shop of United Tribes Technical College.

      “This is a huge step forward in technology for our program,” said Dale Pletan, UTTC Automotive Technology program director.

      The 2006 Toyota Highlander, a vehicle that uses hybrid technology, was donated by American Family Insurance. Agent Shane Splonskowski and Adjuster Darin Bugbee were in the UTTC shop November 14 to work out details of conveying it to United Tribes.

      The silver hybrid had been in a collision, causing minor damage to the body and the right rear suspension, and deploying the vehicle’s right side air curtain. Its main driveline and energy components were unaffected. But a $17,000 repair bill was enough for Splonskowski and American Family to respond favorably to a standing request from Pletan to send a hybrid to college.

LEARNING CURVE: Instructor Scott Graeber describes the features of hybrid technology to students Shotay Fast Horse (Cheyenne River), at left, and Lester Crooke (Hopi), in the college’s automotive shop.

      “I can’t thank American Family Insurance enough for their generosity,” said Pletan.

      United Tribes has offered automotive training of some type almost since the start of the college in 1969. Acquisition of the Highlander SUV crossover represents a new chapter in educational offerings and confers a singular status on the program. The Highlander is the first hybrid vehicle to become part of the learning curriculum at a college automotive training program in this area of the state.

      The 2006 Highlander is the first model-year to combine two electric motors (powered by nickel hydride batteries) and a traditional V-6 gasoline engine for charging and supplemental power. It also employs electronic steering.

      “It’s hard to teach hybrid technology without having one to work on,” said instructor Scott Graeber. “There aren’t many out there to be used. They’re still unique.”

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER: From left UTTC Automotive Instructors Scott Graeber and Dale Pletan, United Tribes President David M. Gipp, and, representing American Family Insurance, Agent Shane Splonskowski and Adjuster Darin Bugbee.

      Clearly the hybrid will take some getting used to. It motivates with barely a whisper, calling for caution around it because there’s no engine sound to alert its approach. The batteries that power the three-phase electric motors generate enough voltage that safety training and special safety equipment is required.

      “We have some research and preparation to do before we get deeply into the training,” said Graeber. “We’ll take it a step-at-a-time.”

      During the fall 2011 semester, 42 students are enrolled in the United Tribes Automotive Technology Program. With time for instructional planning and development, the goal is to create for students a level of familiarity, understanding and experience with the new technology that wasn’t possible before.

      More information Dale Pletan 701-255-3285 x 1422, dpletan@uttc.edu, or Scott Graeber 701-255-3285 x 1243, sgraeber@uttc.edu.


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