Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sam Johnson

Sam Johnson is the father of Dan Johnson, Lightning Hybrids' CEO. He is the inspiration behind the car.

While visiting with my sons Sam and Dan in spring of 2008, I challenged them to design a car capable of 100 mpg that weighed about 1200 pounds. They said they could do this, but they did not have the time or money. A couple of months later, at a Colorado State University engineering display, they were looking at a test car and discussing a hydraulic system.

Later in the year, Dan sold SARobotics, the company he had started in 1992, and Sam was completing the main design on his Stealth Flying Eye. They submitted a plan to me to start an auto company to build diesel-hydraulic cars. When I learned they planned to start Lightning Hybrids and mass produce 3-wheel and 4-wheel vehicles, I decided to move to Loveland from where I was living in Arizona. Within a week Dan and his wife found an apartment for me, and I moved four blocks from the Lightning Hybrids 13,000 square foot warehouse.

For normal people the April 1 date for the car show (merely six months after the company opened its doors) would have been impossible to meet. I may have been to blame because I had taught my children that "THE IMPROBABLE WE DO IMMEDIATELY, THE IMPOSSIBLE TAKES LONGER!”

Dan said they would meet the date and set to work to do so. He hired people who learned to work as small children; to most of them work on a new project is fun. In Jan 2009 the design of cars was finalized. A large 5-axis router was purchased to cut body parts for the carbon fiber molds. Other machines were purchased and Dan and his crew set up the manufacturing facility. The team was made up of a senior design engineer, five engineers, painters, welders -- all 32-years-old and younger -- and four part-time college students, 15 people in all. Body parts were laid-up in a small shop in Boulder, Colorado. Tim Reeser was taking care of logistics and my son Sam and I assisted part time.

We were small crew with one goal -- CAR SHOW ON APRIL 1.

Having worked in heavy industry since 1945 I learned there was one phrase you can not accept: "CAN'T DO " and this crew certainly took that to heart.

On the last day the entire crew worked until 5 A.M. and returned 2 hours later to load up for car show and then worked until 10 that night. Since I was older and smarter I stayed home.

To properly understand these dedicated people you have to understand that they learned these habits early in life. To better describe this I wrote a book called Which Way? U.S. Engineer Education – Fail or Pass. (My first book was The Art and Life of Eloise June Johnson. For copies of either one please leave a comment with a way to reach you.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

We Survived

After five long days at the Denver Auto Show the LH4 is back in the shop.

Our staff team is taking a week off to recuperate. We will catch you next week when we are back and focusing on the drivetrain.

In the meantime a few highlights for you:

- At least 5,000 people through our booth.

- The large number of people who wished us well.

- The couple who drove all the way from South Dakota just to see our car.

- Kenny from the custom bike booth who came and polished the car a few times every day. If you need a professional detailer - one of the best in the business - let us know and we will give you his number. - Shantel, a professional massage therapist, who gave our team chair massages at the close of the show. She's got the magic touch, and we might share her number if you ask nicely.
- Our t-shirts were so popular that quite a few got swiped (at least 20). - The chassis/drivetrain display was a huge hit and really helped to explain our technology.

A few more pictures:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Free T-Shirt?

Coming to the Denver Auto Show? If so, mention that you read our blog and get a free Lightning Hybrids Premier Edition collectible t-shirt.

(while supplies last)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


And now, the blog post you've all been waiting for...

But first, a picture of the finished LH4. (Well, OK, it isn't running yet, so it technically isn't finished, but it is finished enough to show at the Denver Auto Show.)
Pictures cannot begin to do it justice.


A very tired, but giddily happy crew rolled the LH4 into the Colorado Convention Center this morning for the Denver Auto Show.

The car came out of the paint booth at 6 p.m. on Tuesday after intensive painting sessions by our paint team, Matt and Brian, who have the blisters to prove it.

Dan and crew finished putting the car together at 4:30 a.m. There were a few dazed faces and cups of coffee to keep everyone going, and installing the dash almost made us throw in the towel, but Ken pulled out the original CAD designs and it all came together - every seam lined up, every bolt in place.

Delivery this morning meant two trips from Loveland to Denver (about an hour each way) since the car and the LH3 chassis/drivetrain only fit in the trailer we had to buy this week - but not at the same time... So Rich and Ed left at 5:30 to take the chassis down. (Thankfully the snow was supposed to hold off until the afternoon.) They had some trouble getting in to the convention center since it was early, but they were finally allowed access to the floor. After unloading the chassis they headed back to pick up the car.

The entire crew arrived with the car right after 11 - what a thrill to see it roll off that truck!! Even if it was two hours late. At that point we only had an hour before the floor opened for the pre-show to get the car cleaned up and to get the chassis on the display stand (picture below, if you are coming to the show be sure to check it out - it is a great way to see how the engine works with the hydraulics.) We also had to get our new video set up to loop in the 52" TVs. (As soon as we get a dub of the video that we can post we will post it.) It was such a relief when everything was done.

After we finished setting up, Shawn Patrick from Denver's 9News came out for a follow up interview to their February story. Check out the official "unveiling" here.

It started snowing about 4 and so we thought attendance would be light. Not so - our booth was packed the entire night. It was energizing to talk about the car and the technologies and to see people's reaction to it. The most asked question of the night: Where is the door? Some people didn't get it even after viewing the door opening on the video. But that's OK. Some people were very negative about the car. But most people were very encouraging and we heard time and again that the government should have given small companies like ours the auto bailout money. That's a nice vote of confidence! (Wouldn't that be nice... think what we would do with even $1 billion dollars...)

It was a great start to the show.

Next goal: a driveable car for our Open House in May.

But first we have to get through four more days at the Denver Auto Show. Come see us - we're in booth 417, right next to the Mazda booth and the Army booth and their huge Hummer and prairie dog shooting game. (Our car faces the Madza Miata - which is the car we cannibalized for the chassis was back at the beginning of the year. Remember this?)