a l u mni
The Trans·mog·ri·fi·er With a dual degree in English and physics, one lsa graduate morphs Toyota Priuses into vaunted plug-in hybrids by Dane Golden
Transmogrifier (n): Someone or something that can change or transform its appearance to something else.
If you knew her back at the University of Michi-
gan, you probably wouldn’t have predicted that Carolyn Coquillette (’00) would become a leading specialist on plug-in hybrid vehicles. Nothing in her encounters with the Bard or old Johnny Milton said so, nor in any of her physics classes — except, perhaps, Physics 401 (Intermediate Mechanics). Neither her semester abroad in Hanoi nor her part-time job serving up espresso shots at Amer’s Mediterranean Deli would give you a hint. She’d be the last person you’d expect to now be spending her mornings pulling down communication lines from one of the most complex cars, the Toyota Prius, amid the mechanical sounds of drills, wrenches, and rubber mallets.
And yet a walk around Coquillette’s specialty auto repair shop, Luscious Garage, in San Francisco, may indeed be like a stroll into the future. The only vehicles in sight are hybrids, and, often, their cousins the plug-in hybrids, which she charges from solar panels on the roof. And in an industry not known for its cleanliness, she recycles everything — not just paper and plastic, but items like air filters (she splits up the rubber and paper parts) and certain metal parts. She also uses reprocessed motor oil, which she says is as good as new. Coquillette’s auto repair business opened in 2007 at just the right time, in just the right place. According to R.L. Polk, an automotive information and marketing company, there are more hybrids in the San Francisco Bay Area than in the entire state of Michigan. San Francisco registered more than 27,000 gas-electric vehicles in 2007, compared to Michigan’s 5,852. And Coquilette’s had her hands in many of them. Of the 200 Priuses that have been converted to run on plug-in technology, she’s worked on 30. This is not your father’s Oldsmobile garage.
From Michigan to Mechanic Coquillette started her U-M education in the College of Engineering but found it prohibited her from getting a dual English degree, so she changed to English and physics. She also wanted more time to take electives. “One of the great things about Michigan is the ability to dabble in other fields in your undergraduate study,” she says.
spring 2009 LSA n 55
2009 "Survival" issue of LSA Magazine