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Motor cross

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

FREDERICK — The company used to be all about the bragging rights, according to its CEO. These days, the bragging rights are starting to contribute to the bottom line.

UQM Technologies, headquartered in Frederick after the move of its company offices from Golden last year, is 36 years old, and its future has never looked brighter.

Just last week, UQM was named No. 12 on the Deloitte Colorado Technology Fast 50 list. According to Deloitte, UQM has grown 426 percent over the past five years.

UQM is on the cutting edge of the worldwide quest of obtaining power from sources other than fossil fuels.

As an enthusiastic Bill Rankin — UQM president and chief executive officer — put it during a feature on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program, “When’s it gonna happen? It’s happening now!”

“What we’re really about is our motors,” Rankin said recently while giving a visitor a tour of the company’s facility. “They’re smaller, lighter-weight and more efficient than our competition.

“We make motors that are small enough for small fans and pumps, and motors big enough to power HUMVEEs.”

When the company started as Unique Mobility back in 1967, it was a plastic fabrication company that made parts for airplanes and kit cars.

A few years later the company was best known for making dune buggies.

Everything changed in the early 1980s, when its engineers designed and patented a permanent magnet electric motor system that can be used in a multitude of applications.

The company’s permanent magnet motors have been tested and used in everything from wheelchairs to automobiles to airplanes — and even a boat.

Invacare, one of the largest wheelchair makers in the world, began using UQM motors because it wanted to rid its motorized wheelchairs of a gearbox. Today, thousands of Invacare wheelchairs are powered by UQM motors.

“The motor puts out 50 foot-pounds of torque at the shaft of each wheel, and it’s noiseless,” Rankin said.

In the case of a John Deere tractor, “There’s a diesel engine spinning our machine to create power,” said Donald French, UQM’s treasurer and chief financial officer.

The engine doesn’t connect to the wheels, but instead runs the generator, which does the work of running the tractor.

“John Deere’s our biggest (research and development) customer,” said Rankin. “One (advantage) is fuel economy. Secondly, you can use all that on-board power for other things.

“Seventy-five kilowatts of power come out of that tractor. You can literally power your farm.”

Recently, UQM announced that four hybrid electric HUMVEEs had successfully completed 14 months of testing by the Army. Testing was conducted under adverse conditions at places that included the Army’s Aberdeen and Yuma proving grounds and its Cold Region Test Center in Alaska.

Each of the HUMVEEs was powered by two UQM propulsion systems, one driving each axle, and a UQM generator.

Rankin said the HUMVEEs can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in eight seconds, climb a 6 percent grade and still achieve a 30 percent savings in fuel.

In addition, the motors themselves can act as generators, providing enough energy to power the equivalent of 25 homes.

The military applications are obvious: The need to carry less conventional fuel would make a ground force faster and more mobile.

And upon arrival at a destination, the HUMVEEs themselves could be used to provide power to, for example, a field hospital.

Rankin said UQM’s newest systems will provide 75 to 100 kilowatts of power per propulsion system and are being designed to work 5 feet underwater.

Other recent announcements by UQM give you an idea of what else the company’s been up to:

• Sept. 16 — A UQM electric propulsion system will be used in a project involving Boeing and five other companies to develop and flight-test an electric motor-driven airplane powered by fuel cells.

• Aug. 8 — UQM is awarded a $630,000 Air Force contract to convert a conventional half-ton pickup truck to all-electric operation.

• July 14 — UQM receives a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy for the development of a line of high-performance motors for hybrid electric and fuel-cell electric vehicles.

• July 7 — The company announces a production order for a condenser blower fan motor for an aircraft air conditioning system manufactured by Keith Products. Initially, the motors will be used in military applications.

• June 4 — Southwest Windpower places orders for the production of electronic controls to manage the operation of its wind turbines.

“Our goal is to grow this business and please our shareholders, and we’re destined to do that,” Rankin said.

UQM employs about 40 people at its Frederick headquarters, and another 40 at an electronics manufacturing plant in Missouri. Most of its employees here are engineers.

“We do everything on the computers and then we go out and build them,” Rankin said, adding that, “We do no internal R&D. All of our research and development is paid for by our customers.”

Currently, UQM occupies 28,000 square feet on 21/2 acres, and owns a vacant lot the same size next door to its building in the Two Charlies Business Park.

French said there are no immediate plans for expansion, but things such as the recent successful HUMVEE tests certainly bode well for the company.

“It is a big deal,” said French. “It’s just another step in the path to commercialization.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.