Curry’s Auto Service turns to new line of business


Curry’s Auto Service employees Mike Zentmayer, left, and Matt Zekan recondition a battery for a hybrid car in Gainesville. The process costs around one-third of the price of a replacement battery, the company says. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Matt Curry says he can make your hybrid car’s battery come back to life.

All it takes is 11 hours and $1,299 — one-third of the price, he says, of replacing the battery altogether.

Two months ago, Gainesville-based Curry’s Auto Service received exclusive distribution rights to the battery-conditioning technology created by a former General Motors employee. To date, Curry estimates that the company has reconditioned batteries for about 25 cars.

“When our customers first hear about it, they can’t believe it,” Curry said. “They’ve just been to the dealer, who’s told them it’s going to cost $4,500 to replace their battery, and here we are saying, ‘We can fix it for a lot less.’”

The process takes about five hours of hands-on time, Curry said. The battery pack is removed from the vehicle and attached to a machine, where it is discharged almost entirely. From there, the battery pack is charged and discharged a number of times, until it has been “reconditioned” to about 95 percent of its original capacity.

“This is much better for the environment, too,” Curry said, adding that hybrid batteries generally show signs of wear and tear after five to seven years.

Mark Quarto, 57, has spent the past 10 years and more than $2 million of his own money developing the technology behind the compact machine, which is the size of a small coffee table and weighs about 80 pounds.

“We started noodling with the technology sometime in 2002, 2003,” said Quarto, who worked on the General Motors team that developed the EV1 and Chevy Volt. “It probably took us five or six years to figure out how we wanted to architect the hardware and the software to do what we wanted it to do.”

The key, he says, was finding a way to make the hardware and the software inside of the unit more efficient, setting it apart from industrial battery testers, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Quarto developed his first prototype in 2010. Since then, he’s created two more iterations of the unit, adding software capabilities and rethinking the hardware each time.

It wasn’t until Quarto and Curry met at an automotive trade show last year that things started falling into place. Before that, Quarto had largely sold the units to educational institutions, including the University of Hawaii and the Madison Area Technical College.

“We’re not really business people. We’re technology people,” Quarto said. “Matt’s a businessperson. He knows the market. It was a good marriage to bring those things together.”

The units are manufactured at a 3,200-square-foot plant that Quarto and his wife built on their property in Port Angeles, Wash.

“[My wife and I] are both retired from corporate America, so we thought, ‘We want some place close. We want something we can walk to in the morning,’” Quarto said. “So we put the plant on our property, and actually, we can see it from our home.”

The system and nine days of training cost about $50,000, Curry said. So far, four dealers — from as far away as California and Texas — have signed on to buy the technology.

“There’s a lot of demand,” Curry said. “There are about 10 more dealers who have said they’re interested, too.”

Curry’s Auto Service in Gainesville is the only one which currently offers battery reconditioning, but Curry said he plans to begin introducing the service at his nine other shops in Northern Virginia and Maryland later this year.

The company is expected to bring in more than $20 million in revenue this year. If all goes well, Curry said battery reconditioning could add another $500,000 to his bottom line.

“This is a brand new technology we’re pioneering,” said Curry, 46. “We’re going full steam ahead.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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