Hari Sreenivasan is a CBS News correspondent based in Dallas.
Johnathan Goodwin is a tinkerer through-and-through. He doesn't look at problems like most of us do. Perhaps it's his lack of formal schooling that allows him to be unconstrained, but it's amazing what he has been able to teach himself – and in the process, teach a lot of other grease monkeys and engineers – about cars. What he has been able to inspire in many others is remarkable.
The LincVolt is more than just a car. It has become a project that is inspiring an entire platform of change for the type of work that Goodwin does. Besides this amazing battery and rotary powered engine (a measely 1.3 liter one from an old Mazda) that can throw you back into your seat when he steps on the gas, it has enough power keep the lights on in your house. Working with the folks in Greensburg, Kansas (the town rebuilding completely green from the ground up after a catastrophic tornado wiped it off the map), this car will generates up to 75KW of power and can take a house completely off the electricity grid.
Imagine going for a drive on battery power, your Certified Natural Gas powered rotary motor kicks in to recharge those batteries, and when you get home, you plug your car back in to recharge your house. Now imagine a series of these homes with similar cars in their garages, and you start to see the way Goodwin thinks. Yes, he builds cool cars, does amazing things with off-the-shelf parts, but he looks at the next problem and the next and sees the new tools he has to try and keep going.
Goodwin is now working on a way to convert a Lincoln truck to a hybrid electric vehicle in a day by adding a secondary platform underneath. He'll leave the existing motor and transmission in place to charge the batteries and in the process double to quadruple the fuel economy, radically cut the emissions and turn it into a three mode vehicle overnight. He plans to take this truck along with the LincVolt up to Detroit to give the folks at Ford rides around what is left of their company this spring.
Wal-Mart has sent him one of their fleet vehicles that he's tweaking to be more fuel efficient and less polluting. Keep in mind that if his slight modifications like a different exhaust and air intake systems, and changes to the programming work for one of their diesel trucks, the changes could work for the other 30,000 vehicles in their fleet.
Here is an example of a Goodwin thought. While talking about the Wal-Mart project, he gets far more excited about the bigger picture. He explains to me how it could be one of the largest fuel suppliers in the country because of all the vegetable oil it sells. The next step was just to convince and incentivize customers to bring their used cooking oil back, and that they'd have enough fuel for every store.
The one thing that is constant in Goodwin's vehicles – and outlook – is change. Even in the few months I've been working with him for this story, plans for his vehicles change based on what is coming around the technological curve. Whether it is a new battery system from Australia or a new set of adjustments that he can make to prototypes like the LincVolt, he doesn't rest. While it is the well-to-do that finance the conversions of their super-cars, Goodwin is also working on kits that the rest of us could one day walk up to our auto-shops and have installed to get our cars faster, meaner and most definitely greener.