MTSU researcher’s retrofit story gains inter...

MTSU researcher’s retrofit story gains international fame

MTSU graduate student Jay Perry is shown with the plug-in hybrid retrofit kit that is attached to the rear wheels of the vehicles. Students assisted Dr. Charles Perry with the gas-saving project. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

While visiting a sister in Greenville, S.C. Dec. 21, MTSU engineering technology professor Dr. Charles Perry learned that his plug-in hybrid retrofit kit research project has received international recognition.

Toronto-based Design Engineering has selected Perry and his research team’s success as one of the “Top 10 stories of 2012.” The recognition was announced Dec. 19. The retrofit kit story ranked 10th overall.

“That’s incredible,” said Perry, chairholder of the Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellence, upon learning of the distinction. “This is all very exciting for MTSU, and as it turns out, I will be going to Toronto in January to talk to some potential investors.”

Mike McLeod, editor of Design Engineering, a Canadian trade magazine for mechanical engineers that has been publishing since 1956, said being chosen “as part of our top 10 is purely a popularity contest.”

“Throughout the year, I write or relay stories to our website ( that I believe would be of interest to our readership,” McLeod said. “Each week, I compile the latest stories into an e-newsletter that goes out to our subscriber list. Over the course of a year, that’s approximately 300 to 400 or so (stories).

“At year end, I review our Google Analytics stats for the year and pick the 10 stories that had the most traffic — unique visitors, page views, etc. Dr. Perry’s retrofit kit was one of those stories that piqued our readers’ interest. Much of our readership is based in Ontario, Canada, where the automotive industry plays a key role. Any automotive story, especially electric-related, tends to do well. Dr. Perry’s story was the most popular of those, as well as a ‘best of show’ of all the stories we’ve done throughout the year.”

The Canadian Manufacturing Design Engineering staff’s top-10 stories also include:

  • No. 7: “U.S. Army successfully tests directed (50 billion-watt) lightning bolt weapon”;
  • No. 5: “Canadian human-powered helicopter hopes to take off this week”;
  • No. 3: “(Aerofex Corp.’s) Hover bike takes flight”; and
  • the No. 1 story, “ Queen’s University researchers creating a life-sized 3D hologram for videoconferencing.”

The full list can be found at

Earlier this year, Perry and a student-led team reached a milestone when their 1994 Honda Accord station wagon saw its mileage increase from 50 to 100 percent during on-campus and in-town driving tests. The vehicle was retrofitted with laboratory prototype plug-in hybrid capability.

Dr. Charles Perry

The research Honda has been fitted with electric motors in each rear wheel and a large lithium-ion battery, which is mounted in the rear of the vehicle. As lithium-battery technology improves, the battery size can be reduced in production models, Perry said.

Switching on power to the two rear wheels’ electric motors made a huge difference by reducing the power required from the internal-combustion engine, he added.

Perry has indicated that the retrofit kit would cost consumers about $3,000 once it is mass-produced. The technology and the cost have attracted worldwide interest.

Perry and Lou Svendsen, university counsel with the Tennessee Board of Regents, have conducted talks with potential investors about mass production of the retrofit kit. Perry said mass production to the public is one to two years away.

Perry and his team have been collaborating on the project since April 2008. He has been an MTSU faculty member since 2004, arriving here after a 28-year career with IBM. His work with IBM earned 40 patents.

Engineering Technology and the Russell Chair of Manufacturing Excellence are part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

— Randy Weiler (