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Fort Worth man converts Hyundai Accents into cargo haulers to aid unemployed

Part of the Hyundai Accent conversion includes a metal divider. Photo: Star-Telegram/Ron T. Ennis

By Scott Nishimura in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

George Tengowski hopes an unusual idea, turning a compact car into a two-seat cargo hauler, can help to retrain unemployed people for jobs.

He has accomplished the first step. Tengowski has converted three Hyundai Accent hatchbacks: He removed the rear seat, extended the cargo deck, installed a metal partition and added an optional tie-down bar. He has them on consignment at Manuel Hyundai in west Fort Worth.

Tengowski says that if they sell, he’ll use the money to help seed a foundation he formed several years ago. And assuming that there is demand for the vehicles, which get more than 30 miles to the gallon, he wants to take on unemployed people as temporary employees to do the conversions. Proceeds would go to his Christian Interfaith Foundation, which would help retrain workers.

“We’re hoping we can dump back into the foundation $500-$750″ per vehicle sold, he said.

How did Tengowski, 62, an engineering technician for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dallas, get this far?

He bought an Accent in 2008 to save gas money on his daily commute from Fort Worth’s Wedgwood neighborhood to part-time remodeling jobs.

“I was running around in a Chevy pickup, and it was just eating my lunch,” he said.

The remodeling business gave Tengowski, who was in the conversion van business in the 1970s, an idea for a compact-cargo hauler.

The Accent “did have that seat-fold-down option, but things just rolled around back there,” he said.

And Tengowski, a deacon at his Fort Worth church, had seen lengthy prayer lists from unemployed worshippers. “The churches are so bombarded with requests,” he said.

Using his Accent, he started work on a “prototype” conversion and filed a federal patent application this spring. It seeks to patent the interior apparatus, components and manufacturing process. Tengowski said he believes that the package could easily fit larger vehicles.

Shortly after filing the application, he showed the vehicle — with a 4-foot flat cargo deck and sample tied-down items such as tools — to Jared Franklin, sales manager at Manuel Hyundai, where Tengowski and his family have bought several Hyundais.

In June, Manuel Hyundai began showing three versions of Tengowski’s converted Accents and is discussing leasing him a building on the dealership’s grounds, where Tengowski could complete his conversions if the idea takes off.

Franklin said he sees potential demand for the 30-plus-mpg V+ Conversions among fleet purchasers such as home healthcare companies and maid services.

“There’s definitely a market for a small fuel-efficient vehicle that has storage capacity,” he said.

Franklin said the dealership is pursuing some potential leads. “The thing about fleet deals, they’re not overnight deals,” he said.

Morgan Overby, a salesman at the dealership, has shown the conversions to the owner of a plant-delivery business, a pizza delivery and a local hospital’s courier service.

The converted vehicles list at up to $15,000, including $1,495-$2,495 for the conversion. But based on numbers the dealership ran for one potential customer, “we’re looking to get [the sale price] down to about $13,000, plus tax, title and license,” and including a Hyundai rebate, Overby said.

Besides the tie-down bar, other options include window tint, GPS and 12-volt power outlets in the cargo bay, Tengowski said.

Even though the first three vehicles haven’t sold yet, he’s already looking ahead.

He said he believes that the patent process might be accelerated under rules covering proposals that aid in energy conservation. He said he’s lined up a retired builder at his church who would run the conversion shop.

Tengowski’s wife, Joan, a federal employee, would help teach computer skills to workers. “I’ll be teaching auto-CAD,” Tengowski says.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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