From: Larry Grard, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine
Published November 14, 2004 12:00 AM

European BlueHeat Gizmo Proves Adept at Saving Gasoline During Maine Winters

Nov. 14—MADISON, Maine — It's not just the cold. Like most of us in the United States, Canadians and Europeans have always dealt with frigid winters.


But long ago, fuel prices eclipsed $2 a gallon in Europe. And if that wasn't enough to keep people from running their vehicles to warm them up on cold mornings, anti-idling legislation sealed the deal.


In Europe and in Canada, you either scrape and get into a cold car, or you find another way to get it heated.


As usual in such times of need, the business world came to the rescue.


For years, Europeans and Canadians have used a fuel-saving, environmentally friendly heating device known as the BlueHeat heater.


Now manufactured in Michigan by Webasto Product North America Inc., the timed devices defrost windshields and heat vehicle interiors in half an hour. Mounted on the dashboard and hooked up to the car battery, the BlueHeat heater consumes a tiny amount of fuel compared to what would be used during idling.


At $1,600, it's a bit pricey. But Jeffrey and Paul Sprague, who recently began distribution of the devices out of their Madison vehicle dealership, say the timing is right for BlueHeat in Maine.


After seeing the device in a trade magazine last winter, the Spragues contacted Webasto about a distributorship.


"We're on the front end of this, literally because I made an inquiry at the right time, perhaps," Jeffrey Sprague said. "U.S. fuel prices and anti-idling legislation efforts make it right. (Webasto) came to America with the basic understanding that the future was coming."


BlueHeat heaters are installed with a digital timer, allowing the user to set the start time up to three times daily. The device uses only .16 gallons of fuel per hour, compared to a gallon used when the motor idles in cold weather.


Sprague recommends setting the timer for half an hour in 20-degree temperatures. Add another 15 minutes in frigid conditions. The defroster is left on low-to-medium.


For now, the Spragues are offering BlueHeat for light trucks, SUVs and other 8-cylinder vehicles at People's Garage, Inc., on Lakewood Road.


They have been used for years in buses and large trucks.


The product is adaptable to any vehicle, Sprague explained, but he does not yet have the right kits for smaller vehicles. The larger the vehicle, the more the savings.


"They're looking at the largest opportunity, as any dealer would," Sprague said.


But in short order, Sprague can order the brackets, or kits, for smaller vehicles. Those interested can call 474-5128.


"We do at this time cover a wide range of vehicle applications," he said.


Sprague also spoke of the "educational opportunity" such technology offers.


"It brings to light the importance of the environment," he said. "The state of Maine has a significant air-quality problem."


On Nov. 18, several organizations will gather in Freeport for a symposium on the need for anti-idling efforts.


The price will not scare customers away if they understand that BlueHeat can pay for itself in three years, Sprague said.


At current fuel prices with three starts per day, the owner could save 75 gallons of fuel a month for six cold-weather months, he said.


The device comes with a three-year warranty, and Sprague is working with new-car dealers to get them included with financing.


"Remote starters are cheaper, but you must run the engine," Sprague said. "And, it's an invitation for thievery."


The Spragues are also offering Webasto air heaters for commercial vehicles. The heaters can keep flowers and other items warm during winter months, Sprague said.


The Sprague family has owned People's Garage since 1943. The brothers sold their Chrysler dealership a year ago, and now offer used vehicles and accessories.


To see more of the Kennebec Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kjonline.com.© 2004, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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