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What do you call a Prius hybrid combined with a pickup? The Pruck (w/video)

TIERRA VERDE

These days, when Ruud Hartog drives down the road a lot of drivers look twice.

"If they're passing me in the left lane, they come up (then) back off to get a good look at it," Hartog said. "Usually the iPhone is going and then they pass me and give me a thumbs-up or they honk the horn."

Hartog, 75, a retired engineer who spent 20 years in the Air Force, has done what Japanese automaker Toyota hasn't:

He converted his Toyota Prius hybrid into a pickup truck.

He calls it the Pruck.

"I like the Toyota Prius — the electronics and the tech setup," he said. "And I also like trucks."

Hartog said he wanted to minimize his carbon footprint but maximize the furniture and appliances he could haul for his volunteering gig at Heaven on Earth for Veterans, a nonprofit that provides living spaces to veterans.

So what's a guy to do if he likes two sorts of automobiles — one a stereotypical gas guzzler and the other a silent slayer of emissions?

Toyota has considered catering to the niche, debuting the A-BAT concept in 2008 — a sleek, unibodied hybrid truck. In 2011, the company and Ford announced a partnership to launch hybrid technology in SUVs and pickups.

The partnership unraveled in 2013. While Ford has said it will debut its own hybrid pickup by 2020, a Toyota spokeswoman said the company "has nothing to announce at this time regarding a smaller hybrid pickup truck."

So Hartog has done what the automotive giants could not.

"Toyota has designed a truck but won't support it," Hartog said. "That made me mad, and I said, 'Guess what. To hell with you guys.' And I made my own."

He added that hybrid pickups might be a tough sell in this country: "The American public likes big, rumbling trucks."

In the future, consumers may not have a choice. Devin Lindsay, principal analyst for IHS Automotive, said federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set to take effect in 2025 will mean a greater emphasis on electric options.

"That's the main driver of electrification of pickups," he said.

Getting consumers to buy into the new technology will be a challenge, Lindsay said, especially while gas prices are low. But because of the regulations, he said "electrification" of pickups will spread as the years roll on.

Hartog isn't waiting.

He said he spent $5,300 on the conversion, which includes the $800 price tag for a beat-up 2005 Prius and $1,000 for the car's battery.

His old 2005 Prius averaged 47 or 48 miles per gallon. He estimates that on a normal day, when air conditioning on full blast isn't necessary, that his new ride gets about 43 miles per gallon.

"That car had regular aerodynamic streamlining and didn't get cut up like the Pruck did," he said.

He started work in December, keeping a computer log of his activity.

When Hartog bought the Prius, he wrote, "She is a veteran of no less than four accidents, including a collision with a deer, and rolling over after departing a paved road. Wow, I will try to vindicate her sordid past."

There were two main challenges Hartog said he had to overcome. One was the complex electrical systems in the car.

"If you remove a component," he said, "you have to keep the computers happy."

The other was structure. Unlike a pickup, the Prius has a unibodied design; trucks have separate beds and cabs joined together underneath. For the Pruck, Hartog welded the rear doors shut to make it part of the structure. He also welded two metal tubes on each side of the car diagonally from the corners of the roof to the wheel wells.

After a few more months of welding, body and wiring work, the Pruck was road-ready.

In May, Hartog and his wife, Barbara, 72, took the car out to Fort De Soto Park to take some pictures with his son, Scott Hartog, 48, and his wife, Leslie, 50.

"I asked Scott and Leslie to come over so Leslie can do her famous 'Vanna White' hand sweep while taking some pictures," he wrote on May 22.

"Aside from some lingering minor issues, I consider it finished," he wrote, adding that the tailgate is still under construction.

"Tadaaaaa!"

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8092. Follow @JackSuntrup.

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