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Super rides cruise to town

Two high tech vehicles get the Gizmo Guy gurgling.

Gizmo Guy  loves a hot and high tech ride.  Two with local connections  have been dangled before his eyes in the last few days. He even got to test drive one.

Yesterday,  an amazing-looking entry in the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 was unveiled at Franklin Institute. Why here?

Entry No. 29 – the TE Connectivity Honda – is loaded with high performance auto parts – including communicating sensors, cables and connectors  – developed by the Berwyn-based  division of global car parts giant  TE Connectivity.  All to spirit  the cause of driver Simona de Silvestro, the first and currently only female driver currently confirmed to qualify for the 500-mile race.

Adding to the local connections, TE's global chief Tom Lynch serves on the board of the Franklin Institute.

Plus, the car's being run out of the racing stable of Andretti Autosport, now Indianapolis-based and steered by Michael Andretti, but with "deep roots in the area," he noted - in not-so-far-away Nazareth, PA when dad Mario first got behind the wheel. (Third generation Marco Andretti  is racing at Indy on May 24.)

No, Gizmo Guy couldn't take No. 29 for a spin down the Ben Franklin Parkway.

But he did just  that  in another impressive ride: a  2016 Toyota Mirai, the world's first production ready, hydrogen fuel-cell powered sedan, which passed through town on its way to the now opened New York  International  Auto Show.  Styling and engineering is very Japanese.  Feels like a grownup variant on the hybrid Prius -  whisper quiet, plusher riding  and a bit quicker off the mark.  Mirai's interior is more akin to a Lexus and will be priced like one, starting at $57,000, when on sale in California this fall, supported by a sprinkling of municipally-financed fueling stations.

Mirai  only comes up short in luggage space – squeezed by  the fuel  stack-powered,  transmission-free power plant  up front,  hydrogen holding tanks under the seats and storage batteries hiding in the back.  More visible in the trunk   is a curious power plug. Because it puts out zero emissions, a Mirai can be left running in the garage for up to a week, serving as an emergency house generator.

So what's the local connection? Before visiting with me, the Mirai team  took  the ride first to Allentown to  rally the team at  Air Products – a major producer of hydrogen fuel and most of the refueling pump gear that'll be going  into those first California stations. (A fill-up takes just four minutes.)  The team also paid a house call to the University of Delaware, where  promising research may soon deliver  a cheaper way to process hydrogen fuel .

The Toyota team also was hoping to rally support from local influentials like Charlie Dent, U.S. Representative from the Lehigh Valley. Back when George W. Bush was in charge,  hydrogen powered vehicles were  a high priority and, if produced,  would have earned the first 200,000 early adopters an $8,000 tax credit. "But that legislation had a sunset date, expired and has not been renewed by the current administration," explained Toyota North America's Robert Wimmer.