'Wait-until-next-year' piston is throttled by stockholders Sonex cites bad luck at shareholders meeting where invention is cursed

Engineering

October 23, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Shareholder frustration came to a head yesterday at the annual meeting of Sonex Research Inc., the Annapolis-based technology company that has been promising its investors year after year that it's close to a breakthrough in the development of a new diesel engine piston that will finally make it some money.

"Are you going to stand up here next year and tell us again that you are very close to signing an agreement?" asked George Zeberlein. "You guys have been saying that for the past five or six years."

Company President Lawrence H. Hyde declined to speculate when there will be an agreement to produce the Sonex piston. "But we will be much, much closer," this time next year, he said.

Zeberlein said he has invested in Sonex since it became a public company in the early 1980s, as it developed a new piston that it claimed would boost an engine's horsepower and fuel economy while cutting down on noxious emissions.

"They are always close to an agreement," Zeberlein said after the meeting, "but there is always another T to cross or an I to dot."

Part of his frustration is that once Sonex's stock was a darling of Wall Street, and shot up to $40 a share shortly after the company went public.

The stock traded yesterday at $1 a share.

In its annual report released last month, the company said that in the near future it expected to conclude a license and marketing agreement with T&N Piston Products Group in England to mass produce and sell its piston.

T&N is one of the world's largest piston manufacturers and supplies most world's automakers, including General Motors Corp. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.

Shareholders were hopeful of receiving good news on an agreement yesterday. But they left with only another promise that something could happen "in the relatively near future."

The most favorable news concerned the company's recent military contracts to modify small engines used in flying drones so they can burn a fuel other than gasoline.

Sonex is counting on this business to keep the company running. Hyde told shareholders that the company has $650,000. "That will get us into the middle of next year," he said. "Then we hope to have more revenues from our small engine work."

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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