What Happened to EV 2.0?

February 2015 Update

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and much has happened. In April of 2014, we welcomed our second child, a boy this time into the world and the last 8 months has been a bit of a whirlwind. Our family upgraded (more like a downgrade, really) to a minivan from our long-serving Toyota Matrix, and I haven’t had a whole lot of time for anything, including EVs and this site.

What happened to the Sprint?

It’s a bit of a story. In December of 2013, I was driving the EV to work and back, using it as my daily driver. It was going well except for the lack of heat which I never really got sorted out further than pre-heating the car in the morning. I had a couple of incidents that resulted in completely draining my battery pack. The first was me needing to make an urgent detour on my way home from work one day and not properly estimating my range (I was pushed home by a friend). The second was a result of me handing the keys to my wife and evidently doing a poor job of explaining how far she’s allowed to go.

Having completely drained my already heavily used pack twice, it was just about done. I only had enough range to make it 10 or 15 kilometers after those incidents, and that was no longer sufficient for use as a commuter. As I was not in a financial position to buy new batteries at that time, my beloved Sprint was relegated to occasional use as a short-distance second vehicle.

In January of 2014, my family and I went to Hawaii for two weeks. It was a fantastic holiday and I highly recommend the Big Island by the way. It’s way less congested and with a whole lot more to explore than Maui. Just my $0.02. Although I suspected that I had a leak somewhere due to an occasional wet carpet on the passenger side, I was not prepared for the 4″ of standing water I came home to. At this time, the car also needed a wheel bearing, brakes and a few other things. Knowing that a second child was on the way, and the EV was a short-range 2 seater with mechanical issues, I had to re-evaluate my time and financial priorities. I ended up disassembling the car and storing all of the EV components planning a new project in the form of a 4-door with lithium, heater etc.

As last year drew to a close, we bought our first home. It’s our first, and unfortunately does not have a garage, further reducing the likelihood that I would be able to get back to the EV any time in the near future. After some long, hard thought, I sold all of my EV parts to a local fellow who is in the process of turning them into something awesome. I will provide a link as soon as I find where his project is documented.

What’s next?

I’m still an EV nut. That’s not going to change. My plan is to build a 4-door lithium-powered electric machine in the form of a Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe or similar. None of the major parts that I used in the Sprint conversion would have been well-suited for a larger, lithium-powered ride anyways. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to get started on the new car. It’s entirely possible that at some point in the future I’ll decide to abandon the dream in favor of a used Leaf or Model S, it’s hard to say what the next 5-10 years are going to look like. If you’ve had young kids, you understand.

What about this site?

I built this site as a testament to the fact that a cheap, reliable EV is not only possible, it’s not really that hard. I’m not an electrician, a mechanic or an engineer, and I did it. This site will stay here and serve as a resource for anybody else like me that wants to get off of carbon and start using electrons to power your ride!

I plan to update the site occasionally, although not with the same frequency as when I was knee-deep in my conversion project. I have a lot of knowledge to share about what I did, and I will be available here if you have any questions.

Thanks for visiting the site. The Sprint conversion was an extremely rewarding experience, and I hope the info on this site encourages you to get out there and get started on your own conversion project.

Posted in Chevrolet Sprint Conversion

How Much, How Far, How Fast?

With any electric car conversion, you’re going to have to ask yourself three questions in the planning phase – how much, how far and how fast? There’s a saying amongst electric car builders that when it comes to range, cost and speed, you can pick any two. In other words, it’s possible to build a long-range fast car, but it’s going to cost you. Or you can build a cheap and fast car, but you’re not going to get the range you probably want.

There’s a lot of truth to this. For example, with my electric Chevrolet Sprint, I chose lower cost and speed, and didn’t get much for range. I could have built a longer range car that was still cheap, but wouldn’t have been capable of the highway speeds that I need around my place.

You’ll notice that the major manufacturers are all struggling with this. The Nissan Leaf for example is capable of around 120km real-world range. This number will drop significantly when the car is used in mountainous or hilly areas, if you use the A/C or heat a lot etc. Every little bit counts. Based on the fact that the car is selling, we can assume that people feel that the range is adequate. Having driven one on a few occasions, I can vouch that the acceleration and top speed are more than acceptable for a compact car. The price however, was the compromise. At more than $30k, it’s not cheap enough yet for most people to consider.

No matter what, you’re going to face this when you build your own electric car so it’s best to figure it out early:

How Much?

How Far?

How Fast?

Posted in Electric Vehicle Articles

The Long History Of Electric Vehicles

Some people hear about the movie “Who Killed The Electric Car” and think that the electric car made it’s big debut in the form of GM’s EV1 in 1996. Others may be sure that the electric car can trace it’s roots to the hippy dippy tree-hugging movement of the 60s and 70s. The truth is, the electric car is well over 100 years old. It predates the gasoline car in fact.

The invention of the electric car has been attributed to several different people. The consensus seems to be however that American Thomas Davenport was responsible for inventing the first viable electric vehicle in 1835 – a small locomotive.

Below is a timeline of the history of electric vehicles. It’s interesting to note that even as far back as the mid-1800s, the major component holding back mass adoption of electric cars was a viable battery pack. Guess what the main thing holding us back from mass adoption of EVs today – an affordable battery pack capable of a respectable range.

Riker Electric Car

Early 1900s Riker Electric Car

1830s – Scottish inventor Robert Anderson is credited with inventing the first crude electric carriage powered by a non-rechargeable battery.

1835 – American inventor Thomas Davenport invents the first viable electric vehicle – a small locomotive.

1859 – French physicist Gaston Planté invents the first rechargeable lead-acid battery.

1883 – England opens the first commercially successful electric tram/trolley engineered by Magnus Volk

1891 – American William Morrison of Des Moines Iowa invents the first successful electric automobile.

first electric car

William Morrison’s Electric Car

1897 – Electric cars used commercially for the first time. Built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia, they were used as taxis in New York City

1899 – Believing that electricity will power the future of transportation, Thomas Edison begins his quest for a long-lasting, powerful battery suitable for use in commercial vehicles. Although his work resulted in improvements on the battery technology of the day, he ultimately abandoned his quest a decade later.

1900 – Electric cars have gained traction in the United States. Nearly 40% of all vehicles in America are fully electric.

1907 – Electric Vehicle Company, which had bought out several other small electric car manufacturers, suffers a fatal blow from a bank crash.

1908 – Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced, gasoline-powered Ford Model T. This car has a profound effect on the American automobile market and is the beginning of the end for production electric cars. Thanks Henry!

Model T Electric Car

1908 Ford Model T

1912 – Charles Kettering invents the electric starter. This is significant as the hand-cranking required to start gasoline cars was a big part of why many people, particularly women, chose to drive electrics.

1920s – The electric car, after decades of success, ceases to be a viable commercial product and production stops completely. There are many factors that contribute to the downfall of EVs. Consumers wanted the longer range and higher speeds offered by gasoline-powered cars. In addition to this, most of the major concerns about gas cars had been addressed by this time. Gearboxes were becoming less complicated and easier to use and gasoline was widely available by the 20s. Really, the issue with electric cars was the same as it is now, people wanted to be able to drive as long as they wanted, and fill up their car quickly.

1920s-1960s – Electric cars are more or less forgotten during this period. It’s the golden age for gas-powered vehicles.

1973 – The Arab oil embargos of ’67 and ’73 have left Americans waiting for hours at gas stations and fuel prices skyrocket. A moderate interest in alternative fuels is rekindled during this period. The US Department of energy funds efforts to try and produce a cost-effective electric car.

Electric CitiCar

CitiCar EV

1974 – The awkward looking CitiCar makes it’s debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, D.C. Built by Vanguard-Sebring, it boasts a top speed of just over 30mph and a respectable warm-weather range of 40 miles. By 1975, Vanguard-Sebring is the 6th largest automaker in the US. Unfortunately, the company is dissolved only a few years later.

Italian car maker Zagato, starts producing the Zele. An electric microcar with an all fiberglass body. It is sold in the US under the name Zagato Elcar. This and the CitiCar are two peas in a pod, both tiny and awkward-looking!

1975 – The US Postal Service buys 350 all-electric delivery Jeeps from AMC to be used in a test program.

1988 – General Motors agrees to fund research for a practical consumer electric car. GM teams up with AeroVironment to produce what would become the EV1. The EV1 is the first serious attempt at a modern, long-range electric car. It was only leased, not sold to consumers. Even though the reviews for the EV1 were almost universally positive, when the leases were up, General Motors took back every unit without offering the leasers an opportunity to buy the car. Every single one was crushed. Some electric car enthusiasts have argued that GM never intended the EV1 to be a serious commercial venture.

GMs EV1 Electric

GMs EV1

1990 – California passes the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate requiring 2% of the state’s vehicles to be zero emission by 1998 and 10% by 2003. The law is repeatedly challenged and weakened to reduce the number of fully electric cars required.

1997-2000 – Several major manufacturers release all-electric vehicles. Nissan’s Alta, Ford’s Ranger EV, Toyota’s Rav 4 EV, Chevy’s S10 EV, Honda’s EV Plus are all offered in the US, although most of them only for lease. Many have since ended up on the used market. 

2002 – G.M and Chrysler sue the California Air Resources Board to have the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate repealed.

2003 -  G.M. announces that it will not be renewing leases on the EV1, nor will it offer the car for sale to leasers. They blame their inability to keep up with parts support.

2005 – All but 40 or so of the EV1s have been reclaimed by G.M. and “recycled”. The remaining vehicles have been disabled and now live at museums and universities.

2006Tesla Motors announces their all-electric Tesla Roadster at the San Francisco International Auto show. It is to go on sale for the 2008 model year with a price tag of just under $100,000.

Nissan LEAF EV

Nissan LEAF

2009 – Nissan unveils it’s new all-electric car, the LEAF. It has a range of over 100 miles, a top speed of 90mph and a battery pack that can be quick-charged to 80% in 30 minutes. Nissan works to set up charging networks in several countries to support charging for the LEAF.

By the end of 2009, several manufacturers have announced new all-electric vehicles. GM’s Volt (actually a parallel hybrid with a 40 mile all-electric range), Nissan’s LEAF and Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV are all to be released over the next two years.

Since the 80s, electric cars have been kept alive thanks to the efforts of regular guys converting vehicles at home rather than by the half-hearted efforts of the major manufacturers. In the late 90s it seemed that some of them were going to take EVs seriously for a while, and then they all cancelled their EV programs.

There is new hope for electric cars on the horizon with Tesla swooping in and quite frankly making the EV effort put forth by the big 3 over the last 2 decades look silly. Tesla, as a new manufacturer has managed to develop and build two commercially viable all-electric cars in the last 8 years, and become profitable in the process (well, sort of).

Because electric cars more or less ceased to exist between the 1920s and 1970s (save for a few exceptions), electric cars missed out on a key period in automotive development. If companies had been investing their research and development dollars into electric vehicles all through the 20th century as was happening with gasoline vehicles, EV technology would be much farther than it is today.

Posted in Electric Vehicle Articles, Uncategorized

Electric Car Battery Pack Basics

The batteries in an EV conversion have a way of costing more than anything else. If you want to build a dirt-cheap electric car battery pack, your only option is to use deep-cycle, lead acid batteries. Although Lithium Iron Phosphate have been shown to be cheaper in the long run, the price to buy them upfront is prohibitive for many hobbyists. It is possible to get lead acid batteries for free or very cheap making them the ideal choice for most.

The most basic electric car has 4 to 12 deep cycle batteries wired together to make a large battery pack. It is not necessary to understand complex electrical theory to build an electric car, I sure don’t. This page will help you understand the basics of how EV battery packs work.

 

Batteries wired in parallel

When batteries are wired together as pictured, with + to + and – to -, the capacity (amp hours) of the pack increases but the voltage stays the same. In the example below, these are deep cycle, 12v batteries wired in parallel. If each battery has an amp hour rating of 50ah, the total for the pack would now be 200ah (50ah x 4 batteries = 200ah). The voltage however will remain the same at 12v

electric car wiring diagramBatteries wired in series

In the diagram below, the same four batteries have been wired together in series connecting each battery + to – throughout the entire pack. When wiring in series the voltage of the battery pack increases with each battery added, and the amp hour capacity stays the same. The total voltage of the below pack would be 48v (4 batteries at 12v* = 48v)

*Lead acid automotive batteries actually run around 12.6v but for simplicity sake, I’m calling it 12v.

electric car wiring diagram

Batteries wired in series/parallel

Now, to further complicate things, batteries can be wired in series parallel. This increases both the voltage and the amp hour capacity of the battery pack. Two of the 48v packs pictured above can be wired together in parallel to increase the total amp hours and for EV purposes…extend the range of the EV.

ev wiring diagramTypically, a conversion donor won’t have the weight-carrying capacity to carry two lead-acid packs wired in series parallel. Some guys do it, but by the time you buy 16-24 batteries to build a pack this way, the cost starts to get so close to what lithium would cost that there’s really no point. If you have that kind of money to invest, but the lithium batteries in the first place. That way you won’t have to deal with the issues that arise from hauling so much weight (suspension/frame strengthening etc).

 

Posted in Batteries, Electric Vehicle Articles Tagged with: , ,

EV 2.0 – Why I’m Starting Over

Learning how to build an electric car has been the biggest project I’ve ever taken on. I spent nearly two years collecting parts and building my car….and now I’ve decided to dismantle the Sprint and completely start over. I didn’t make the decision overnight, I’ve been mulling on it for a few months now, but it’s the right thing to do.

So….WHY?

Build an electric carHere’s the thing: my Sprint was never meant to be the finished product. Although I never mentioned it on the blog, I had always intended for this car to be sort of a beta version, a vehicle to make all my mistakes on, so I could build something better in the future. We just had our second child and the Sprint doesn’t meet my needs for a few reasons. It no longer has the rear seats, it’s only a two door (but I’m flexible on this one, as long as there’s 4 seats), it leaks water like a sieve (from the windshield no less) and needs a bunch of other misc. work. Basically, it’s not what I want, so I’m not investing the money into fixing everything.

Something else happened as well. My batteries were completely drained twice, once by my wife (insert joke about women and driving here), and the second time by me. I got my pack used, and as far as I’m concerned, I got my $100 out of it after the first few test runs, so the fact that I drove for 5 months on that pack is just a bonus. As I got into winter, the batteries were getting more and more worn out and it got to the point where I couldn’t even get to work anymore, so I need a new pack.

What’s Next?

Suzuki Swift electric conversionI’m going to build the car that I really want. I’m on the hunt for a 4-door Geo Metro, Firefly, Sprint or Swift in either a hatchback or sedan, with Swift sedan being my preference. This next one will need to be in great shape. I want to stick with this car for the same reasons I chose it to begin with. They’re super light, cheap to buy, easy to work on and there are tons of others out there who have converted the same car, making advice and ideas easy to come by. Not to mention I’ve done it once already so I know what I’m getting into this time!

I still have my motor, adapter plate, controller, contactor, vacuum brake setup, cables etc. So starting now, I’m going to be collecting everything else that I will need to build my next EV, which will be a car I’m hoping to keep for a long time. Here are the things I wanted for this car but never got around to:

Instrumentation – I’m going with the best, the TBS E-xpert pro meter.

Heater – My crummy ceramic heater never put out nearly enough heat to face a Canadian winter. I’m going with a fluid heater this time.

DC/DC converter – This is just to simplify my 12V system and make the battery last longer.

Lithium pack and new charger

Switching To Lithium

Lithium EV batteryWhen I first started this project, I wanted to build an electric car as cheap as I could, and I did exactly that. The whole thing from start to a driveable EV was $2570, and It can be done much cheaper than that. I realized somewhere along the way however, that I wanted to build a cheap car, and show others that it can be done, but I also wanted something long-term, a car I can take my family places in. I have to compromise on something. On my Sprint conversion I compromised on comfort and range, this next car is going to be comfortable and go much farther on a charge than the Sprint ever could.

Lithium batteries are expensive, and not the best choice for a budget conversion. I have realized though, that they are cheaper in the long-run. 8 flooded lead acid batteries to replace the ones I have will be around $1500, with a sealed, AGM pack costing almost $3000. I can upgrade to lithium for $3500-$7500 plus about $500 for a charger. It’s more money up front but the lithiums will last 8-12 years and the lead-acid batteries will likely only last 1-3. So spend say $6000 once every ten years or spend $3000 once every two years…it just makes sense to spend the money.

In addition, you gain with lithium batteries because you can discharge them deeper, they’re lighter, and because of the light weight you have more options for mounting. It’s just the way to go. This means that I’m going to have to save for a while but what I really want is a car that I can drive for a full day and not have to worry about opportunity charging everywhere I go. An informative little article on the advantages of lithium vs lead can be found here.

A new charger will also give me the option to take advantage of the charging stations around town. They all use j1772 plugs and run 220V so I can’t use them with my little chargers that I have now.

Another great thing about doing a second build is that I’m planning on documenting it much more closely than I did with the first. I’m going to take photos and video of the process to help out other would-be converters who want to take on their own projects. Reading about other people’s conversions and watching their videos made it a whole lot easier when I was doing my own, and I want to contribute to the material that’s out there for people to learn from.

So stay tuned! This new project is going to take some time, but it’s going to be far more exciting than the first. I’m shooting for a range of 80 miles (128 kilometers) for range. Super ambitious, but I think that I can make it happen. I’m going to focus on aerodynamic modifications on this next car as well as low rolling resistance tires and driving style of course!

I’m excited for you to follow along as I build EV 2.0!

 

Posted in Chevrolet Sprint Conversion, Electric Vehicle Articles

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