Sunday, 02 April, 2006

Next Project: An Electric Car?

As the truck sits in the garage looking guiltily at me every time I open the door, I'm contemplating my next project.  Yes, I know that I have to finish the truck first.  Things got a little crazy here after I returned from Japan, and I've been busy training and preparing for the big ride.   I'm scheduled to put the truck back together as soon as I return from Harlingen.

The next project?  How about an electric car?  It's an interesting idea, and not terribly difficult, according to all I've read.  Find a "donor car," rip out the engine and associated parts, and install batteries and an electric motor.  It's a little more complicated than that, but it's well within my meager mechanic abilities.

I'll be the first to admit that, beyond the cool factor of driving my own electric conversion, there isn't a lot to recommend having an electric vehicle.  At least, not in my situation.  Most electric vehicles (EVs) have a range from 40 to 80 miles, which means that I'd be hard pressed to use an EV for commuting if I ever get another real job in town.  I could use the EV for going to lunch or other places that are within 20 or 30 miles of here, but to go anywhere else would require some opportunity charging.  That might be possible, but it's not something I'd count on just yet.

It looks like an EV would be much cheaper to operate than a gasoline vehicle (known as an ICE, for internal combustion engine).  I'm paying $0.11 per kilowatt hour here.  A typical EV would have a 10 KWH battery pack, so a full charge would cost me somewhere between $1.10 and $2.20, depending on the efficiency of the charging process.  But if you figure $2.20 to go 50 miles, that's still 50 miles per gallon at today's gasoline prices.

Plus, there aren't any oil changes, timing chains, belts, hoses, radiators, or all that rot, either.  Lead acid batteries need to be replaced every 25,000 miles or so, which can be expensive, but apparently not as much as ICE maintenance over that period.  Lithium ion or nickel metal hydride batteries are more expensive, but last 150,000 miles or more.

Conversion cost is pretty high.  Electro Automotive charges $8,000 for their Voltsrabbit kit, which includes everything you need to convert a Volkswagen Rabbit into an electric vehicle.  My understanding is that you can probably do it for under $5,000 if you do some research and shop around for parts, and are willing to fabricate your own battery boxes and such.

It still doesn't make economic sense.  Considering that you can buy a Rabbit in good condition for under $1,000, it's hard to see where you'll save money--even in the long run--by putting another $5,000 into it.

Nope.  Gotta do it for the cool factor.  Now I just have to figure out what kind of car I want to convert.