Converting cars to all-electric is catching on, but slowly

May 29, 2012 By Jim Motavalli

Does that old Honda in your driveway need a valve job? Transform it with an electric conversion. A team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has come up with a kit to make your 2001-2005 Civic a zero-emission battery car. Converting an existing car instead of buying a new one is good for the planet, and the old beater will have a new lease on life.

Your mechanic can probably install the kit in 2 half days. It's not a difficult job, and you can sell the used engine and transmission on Craigslist. That's the good part.

Here's the bad part: The conversion kit costs $24,000, plus the cost of the Civic (if you don't already have one). Your total bill is likely to come in at $30,000. And you're not eligible for the $7,500 that new EV buyers get. In fact, buying a new Nissan Leaf is actually cheaper than converting a 7-year-old used Civic.

Conversions are likely to catch on first in the fleet market, where what matters most is the long-term cost of keeping vehicles on the road.

Felix Kramer of CalCars said waiting for the to market new EVs is going to take a long time. "There will be an insignificant impact in terms of petroleum reduction from the new plug-in hybrids and for more than 15 years - even if they come in at a rate 10 times faster than hybrids came into the market," Kramer said. "That's because we have 250 million vehicles in the United States and 900 million in the world." Cars already on the road have a lot of "embedded energy," he said., and about 15 percent of the total energy used by a car or truck in its lifetime was used to build it.

"We're not manufacturers or price optimizers," said Illah Nourbakhsh, who co-directs Carnegie Mellon's ChargeCar project. "The cost would come down if we could buy 100 kits at a time." Indeed they would. And that's the central issue and catch: The price comes down with volume, but the volume isn't going to increase much with such a high initial cost.

H. Ben Brown, a project scientist at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and the other co-director of ChargeCar, said the kit is comprehensive, including the electric motor, control electronics (including an electric heater and pumps), lithium batteries, a computer display unit that provides information on battery health, and all the adapters you'll need to fit the parts into a Civic.

The battery pack fits into the Civic's spare-tire well and costs only about $5,000, which is cheap for lithium. Charging takes 10 hours on 110-volt house current, but you could halvethat by installing a 240-volt garage unit. The team has converted a pair of Civics, which have a range of about 40 miles.

"It's difficult to get the price any lower," Brown said. "On the positive side, your impact on the planet is small compared to that of building a new vehicle."

Converting cars to electric could be a big business, and some companies, such as ALTe, have been trying to make it one. Michigan-based ALTe developed a turn-key plug-in hybrid conversion for fleet and niche vehicles. For the Ford F-150 pickup, they take out the V-8 engine, and replace it with a four-cylinder engine, battery packs, and two 60-kilowatt electric motors. As with other , the all-electric range is 25 to 40 miles. The company says converting light to medium use trucks to plug-in hybrid results in an 80 to 200 percent fuel economy improvement.

ALTe, founded by three Tesla Motors refugees, focuses on converting 3- to 5-year-old Ford vehicles. The downside, as with ChargeCar, is the price - an average of $30,000. The category is heating up, though, with the entry of VIA Motors, which is focusing on plug-in hybrid conversions of large General Motors vans, trucks and SUVs. It says its price for converting a Silverado will be about $79,000 "in volume." It really needs big orders to make it work, and it might get them from its tight relationship with GM (former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is an adviser and spokesman).

VIA and ALTe are focusing on the fleet market - individual consumers might come later. VIA says that over eight years of typical ownership, you would save $23,000 with one of their 100-mpg conversions, and those are the kind of numbers that hit home with fleet managers. The more you drive, the more you'll save.

Explore further: Convert your Honda from gas to electric at Carnegie Mellon University

More information: © 2012, Mother Nature Network
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) May 29, 2012
There is a simple test. Is it better than the existing technology in terms of performance, cost and convenience? If the answer is no then it won't happen. What is unfortunate is that petrochemicals are incredibly good to start with. When you factor in the cost of the materials, the recycling the transport of the extra weight the source of the electricity it starts to look rapidly like an expensive red-herring.
2 / 5 (4) May 29, 2012
zero-emission battery car
Is nonsense, until 70% energy is produced with burning of fossil fuels anyway. In addition, the production of car batteries is very environmentally demanding. These emissions still exist, despite they're spread outside of large cities and I'm afraid, the total emissions connected with electromobiles is higher, than at the case of classical gas engine cars. As the rough measure of total energy consumption (and production of emissions) can serve the price comparison: until battery cars are twice times expensive as the classical cars, then the total volume of emissions connected with their production and operation is roughly double in comparison to the classical cars.

The naive people at developed countries are brainwashed with industrial lobbies and they have only very rough idea about economy of distributed resources. The fact, light bulb produces no emissions doesn't mean, it's emission free - and the situation with "green cars" is exactly the same
5 / 5 (3) May 29, 2012

Funny I drive my EV's for 25% of the running cost of similar ICE ones. I laugh all the way to the bank. The secret is lightweight vehicle to start with and lead batteries.

A VW bug makes an excellent EV for about $1-4k.
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2012

While you are correct, industrial turbines have about twice the thermal efficiency as a traditional gasoline engine (70% vs 30-40%), add to that the fact that the grid's renewable share is over 20% and it's a fairly significant improvement over even a 35mpg economy car. EVs won't fully fix the issue, but will help quite a bit, while also improving everyone's budget thereby freeing more money for further renewable investment.
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2012
the emissions are centralized,easier to deal with
source pollution and choice of source fuels.
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2012
More info please jerryd, especially along these lines:-

- type of batteries, el cheapo starter batteries treated well or specified deep discharge ?
- distance travelled average for rated depth of discharge ?
- size/type motor ratings
- controller type, PWM, PFM etc ?
- any partial regenerative braking ?
Still using the original gears and clutch ?

Have been musing making a hyundai fwd hatch a hybrid as rear wheels are nicely accessible for a modded electric drive, so compiling options...


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