Building an EV in 1 week – Day 2

Saturday morning now, just waking up after a very big Friday in the shed with around 6 people:

  • We completed, fitted, and installed the rear battery rack. We even wired up the rear batteries. Looks fantastic and very satisfying to see the rear of the car looking like the finished product!
  • The more complex front rack has been built in situ (much of the welding taking place while inside the car to help alignment). This morning we will pull it out, clean it up, and paint. Ready for afternoon installation.
  • Instrumentation leads (Paktrckr) constructed, current sensor fitted, ready for wiring. Thanks Joel!
  • Throttle pot box mounted and throttle linkages fabricated and tested. Nice work Michael, John, and team.
  • Vacuum pump installed (thanks Eric), need to connect up vacuum tubing now.
  • Clamps that secure cables under the car fitted, ready for under body wiring.

Today we need to fit the DC-DC converter, vacuum switch, charger, emergency stop and Paktrckr head unit. Then start on wiring everything up.

Progress was less obvious to the naked eye on Day 2, as we hit some of the fiddly steps like gradually building up the front battery rack to fit the batteries and controller tray, and fitting the vacuum pump. Not as visibly impressive as lifting motors in and out.

However it is these custom fabrications steps that often take the lone EV constructor months.

Relating this project to my first EV: On day one we progressed as far as I did in the first 6 months. On day 2 we progressed another 5 months. We are now at roughly the point (wiring) where I was 3 days before the first drive. So I am hoping to get this puppy on the road today!

My original goal for this project was a 1 week conversion. I was a little nervous when so many people offered to come past and help; I was afraid I would be distracted from the core conversion work. However the opposite has happened – it is because of all these people that we have made such wonderful progress. I don’t think we would have made it in 1 week if it was just Michael and I. This tells me that all of the custom fabrication steps are still very time consuming. Need to work out a better way to do these, and speed things up for the next conversion. For example building a jig from our current racks, or building 10 racks at once.

We have two videos of Day 2 of the EV conversion labeled Day 2 and Day 3 taken by an OLPC rigged up by Joel above the car. The videos were split in two due to an accidental power cut. See if you can spot the welding sparks! More photos and videos time come – I need to catch up with the others first!


Building an EV in 1 week – Day 1
Building an EV in 1 week – Day 3
David’s EV Page

Building an EV in 1 week – Day 1

Yesterday we started a “1 week” EV conversion. Most EV conversion projects are part time projects that can take 6-12 months. I would really like to see more EVs on the road, so wanted to experiment with ways to reduce the conversion time. Long term, I would like to see local EV conversion businesses that use small scale mass production techniques to convert petrol cars to electric.

I have been working on the project with Michael, a friend from Geelong, Victoria. We are converting his Charade (same model as my EV) using a low cost Chinese kit of EV parts.

Over the past few months we have been preparing, for example buying parts and fabricating some components (like the adaptor plate and coupler) that can’t reasonably be done in the 1 week time frame. Most of these steps could be automated in a real conversion enterprise, e.g. the adaptor plate is now in CAD format so it’s easy to make more using laser cutting, and ordering of the various parts could be performed electronically. We also developed a detailed plan and costing spreadsheet. We will publish all of these files shortly – making this an “open source” EV project to help others.

I also invited many people who are interested in EVs to come and help Michael and I do the conversion work. The response was overwhelming! Yesterday we had about 10 people, and we made far more progress than I had expected. Everyone seemed to self organise and find a job to do, and some of the skills we saw were amazing. We had mechanics, mechanical engineers, machinists, spray painters, several people taking video and stills, people handling wiring, a poor welder (me!), and my wife Rosemary catering for us all!

On day one we removed the ICE and all of the ICE components (like exhaust and fuel systems). We also installed the electric motor & gearbox assembly, including fabricating the driver side engine mount and starting construction on the front and rear battery racks. I figure we did three days work in one with the incredible team we had.

The community aspect was amazing. Many of these people gladly took a day off work and were having a great time. Building an electric car as a community project, how cool is that?

We have some YouTube video of the EV conversion taken by an OLPC rigged up by Joel above the car.

Lots more to come. I wonder how far we will get today. Anyway, off to the airport now to pick up another team member who has flown in for the event!


Building an EV in 1 week – Day 2
Building an EV in 1 week – Day 3
David’s EV Page

A Drive in the Mitsubishi MIEV

Today I was fortunate enough to go for a drive in a MIEV, the single demo unit that is on tour around Australia! This will probably be the first of the new generation of production electric cars (fingers crossed).

Funny how these things come about. I was sitting down to lunch on Sunday talking to one of my wife’s friends, Nina. She mentioned that she was a receptionist at Mitsubishi Adelaide, and told us the staff would be having a test drive of the MIEV today.

Say what? I didn’t even know it was in town. I was pretty excited so Nina kindly asked the Mitsubishi people if I could take a look at the car, and I was invited to join Nina on a test drive! WOW!

So at 3pm today I hopped in my EV and electo-commuted down to Mitsubishi HQ. Just as I entered the car park I saw the little MIEV cruising around. It pulled over as they changed drivers. Suddenly, just as I was passing the MIEV suddenly shot out in front of me – if I hadn’t hit the brakes we might have had the first EV on EV collision. Try explaining that to the bosses back in Japan!

The MIEV had a big sticker “Australia’s first Electric car” on the back. Ahem. Really? Then what, exactly, am I and probably 100 other Australians driving? They can’t even say “first production EV”. Yet (production starts in July).

Anyway Nina and I waited patiently and soon is was our turn. I hopped in the spacious rear of the car (heaps of leg room and height) while the Mitsubishi engineer minding the MIEV (Ashley) showed Nina how it worked. It has an automatic style gear selector but basically its D to drive and off you go. Nina drove us around the nearly empty and spacious Mitsubishi car park, getting up to about 50km/hr. We got a good feel for the acceleration and regenerative braking (both good). It felt nice and light compared to my lead-acid EV, especially over speed bumps. Easy to drive and a nice little car.

The instrumentation was a speedo, a charge/discharge gauge, and a battery bar graph. I missed the presence of an ammeter and voltmeter, but I guess part of the magic of a production EV is abstracting some of the technical detail away from end users.

It has a home charger (overnight) and a fast charger (30 minutes to 80%). The fast charger requires something like 50kW – equivalent to a whole suburban block here. It would make the street lights go dim! Anyway I figure that just like our EV the regular charger is good enough. Filling up an EV is not like filling a petrol car, you don’t stand around waiting for it to fill up. It’s more like a mobile phone, you just plug in and walk away.

After the MIEV Nina asked if she could try my EV! We followed the same course and curiously it felt and drove much the same. Nina said both cars felt great. If my car had Lithium batteries (i.e. equivalent range and weight) there wouldn’t be much in it at all.

The MIEV project is one of the new breed of factory EVs. I really hope it goes into large scale production and turns up in a showroom soon at a reasonable price. Good on Mitsubishi for making this happen.

Taking the MPs for a Spin in the EV

My local Federal (Mark Butler, member for Port Adelaide) and State (Michael Atkinson, member for Croydon, and South Australian Attorney-General) MPs were in the park across the road today, so I had a chat to them about EVs and took them for a spin around the block in my EV. They asked some good questions like costs, scalability, battery technology, and top speed.

It was fun and they were happy to listen. My wife Rosemary and I just told them what it was like to own and drive an EV from experience. I think that’s different to what they would get from industry and lobbyist groups. The rest of the neighborhood people there to meet the MPs were also fascinated.

Mark said he would speak to Peter Garrett, the Australian Environment Minister. Who knows where this will go but it’s a small step to putting EVs “on the map” for the Australian government. I am sure these guys won’t forget their first drive in an EV…….

I also handed them the Electric Car Submission below. Here is a link to the Electric Car Submission in MS Word format. This is a simple 1 pager they could take away and get some key points. Tried to frame it from a point of view of what matters to them, i.e. the addressing the problems the government is facing.

Only mistake:I forgot to bring the camera!

Electric Car Submission

The next time there is a concern over:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Petrol Prices and dependence on foreign oil
  • The Australian Car industry

Consider Electric Cars:

  • Inexpensive to build in volume (2/3 of cost of petrol cars due to reduced complexity)
  • Nearly free to operate (a few cents/km in electricity)
  • Have nearly zero maintenance (only wearing parts are brakes and tyres)
  • Have adequate range and performance for 90% of Adelaide driving (ABS stats)
  • Have zero Greenhouse emissions if charged from a home PV solar system

There are opportunities for Australian business:

  • Large car manufacturers (new Electric Cars)
  • Small business (conversions of existing petrol cars, just like LPG conversions)
  • Suppliers (batteries, motors, electronics)
  • Export (we could lead the rest of the world, rather than importing electric cars)
  • Leap-frog hybrid technology to pure electric
  • Would complement a huge expansion of renewable energy (solar and wind)
  • Dramatically reduce Australian dependence on foreign oil

One immediate action that would help build an electric car industry:

  • Extend $2,000 LPG conversion subsidy to electric vehicle conversions

Personal experience:

My wife Rosemary and I drive an electric car every day. We do 90% of our driving in the electric car and rarely use our 2nd petrol car. Our car is a recycled petrol car that we converted to electric drive. We recharge from a PV solar array and emit no greenhouse gases. We only visit the petrol station to get air for the tyres and the car needs no regular servicing. We effectively drive for free. To convert a small petrol car to electric and install a PV solar array to charge it costs less than a medium size new car. Why isn’t everybody doing this?


Electric Car Submission in MS Word format
David’s EV page

Low Cost EVs

In the March 2009 issue of Renew magazine I have written an article on Low Cost EVs. The main theme is that you don’t have to wait years for the big car companies or pay $40,000 for an EV. A simple EV for metropolitan 60 km/hr commuting can be built for as little as $6,000 today. The article talks about low cost ways to build EVs, and opportunities for small green business.

If you would like to ask questions or comment on the article, please feel free to leave them at the bottom of this post.


The Photo captions in the Renew article are incorrect. Photo 1 should read “The Author’s EV conversion”. Photo 3 should read “The Chinese kit after installation in Eugen’s Barina”.

My first Charade conversion cost far more than $6,000 (due to the use of American components, 120V design, and a few mistakes!). Eugen’s Barina conversion is the prototype for the $6,000 EV discussed in the text.

Having said that I am in the progress of building EV #2 around the low cost Chinese kit supplied by Eugen and another Charade – so I will soon have a $6,000 Charade conversion, making the captions correct!


David’s EV Page
Eugen Vajtauer is Queensland distributor of the low cost Chinese EV kit mentioned in the article.

Green Car Innovation Fund

Yesterday I attended a forum for our governments new Green Car Innovation Fund (GCIF). This is an AUD$1.3B fund over 2009-2019 to support business in anything that reduces tailpipe emissions and fuel consumption in passenger cars.

One thing I liked about the fund was that the technology doesn’t have to be highly innovative or brand new, for example a company building components like low cost speed controllers and chargers for EVs would be acceptable, you don’t need to have new speed controller technology. Grants start at $100k so even a consortium of little guys could get involved.

I made a point of driving my Electric Car to the forum. I wanted to show that it’s possible to drive a green car (zero emissions, charged from solar PV, recycled from an old ICE car so low embodied energy) today. My EV is vastly greener and fuel efficient than anything the Government is currently supporting, and I built it using my basic mechanical skills in my back yard. What could a real car manufacturer do? However my 2 hour parking slot ran out before I had a chance to talk to any of the Government people about it! Oh well.

In general, I think the fund is a good thing. Well done Australian Government. Some interesting comments I heard were:

  1. Toyota is getting $300M to build Camry hybrids at their Australian plant. This is basically cut and paste of 10 year old Japanese technology. Ho Hum. General Motors Holden is also getting $300M to build an economical 4 cylinder car (rather than the traditional Australian 6 cylinder)! That’s really funny, as Holden used to build economical 4 cylinder cars 30 years ago!
  2. The government guys didn’t favor any particular technology – they said they honestly didn’t know what sort of technology we would be driving in the future so seemed happy to back all sorts based on the merits of each grant application. I like this approach.
  3. The funding ratio is 1:3 which is kinda low (you need to stump up 75% of the $ for your project).

However there was one fundamental flaw I spotted. This fund is to encourage “green” innovation in companies over the coming decade, 2009-2019. This technology will then go into production cars a few years later, which we will drive around for the next 10-20 years. Some of the earlier R&D projects will finish by say 2015. So the R&D from the GCIF will make it into production cars built in say 2015-2025, and get driven for 2015-2045.

Now our own CSIRO has predicted petrol at $8/litre before 2020. Even the rosiest assessments of oil production predict vastly less oil by 2030.

So what is the point of putting R&D into any technology that burns oil? The 20% reductions from a hybrid or smaller car are trivial if the price of fuel shoots up 800%. Oil is clearly a dead end, and we should be planning to scrap it today, rather than supporting any future R&D.

EV Tales

Smoke on the way to the Funeral

The other day I was on the way to the funeral of my Uncle Hans. Uncle Hans was born in Germany, and like many people came to Australia after World War Two. He was rather unique in our family – at the end of WW2 he was plucked out of school as a teenager and served briefly on a u-boat. However fuel was short so he was send off to fight the Red Army, and ended up spending 12 months as a Russian POW. He also played the trumpet rather well, and spent much of his working life here in Australia helping his wife (my Aunty) run old folks homes here in Adelaide.

Anyway, here I was climbing a hill on the way to the funeral when suddenly the EV loses power and a puff of smoke appears at one side of the bonnet. Oh Dear.

I initially thought the worst – a popped Curtis Controller, worth AUD$2500. However on popping the bonnet I could see nothing wrong, and the controller was only just warm to touch. However I did notice a black sticky line where one of the instrumentation wires used to be.

Took me some figuring but eventually I worked out what had happened. I think I accidentally bumped the linkage inside the car for the emergency stop button. This button is required inside all EVs, and in my car manually trips the circuit breaker, cutting all power to the motor. On reflection, this linkage runs a little too close to the foot rest and I must have bumped it, shutting down the car.

Unfortunately at the time about 100A (12kW at 120V) was flowing through the traction wiring circuit. When the breaker opened, the parasitic inductance tried to keep that current flowing through any path possible. In my case the segment of poor instrumentation wiring that is connected between the two batteries either side of the breaker.

About 50cm of wire of 1mm wire and it’s insulation vaporised in an instant.

Every now and again you get a little reminder of the energies you are messing around with in EVs……

I flicked the breaker back and all was well. Driver error, plus a dumb wiring decision. Have now fused the instrumentation wire, like I should have in the first place! So I arrive at the funeral but unfortunately no sign of Uncle Hans or for that matter anyone else – the funeral date had been moved and no one had told me!

EV to the Rescue

Several days a week we electro-commute down to Day Care to drop off and pick up my 3 year old, Michael. Young Michael, like my wife, is quite convinced the EV is his: “Ikle-car Daddy-car” he calls it.

On this particular day one of the other Mums had her car stranded in front of Day Care and was asking people if they had jumper leads. This was a 35C summer day and she had a couple of little ones in the back. I didn’t have any leads but then it occurred to me that I had no less than 10 very high performance car batteries in my EV and 2 spares in the shed.

So I EV-ed Michael home and dashed back with a pair of jumper leads and one of my spare Yellow Top EV batteries. I chose the spare battery as I was nervous about tapping one battery out of my 120V series pack – a wrong connection would start her car just a little too vigorously!

Anyway my spare EV battery started her car in about 1 second and off she went. I thought it was pretty cool that an EV had rescued an ICE :-)


David’s EV Page

Living with an Electric Car

Our little EV has now been on the road for about three months, and we have driven 2300 electric km. I have visited the petrol station just once – to get air for the tires! Our daily electricity use has jumped by about 6kWh/day (around $1) – the “fuel” for the EV, which is nicely covered by the 14kWh/day our PV solar panels generate this time of year.

Our EV experience

My wife and I fight over who gets to use it! I am still a bit nervous about a possible break down, and as a geek I continuously monitor gauges, check chargers etc. My wife Rosemary just gets in and drives all over the place without a second thought. Just like it should be.

Our EV is a lead-acid battery conversion of a small Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) petrol car. This means it’s range is relatively short (40km) and it is limited to 2-3 seats due to the weight of the batteries. Remarkably, neither of these limitations has been a problem in practice. Like many people most of our trips are short. Despite having a family of 5 (two adults, 3 kids) most trips are 1 or 2 people. If needed we have plenty of opportunities to recharge during the day. So the EV covers 90% of our driving needs with ease.

Our 6 cylinder petrol car in now an orphan. We rarely use it, and are considering getting rid of it. The other day I needed it for a long distance trip and neither my wife or I could remember when we last put petrol in it! We both prefer the EV to the ICE any day.

Driving habits change. With an EV there is no guilt over very short trips, for example 1km to the supermarket when you need to carry 8 shopping bags. In an ICE shorts trips are highly inefficient (the engine is cold) and highly polluting, and bad for the car. It is cheaper for me to drive into town and back (14km, 60 cents of electricity) than take public transport ($3 train ticket).

You get more aware of the energy you are using in an EV, perhaps because of the metering (I get a direct reading of Volts, Amps, and kW as I drive). EVs coast forever. So if I see a red light, I take my foot off immediately and coast the last few 100m, using no energy at all. You are very aware of the waste in ICE cars. They are also smelly, and for some inexplicable reason waste 80 million year old energy-dense fossil fuel idling at lights!

It’s summer here in Adelaide, and we are experiencing a heat wave – about 10 day of 40C weather. However the EV seems to like the hot weather – the battery pack voltage is noticeably higher. Or it could be that the batteries have been “run in” – I am told that lead acid batteries improve with use over the first few months. The EV doesn’t have air conditioning, but for the short trips we do it doesn’t bother us much. Our ICE air-con takes 15 minutes to cool the car down and frankly many air cons struggle when it’s really hot anyway.

Where are the EVs?

Now a lead acid battery conversion of an older ICE car contains many compromises. For example the range of battery technologies available to the home-converter is small (lead-acid and Lithium), the donor petrol cars are generally heavy, the drive-train a compromise, and the volume low (quantity one) so component costs are high (retail). It would be easy for a purpose-built EV using modern battery technology to achieve 150-200km range and seat 4 people. It would also be cheaper to build, maintain, and run than an ICE vehicle.

If I can build an EV in my shed for $6,000 to $15,000 there is no reason a purpose built EV should cost $40,000 or take years to develop. If I can buy a small ICE car for $15,000 I figure a 150km range EV (with about 1000 less moving parts) should cost around $10,000 retail.

I am not a fan of hybrids. They seem overly complex, expensive to make, buy, and service. Hybrids still burn oil, which is a big dead end. A Turbo Diesel gets better mileage. However I guess they are a step in the right direction, and serve a need in the market for customers who are interested in green technology. I would rather see a future where 90% of our cars are pure electric, with long distance handled by alternative transport to personal cars.

Behavior Changes

The statistics for Adelaide state that 50% of all trips are less than 5km, so vast chunks of our car fleet could be replaced by simple EVs such as mine. Yet the media are convinced that range and recharge times are the major problems with EVs.

We have not found range to be an issue, even for our simple home-converted EV. Charging is as simple as plugging in when we get home. It takes 10 seconds and is easier than going to a petrol station. I don’t see any need for special recharging infrastructure, any household power point will do. Do you sweat over recharging your mobile phone? It’s about that easy.

Once or twice we have had to wait a few hours for the EV to charge before going out again, say after a particularly long trip. Curiously, we preferred to wait, rather than taking the ICE. We just found something else to do, and scheduled the trip for later in the day. So just like our driving style, we have modified our lives a little to suit the EV. It really has been no big deal.

Makes you wonder how we have been conditioned by ICE cars. The media defines a workable electric cars as one that can be used in exactly the same way as a petrol car. They confuse wants and needs. We think we want a car with a 200kW engine, 400km range, and a 5 minute recharge that carries 5 people. However 90% of our needs can be covered by a car with a 20kW engine, 100km range, and overnight recharge with just 2 seats.


David’s EV Page
Building an Electric Car Part 1
Building an Electric Car Part 2
Linux S.A. Oct 2008 Presentation on my Electric Car
Australian Electric Vehicle Association S.A. Jan 2009 Presentation on Low Cost EVs

Building an Electric Car Part 2

After about 1 year of part time work my electric car is now on the road and in daily use. There were many challenges along the way, like learning to weld, learning about cars, the various regulations, climbing the Electric Vehicle (EV) learning curve, and several electric shocks!

I have just passed the final government inspection so my EV is now registered and legal. I think my EV is the 5th or 6th registered EV in the State of South Australia.

Amazingly, it actually works! I drive along and use no petrol. Charging from my home PV array I emit no pollution. One very cool thing: I have recycled a 15 year old car, rather than chewing up a large amount of “embodied energy” and precious resources (plastic, steel, labor) that is used to build every new car.

I have a lot to say about Electric Vehicles so will publish a series of posts over the next few months.

Driving an EV

It’s fun and easy to drive. You start off in 2nd gear, and as you slowly depress the pedal the controller starts to gently whine. Then you are off – it accelerates well up to 60 km/hr, better that the original 1.3 litre petrol engine. At about 40 km/hr you change into 3rd gear and the acceleration increases. When you brake you hear a purring sound from the vacuum pump. You rarely have to change down a gear as the car will pull 3rd gear from a standing start. You don’t use the clutch to start, as the engine stops when you do.

When going up a hill you change up a gear in an EV to get more power! This lowers the revs, allows more current to flow and builds the torque. It’s the opposite to a petrol engine that develops it’s power at high revs.

The car is quiet while waiting at traffic lights. You hear birds (!) and all the other engines wastefully idling around you. The car is not silent to drive, you hear transmission and road noise, but not much from the engine, especially at high speed. It sounds very quiet to people on the street.

When you come home just plug in and walk away, like charging a mobile phone. You use 4 cents of electricity for every km traveled. Maintenance costs are near zero as there are very few moving parts (just brakes and tires).

We Need More EVs

To convert a car to electric drive and install home solar panels costs less than a medium size new car. The solar panels would make enough electricity for 60 km travel every day. For free. Such a car would cover 90% of the km traveled by most people every day and last nearly forever. Why aren’t we all doing this?

EV Resources

I listed several EV Resources in Part 1.

Here is my evalbum entry.

Many people have blogged on their EV conversions, here are some EV blogs and web sites that I recommend. Lots of practical ideas and How To knowledge:

Building an Electric Car Part 1

I feel a little out of depth in this project. I am the kind of guy who can design and build a computer but the last time I worked on cars was 20 years ago, and usually resulted in towing the mess to a mechanic who would shake his head, sigh, and then fix it for me.

Electrically, I am OK with digital logic and low level analog but death to anything over 5V and 1A. Electric cars run on something like 144V and over 300A.

So here I am doing an Electric Vehicle (EV) conversion!

The idea is to take a regular car, pull out the petrol engine and fuel system, exhaust etc, and replace it with a electric motor and lots of batteries. I will focus on my conversion, and talk about a few things that I have discovered as an EV learner that might be useful to others. As well as a rant or two and the usual digressions. But I digress (already)……

Details of my EV Conversion

I am converting a 1991 Daihatsu Charade. A similar car was the first (and probably last) new car that my wife and I ever bought, and we were rather attached to it until we sold it a few years back. They are popular targets for EV conversion in Australia, so it was an easy choice for us. The Charade weighs 780 kg in ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) configuration, I figure it will be around 1000 kg as an EV. I am estimating a range of 50 km.

Most of our driving is home-shop-daycare-home so we will be able to charge at home during the day between trips. Our trips are rarely longer than 10km, mostly 1.5 persons (adult plus toddler), and where I live in Adelaide is very flat. Overall an ideal scenario for an EV.

Anyway, back to the conversion. Many years ago, George and Michael from Electric Vehicle Motors converted a Charade just like mine:

So I am roughly following their template (similar batteries and motor). George and Michael have been very helpful with advice and bringing me up to speed on EV conversions. Thanks guys!

Major Components

  • Car: I looked for a good clean car with a nice straight body but was unconcerned about the ICE condition. I want this to be a car that I will be happy to drive for the next 10 years. Bought a 1991 Daihatsu Charade as it was small, light, and my wife and I owned one a few years ago and really liked it. ($2,000)
  • Electric Motor: Advanced DC X91-4001 6.7 inch motor. ($1,900)
  • Controller: Curtis 1231C-860196-144v 500A. ($2,100)
  • Batteries: Much dithering here. Looked into various combinations including the new Lithiums but eventually settled on 12 Optima Group 31 Yellow Tops ($5,300). I figured Lithiums were going to cost me > $12,000 with a special BMS (Battery Management System), charger, and on balance I felt there is still some risk. Will consider Lithiums in a few years time when the technology has matured. George has had nearly 10 years from his yellow tops with a simple BMS which is kinda remarkable for lead acid batteries. There batteries are only USD$220 in the US, but I paid AUD$440 which sucks but what can I do? You can’t easily air freight 300kg worth of batteries. Sigh. A nice feature of the Yellow Tops is that they are sealed, so I think I can mount them inside the car without the special ventilation systems required by wet cells. I think I can also mount them sideways, which will help squeezing them into the car.
  • Adapter Plate: Nathan from Convert Ur Car is handling the machining involved in getting my gearbox to interface with the electric motor. Nathan has also been very helpful with advice and tips for my conversion – thanks Nathan. ($1,500)
  • Charger: I am taking the adventurous step of designing my own charger. This is a little scary due to the power involved – common EV chargers are rated at 2kW. That’s around 15A at 144V. My idea is to develop a low cost open hardware charger design that anyone is free to copy. To avoid battery damage, charging systems must take care not to over (or under) charge any batteries in the pack. The design I am working on will be powered off a relatively low voltage supply (like 2-3 rewound microwave oven or arc welding transformers delivering 48VDC at around 50A) to reduce the risks posed by high voltages. I will then build 12 little chargers that will charge each battery separately. These will use floating-output microcontroller-based DC-DC converters to efficiently charge each battery at around 14V at 10-15A. More on this in a later blog post.

There are also a bunch of smaller components like a contactor, cable, vacuum pump, uprated springs etc. Still working on them.

Estimated Specs

  • Range: I have 12 x 12V Yellow Tops which are rated at 75AH each. However from the data sheet the 1 hour rating is 60AH. This gives me 144 x 60 = 8.64 kWh of energy. George’s Charade gets 8 km/kWh, so I can expect a range of 8.64 x 8 = 69 km. However it’s not a good idea to completely discharge the batteries, so at say 80% depth-of-discharge (DOD) I can expect 0.8 x 69 = 55km range.
  • Weight: The empty weight of the Charade in ICE configuration is 780kg. I estimate that the ICE motor and related components (exhaust, fuel system etc) weigh about 160kg. My batteries weigh 27kg each, and the electric motor 40 kg. Plus add 30kg for cables, controller, battery mounting hardware etc. So the estimated weight is 780 – 160 (12 x 27) 40 30 = 1014 kg. The GVM of the Charade is 1240kg, so I may lose 2-3 people from the cars rating when I get it “blessed” by the Department of Transport (in Australia we need to allow 82 kg per person). Most of our driving is one adult plus one toddler so we can live with that.
  • Clutch: After much debate and discussion with my brains trust I decided to keep the clutch. I figure no harm in having it in, although it means the adapter plate machining costs a little more. EVs don’t really need a clutch (n.b. the motor is off at traffic lights), but I thought it would be useful as an extra safety feature and would make the car less strange to drive for my wife.
  • Running Costs: We currently do around 300 km a week in our 6 cylinder family car, which costs us perhaps $65 per week in petrol, plus maybe $1,500 each year for servicing and repairs. The EV uses around 1 kWh per 8 km travelled, so that’s 300/8 = 37.5 kWh of electricity per week. If we assume the charger is 70% efficient, that is 53.6 kWh from the outlet. My electricity costs $0.15/kWh which means just $8 a week in “fuel”! To be fair, the battery replacement costs must be factored into the running costs, however battery life is an unknown for me at present. Servicing costs for EVs are virtually nil – just brakes and tyres every few years. Think about it – all your cars servicing revolves around the ICE: oil, spark plugs, most repairs. All gone with an EV!

Progress to Date

I started working on my EV project in September 2007, and have averaged a few hours a week in between other projects and some travel. Actually a lot of my time has been spent reading up on EVs, talking to knowledgeable EV people, and planning my conversion.

Progress so far:

  • I have pulled out most of the ICE parts. This was an interesting puzzle, especially working out how to get the engine out. Like a puzzle with a zillion wires and connectors. I needed to tilt the engine to hoist it out from the top, to prevent it fouling with the side of the car.
  • The adaptor plate/gearbox machining has been completed and is being shipped back to me. Next step is to install the gearbox and electric motor so I can work out where and how I will mount the batteries in the front.
  • After some thought I now have a good idea how to mount the batteries in the rear, time to start making the brackets.
  • All of the major parts have been ordered and delivered.
  • I have a plan for the charger, and have started simulating the design using SPICE.
  • I have contacted the Department of Transport to make sure I am on the right track to get my EV “blessed” by them and therefore street legal (and insurable) in South Australia.

Most of the EV parts have now arrived, here is a picture of a few:

Notice the difference in size between the old ICE and it’s replacement – the electric motor! The electric motor doesn’t put out quite as much peak HP, however all it’s torque is developed at stall, so I am expecting similar performance off the line.

All of those batteries weigh about 320kg and store about the same amount of energy as 5 litres (1 gallon) of petrol. Makes you wonder. We pump oil out of the ground and burn this precious precious resource just as fast as we can, without a thought as to how wonderful and irreplaceable it is. Pure, concentrated energy. What the hell are our grand kids going to say to us when it’s all gone?

Hmm oily foot prints leading from the garage. Who’s been stepping on my gearbox oil?

Ah HA – my assistant mechanic Mikey (age 2)!


Many people have been kindly helping me come up to speed on EVs. They have been very generous with their time and I really appreciate it. Thanks to Bruno (my local mechanic), Nathan from Convert Ur Car, Michael & George from Electric Vehicle Motors, Rod from Strath Steam, and Shaun who’s Electric Echo site has been a great resource for me.


In South Australia you need to read and comply with Information Bulletin 74. I obtained my copy by emailing the Department of Transport. I can’t find it on-line however I did find a very similar document called NCOP 14 from other Australian sites. So it looks like all the Australian states have similar requirements, which is a good thing.

Shaun’s Electric Echo conversion, one of the best journals of an EV conversion. Every time I get stuck on some detail – I check Shauns’s journal!

Strath Steam EV conversion, located about 80km from me in lovely Victor Harbour. Also a good resource, a couple of small car conversions discussed. A step down in size from my Charade (600kg ICE vehicles), using 72V systems, which makes them a little easier and cheaper to build. I am now thinking I should have perhaps gone this way for my first EV.

Electric Vehicle Motors have been very helpful with advice, and supply of a motor for my Charade.
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