Monday, April 7, 2008

An Easy EV Conversion Kit For People

After spending the past year and a half converting a Porsche 914 to an electric vehicle, I decided to expand my horizons by designing an open-source electric vehicle (EV) conversion kit for a commonly used car. The intention is to create detailed designs and directions so that anyone who has a garage and is moderately proficient with hand-tools can convert their car to an EV.

This project started about a month ago when I became co-chair of the Oregon Electric Vehicles Association. I wanted a project that the group could share their collective brain power and rally around. With rising gasoline prices, I believe the demand for freeway capable electric vehicles is going to increase over the next few years.

While people can purchase neighborhood electric vehicles today for about $10K, they only have a top speed of 35 miles an hour or so, essentially glorified golf-carts. All the commercially available freeway-capable (70 mph) EVs are priced way out of reach for the average consumer. Today, there are high-end cars like the Tesla Roadster ($80,000) and the Fetish ($120,000) with future possibilities from LionEV, AC Propulsion and LionEV coming up for probably close to $30K.

What about the person who tinkers in their garage who drives like the typical person (<30 miles a day) and can only afford $10K-$12K for their car at most?

With that in mind, I sorted through the electric conversions over at EVAlbum and found several cars that you could purchase for under $2,000 on the local Craigslist classified listings. In short, I came up with four options for a practical, economical EV conversion:
  • Ford Escort
  • 5th Gen Honda Civic ('92-'95)
  • Geo Metro
  • Saturn SL2
After talking with several people, I got the impression that the Honda Civic beat the other three vehicles hands-down in the selection. The Saturn came up a distant second, but everyone agreed that the Civic was the best.

Fortunately, Bob Bath down in Grants Pass has already compiled a huge amount of information on converting a 5th generation Civic at his CivicWithACord site. I ordered the CivicWithACord DVD and talked with him on the phone for a long time about all the little details. I really appreciate Bob's willingness to share his wealth of information. I hope this project furthers his vision of emission-free electric vehicles for people.

There are already commercially available kits with excellent, detailed instructions for how to convert a vehicle. Unfortunately, these kits are for much older vehicles like the Porsche 914 and the VW Rabbit. There's a kit for the Chevy S-10 pickup, but many people just want a practical car to zip around in. My goal is to create a Civic EV conversion kit with open-source tools and open-source designs/documentation so that the most people can benefit from it.

This blog is the story of my path towards that goal.

Damn the torpedoes. Here we go.


Roger Daisley said...

Tim: Your generous undertaking will be a very nice resource for many people. We have recently formed the Palouse Electical Vehicle Association, here in Pullman. Several of the members are very interested in building an EV and are wondering what the best vehicle is. Your Honda Civic project may be just what they are looking for. (I realize the limitations of my 22-year old VW Cabriolet, but it sure is fun to drive with the top down!) I will be sending an email to our members about this new blog.

Currently, our club has sixteen members and growing all the time. At our last monthly meeting, we had two people from the University of Idaho that are involved in developing a new series of high output lead/acid batteries, very similiar to Optima YT's, but with far superior capabilities. From what they have told us (they brought a working prototype) it looks very promising.

Ps: The University of Idaho is also developing a hybrid HUMMER! It's a real ex-Army Humvee. It has an AC drive and an onboard charger, being driven by a VW diesel engine. They were hopeful that they could have driven the vehicle to our PEVA meeting, last Wednesday, but the coupling that connects the VW engine to the charging alternator failed.

Regards, Roger

TimK said...

Hybrid Hummer?! Oh well, if it helps them prove a point. I hope they get that coupler fixed. Glad to hear about your EV club and the new batteries! When does U of I expect the batteries to be available to hobbyists?

Head N. Space said...

dang it, and I was hoping to find information to convert my Saturn SL2. I do wish you well on your Civic conversion, and I look forward to hearing the progress, setbacks and input that you give.

TimK said...

Hi HeadNSpace,

Have you checked out the extensive Saturn conversion information at:

There's lots of good stuff there as well as all the folks at:


Unknown said...

Is the Honda Civic conversion a done deal? I can buy a hatchback with no engine and am ready to start. Is the 93 Civic a rear wheel drive car?

TimK said...

Hi Curt,

The online plans focus mainly on the hard part, which is the battery racks and engine mount. You might have to figure out some of the wiring yourself.

If you do get a hatchback, make sure it comes with the transmission, or you'll have to get one. Also, the hatchback may have some issues fitting six batteries in the trunk since the conversion instructions are made for a 4-door.

In short, give it a shot and improvise where you need to.