There are a few compelling reasons to be thinking about just how one will get around if the price of fossil fuels rockets up again, be it because of any one or a combination of causes. Transportation is critical to work, food, and nearly any other modern endeavor. That makes looking into what can be done now as a defensive measure a pretty good idea.

I had though to look into what new EV or hybrids can be bought now or even in the coming months. Worldwide there is getting to be a good selection, but in the U.S., the choices are few and they are not much for relieving the dependency in a crisis. That made it worthwhile to revisit what is going on in the custom, do-it-yourself class of EVs and hybrids. We looked at Johnathan Goodwin some weeks back and see the conversion business is looking good at the top end. In the middle market where most of us would be buying, the supplies of hardware are getting more varied, professional and abundant. It’s the expertise that isn’t widespread yet.

This leads to the do-it-yourself (DIY) class, who by no intent have experience, results and made the market demand to pull more and better suppliers into the field. In a few more months, a breakout might well take place as more and more small and midsized businesses catch on to the potential. The potential could be huge. There are tens of millions of vehicles in the developed world that can be made far more efficient, less dependent on fossil fuel products and go a very long way to personally avoiding or generally mitigating a fossil fuel supply problem.

The sophistication needed isn’t so high a bar as one might think. While the auto shows and concept cars from the manufacturers are usually blessed with the state of the art, leading edge technology coming from very restricted or one and only or prototype parts the reality of now is there are parts like electric motors that can be used right now. What looks to be in short supply are the controllers, the systems that manage the charging and battery and capacitor energy releases to the motor. The best are now sold as a position on a waiting list.

That tells you that the DIY crowd is busy. They have the suppliers packed full, it is time to sit up and pay attention. What’s going on? Can we get in on this and be in front of the curve? What I learned was a pleasing astonishment.

Andrew Installs the Motor

First up is a site that is a blog of a teenager who is on his second vehicle. (You have to check this kid out.) Andrew has already done a small pickup truck and is deep into a small car now. While the car model he chose is a Toyota Tercel, which would be way small for me, the review of his blog will show that some determination and skill will get a builder to a happy end. From the link, I suggest you begin from the earliest date. While somewhat vague in hard data the story is short and very informative.

Under the Hood of a Converted Yaris

Next is a more sophisticated and thorough gentleman who is rebuilding a new car. That’s right – a new car – another little Toyota, the Yaris. This site is somewhat more technically fulfilling with more details and specifications. This effort looks to be a daily driver, stone hard reliable and engineered very completely offering years of low cost use. In the specifications section there is a wealth of data including the total cost, something over $30,000 for the parts including the car. That seemed like a lot to me until I considered the operating costs and the attention to proper engineering and completeness out to many years of useful life. If this were the man’s hobby he is an perfectionist. What is clear now is the quality technology is available and can be utilized by a wide range of people including large fleets and manufacturers.

This site, has over 1400 project vehicles ranging from trucks to self-balancing scooters. While the technical aspects are essentially missing the range of skills required are widely ranged too. Here at a motor assembler, NetGain Technologies, there is a page of customers listed showing some of who and what can be done. The list includes privateers and college level engineering applied to even more examples.

What is weak in all of these is the near absence of series hybrid applications. Many of us would be more interested knowing or needing the extended range that series hybrids provide. Another missing element is that the sites seem to lack easily accessible information about the variety of inputs needed to arrive at a selection of parts needed to economically accomplish one’s needs. It may be out there somewhere in concise form, but I haven’t seen it. Another advantage or disadvantage, depending on one’s view is the concentration in Direct Current motors and associated hardware. The advantage is cost. There is a wealth of hardware and supply in the DC field at low cost. The disadvantage is that for top efficiency the Alternating Current motors do better. AC is expensive though, and the availability of part supplies is limited if even existent. There are high-end converter companies doing AC, but the costs run into the 10s of thousands. Time will pull this down as more market drives mass production.

The napkin number idea just defies being done in a realistic way. The opportunities, creativity and innovation shown by the tens of thousands of converters today are getting completions as low as a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, one can go to the expanding service field of custom converters who charge about $10K and up. That makes it misleading to do a napkin calculation – so much is variable. But after looking through some sites and seeing what has been done by others a sense that $10K on a DIY basis will get you an excellent example, plus the cost of the base car.

It’s clear that right now a DIYer can get a reliable and capable EV done in a home garage at an affordable cost. To jump up to a series hybrid would require a generator set that would add hundreds or more likely thousands to the budget. But in the end one would have an oil shockproof transporter for you and your family. Fascinating, as the market for customization comes into the middle market it looks like the manufacturers could get new car sales competition from an angle they never expected.

There is also the coming battery technology in this budget zone. The lead acid Firefly is on its way, and the mates downunder have demo units of combined lead acid batteries and super capacitors running worldwide. Batteries are a substantial but not usually a huge part of a conversion cost, but the new battery technologies may well spell some savings as well as big increases in range and performance.

So, if you’re thinking to start a conversion business, well, drop me an email. I won’t be waiting years for the new car manufacturers. Its time to show your stuff!


7 Comments so far

  1. Vincent Flegeance on May 8, 2008 10:52 AM

    Great article Check the Grass roots websight. Steve Clunn is in Florida is has donw a great deal of conversions, and has a couple for sale right now. He is presently converting an exploere, porsch, and a Hearse for various customers. He uses the DC motors and ZIlla controllers. and has a Converted (100% Electric) Saturn Coupe for sale. He is an electric purest however and is not interrested in Hybrids, as I am.

    David Author has been building Hybrids since the 70s.

  2. Vincent Flegeance on May 8, 2008 10:53 AM

    Man I need to learn how to type, spell and proof read.

  3. Vincent Flegeance on May 8, 2008 10:57 AM

    This gent has built 2 DIY Series Hybrids

  4. howard barney on June 1, 2008 9:32 AM

    For we lucky ones who can drive to work without going on the freeway, the solution is already here. The 25 mph limit of a neighborhood electric vehicle is a non-issue once you drive around for a week. I have had a ZENN for over a year and must say that it’s my favorite car in 50 years of driving.

  5. john on December 2, 2010 9:04 AM

    Amazing stuff.

  6. Kristy Esselman on April 22, 2011 9:42 AM

    Thank you so much for useful information, I will be visiting your web site more often.

  7. Carl on February 3, 2021 12:43 PM

    You’re right, transportation is crucial to work, food, and almost any other modern business. It is difficult without it. At first I had a two-door car, then when I had a family, I sold it, and bought a roomy car for the whole family.

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