Volkswagen Electric Car
The aircooled VWs have been a platform for many motorized creations over the years. They are lightweight, reasonably priced and easy to work on. In the days of fuel shortages, some of the VWs were made to run off of wood (Holzbrenners). And now with the craze to go green or with concerns of real fuel shortages, many VWs have been converted to electric.
Holzbrenner - Wood Burning VW
The conversion itself is pretty simple. You need an electric motor, a controller, a charger and lots of batteries.
There are many factors here. The biggest one of course is hype, but in many ways an Electric Vehicle (EV) makes a lot of sense. There is the environmental appeal that EVs don't pollute, the possibility of becoming less petroleum dependant, saving money at the gas station and just being different.
An EV produces no carbon or particulate (brakes excluded) pollution when driven since they are running off of electricity from the grid. The electricity from the grid does produce a considerable amount of emissions overall, but is far more efficient and cleaner than the millions of little internal combustions engines on the road each day. According to the California EPA (http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/zevprog/factsheets/evsummary.pdf) EVs are 90% cleaner than the newest (model year 2005) and cleanest conventional gasoline-powered car vehicles.
The lead batteries used on many of these vehicles are also very recycleable and do not fill our landfills like you would think. In fact, depending on where you live, much of the garbage and waste that we produces doesn't go to landfills and is actually dumped in the ocean.
The electricity used in an EV is very cheap compared to the gas that you put in your car. It makes driving seem almost free. Add in the fact that there are no engine maintenance costs, engine oil to change, parts to replace, things to tune and you have a low maintenance vehicle. But what is often overlooked is that the batteries used for the EV have a certain lifespan and are very expensive. Actual fleet users of EVs feel that gas prices need to be close to $3.00US a gallon for an EV to make sense. Your mileage may vary.
This seems to fit the personalities of VWers and since being a VWer is a little too popular, converting your VW into something entirely different has its own appeal.
Why Not EV?
There are plenty of reasons that EVs and EV conversions just aren't practical. The biggest reason is that they just aren't popular enough for the big manufacturers to invest enough resources to make this technology practical for most drivers. Yes, EVs have been around for over a hundred years and a DIYer can make one at home for under $10K, but our society is still geared up for gas engines.
Batteries are heavy and large, so you are only able to fit so many in a vehicle. You can fit a lot of them in a pickup truck if you just want to us the bed area for batteries, but a VW (busses more so) can only fit so many. And in general, most homemade EVs are only designed with a range of 40 miles or so. But since most driving occurs within the 40 mile range, this may be usable for many drivers. But with an 8 hour charge time, trips longer than 40 miles would take days if your vehicle is EV only.
Safety concerns are often left out of the hyped conversations revolving around EVs. An EV is basically several hundred or more pounds of batteries filled with acid on a rolling chassis. Now imagine what happens to a vehicle filled with a dozen or more batteries is hit a highway speeds and rolls over. Not only are the batteries connected with he potential of 120 plus volts going through or very near the passenger compartment, you you also have the potential for an electrical fire, fire cased by spilled battery acid, explosion from battery gasses and the problems that arise from inhalation of the battery gasses and having acid run down your face.
So when you think about it, having all those batteries in your vehicle doesn't sound so good. But according to the EVers out there, it really isn't that bad. If your battery compartments are set up properly, then gases will be well ventilated and wound build up, the batteries will be isolated from the passengers, circuit breakers and other safety features will cut off power and the acid in the batteries isn't as bad as you might think. Each battery has several cells that store only a small amount of acid, so not very much acid will spill. And the acid that spill from lead acid batteries is weak and will not damage your skin if washed off within a reasonable time. There is also talk that acid in your eyes and mouth aren't that bad.
Some EVers even point out that crash test studies have shown that batteries absorb some of the shock of a collision and may be protective if batteries are located in the front of the vehicle during front end collisions.
So just to clarify - having battery acid spilled on anyone's face sounds horrible and is main reason I personally am not a fan of DIY EV vehicles. In no way is anyone related to this website is saying that acid on your skin or face is anything less than a medical emergency and a very bad thing.
Also note that the "acid" in NiCad batteries is much worse. KOH is used in these, which is something you would like less on your face than regular battery acid.
Building an EV is actually not all that complicated. You also don't have the same knowledge base or parts availability that you would have for a stock rebuild. But, luckily there is enough of a support community to get most of your questions answered and there are many Kits that make the conversion easier. It will still take a lot of fabrication and a fair amount of research if you wish to avoid many of the problems other DIYers have faced.
References and Resources:
For those who asked... (build an electric-drive Beetle)
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