What started as an experiment has become a reality for Ken Watkins; and he drives it every day to work.Watkins, an electrical engineer at Northrop Grumman, converted a used 1997 Chevrolet S-10 pickup into an electric vehicle that runs 100 percent on battery power.“This experimental journey began one day while I was sitting at a traffic light burning up gasoline,” Watkins said. “The thought came to me that there must be a better way to get to work. I had been thinking about building an electric vehicle for the past 25 years but felt that it was too difficult.”
Watkins says the truck is the most practical vehicle he has ever driven. It has no gas tank and has never been to a gas station. It has no engine and never needs an oil change. It has no radiator and never gets hot. It has no exhaust system and does not put out any pollution. It has no clutch to wear out. The only maintenance required is to check the battery water level every month or so and charge the batteries after each use. He purchased the truck in 2006 at a used car lot near work. The engine knocked and the radio was missing, the dash showed evidence of having been involved in an auto theft.“I made them a low offer,” he said. “It had to be jump-started to get it off the lot but I knew that all I was going to need was the chassis.”As soon as he got it home into the garage, he removed the engine along with the clutch, radiator, muffler, tail pipes and gas tank and sold them on E-Bay. He saved the 5-speed transmission to reuse in the converted S-10 electric vehicle (EV).
Through an online source, Watkins purchased an electric motor, speed controller and transmission adapter. During the next four months, he assembled the components and positioned them in the space where the old gasoline engine had been located. Over the electric motor, he built a deck to support the speed controller and electronics box which houses the high voltage components.The fuel storage in the EV is 24 deep discharge batteries of the type used in golf carts. Each evening Watkins plugs them into a battery charger in his garage. These batteries power the vehicle for about 50 miles on a charge.The volt meter built into the dash, which acts like a gas gauge, shows how much charge is left. The truck is not a dragster but at a top speed of 70 mph it can easily keep up with traffic. A charge costs about $1.50 and the batteries should have about a five-year lifetime, Watkins says.
Gasoline to drive 50 miles would be much more than that. It needs no oil changes or antifreeze and has very few moving parts so it should not need much maintenance.“Since I began driving this vehicle, my monthly gasoline bill has gone down approximately $200,” Watkins said. “The parts to convert this vehicle cost about $8,000. I have a total of $15,000 invested, including new paint, new interior parts and other vehicle additions.“This electric vehicle is not a replacement for a long range internal combustion engine automobile but is good for commuting back and forth to work or for taking short trips around town. When I press on the throttle, all I hear is the whine of the motor. This silence reminds me that I’m not going to hear the gas pump ringing up dollars.”Watkins says the truck is very easy to drive; turn on the key, put it in second gear and depress the throttle, at about 40 mph shift into third gear, no clutch required.
The acceleration is good. For faster acceleration, take off in first gear and shift into second at 30 mph.Since it was built almost two years ago, the EV is in like-new condition.“It has been extremely reliable and has been driven back and forth to work (a 25-mile round trip) almost daily since it was built,” Watkins said. “It is enjoyable to drive as well as being economical and environmentally friendly.”He is currently building a more modern speed controller, improving the 500 Ampere limit to 1000 Ampere. Modular sub-assemblies are being developed at this time, Watkins says. There is a vacuum pump/ controller/plumbing module, and a high voltage contactor/meter shunt/fuse/control electronics module also exists.“With these sub-assemblies, it will be easier to build future electric vehicles,” Watkins said. “Why scrap old vehicles when they can be recycled into economical electric vehicles?”Watkins says he’ll gladly offer advice to anyone wishing to build an EV. He is thinking about starting a Web site that will list the conversion steps required. He can be contacted at Kw1806@bellsouth.net.
Build Your Own EV Conversion
1. The DC motor was adapted to the original 5-speed transmission.
2. The 24, 6 Volt, deep discharge batteries were installed in welded frames.
3. A motor speed controller was installed that accepts the throttle pedal input and adjusts the motor voltage to control the motor speed.
4. A DC to DC converter was installed to convert the 144 VDC battery voltage to 12 VDC for the vehicle accessories.
5. The power brakes are driven from a 12 VDC industrial vacuum pump and controller to insure maximum vacuum at all times.
6. Air conditioner power is provided from the front shaft of the DC motor.
7. The battery charger is completely automatic, just plug it in and forget it.
8. Air shocks are installed in the rear to equalize the vehicle level. Due to the added weight, the ride is superior to the original truck.
9. Instrumentation includes motor current, motor voltage, 12 VDC accessory voltage, motor speed in rpm, total motor on time in hours, motor temperature gauge, controller temperature gauge and vehicle speedometer.
10. A new radio and new carpet were installed.
11. A complete paint job was done by a professional painter who first prepared the surface, then put on two coats of color, followed by three coats of clear, then he wet sanded the top clear coat and hand rubbed for a deep gloss finish.
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