Monday, May 5, 2008

Good Looking Ride - Electric Vehicle

Good Looking Ride, and It’s Economical Too.

Nice looking truck, isn’t it? And it runs well too, without an engine, radiator, or those other amenities, although there is a five-speed manual transmission. You’re looking at a Florida man’s lifelong dream: his first electric vehicle.

62-year-old Kenneth Watkins is an electrical engineer in Orlando, Florida. Ken said he’d wanted to build an electric-powered vehicle for years, but raising a family came first and now that everyone’s grown, he has the time and resources to make his dream come true.

He bought the truck off a used car lot for what he said was a good price, since the engine was in pretty bad shape and the truck was anything but a “prize”. Nonetheless, it was “just what I wanted,” so he drove it home and began stripping the engine compartment.

He pulled the engine and sold it on Ebay, and then removed the radiator with all the accompanying hoses and belts. The clutch was removed but he kept the five-speed transmission. The exhaust system is gone, too: there’s no muffler or tail pipe. He did keep the oil pressure gauge, which now monitors the motor controller, and he uses the old engine temperature gauge to monitor the electric motor.

Ken replaced the engine with a 20hp electric motor and controller. He added 24 6-volt golf cart batteries, which he placed in the bed of the truck and hooked them up in series, creating a 144-volt system. Ken said he used golf cart batteries “because they have a greater amp hour rating than 12 volt batteries. Batteries in series only have as much amp hour rating as one battery. These batteries have a 220 amp hour rating compared to 100 amp hours for a 12 volt battery.”

How much did the conversion cost? Ken said the batteries cost $1900, and there’s about $15000 invested in the vehicle itself, plus other equipment outlined above, body work, paint job, air shocks for the rear suspension and other items needed to make the truck safe and reliable.

Is it worth it? Ken said it costs about $2 to drive the truck 50 miles at a top speed of 70 mph. It’s 24 miles round trip to his job at Northrop Grumman, so he has plenty of power left to run errands. The batteries recharge in 6 to 8 hours from a battery charger in his garage. The five-speed manual transmission comes in handy, too. He starts the truck in 2nd gear, and when the speed reaches 40mph he takes his foot off the accelerator pedal and seamlessly shifts into 3rd, for a cruising speed of up to 70 mph.

Amortizing the batteries out over a three year period, although they are guaranteed for five years, Ken said it costs about $2 a day for the batteries and $1.50 to charge them. His round-trip to work costs about $3.50 a day. In a regular, gasoline-powered engine that averaged 20mpg, the gas alone would cost at least $6 a day. It really doesn’t matter, though: Ken said if he broke even, it’s still the right thing to do.

And there’s no problem driving at night with the lights and radio on: Ken says the lights take very little electricity to operate, as do the radio and A/C fan. Yes, he lives in Florida, and he’s putting together an air-conditioning system using the existing compressor and powers it with a small DC motor. Heating the truck isn’t a problem, either: an element from a commercial, plug in the wall heater replaces the heater core.

So this able senior has his future retirement planned: he wants to sell the truck and convert more vehicles to electric. The next one, he says, will probably be a passenger car, and maybe with newer battery types to increase efficiency and reduce cost. In any event, Ken is willing to share his knowledge with anyone who is interested, and convert someone’s vehicle if they wish. His email is, and he's on MySpace. Go Ken!

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