EnviroKarma.org - Electric Vehicle (EV) Conversion '...it's (NOT) hard to be Green' - what Kermit should have said


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  • This area of the site is intended to be a 'Documentary' of my project converting an old gasoline vehicle, a 1997 Suzuki Swift (Geo Metro), to electric. The goal is to illustrate that the process is not THAT hard or expensive, and really is a good option for the post-petroleum age we are about to enter for city/suburban transportation. The coolest thing about electric cars is that the electricity can be generated from many non-fossil source... Solar, Wind, Biofuel, etc.

    Before you even start on an EV project it is important to clarify your needs and expectations. Current battery technology DOES limit daily driving range to somewhere between 30 and 100 miles per charge depending on size of vehicle, type of batteries, how fast you drive, whether its hilly or flat, highway or city. The simplest and least expensive INITIAL design for the average person remains the DC motor rather than AC UNLESS you live in a very hilly area or do lots of stop/go driving; the cost of all the 'stuff' for conversion using a brand new DC motor, controller, and other materials will be about $6000, plus a Donor car, plus batteries...

    The batteries are the big choice... $1500 for lead that will give close to 35-40 mile range for 18 months to 2 years and then degrade pretty rapidly, or about $5000 for Lithium which will get you a 45-50 mile range, far less weight giving better performance, and (hopefully) a 10 year/75,000-100,000 mile life resulting in lower cost per mile over the long haul... Larger capacity Lithium can get you up to 100 miles, but cost more and not fit gracefully into a Swift unless you give up rear seat or cargo space. I would NOT recommend Lead these days... too hard on the suspension, braking, gives poor performance, and is more expensive in the long run.

    For 'street worthy' acceleration and highway speed in a small car like the Swift, I would recommend a MINIMUM configuration with: a 8"DC motor, controller capable of at least 400amp max and 200amp sustained like the Curtis 1221, and 120v x 100ah LiFePO4 battery pack. A substantial performance upgrade would be to stick with the 8"DC motor, but use a higher capacity controller like the Curtis 1231 or Soliton Jr., but this would bump the price up $750 or so. You can fit a few more cells in a Swift to bump up the voltage, but not many without getting into cargo space! You CANNOT go to a 9" motor in the Swift without significant fooling around with the rear motor/CV bearing mount to clear the motor and still support the CV bearing and axle.

    This is the story of how I turned a 1997 Suzuki Swift (Geo Metro) into 'Zappy' the EV...

    What's new...

    This section I have decided to turn into a brief 'blog' noting significant improvements and effect on performance as I go now that Zappy is operational as of 3/1/2009! Note that the most recent comment will go on top...

    3/1/12 - Happy 3rd Re-Birthday Zappy!

    Zappy's odo now reads 144186 after three years as full-electric... totalling 13194 miles of gas-free grinning! The last year on the Thundersky LiFePO4 cells has been really great, and accounts for 5857 of the miles so far. Performance of batteries has been faultless, and they have remained 'top-balanced' since installation without any active BMS installed. I checked balance after about 1000 miles, then 3000, and am stretching it to 6000 for next check since I have seen no relative drift between cells. Only real failure in the three years was last week in the middle of errands while just sitting in a parking lot; the Chennic Dc-DC converter failed (shorted on the input side for no apparent reason) and required a tow home, so it may turn out to be worth spending more for a higher quality dc-dc especially since I do not have an aux. battery backup for the 12v side!
        On the positive side.... I have made several more guest Lectures with Zappy for 'Show.n.tell' on Urban Transportation with Electric Vehiles at various schools all the way from 4th graders to an Adult Education class at Santa Fe Community College. It is a lot of fun for all involved, and may become even more popular as gasoline rises toward $5/gallon this summer!

    12/2/11 - finally added a belly pan

    After the first real snow of the year I got motivated to add a Bellypan to keep out the snow and eventual muddy melt from our dirt road. Not a bad project, but did take most of one day with multiple test fits, trims, and re-installs.

    3/1/11 - Happy 2nd Re-Birthday Zappy!

    Zappy's odo now reads 138329 after two years as full-electric... totalling 7337 miles of gas-free grinning on the first set of Lead batteries! The big upgrade this year is upgrading from 96v flooded-lead system to 120v worth (38 cells) of 100ah Thundersky LiFePO4 batteries. What an awesome difference! About 30% more power with higher voltage, virtually no voltage sag under load, 30% more range, and about 500# lighter. OEM curb weight was 1936#, on lead it was 2490#, and now back down to 2020# with a 61.5%F/38.5%R distribution. Zappy was transformed from 'adaquete' to 'pretty zippy', steers easier, stops better, and is a pleasure to drive. The lead batteries were losing capacity and 'sagging' badly after about 60% of the original range. I decided to upgrade before they were completely dead because I really need a dependable 20 mile range; I was able to re-sell the lead batteries for $20 each to a guy who will use them for an off-grid solar project. Details of the upgrade are on a new page.

    3/1/10 - Happy 1st Re-Birthday Zappy

    Zappy's odo now reads 135529 after a year as full-electric... a little over 4500 miles of trouble-free grinning in the first year! A few significant lessons: motor mounts have to be pretty stout to handle the torque, the controller stays a lot cooler with a good heat sink and some air moving over it, FLA batteries really benefit from installation of a single-point watering system, and battery boxes really should be insulated and probably have warming pads for places where the car sits below 50 degrees F unless you can deal with your range getting cut to half what it is in warm weather.

    12/30/09 - added ABS hood scoop to be 'super cool'

    A quick 'cosmetic' upgrade... My buddy Mark just couldn't stand the rough hole in the hoop and found me an inexpensive tweaker scoop to add. Gotta admit, it DOES look better, and probably will push more air down past my heatsink too. Took about 1 minute to install. I might run around the outside edge with some clear caulk to help seal and make sure the 'sticking effect' is maximized per instructions on the box.
    - 146.0 hours of labor total -

    11/4/09 - added ceramic heater for defroster and cabin heat

    It finally got cold enough to inspire me to install the heater core... pretty easy 2 hour job. I was able to slip it in the middle of the fan duct rather than pulling apart the dash to get to the original heater core. The 1500 watt heater brings the air temp up to about what the ICE radiator core did; 'warm', but not 'hot'. The nice thing is that it gets warm almost instantly! Next time I will probably try to fit in two cores to output more like 3000 watts.
    - 146.0 hours of labor total -


    11/1/09 - finished install of Flow-Rite watering system

    Monthly watering of the Floodies was really getting me down. Cost justification based on time savings seemed like a good risk, so I did it. What a great thing... takes all the pain out of watering! Literally takes a minute to do what used to take me over an hour, well worth the cost.
    - 144.0 hours of labor total -


    7/11/09 - Added 'scoop' to hood today...

    The controller was getting pretty hot in the sumer heat after a long uphill pull, so I decided to add a scoop after all...I started with just working with the metal on the hood... but may buy a plastic after-mark scoop after all to improve airflow.
    - 142.0 hours of labor total -


    3/18/2009 - Still averaging about 0.4 kWhr/mile (at the plug), added hood today...

    I was a little disappointed that my new aluminum wheels (Primax-333) and new Kumho Solus Kr21 tires did NOT seem to make a significant difference in efficiency. I only had gone about 40 miles since last measure, so the difference would not have been obvious unless it was 'significant'. I got the hood on with a little 'cut and bump' from the inside rather than cutting a hole and needing a scoop after all. I did have to add a central latch support; it would have been easier to do it back BEFORE I installed the bumper as I had to take it back off for access. I plan to check temp after a long climb uphill... if the controller feels hot, I may go back to adding the open scoop after all.
    - 141.0 hours of labor -

    3/8/2009 - 153 miles - Decided to take a reading of cumulative performance after the first week... averaging 0.41 kWhr/mile at the plug.

    After driving a little every day to break in batteries and brushes (without any instrumentation installed) I decided to take a reading on my kill-a-watt meter and see what kind of performance I am getting. I kept the extension cord plugged in the whole time so the meter wouldn't lose it's total. Remember that there is no hood, no bumper and no bellypan yet. Additionally the car still has old (bald) p175/60r13 tires on the stock steel rims. Turns out that over the first 153 miles my average was .41 kWhr/mile. At a 'steady state' 100 amps the car speed seems to level out right about 40mph on the flattest road I can find. Not great, but not bad all things considered. This is average driving in rolling terrain suburban stop/go with high speeds of 50-55 mph and average closer to maybe 35-40mph. Today I also installed my metering on a pillar mount pod which looks oh so racey! Now I'll have a much better idea how hard I am actually pushing and what's left.
    - 138.0 hours of labor -

    3/1/2009 - 0 miles - First test run on the road! whoo hoo..... Zappy's new life begins after 130992 miles on ICE.

    I finished wiring last evening, plugged in the charger... and everything seemed ok! No smoke, amps were flowing, etc... I was really hard to wait till morning, but the batteries have been sitting uncharged for so long I really didn't want to kill them with a test drive. This morning I turned the switch and again was amazed; no smoke came from anywhere! A short drive around the neighborhood was SO exciting. Gave a few test rides to friends and family and grinned all day.... ;)
    - 131.0 hours of labor -


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    Disclaimer of Liability and Assumption of Risk: Working with high voltages in electric vehicles can be dangerous. Working with welding equipment or plasma torch or sawzall and other power tools necessary to fabricate battery racks or create holes necessary to lay the battery racks within an electric vehicle can be dangerous. The purchaser/builder solely assumes all risk. Further, the viewer of this site, and builder of the vehicle, agree to hold harmless Daniel T. Baker and any associates from all loss, liability, or damage resulting from any failures or defects in any project completed with these instructions. It is suggested that the builder follow common-sense safety procedures, such as the utilization of gloves where working with high voltages, and ear protection and goggles when working with power tools.