New York Times contributor blogs about cars and other interesting ways of getting around.
Electric dragsters and cool conversions at Florida's EV Expo
Some electric cars are home-brewed, ranging from insanely fast Porsche 911s and the White Zombie racer to a British Morris built in a backwoods shed. The EV Expo brought them all together with bike advocates and niche companies.
EV conversions no longer focus on just getting from point A to point B. I ran into a young man who was converting a used Honda S2000 to batteries with no loss of power—more likely a gain. And just around the corner from the Porsche was the loosey-goosey exhibit of the National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA), whose star, John Wayland, was in attendance. Wayland (nicknamed “Plasma Boy” for a legendary short circuit fire that created a visible ball of bright blue plasma) runs an unlikely electric Datsun 1200 (right) named the White Zombie (“Suck Amps,” reads the back bumper), which regularly blows the doors off big-bore muscle cars from its base in Portland, Oregon. If electric dragsters could just come up with a sound to compete with that of a V-8 in full song, they’d pack stadiums and create national race series.
It wasn’t all about speed. I was stunned by the sight of a very unlikely electric—a 1967 Morris MK 1100, rare even in its native England. The car, which runs an eight-inch DC motor, an EVnetic Soliton Junior controller, and a 192-volt battery pack (19 kilowatt-hours), is capable of 100-mile range. It was built by Audrey Martin of Green Shed Conversions in Fort Pierce, Florida. Martin and partner Steve Clunn have converted more than 180 vehicles into EVs, from a Lamborghini kit car to a Chevy S-10 pickup and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
“Green Bean,” as the Morris is named, was a $500 purchase converted by Audrey herself with Steve overseeing the work. Now it’s her daily driver. When she wants extra range, she just throws in an extra battery pack, because the back seat was already missing. Here's a closer look at the car on video:
Holding down a booth at the EV Expo was Christian Ruoff, publisher of a new magazine that tracks EV conversions and the new cars, too. The bi-monthly Charged is a most welcome addition to the shelf of green car publications, few of which have print versions. Check out the magazine:
EV types are an eclectic lot. I was fascinated by Balwinder Samra off the Balqon Corporation, which has located an EV niche that most other entrepreneurs would miss—it makes electric “yard tractors” that move containers off ships in the Port of Los Angeles. These babies don’t go on the road, but they dramatically reduce air pollution at the port, which is located near residential areas.
“Forty percent of the pollution in the Los Angeles Basin is from heavy trucks moving containers,” Samra said. The trucks carry huge 230-kilowatt-hour battery packs, and hook up to ultra-fast 160-kilowatt chargers so they can get quickly back into action—the port has only four hours of downtime in a 24-hour day. There’s no competition because, well, who else would think of developing an electric yard tractor?
I also learned from plug-in bicycle guru Ed Benjamin of eCycleElectric that, at least in China, the EV revolution has already been won. The worldwide market for electric two-wheelers (bikes and scooters) is likely to grow to 130 million per year by 2025. Thirty one million were sold in 2011, with only one million in countries other than China (250,000 in India, 335,000 in Japan, 100,000 in the U.S.). Benjamin showed a picture of a Chinese intersection that sees 40,000 ebikes cross every day. Efforts to sell ebikes in the U.S. have not notably succeeded, though Lee Iacocca certainly gave it the old college try with EV Global.
“One traffic lane can support 300 to 500 cars per hour, but 6,000 bicycles,” Benjamin said. He predicted that electric scooters will eventually replace all forms of gas scooters, and with the Chinese example in place it’s not hard to see that prediction coming true.
One other project that caught my attention was an electric pedicab, soon to hit the streets of Mexico City (which has more than 20,000 of human-powered rickshaws). The electric version, pioneered by Victor Juarez, who not only co-founded the EV Expo but, as head of Electro Autos Eficaces de Mexico, has worked on electrifying his home country. It was Juarez who provided the electric shuttle transportation at the recent COP 16 climate talks in Cancun.
The pedicab had a bunch of innovations, including flip-down weather protection and a range of about 28 miles on the lithium-ion batteries under the floor. I suggested to Victor that Boston and New York might go for the pedicabs, but that’s next year’s project. This was the first International EV Expo in Tampa, but there are likely to be more. Enjoy the video:
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