The Greens and their electric car dream

Many of you probably live in a jurisdiction with a ‘Green’ political party. Did you know that you’ve got Tasmania to blame thank for that?

The origins of global Green politics date back to the early 1970s, when an environmental party first contested a state election here in Tasmania. On the national scene, the Green movement was solidified during the fight over the Franklin Dam, here in Tasmania, in the 1980s. That campaign achieved national prominence and propelled the Greens into the national spotlight.

Today, they hold one seat in our national House of Representatives (where government is formed) and nine seats in the Senate (our house of review). They’re a very important component in our hung federal parliament. At a state level, the Tasmanian Greens share power with the Labor Party, with each holding 5 seats to form a 10-seat coalition to control the 15-seat Tasmanian parliament.

Greens are on an upward trend. There’s no doubt about it.

The Australian Greens recently announced a new candidate, who will contest one of the seats around Hobart in the next Federal election. Dr Rosalie Woodruff announced her candidature on August 29, having arrived at her announcement in an electrified Daihatsu Charade. Her choice of chariot is important, because it represents a key pillar of her candidacy:

“Tasmania has a huge opportunity to advance a clean energy future through energy reform, renewable energy and energy efficiency. This should not just be high end and high cost. It’s our chance to take advantage of existing skills already in the community,” she said.

“Tasmania needs to jump into the future and develop an electric car conversion industry – we can’t afford to wait for car companies to trickle out new release production electric cars,” Dr Woodruff said.

“Tasmanians sent $620 million dollars out of the state for petrol last year. Fuel costs are predicted to double in the next decade. Every dollar we reduce from that amount is a dollar that stays in Tasmania for something else,” she said.

“Electric cars will make transport costs cheaper for many people in my electorate who have to drive long distances every day. It will create new jobs with a minimum investment in training, and make a huge impact on our greenhouse gas emissions.”

She wants to start an electric car conversion industry here in Tasmania. OK.

Despite the doubts that I’ve expressed over NEVS’s business model, people shouldn’t think that I’m anti-electric. I prefer what I’m used to, the internal combustion engine, but that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by the idea of driving an electric vehicle.

As Ms Woodruff might end up being my local MP, I feel compelled to have a look at her proposal and assess whether or not it charges my batteries. The question here is whether or not people will by buy converted electric cars in the numbers needed to support an industry. Given that the suits will probably pour federal generous tax dollars into it, is it worth supporting?

The fundamental question, then, is how many people are likely to take up this industry’s product. That question is decided by cost and outcome.

In this post I’ll take a look at what it costs to convert an existing vehicle to run on electricity in 2012. I’m going to use the costs charged by a professional EV conversion company in Perth, Western Australia. They already do what Ms Woodruff would like to set up here. I should add that there’s currently no business here doing this type of conversion. In fact, if I’m guessing correctly, the very Daihatsu that Ms Woodruff drove to her press conference was probably this one, converted in Sydney.

So what does it cost?

First you’re going to need a donor vehicle. What you choose is up to you, but most donor vehicles are older and lightweight, on order to minimise starting cost and maximise range. If I were to do this for real, I’d probably save a bit more money so that I could import a Saab 95 wagon from the 1960’s or 70’s, like this one.

Most people will go for something local, however, so let’s look at something practical, small-ish but capable of carrying a couple of kids in the back. A Toyota Corolla. This 1988 model is for sale for a mere $800 and looks pretty much rust-free. It’s a four-door with a hatchback so should suit our practicality needs. It’s for sale in Victoria so you can jack that cost up to $1000 once you factor in transportation costs.

The conversion? Here are the bits you’ll need, according to the EV Works website. I’m choosing the medium range parts as Hobart is full of hills and I don’t want to risk running out of oomph when I need it.

[table id=1 /]

——

That’s a parts bill of more than $16,500. The good news is those are Lithium batteries and should be good for a very decent range.

Add the cost of the donor vehicle and you’re up to $17,500. And you haven’t spent a cent on labour yet. If you can do this yourself, you’ll save some coin, but the whole point of starting an electric vehicle conversion industry is to provide work doing conversions, not just selling parts.

I’d be surprised if you’d get this done for less than $20,000.

Back to our fundamental question – would people pay $20,000 for an electric 1988 Toyota Corolla?

Given that the body and interior will still be old and that the car has no airbags or electronic stability control (which is mandatory on all new cars sold in Australia), I’m not so sure that you’ll get families to buy into this. In fact, I don’t think you’d get anyone other than childless green boffins with high salaries and few commitments to buy into this as a serious transportation option.

$20,000 or thereabouts will buy you one of several new small cars in the Aussie market. Those new vehicles have small, modern and fuel-efficient engines that don’t give you range anxiety. They have all the modern safety aids that would be missing on a late 80’s Corolla, including much better crash test results. There’s a reasonable chance they’ll be pretty versatile in terms of their load carrying capacity, too.

Feel free to make up your own mind, but I can’t see an industry like this getting off the ground, in spite of my own fascination with the idea of whizzing my way to work fuelled by Tasmania’s green, clean, hydro-electric power.

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34 Comments

  1. Steven, I have all the parts prototyped to convert a NG 900 to electric. Your calculations are about right, here in the states I figured it would be about a 25,000 dollar car if built with a fifty mile range and DC power system (least money and shortest range)

    After all the trouble I went to thinking about it and doing the math, I’d tell someone to go buy a brand new Nissan Leaf with warranty for 35k than build one at home. Sounds like some politicians have no practical experience with converting cars! Imagine that.

      1. I believe his conversion was a much more simple one using lead acid batteries and DC propulsion. He did a great job though. see link:

        http://www.evalbum.com/2682

        I suspect that as we see more hybrid/EVs on the road, costs will come down for parts such that DIY changeovers like this will become more manageable with decent performance etc. Much like people do DIY engine or tranny swaps, it could make sense if one already had a vehicle to convert (eg with a bad engine). There are lots of Porsche conversions getting comparable performance as the original Porsche, but they are not cheap, and are generally more complex, have AC drive, costly batteries etc… here’s a link to more saab ev pages:

        http://www.evalbum.com/type/SAAB

        This is all fun for a hobbyist, but I agree though, as an industry supported by government, it all sounds pretty hair-brained.

      2. He used lead-acid batteries which accounts for nearly all of the difference in initial cost. Of course, that means that his range is drastically reduced AND they will have to be regularly replaced at a cost of $2000 each time.

        There are no shortcuts. Physics is physics.

  2. A typically well thought through greens initiative. A seriously good reason to sit tight in WA for the time being is its less painful to watch the place you love being ripped up by poor govt when you’re miles away.

  3. Converting an older car is a waste of time and money. Electric cars are the future in performance and enjoyment terms alone leaving aside the other benefits. That said, we are many years away from an EV market that makes sense to average users.

  4. Glad to see that politicians are the same everywhere.

    She defined the problem well enough, but the roll-your-own solution is counterproductive. One sure way to kill (or at least delay) electric cars is to have a bunch of unsafe, poorly engineered, unreliable homebrews driving around.

    It can take a generation or more to get past that hurdle. Americans still haven’t forgotten GM’s late 70s diesels…

  5. Probably the most exciting development I’ve read with regard to electric conversions / modifications was the development of the eAAM system you you wrote about once upon a time.

    http://www.saabsunited.com/2010/10/ny-teknik-on-the-new-saabeaam-electronic-rear-axle.html

    I think it’s all about baby steps these days with regard to vehicles. I WOULD 100% purchase this type of hybrid conversion for my car. The low weight including a battery, 60kg, and the AWD performance safety gain along with increased mileage really excite me…. Plus I keep my petrol engine there too. Maybe I’ll have that retuned for e85 as well.

    Could Tassy attract an off shore tech company to set up locally? Maybe even an Ethanol production plant too. I’d ride the boat across to Tassy to have my Viggen hybrid-ised and Ethanol-ised any time.

    I wouldn’t pay $20k to make it all electric though, not a chance. Nope.

  6. My ongoing issue with almost all of these sorts of conversations is this…

    One side says “Hey! Let’s save the planet. You can’t have these things you love anymore because they’re bad for the planet.” (In most countries, add specific examples that only have tangential relevance.)

    The other side then responds with “You’re trying to take away ____ from Grandmothers and in doing so, you’re taking away my freedom.” (In the USA, add junk science claims to refute the actual science at the core of the conversation, then wrap carefully in the flag.)

    The reality is that nothing’s solved by any of this. I suggest that sensible people ought to have a sensible conversation about just what is good for the enviroment and then figure out how to make that happen.

    I’ve got to say that I’m a huge fan of a carbon tax. Curiously, that’s really the most market driven approach to these sorts of things. If I want to pollute, I can do so. My freedom is intact. If I want to save money, I can not pollute (as much) and my wallet is intact (somewhat).

    Trying to use government to select winners and losers, in the end, only helps politicians (if that), but asking people to do what’s right or good with neither carrots nor sticks doesn’t work either.

    1. All good, except CO2 does not qualify as “pollution”. Plants cannot live without CO2. Take away CO2 and we all end up dead. In fact, cut the amount of CO2 in half and life on our planet will be in serious trouble. (care to guess just how much CO2 is used to grow plants efficiently in green houses?) Europe has suffered through slightly colder climate before and even with a much smaller population the consequences were dire.

      That is not junk science.

      Water vapor being a much more significant factor as a greenhouse gas — that also fails “junk science” status.

      The line of thought that 0.03% of the particles in the atmosphere is somehow responsible for abrupt climate change… Now that feels more like junk science to me. What is worse, the climate change is (by some) blamed on a small percentage of those 0.03%.

      IMO doomsday prophecies require ample proof. CAGW proponents fail to provide such proof. Meanwhile, we let their concerns trick us into doing some rather silly things.

      1. It all depends on the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. Like anything else in life, you need the right balance to achieve harmony. Too little CO2 and the planet would freeze, too much CO2 and the planet over heats. It really is that simple and there is 100 year old science to prove it.

        In the world in which we live, man kind is generating too much CO2, which is increasing the concentration to dangerous levels that are causing the planet to warm up. Because of the detrimental effects of global warming, it is an undesirable outcome for most of the planets inhabitants, except perhaps for cockroaches. Therefore it is generally accepted by those who know most about the impacts of too much CO2 in the atmosphere (ie Climate Scientists) that we are polluting the planet by releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere.

        1. Then direct me towards the century-old evidence, because what I have seen so far when reading about this very topic suggests an increase in CO2 _after_ the heating occurs.

          The planet has indeed been warmer before. And the atmosphere has contained more CO2. That world contained _more_ life, not less. Plants grew more efficiently, requiring less water to grow. We might be heading towards a planet where the Sahara desert will shrink significantly. If anything, this development should be encouraged.

          The most worrying theory that I have seen is that the planet will first heat up and then fall back to another ice age. That is something to be worried about, but it is not a concern widely published by the CAGW fear mongers who mostly peddle warming propaganda.

          And let me repeat once more: Doomsday prophecies should be required to offer a lot of proof. We cannot all start to panic just because someone dreamt up a hockeystick graph (0.8 degrees heating over a century does not a catastrophe make).

          Just how big is mankind’s contribution to the increase of CO2? Not all of that increase is on us, so just how many percents are we discussing?

          1. That still suggests water vapor as the most significant factor. CO2 is guestimated to be between 9% and 30% of the contribution.

            Not exactly an exact science this?

            The ice cores suggests an increase of CO2 _after_ the heating begins. In any case, those cores strongly suggests an increase in CO2 can occur without our input. So where is the beef?

          2. In answer to your question around the percentage range given against each GHG, see this explanation.

            “It is not possible to state that a certain gas causes an exact percentage of the greenhouse effect. This is because some of the gases absorb and emit radiation at the same frequencies as others, so that the total greenhouse effect is not simply the sum of the influence of each gas. The higher ends of the ranges quoted are for each gas alone; the lower ends account for overlaps with the other gases.[11][12] In addition, some gases such as methane are known to have large indirect effects that are still being quantified.[17]”
            Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

            Regarding the claim that temperature increases precede CO2 level increases, I’m not sure how you can discern that from the ice core data studies? (eg Fig 3 in this study of 420,000 yr old ice cores http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf). However if your advancing the idea that CO2 levels are increased through temperature rises caused by increased solar activity, then refer to the relevant wikipedia entry on that topic – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming#Solar_activity

            The director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies James Hansen nicely summarises the affect the Sun has on Global Warming. Hansen says that the sun is not nearly the biggest factor in global warming. Discussing the fact that low amounts of solar activity between 2005 and 2010 had hardly any effect on global warming, Hansen says it is more evidence that greenhouse gases are the largest culprit; that is, he supports the theory advanced by “nearly all climate scientists” including the IPCC.[92]

            Personally my “beef” is helping people understand the science conducted by Climatologists, so hopefully this discussion will assist.

          3. Just in case there’s a misunderstanding on the use of “beef”

            I think Rune’s using it in terms of “where’s the meat in this argument” whereas it could be misconstrued in terms of “what’s your beef?”

            With that, I’ll butt out and let you guys sort it.

          4. This science has changed quite a bit since the 90s when Hansen claimed CO2 wasn’t the biggest culprit.

            That aside, again: What percentage of the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is due to fossil fuels and human activity?

            What mainly worries me is the one-sided focus on CO2. In my country this has caused a rampant increase of NOx and SO2 emissions. I do not know about you, but NOx and SO2 directly affects my health, whereas CO2 just make my plants grow better.

            Not to mention soot.

            All the while we are being herded towards an increased use of electricity, while, at the same time we want to shut down nuclear power facilities.

            The lack of foresight is mind boggling. Global warming has all the hallmarks of a proper doomsday prophecy. As I said, the burden of proof for “CO2 causes disaster” is substantial.

            http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/08/30/important-paper-strongly-suggests-man-made-co2-is-not-the-driver-of-global-warming/

          5. I don’t bury myself in the science findings but I’m happy to support efforts to reduce man-made C02 emissions. To me, the consequences of climate change proponents being wrong seem much less damaging than if climate change deniers are wrong. On top of that, the writings that I’ve seen make sense to me as an observer.

            Either way, we’re not going to prove it one way or the other here in comments.

            Rune, one thing that you say doesn’t stack up to me:

            cut the amount of CO2 in half and life on our planet will be in serious trouble

            I don’t believe this to be true. There were centuries, millenia, prior to industrialisation where CO2 emissions, and hence global CO2 levels, would have been much lower than half of what we have today. I’m sure that life was more difficult back then, but not because of the state of the natural world. Life would have been harder because they didn’t have cars, phones and modern plumbing.

            That said, in order to make breathing easier for the trees, I’m happy to keep driving my inefficient 1985 V6 Alfa Romeo.

          6. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/06/30/memo-to-doubtersi-was-tempted-to-say-deniersco2-is-plant-food/

            OK, so the plants would still be alive at 175 PPM, but growth would be noticably affected.

            In any case, those plants look quite happy at 800 PPM. FWIW: The difference between C3 and C4 plants, as I understand it, is that C4 plants are more recent additions to the flora. These are more efficient at extracting carbon from the air.

            If we were given a choice between 175 PPM and 800 PPM, I know which I’d choose.

          7. CO2 levels at 800 PPM puts us onto the SRES model A2 graph line. This would see Global average temperatures rising by about 3.5C with the sea level increasing up to 0.5 m.

            The impacts of this level of Climate change to the Australian region is summarised in this chart – were looking at the 3.5 mark which is half way up the vertical axis. http://ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/figure-11-4.html

            Unfortunately without drastic reductions in the amount of CO2 we produce, this is pretty much where we are headed.

            Sources:
            SRES Models –
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Report_on_Emissions_Scenarios#A1

            IPCC – Projections of future climate change
            http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

            IPCC – Sea Level projections –
            http://ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch10s10-es-8-sea-level.html

          8. In a world where the tide varies with several meters, we are supposed to get frazzled by an increase of a mere half a meter? Would it not be cheaper to simply start moving settlements away from the water rather than worry about CO2 from fossil fuels (soot, NOx and SO2 should be the main focus IMO)? Many of those places are remarkable in that our ancestors rarely settled there.

            We are emerging out of a small ice age. More ice melting? We should be celebrating in the streets!

            I almost get the feeling that the cold war isn’t over. With ice free harbors the russians are set to rule the sea globally all year-round rather than just in the summer.

            Vikings were able to farm parts of Greenland that are still covered with ice. I doubt they used some secret mystical technology to do that. The simplest explanation is that it was warmer.

            Then it turned colder again, and you get failed harvests as far south as Scotland and thicker ice surrounding Iceland. (http://www.geoscience-environment.com/lia/report1.pdf)

            If you want to scare me, then colder is where the game is at. 0.5m sea rise? No, that won’t keep me up at night and I’ll proudly drive an extra mile in my fossil-burning car because I do not hate plants (I don’t even eat them if it can be avoided).

            BTW: Would you say acid rain, hole in the ozon layer and global cooling were valid scientific theories as well? I grew up worrying about that stuff, and now I feel strongly that was a waste of my time. We still have forests (too much of them up here), we did not burn to a crisp because we lost the ozon layer and our winters are manageable (though we’d like some of the warmer summers we saw in the 90s back, thank you very much).

            It would appear our planet is more resilient than many thought (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/04/24/lovelock_clangers/).

          9. The 0.5 m sea level rise is in addition to the peak of the highest high tide. You may want to look at the sea level rise maps produced by the Australian government to see just how much of the Australian coastline is affected.
            Australian Sea Level Rise Maps – http://www.ozcoasts.gov.au/climate/sd_visual.jsp

            No doubt those people who were sold property (authorised by the Government) that becomes inundated by high tides in 50 years time, will be seeking full compensation from the Government, which means the taxpayer will bear the cost.

            So while the Climate Change deniers continue to dodge their responsibility now, we are all going to pay in the long run.

            On a Global basis the situation is a lot worse and there will of course be blow back to Australia.
            • People at risk of sea-level rise by 2050: 162 million (Myers 2002).
            • People at risk of droughts and other climate change events by 2050: 50 million (Myers 2002).
            • Refugees due to climate change by 2050:
            250 million (Christian Aid cited in Bierman and Boas 2007).
            • People estimated to become permanently
            displaced “climate refugees” by 2050: 200 millions (Stern 2006).

            Source: Environmentally Induced Population Displacements
            http://www.ciesin.columbia.edu/documents/environinduced-s.adamo-IHDPupdate-2009.pdf

            If collectively we insist on keeping our heads in the sand, unfortunately we are all going to drown when the Climate Change tide comes in.

          10. Sorry for the late followup, but work life does not always agree with me.

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2012/09/09/a-cool-headed-climate-conversation-with-aerospace-legend-burt-rutan/

            Burt Rutan did what I wanted to do: Look at the raw data and check if the science bit was good. Turns out, the science bit is not good. Make sure you read the pdf Mr Rutan put up on his web site. Well worth a read.

            Also, this week I spoke with a farmer who specializes in growing older strains of wheat. These plants are the same as those used 10-12000 years ago. He points out that they are more resistant to fungus, insects and other threats, plus there is less weeds. The energy content of these plants is also better. Plants such as these, combined with an increase of CO2 spells out more food grown, and less need for fertilizers and pesticides.

  7. The Greens should put it’s money where it’s mouth is and make the Labor government (which it seems to control anyway?) drop the luxury car tax on EVs like the Tesla Model S.

  8. Aha! That´s why NEVS intend to build a new-ish ePower 9-3. They will all be exported to Tasmania. And to compete with 1988 Corollas NEVS will put on 14″ steel rims, reduce the thickness of sheetmetal to 1mm, keep safety to a bare minimum, use only extra flammable fabrics and plastics and all this at a retail price of 20.000 AUD.
    On the outside it will still be modern but with that nostalgic feel and hardly Anything will be recyclable. How ecofriendly huh?

    Optional extras:
    *1988 Blaupunkt Boston cassette player with 2 speakers and a out of the box stuck cassette playing sounds from the forest.
    *Vintage screwdriver to hold passenger side windy down window up or as a “Fun for the whole family” item, trying to pry that darned cassette out the Blaupumkt.

    Cheers/Tom

  9. I wonder what the Greens would think about this one? The Concept One from Rimac Automobili in Croatia….although it seems to be competing more with a Koenigsegg than a Nissan Leaf. 🙂

    Here in the U.S. that would be viewed as a car for the 1%’ers.

    Seriously, though, how do the Greens feel about all the increased electricity that will have to be generated to recharge all those EV’s they hope people will drive? Does that produce less greenhouse gases than those produced by small, efficient petrol engines in today’s cars?

    1. Mark,

      Here in Tasmania we generate all our power from hydro plants, so it’s ‘green’. We also have a big fat cable running between Tassie and the mainland, via which we export/import power when required.

      None of that means our power’s any cheaper, by the way. Our power bills seem to be skyrocketing just like everyone else’s in Australia.

  10. I do like the thought of an electrified 95/96. As long the electricity doesn’t com from an nuclear plant or some Braunkohlekraftwerk, fine by me. If a reborn nevs 9-3 will have the e-motors, even better.
    Over here leftwing is a socialist party and a green party very close in political programm, and a bit chasing voters with the same credo. Well the socialist put the brakes very heavyly on the possibility of i.e. ethanol, as being an ethical wrong thing transforming corns into energy for transport, while people in poor countries are not having enough food. A missed chance for saab over here back those days. I remember informing in 2006 at the saab dealer about the BioPower and eventual possibility of adding that with a LPG-conversion (which he wisely taught as being overkill).
    Now, a few years later biomass-energy is extrated starting on a larger scale and farmers specially plant the maïs for that to do so. And the hilarious thing is, no-one from the same political camp reissues the so-called ethical debate from a few years ago.

    But starting electrifying some really nonsense cars will never make sense ?
    That stuff reminds me of your lookalike, greenparty-leader in Belgium Wouter Van Besien, driving to the king during the government-formations with a rusty 20year old Corolla.
    http://www.hbvl.be/nieuws/extra/aid969842/gezocht-trots-op-mijn-auto-van-20-jaar-oud.aspx

    When really threehugging in public, trumpeting announcements and other things about emmisions etc. , those politcians should more walk and use their bicycles (if having one).

  11. A far better “Green” initiative would be for the Federal Government to provide some type of financial incentive to purchasers of eco-friendly electric cars. This program would assist in reaching the Governments CO2 emissions reduction targets and promote a local electric car industry. A local company (EV Engineering) has already demonstrated that we have the ability to build new electric cars by converting 7 new Holden Commodores to full electric vehicles. Additionally significant charging infrastructure implementations are planned by two companies (Charge Point & Better Place) to support the 5 or 6 electric cars being introduced into the Australian market. So there is already significant industry investment in the local electric car industry, it just needs the Federal Govt to step in and give it a bit of a helping hand.

  12. There’s no point in converting old corrolas into EV cars. The result would probably be even worse than a car before conversion. But while we can all have a good laugh at EV’s of today, the politicians are doing what the fuel prices will be doing in the future – force the development of such cars. If anything I can just say, I regret, that politicans don’t show the same zeal in supporting ethanol driven cars, which make much more sense. Despite all the development in EV’s, I think, that in a forseeable future, even the very best such cars with good range will be so insanely expensive, that few will be able to afford them. To overcome the battery problem, the electrical grid would have to be built into the roads to recharge the cars as they go. Limited range battery would then be just fine to take on the few sideroads that don’t have that…BTW, what do politicians have to say about the battery related polution? Not much, I guess.

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