Richmond carefully evaluated his weekly commute: four 18-mile trips along local, rural roads near his home in Woodinville, Washington, and one 40-mile trip to nearby Issaquah with some distance on Interstate 405. The highway driving, though brief, necessitates that the vehicle reach 60 mph. He needed enough horsepower to handle the extra weight of the batteries in the vehicle and get up the hills along his commute. He decided against power-intensive air conditioning and power steering but elected for power brakes and electric heating, given the weight of the vehicle and the cool, rainy conditions in the area. Though the vehicle would be used primarily for commuting, he wanted enough seating for his family.
He knew that a small car or a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) would not suit his needs. He quickly turned his attention to pickup trucks. With a convenient place for batteries and the capacity to handle extra weight, small pickup trucks tend to be the easiest to convert. Plus, there is a greater chance of finding a cost-effective and easy-to-use conversion kit, says Richmond, since there are several kits made for pickup trucks.
A mechanically sound vehicle is key to a successful conversion. “The vehicle had to be something that I would be happy to drive,” he says. “I did not want to invest my time and money into an unsound or unsightly vehicle. I wanted a vehicle that was in good shape and had some longevity.”A late-model 2001 GMC Sonoma pickup with an extended cab, five-speed transmission, and fewer than 80,000 miles on its odometer filled the bill.
“The EV conversion kit industry is not quite mainstream,” Richmond says. “You have to shop around, pick and choose, and be patient.”
After some Web research, he decided to purchase the S-10/Sonoma kit from Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd. Randy Holmquist and his team in British Columbia have more than 12 years of experience with electric vehicles, but it was the responsive customer service and attention to detail that won Richmond over. Unlike some other distributors that just provide raw materials and instructions for fabrication, CanEV prefabricates all the adaptors, mounts, brackets, and boxes—virtually eliminating fabrication from the installation process.
The $10,700 cost of the kit did not include batteries, the controller cooling system, or the battery state-of-charge meter. The controller cooling system—a water circulating pump and miniature radiator—came from EV Source, a distributor based in Logan, Utah.
To save on shipping, Richmond purchased the 1,800 pounds of batteries from Allied Batteries in Seattle. The kit recommended 225 amp-hour (AH) golf cart batteries, but Richmond chose ones with a slightly higher capacity—24 Trojan T-145 (6 V, 260 AH)—to achieve a greater driving range. Richmond’s company—RightHand Engineering—supplied the Xantrex Link-10 battery state of charge (SOC) meter.
The kit arrived on time with all the parts needed for the conversion—except for the controller and charger, which Richmond decided to customize to his application. By upgrading from a 120-volt charger to a 240-volt charger, he reduced the battery charge time from 12 hours to 4 hours. He swapped out the 300 A Curtis controller included in the CanEV kit for a Café Electric Zilla controller, which offers PC interface capabilities. The Zivan battery charger and Zilla controller took four months to arrive because both manufacturers had a backlog of orders.
While waiting for the back-ordered parts to arrive, Richmond wired the control box. As the central hub for the vehicle’s wiring, the control box contains all the relays that connect the main battery bank to the vehicle systems. Wiring the box took more than 30 hours.