Born to be Wired

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Front Battery Box
Above the drive motor— six T-145 lead-acid batteries and the control box, mounted to the left of the batteries.
Electric GMC Sonoma Pickup Truck
Randy Richmond’s full-electric-powered GMC Sonoma pickup, converted using a commercial kit.
Removing the internal combustion engine
Out with the internal combustion engine.
Empty engine cavity
Lots of room in the engine compartment.
Author and electric pickup truck
Randy Richmond takes his electric truck to auto events to help spread the word on EV practicality and performance.
Inspecting the DC Motor and Transmission
The 100 hp DC motor bolted to the original transmission.
Installing the Electric Motor
Installing the new electric motor and transmission, with room to spare.
Rear Battery Box
In the bed—a custom battery box holds eighteen T-145s.
Electric GMC Sonoma Schematic Diagram
Electric Vehicle Control Box
The control box, with the logic interface mounted on its cover.
Electric Vehicle 240 VAC Plug
The original gasoline filler cap was replaced by a 240 VAC plug.
Front Battery Box
Electric GMC Sonoma Pickup Truck
Removing the internal combustion engine
Empty engine cavity
Author and electric pickup truck
Inspecting the DC Motor and Transmission
Installing the Electric Motor
Rear Battery Box
Electric GMC Sonoma Schematic Diagram
Electric Vehicle Control Box
Electric Vehicle 240 VAC Plug

For nearly a decade, engineer Randy Richmond explored the idea of owning an electric vehicle (EV). He scoped out the latest technology at renewable energy fairs and read countless blogs, articles, and Web sites devoted to the topic. His interest even grew into a side business with his family—RightHand Engineering, a designer and seller of software tools that monitor RE and EV systems.

Although he’d hoped to buy a new factory-made electric vehicle, that dream died when most leading manufacturers stopped production in the late 1990s. When gasoline prices reached more than $3 per gallon, he wondered if gas rationing would soon follow—a repetition of the 1973 oil crisis. Imagining people lined up by the hundreds to fill their fuel tanks was the final push he needed.

“I realized that the time had come, and I had to do it on my own. There was no use waiting for the auto industry because I’d wait forever,” he says. “I no longer wanted to contribute to the problems in the Middle East, and I wanted a vehicle more consistent with my renewable energy lifestyle and business.”

In April 2006, Richmond started running the numbers and asking lots of questions. Before committing to an EV conversion, he considered the “easier” alternatives, such as buying a specialized EV, like the Myers Motors Sparrow/Nmg or the ZAP Xebra, or buying a used, factory-produced model like the Toyota RAV4 EV, Chrysler EPIC minivan, GM S-10 EV pickup, or Ford Ranger EV pickup. Either too small, too slow, too expensive, or too hard to find, none of them were a good match for his needs.

Devising a Plan

Richmond found an invaluable resource in the Electric Auto Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement and widespread adoption of EVs. Through the Web site, he connected with other electric car enthusiasts, who were happy to answer his countless questions. With the guidance of their triumphs and failures, he developed his plan of action, and by May, he was ready.

Even with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Washington and a longtime interest in electric vehicles, Richmond considered hiring a private EV enthusiast or commercial EV conversion company to do the conversion.

“If you cannot do standard mechanical repairs to your vehicle, basic electrical wiring around your home, or remove an engine, you should not do the conversion yourself,” he says. “Don’t hesitate to pay someone to do it, or buy a vehicle that’s already converted. Working on conversions isn’t for everyone.”

Ultimately, after evaluating his electrical and mechanical skills, Richmond felt comfortable moving forward with a “do-it-yourself” EV conversion. He did, however, recognize his limitations with metal fabrication and welding, and formulated his plan accordingly.

From the get-go, he knew a piecemeal approach—buying the parts individually—might be too complicated. Customizing adapters and mounts went beyond his skill level. He decided that a conversion kit—which comes equipped with most of the mechanical parts—would best suit his needs and abilities.

Choosing a Vehicle

Richmond says that establishing realistic needs is one of the first and most important steps in the process of vehicle selection. How far do you need to go each day? How fast do you need to go? What kind of acceleration do you need? How much do you want to be able to haul? What kind of weather will you need to travel in? The answers to these and other questions will determine the vehicle, vendor, and components used for the conversion, as well as the design and EV conversion approaches.

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Comments (6)

jerryd's picture

I'd suggest anyone wanting to convert and EV start with the lightest one they can find as EV's cost by the lb of the donor vehicle. So if you start with a 2-3k lb vehicle and strip it down by about 1/3 the weight you need a smaller battery pack, motor, controller for the same range, performance.

Doing things like low rolling resistance tires, making aero improvements, low drag diff, transmission oils, etc can nicely increase range. So start light and aero for a cost effective EV.

Kienan Maxfield's picture

If you would like to regain your A.M. radio reception, just find the wire powering your radio and wire in a couple capacitors and a couple of good inductors. For a diagram on how to wire it, click the following link or copy and paste the following address into your browser.

https://dl.dropbox.com/u/8017159/DC... — or —

http://db.tt/lWq7JEFg

Kienan Maxfield's picture

I realized this would not work because the problem has to do with emitted RF rather than the supplied power. This would only work for pulsing load or pulsing charge related interferences such as alternator whine.

willwilkin@madeinusasolar.us's picture

I'm limping my gasoline-powered Ranger for a few more years till I can get the money for an electric pick-up that I will charge by solar PV. Hopefully EV pickups will become available soon. I am not going to build it myself, but admire those who do!

CasaDelGato's picture

More electric trucks! yeah!
http://john.casadelgato.com/Electri...

RG B's picture

Nice work

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