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.
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.
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.