Electric vehicle conversion

Electric vehicle conversion

An electric vehicle conversion is the modification of a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) to electric propulsion, creating an all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.


Elements of a conversion

  • Almost any vehicle can be converted to electric. Many people prefer to pick a vehicle that is light and aerodynamic in order to maximize distance traveled per battery charge. There must also be adequate room and load capacity for batteries.
  • The battery pack, which provides a source of electrical power. The most commonly available and affordable batteries are lead-acid flooded type. Next are the AGM (Absorption Glass Mat) sealed maintenance free batteries, a little more powerful and expensive. Then there are the more exotic batteries like Ni-MH and Li-ion; more difficult to find but light and longer lasting, maintenance free, and much more expensive. The new lithium batteries are showing some promise for EVs in the near future.
  • The charger which restores energy to the batteries (which may be mounted within the vehicle or at a special charging station at some fixed location)
  • The power controller, which regulates the flow of energy between the battery and the electric motor(s), controlled by an electronic throttle.
  • One or more electric motors and their mechanical attachment to the driveline
  • Power conductors connecting the battery, controller, and motor(s)
  • Accessory equipment to power auxiliary equipment such as power brakes and heating system
  • Control circuitry and equipment to allow control and interlocking of the various components
  • Instrumentation specific to the operation and maintenance of the conversion

Solar power

Solar cells could be used to power a vehicle converted to electric.[1][2] However, currently the relatively small power generated by solar cells means that the other components in the system must be special to compensate for this. For example, the body of even a small conventional car converted to electric is still rather too heavy to be able to be matched with an electric system that is solely or primarily charged by solar power. Thus, it is usually more practical to create a solar-powered electric vehicle from scratch or specially made parts.

Conversion process

Most conversions in North America are performed by hobbyists[3] who typically will convert a well used vehicle with a non-functioning engine, since such defective vehicles can be quite inexpensive to purchase. Other hobbyists with larger budgets may prefer to convert a later model vehicle, or a vehicle of a particular type. In some cases the vehicle itself may be built by the converter, or assembled from a kit car.

A two-stage vehicle is a vehicle that has been built by two separate manufacturers. The result is a standard, complete vehicle.[4] In this process, vehicles may be converted by a manufacturer (as was done by Ford Motor Company to create the Ford Ranger EV). Alternatively, in a process known as "third-party (power)trainization", an independent converter will purchase new vehicle gliders[5] (vehicles without a motor or related equipment) and then perform the conversion, to offer a two-stage vehicle.

In some countries, the user can choose to buy a converted vehicle of any model in the automaker dealerships only paying the cost of the batteries and motor, with no installation costs (it is called pre-conversion or previous conversion).


The electric vehicle conversion industry has grown to include conversion car garages,[6] aftermarket kits[7] and vehicle components.[8][9]

Vehicle types

Electric bicycle

A bicycle with an aftermarket hub-motor in the front wheel

An electric bicycle is a conventional bicycle that has been fitted with an electric motor. Converting an existing bicycle by retrofitting it with a "conversion kit" is the simplest and least expensive electric vehicle conversion option. Most often electric bicycles or "e-bikes" are powered by rechargeable batteries however some experimental electric bicycles run directly on or recharge their batteries via solar panels, fuel cells, gas generators or other alternative energy sources. Some experimenters have even used super capacitors to store energy. Using an on-board generator may impact the legal jurisdictional definition of an electric bicycle. A few types of electric bicycles are able to re-capture a small amount of energy from braking and can re-charge the batteries while braking or traveling down hills (regenerative braking).

Some electric bikes have features where the motor can move the bicycle by itself (immediate start) if the rider chooses not to pedal with a button or throttle controller, while others require the rider to pedal at all times (pedal assist). This latter type may in some jurisdictions allow the vehicle to be used on bicycle trails that otherwise prohibit motorized vehicles of any kind (See motorized bicycle).

Many battery technologies are available for powering electric bikes. The most common and least expensive battery technology is sealed lead acid but LiFePO4 is fast becoming the battery of choice for the e-bike.

Converting one's bike to electric with a conversion kit is an easy and affordable solution for most people interested in learning more about electric vehicle conversion. E-Bikes are the cleanest, most affordable and most energy efficient form of transportation on the planet.

There may be some problems with the warranty however on the original bicycle being converted, if an electric bike conversion kit is added.

Electric Two-Wheelers (E-Bikes, Motorcycles and Scooters)

Low-speed Scooters are not typically suitable for on-the-road use. These may be configured for either standing or sitting use. Some local laws apply bicycle laws to scooters, such as helmet and pedestrian right-of-way considerations.

Economy coupe

This elderly Fiat employs batteries that can be mounted in any position

Owing to its light weight and efficiency, a light vehicle can make an excellent choice, particularly if care is taken in component selection and placement. It is possible to obtain conversion kits for some popular light vehicles, most notably the rear motor, rear drive Volkswagen Beetle, its Type 3 evolution, and its successor, the front motor/drive VW Rabbit.

By converting a light vehicle it is possible to use a smaller motor, which both weighs and costs less than a larger motor. A lighter overall vehicle weight will reduce power consumption in start-and-stop traffic and increase range in many practical driving conditions.

Compact sedan or coupe

A compact sedan may be a better choice than a subcompact owing to better load capacity and more room for battery placement. Some commercial EV Conversions use vehicles in this size range. One example is a 1992 Honda Civic.[10] In this conversion, the back seat was retained, and there is still enough room to sink nine flooded lead-acid batteries low in the trunk where the spare tire was located, as well as another nine batteries under the hood. Another example is a 1987 Mitsubishi Tredia where the rear batteries have been raised above the trunk floorspace, sealed, and externally vented. With suspension modifications, increasing shock length & spring rating, the car must still be below GVWR, even with the driver and passengers. Exceeding the total design weight of the vehicle would be illegal in some states, and might result in cancellation by an insurance company.

There is an effort by several engineers in California to make the Toyota Prius a "Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle," or PHEV, whereby the first 40 miles are driven by all-electric power, then the gas engine comes on to re-charge the batteries, only if the commute is further than 40 mi. If it's less, one can just plug it into the utility grid to re-charge the batteries. The process is done by removing the nickel-metal hydride batteries, and installing different batteries, and a different battery management system.

Since 30 April 2009, the Electric Car Corporation have been selling the Citroën C1 ev'ie, an all-electric conversion from the Citroën C1.

Full-size sedan

Full-size sedans and minivans are generally considered to be poor candidates for EV conversion. As the suspension and tires are already operating close to the maximum permissible[clarification needed], it may be necessary to make substantial modifications in these areas. It may be easier to obtain upgraded suspension components for some smaller vehicles, if these are also typically used for sports racing (particularly autocross). Starting with a heavy vehicle and adding batteries will result in poor performance in acceleration, handling, braking, and economy of operation.

One of possibilities is using the body of Audi's D2 platform A8 (1994–2003) Audi A8 or sports sedan S8 (1998-2003 or older European market models where the German model weights 1730 kg) Audi S8 both of which are all aluminium monocoque "Audi Space Frame" vehicle, which helped to significantly reduce weight without being any less rigid.

Sports car

For a person interested in sports car performance and appearance, the creation of a satisfying conversion will likely lead to a number of difficulties in such details as battery disposition, as such vehicles generally have available space distributed in small volumes around the vehicle. This leads to complexity in securing and wiring batteries. These vehicles can offer stunning performance in the lower speed ranges owing to light weight and rear wheel drive, and may also offer good range due to their superior aerodynamics.

The 1969-1976 Porsche 914 is one of the more successful sports car conversions, as well as being one of the most popular. Once converted, it boasts better performance in range, acceleration and top speed than most other vehicles. Also, its low acquisition costs contributes to its popularity as a conversion candidate. Some manufacturers of conversion kits have made a kit specific to the 914.

Another popular sports car used for conversion is the 1984-1989 Toyota MR2. Reasons for its popularity are low weight before conversion, low cost to purchase the car, and available locations within the car to place the large batteries that most people use (lead-acid and its derivative technologies). The later MR2 body style (Mark 2) does not seem as popular, and as of March 2008, there is only one known conversion.[11]

The Bradley GT II as well as other VW-based kit cars are very popular conversion candidates due to their being inexpensive, extensive support groups as well as their simple sports car design. Availability of conversion kits for these cars are quite prevalent with commercial retail establishments that specialize in EV conversions.

Light truck

Light trucks are especially suitable for hobbyist conversion because it is easy to locate batteries remote from the passenger compartment and there is a good load handling capacity for the use of heavy batteries such as the flooded lead-acid batteries commonly used in golf carts. Light trucks also offer substantial utility in use simply because they are trucks. Even if a portion of the weight capacity is removed by the presence of batteries within or below the cargo bed, much or all of the spatial utility remains. A light truck is highly recommended as a first conversion effort because of the simplicity of component layout. With proper battery placement the stability of a late production truck can be improved over the ICE version. While a number of suitable vehicles are available in pre-2002 models, the modern evolution of this type has become taller, heavier, bulkier and less efficient, and their excessive height makes under-bed battery placement essential to keep the center of gravity low enough for stability on curves.

Other trucks - full size and most SUVs

These are rarely converted due to their excessive weight, and aerodynamic inefficiencies. To make the situation worse, many modern trucks and SUVs continue to get bulkier, heavier, and their high stance means the height of the center of gravity leads to instability while making high speed turns, a distinct disadvantage if there is not enough room between the frame rails to enable low battery mounting. As a direct result, the payload carrying capacity and thus the GVWR of the vehicles goes down. Such a trait is not desirable because it limits the weight of the battery pack that can be carried, limiting the maximum battery-to-vehicle weight ratio that could be achieved for the vehicle when converted to an EV. (Such considerations are important due to price, weight, and performance limitations of current battery technologies.) For a given battery type, reducing the battery-to-vehicle weight ratio always results in reduced vehicle range per charge. However, despite these mostly unavoidable limitations, several SUVs and larger trucks have been successfully converted to electric power by hobbyists. Some examples include the "Gone Postal" van converted to an EV racer by Roderick Wilde and Suckamps EV Racing, the Land Rover EV converted by Wilde Evolutions, and the 1988 Jeep Cherokee EV converted by Nick Viera.

Electric buses

The principal efforts in the development of autonomous electric buses (this is,without trolleys and wires) have involved limited production of very expensive fuel cell vehicles.

The most economically effective development in this area involves the creation of hybrid electric buses (mainly plug-in hybrids), well suited to this application owing to frequent stops and starts and effective energy recovery and release in this cycle.

Another solution is the conversion to battery electric buses that follow the principle of replacing (discharged batteries) instead of recharging.



While this type of vehicle is usually made to be a "street-legal" performance machine, it may also be developed for occasional use as a drag racing vehicle. The leading vehicle in this field is the "Maniac Mazda" a Mazda RX-7 sports car converted from rotary engine to electric by Roderick Wilde. This vehicle can outrun Dodge Viper and Ferrari sports cars in quarter mile drag races.

Autocross racer

EV's have proven successful in autocross competition. The electric motor's ability to deliver maximum torque at 0 RPM and a comparatively broad torque band provide good throttle response and allow running an autocross without any time lost to shifting gears. The short distance of the typical autocross requires less stored energy than most forms of motorsports. This minimizes electric vehicle's most obvious competitive disadvantage, the weight penalty of batteries compared to gasoline.

Drag racer

Intended only for specialized straight line quarter mile (acceleration) racing this type of vehicle is used only "off road" at specialized "drag strips".

High speed straight line racer

For an example of a straight line racer see Buckeye Bullet

Even more specialized than the drag racer, this is intended to obtain high speeds on long, straight, and flat raceways, such as the dry lake beds found in locations such as the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Closed circuit road racer

Closed Circuit Road racing , particularly any type of endurance racing, is one of the greatest challenges for EV's. Pound per pound, gasoline contains far more energy than even the most advanced of current batteries. An electric vehicle must be heavier or more efficient to run the same distance as its gasoline competitor. Endurance racing strategies include battery packs that can be changed quickly and "Dump charging"

Custom chassis

Suitable for a builder who is capable of constructing a kit car, with good abilities and equipment in machining and welding this can result in a unique vehicle. It is especially suitable for the construction of a lightweight vehicle that can offer exceptional performance. Many VW-based kit car companies have tube chassis ready to start with.

A glider kit includes all components of a vehicle except the power train.[12][13][14]

Novelty vehicle

A novelty vehicle or an electric powered art car may not be suitable for on road use. Applications include electric vehicle show demonstrations, parades, parade floats, float towing, and eclectic off-road gatherings such as Burning Man. This vehicle is ideal for the beach (where not prohibited) and to promote tourist places but will usually require trailering to its operating site.

At the 2005 Stanford University EV Gathering

Above: Bob Schneeveis[15] demonstrates his Silver Sofa.

Registration of converted and newly constructed vehicles

United States

The ease of registration will vary by state. Some states require safety inspections, usually to ensure body integrity in areas subject to severe corrosion from winter road de-icing materials. In any case, for general registration all functional safety equipment should be operating - turn signals, brake lights, headlights, horn, etc. The windshield should have no running cracks (small stone chips and "stars" may be acceptable if not in the driver's principal line of vision). If the vehicle has been reconstructed from a salvage vehicle (a vehicle whose registration has been forfeited) inspection may be more severe to ensure compliance and the legitimacy of sources of salvage components by presentation of proper purchase receipts.

Registration procedures will vary by state and will usually be more difficult (even bizarre) in states with strict emissions requirements (even though a plug-in only conversion will be a zero emission vehicle). Arguing with DMV staff is typically futile in all jurisdictions, but there may be appeal procedures available but whose availability may not be openly publicized.

On the other hand, changing the registration allows a conversion to qualify for tax incentives available in some states, such as Oregon, for either the vehicle, the charging system, or both.

California (US) conversion registration and taxation

Registration of a converted existing, or newly self constructed electric vehicle in California is difficult.

This falls into two categories ; First, if the vehicle is built from new frame components and possibly some salvage parts, (i.e., it has never been a previously titled motorcar previously, but it has brakes or axles that were obtained used/rebuilt.) In California if you "Create' a car from scratch and want to register and title it with DMV , you need to go through the "Specially Constructed Vehicle Emission Control Program or SPCNS for short, this is also called California "SB100" program. SPCNS Sequence Numbers are limited at 500 units per calendar year.

The SPCNS / SB100 Program is intended / meant for emission control for home built kit cars or hot rods. as of November 2009, California DMV has no pathway for a home builder to create a electric car without subscribing to the current SPCNS program, which was originally meant for historic replicas and gasoline powered cars.

Limitation: California SB100/SPCNS is limited to 500 cars per year. All 500 "sequence numbers" are consumed within minutes on the first DMV business day of the calendar year. SPCNS registration requires a significant paper trail on all frame/body/components, this is to assure stolen parts are not used in construction. Additionally, since registration fees and vehicle sales tax are generated from these figures, their requirement aids in revenue collection for each SPCNS number issued.

OFF-ROAD vehicles; "Kei car"-class trucks, four wheel sport "dirt" vehicles, and other utility vehicles imported and sold for off-road use only; The electric conversion of a vehicle that was previously not certified for "On-Road" does not enable it to be registered for "On-Road" use with the conversion to electric power only. An example; certain subcompacts cannot qualify for registration except if a custom body or frame is installed to have the vehicle confirm to "On-Road" brake/light/safety standards.

As all originally ICE street-legal automobiles and light trucks built after 1975 must pass a smog test (including a "visual inspection"), a conversion of such a late model vehicle must be registered as an electric powered only vehicle and thus exempt. Otherwise, it would fail the required smog test, not for producing pollution, but for being altered from its original configuration and so failing the visual inspection portion of the test. Since 1975 and earlier vehicles are not currently tested for any smog compliance, it would be possible to convert them to electric power with little or no paperwork/certification issues.

It is no more simple if the vehicle is registered with current tags in California and may even be more difficult. Under new 2008 regulations for converted ICE vehicles a multi-step process is required. First, an appointment is made by telephone with a "Smog Referee". A meeting with the vehicle to be registered will typically be at a local community college with an extensive automotive shop program. The referee will inspect and certify that the vehicle is both smog exempt and that it qualifies for an "E" power code (electric-only). The next step requires real-time coordination between a cooperative clerk at the local California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office and an appropriate clerk at the Sacramento office. (These procedures are in place to inhibit fraudulent registration of ICE vehicles as Electric in order to avoid smog inspections.) If the computer terminals are not operated in a coordinated manner the registration propulsion code will default to "Q" (hybrid vehicle) which is not exempt from smog inspection and the conversion will always fail such an inspection. Unfortunately, once the computer has defaulted to the "Q" code it is necessary to re-engage the Smog Referee to obtain a new prospective "E" code. The ability to successfully register as an electric vehicle is highly dependent upon the cooperation of the staff at the local office, their experience with registering electric vehicles, their ability to coordinate with Sacramento, and their interest in assisting you. Some offices will be much more accommodating than others. Multiple trips to the DMV office and the Referee are typically required.

Since no fuel or recharging taxes are collected the revenue that would otherwise be lost to the state is made up for with a substantial weight fee specific to electric vehicles registered for commercial use (no weight charges are added for noncommercial vehicles). While light ICE vehicles are taxed on a refined and progressive grading scheme, electric vehicles with commercial licenses are grouped into only a few broad categories, with the result that even a modest and lightweight commercially registered EV will pay the same tax as will a much heaver (up to 6000 lbs) EV.[16] If an open-bed pickup truck (as opposed to a panel truck) is converted, the only way to register it as a non-commercial vehicle (and so avoid the weight fees) is to permanently install a camper shell (not a bed cover), which need not project above the truck cab nor include any other "camping" equipment. (This can be inconvenient if access to an in-bed battery box is required.) In California, one advantage of a commercial license is the ability to park in yellow zones, but only for short term pick-up and delivery.


In Spain, the conversion (called transformation) is regulated by the Royal Decree 736/1988, of 8 of July, por el que se regula la tramitación de las reformas de importancia de vehículos de carretera.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "Solar Electrical Vehicles". Solar Electrical Vehicles. http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  2. ^ "Using Solar Roofs To Power Hybrids". TreeHugger. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/solar_hybrid_ca.php. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  3. ^ Franz, Paul. "Turning Old Gas Guzzlers Into Electric Vehicles". TIME. http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,990054967001_2077261,00.html. Retrieved 2011-06-17. 
  4. ^ Titling - Homemade, Two-Stage or Reconstructed Vehicle[dead link]
  5. ^ Vehicle analysis, pg 14 (PDF)
  6. ^ "EV-Blue.com, Electric Vehicle Questions and Answers, EV-Blue.com, EV Blue, Electric Blue, evblue, evblue.com". Ev-blue.com. http://www.ev-blue.com. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  7. ^ "Electro Automotive: Electric Car Conversion kits, Electric Vehicle Parts, & EV Components". Electroauto.com. http://www.electroauto.com. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  8. ^ Ryan Bohm (2010-03-16). "The Complete Electric Vehicle Resource". EVSource.com. http://www.evsource.com. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Bob Bath's 1992 Honda Civic DX Sedan". Austinev.org. http://www.austinev.org/evalbum/542.html. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  11. ^ "William Brinsmead's 1991 Toyota MR-2". Evalbum.com. 2009-08-25. http://www.evalbum.com/33. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  12. ^ "NYS DMV - (Brochure) Let the Buyer Be Aware". Nydmv.state.ny.us. http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/broch/c18.htm. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  13. ^ "Energy Storage Fuel Cell Vehicle Analysis: Preprint" (PDF). http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy05osti/37567.pdf. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  14. ^ "Glider Kits & Kit Vehicles". State.ak.us. 2006-07-01. http://www.state.ak.us/dmv/dealer/sop_title/T240_glider_kit.htm. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  15. ^ Extreme Hobbies: From Supersonic Rockets to Ballistic Pumpkins (Popular Mechanics)
  16. ^ "Weight Fees for Commercial Motor Vehicles with Declared Gross Vehicle Weight 10,000 lbs. or Less". Dmv.ca.gov. http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d03/vc9400.htm. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 
  17. ^ "Real Decreto 736/1988, de 8 de julio, por el que se regula la tramitación de las reformas de importancia de vehículos de carretera, in Spanish". Cppm-ssr.com. http://www.cppm-ssr.com/legal/Normas/rd736-88.PDF. Retrieved 2010-11-27. 

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