Ahead of Renew’s Electric Vehicle Expo on March 16 in Melbourne, here’s the story of a Victorian man who was able to achieve his electric vehicle dreams with a modest budget and a lot of elbow grease.
Australia has an electric vehicle conundrum. Between 2016-17, sales of electric vehicles in Australia jumped a whopping 67%, but many Australians still find themselves priced out of the market. And, the market isn’t going to get any cheaper until Australians start buying electric vehicles in higher volumes. Chicken, meet egg.
Although the second-hand market is growing and prices of new vehicles are gradually coming down, the cheapest 100% electric vehicles you can buy new in Australia range from $30,000–$40,000. For many, that price tag is still a little high.
But with a bit of technological know-how and a lot of elbow grease, there is an alternative: you could make your own. That’s exactly what retired electrical engineer Bryan Drummond did.
It all began with a Holden Barina and a dream.
As a hobbyist yachtsman, who’s spent countless hours perfecting the art of harnessing the wind and the tide to propel his vessel, Bryan always had a peripheral interest and respect for the potential of renewable energy. But it wasn’t until he retired that he found himself with enough time to really do something about it.
He’d refurbished an old Holden V8 in the past, but the time had come for him to combine his love of cars with his burgeoning passion for renewables. “I also have a car hoist, which meant I could lift the car up and down, which helped!” laughs Bryan.
First up, he hunted for a car. It needed to be a small, city-centric car, with a manual transmission and enough space to fit a battery pack in the back seat area. He found his ideal vehicle in an old Holden Barina, which he obtained complete with a roadworthy for just $1400. “It was actually already quite a good little car,” says Bryan.
Next he needed to understand the inner-workings of the Barina, so he bought a Haynes workshop manual online, and the project was underway. He sourced equipment – controllers, monitors, battery systems – from a company in Western Australia called EVWorks and used some wiring plans for a BEV (Barina electric vehicle) they already had drawn up as a guide.
As you can imagine, wiring an electric motor, battery pack, an LCD monitor, a charger and everything else you need to power an electric vehicle was no simple task – especially not in a vehicle that wasn’t designed to be electric. “The cars you can buy new will be much more integrated,” says Bryan. “The thing about converting a petrol car is that it’s always going to be a compromise, and will have its limitations.”
All up, Bryan’s BEV project cost him around $20,000. As well as the $1400 he spent on the car, there was an additional $16,000 spent on materials (of which batteries made up more than half the cost), and $4,000 on professional services such as welding and machining. Part of that $4,000 also included consulting with VicRoads on ensuring the car would be safe to use.
Six months after his project began (he estimates it only took eight weeks of actual labour – the six months is more reflective of waiting for various parts), Bryan had himself an electric vehicle. He put together a PDF that details the finer, more technical side of his conversion, and recommends anyone with an interest in converting vehicles to electric visit EVAlbum.com – which features everything from electric mountain bikes, lawnmowers, quadbikes and beyond.
Now, Bryan’s electric Barina is his primary around-town vehicle. “It’s a good little city car,” he says. “I think this kind of thing – more compact, city-friendly cars – are the future of electric cars.” And in terms of the benefits of owning a home-made electric vehicle? “If I charge it at home on my solar cell, on a bright sunny day, it costs me nothing to run!” he adds.
Bryan will be showcasing his Holden Barina at the Electric Vehicle Expo in Melbourne on the 16th of March, and entering it into the ‘Show‘N’Shine’ competition. Head along for a sticky beak.