The advent of the Electric Car is seen by many as another step down a path that is leading to the disposable car: a product to be consumed and thrown away when no longer useful. It’s easy to see why. Most new cars are made up of sealed components that can not be reconditioned or repaired and require complete replacement.
An electric car is at its essence just two large components: a battery and motor. This is surely setting the scene for cars to be disposed of like any other electrical commodity. However, in an isolated Industrial unit outside Arklow, Co.Wicklow, a small company is turning those preconceptions on their head.
New Electric Ireland – Breathing New Life into Old Cars
I went to visit New Electric Ireland as they were running their inaugural course on converting existing Internal Combustion Engine vehicles to Electric. As the course was being given, I met with the founder Kevin Sharpe. Kevin is part of New Electric, an Amsterdam based company that specialise in converting all sorts of vehicles to Electric, including Boats, Trucks and Cars.
He is a self-described Brexit escapee who has seen the tremendous amount of talent and opportunity in Ireland and decided to expand this business here under the New Electric Ireland banner. Kevin showed me around the workshop and described a few of the projects being undertaken at the moment.
Their test bed vehicle is Kevin’s own split screen VW bus. This is a gorgeous example with an immaculate white over maroon exterior, however, when you look inside it’s a different story. The interior has been stripped to the bare bones and an array of electrical components are on display. A quick peek under the rear shows that all has changed. Gone is the old air-cooled engine, and a Tesla motor sits in its place.
The batteries providing power are sitting up on the back seats and have been repurposed from a bus. The entire suspension and brakes have been replaced in order to handle the near ten-fold increase in horsepower.
Next up is a BMW 7 series. All looks standard from the outside, however, when he pops open the bonnet I can see the engine bay is completely empty. The only thing that I can see out of place are the two bright orange cables snaking out of the gear box. Kevin explains that the entre engine and gear box has been removed and replaced with the drive unit from a scrapped Lexus RX450h. This drive unit from the hybrid system contains a motor and a generator.
One of the many clever things that the company has done, is change this generator to another motor to provide more power. The remaining engine bay is now available for batteries. He assures me that all the systems that had worked with the old engine will continue to function with the conversion. When I asked him how the heating system now worked without the radiator from an engine, he brought me back inside to the “parts department.”
Here, I’m amazed by the array of components lined up on shelves, the floor and tables. The floor has a collection of automotive Lithium Ion batteries that have been acquired for €1 each! These are the same ones powering the Volkswagen and have been repurposed from a bus. A drive unit from a Prius sits on a table ready for use, while the old 7 series V8 engine sits forlornly on a pallet.
Kevin shows me a heating unit that can be installed in the BMW, which basically works like a kettle. It has been taken from a Tesla and can heat a car cabin far more quickly and efficiently than the old engine ever could.
I then sit in on the class that’s being run by the other facilitator of the course: Damian Maguire. I don’t think Damien will mind me saying, but he has the hint of the mad scientist about him. As I listen in he’s talking about how much he’s looking forward to snow falling in Norway, as slippery Norwegian roads are the best source of Tesla parts. Damien is someone who is teaching what he has done himself, not what he has read about.
He is incredibly knowledgeable and imparts that with an engaging style of facts, experience and anecdotes. He demonstrates how he converted his BMW 8 Series (affectionately known as the Panzer) to electric using a mish-mash of Tesla parts, Nissan Leaf batteries and bespoke control units. He is a great example of someone who doesn’t allow the notion of perfect prevent getting a project finished.
On speaking to Damien during a short tea break, he is very adamant that he doesn’t want to be involved in a company that just develops conversion kits. As he says himself, it’s the difference between handing someone a fish and teaching them to fish for themselves.
He can help to locate and supply the huge amount of parts available for little to no cost that can be reused and repurposed to keep existing vehicles on the road. He has managed to convert a BMW 3 series into a usable electric car for €1000 and has a popular YouTube channel describing the process.
The participants themselves are all there because they have a pet project in mind. From one who is hoping to convert his classic Land Rover Defenders to another who wants to make an electric boat. Most are hobbyists with a god mechanical knowledge. Everyone I spoke to was delighted with the level of knowledge they gained at the course. As one said, “Now I know what I don’t know, and I can get started.” The participants have created their own WhatsApp group to be able to exchange ideas and get advice.
This is really what New Electric Ireland is trying to do. Kevin is passionate about reusing and upcycling technology that has already been created. He wants to see a circular economy that prevents waste. To that end, he has created a portal for builders to discuss and exchange ideas at openinverter.org. He will be running 10 courses over the next year, hoping to educate 100 participants and helping them to start their own projects.
I once thought the electric car would be the death knell of the DIY enthusiast tinkering with their project car in the garage. Instead, it may well be breathing a new life into classic cars and making them even more usable for the future.
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