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Two Cents A Mile

“If individuals like me can convert a gas vehicle to clean and efficient electricity, the big players in the auto industry certainly can and should.”

– HOMEWOOD RESIDENT ROB MCCLEMENT

The dilemma facing those who want to continue living rurally, while reducing their transportation footprint, has been much on Homewood-area resident Rob McClement’s mind. His family, which includes a trio of teenagers, can make several trips per day to nearby Carman, a round trip of about 35 km.

A do-it-yourselfer by nature, (McClement is owner of R-Tech Industries Ltd. at Homewood, a company custom building agricultural research equipment), he decided to fix their too-much-driving problem himself – by building his own zero-emissions battery-operated electric car.

He was inspired to try several years ago.

“Three and a half years ago, I first saw the Chris Paine documentary, ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’” said McClement. The film tells the story of the late-1990s limited commercialization and subsequent destruction of a General Motors battery-powered electric vehicle, the EV1. The film impressed him so much, Mc-Clement now jokingly calls viewing it the beginning of his “conversion experience.

“That was the beginning of this project for me,” he says. “Once realizing there was a credible alternative to gas, I began doing research on electric vehicles, particularly conversions.”

What that’s resulted in is his 1996 Mazda Miata, sans tailpipe and gas cap, initially purchased second-hand and now run entirely on batteries.

It represents about 500 hours

of McClement’s time, spent over about a year and a half, plus thousands of Internet-based parts searches and online chats with fellow do-it-yourselfers.

So he wouldn’t have to figure everything out himself, Mc-Clement signed on to www.diyelectriccar.com,a popular online forum for others converting cars, trucks and motorcycles around the world.

The Internet helped him find supplier networks for parts. The batteries were purchased from a distributor in Washington state but were shipped directly from China. The majority of the components came from California. The motor came from an American company in Illinois.

The final price tag: around $17,000 for the parts, plus an outlay of $5,000 to buy the Miata.

“It may seem like a lot,” says McClement. “But I now have a very efficient, non-polluting and fun little sports car.”

Efficient, indeed. He’s tallied the cost to operate it, based on

cost of a kilowatt hour to charge the vehicle, at about two cents per mile for energy cost (one-sixth or less that of gas).

That’s like paying 20 cents for a litre of gas.

“And the more this car is driven in place of our gas vehicles, the more it pays for itself.”

ON ONE CHARGE

The McClement family can’t use the sporty two-seater as its primary vehicle; the family has a gas car and a diesel truck for longer trips. But with a range of 130 km between charges, the Miata is what they’ll now use for those multiple trips to Carman, and to points in Winnipeg, says McClement.

“We should be able to make three to four round trips to town on a single charge, then charge up overnight.”

Those interested in trying this themselves take note: any car, truck or motorcycle can be converted. McClement chose the Miata because he appreciated the design and the relative effi-ciency of it in its previous life as a gas-powered car.

“The best advice I’ve been given about choosing a vehicle to convert is to choose a vehicle that you will want to drive,” he said.

Costs and time for other conversions needn’t go nearly as high as McClement’s did either.

Costs can vary hugely, anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000, he’s learned from his fellow online do-it-yourselfers. It boils down to the more spent, the better performance and longer range you get.

As for choosing a vehicle to convert, generally, light and aerodynamic cars are better candidates than large and heavy cars or trucks.

“It all comes down to the energy required to move the vehicle. Large vehicles can be converted but require a larger electric motor and controller and much more expensive batteries for signifi cant range.”

McClement hopes his “green” red car will spur more to think about the multiple advantages of driving EVs. Their motors are simpler and more durable than gas engines, and so require much less maintenance. They can be built to go fast. And they’re as quiet as they are clean in the environment.

“At lower speeds, an EV is not much louder than a bicycle,” he said.

Admittedly, range before requiring a recharge will be an issue depending on where you live. But he points out a typical range for a well-built electric car is between 80 and 160 km.

“And most people drive less than 60 km each day.”

McClement can list plenty of reasons why an electric car is a good fit for his family’s lifestyle. He can list off plenty more why he thinks adopting cleaner energy sources – the sooner the better – is imperative.

“Fossil fuels are a very finite resource that we have been burning through at an alarming rate,” he said. “Oil will not last forever, likely only for a few more decades. And while we burn oil for personal transportation, we are damaging the environment.”

Meanwhile, EVs are functional and feasible right now, not for all situations, but for a significant portion of most people’s daily driving.

“If individuals like me can convert a gas vehicle to clean and efficient electricity, the big players in the auto industry certainly can and should,” he said.

Manitoba Public Insurance officials estimate there are fewer than a dozen pure electric cars registered in Manitoba right now. There are about 2,500 hybrids currently licensed.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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