Has The Time For Open Source DIY EVs Come?

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Originally published on Planetsave.

Zwheelz DIY electric car

Image: ZWheelz.com

To usher in the era of the electric car, it might be necessary to take the concept of electric vehicles out from under the umbrella of car manufacturers and put it in the garages and backyards of DIY and open source enthusiasts.

While there are some really great electric cars on the market, such as the Tesla and the Nissan LEAF, the price tag on them is enough to put many of us off of the idea of owning and driving one. And aside from the initial cost of buying one, there’s the fact that the electric cars currently for sale don’t lend themselves to customization or modification, so if the assembly line models don’t quite fit the needs of a potential electric car owner, it’s not very likely that people will buy one and then mod it themselves in their own garage, if not for the proprietary components, then for fear of voiding the warranty.

However, there is another choice for getting behind the wheel of one of these clean cars in the near future, and that’s through building your own. And thanks to the work of people such as Gary Krysztopik, who has been working toward designing a viable open source DIY electric car, and one which is scalable and can be built with a combination of off-the-shelf components and custom parts fabricated with CNC machining.

Krysztopik, who is an electrical engineer, began his DIY electric car journey after watching the documentary “Who killed the Electric Car” in 1997, and since then has not only done electric car conversions (about which he says, “I realized there was no money at all in conversions.”), but has gone on to build his own three-wheeled electric car. He’s now become a DIY EV evangelist, and wants to take the mystery and complexity of electric cars out of the equation by showing Americans how easy it is to build their own plug-in electric vehicle.

Last year, Krysztopik launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to further his dream of a true open source DIY electric car, but wasn’t able to get much traction from backers, raising only a small percentage of his goal.

“This all-composite vehicle will be based on the first successful prototype, using the experience gained in the construction of a composite kit airplane and from the aerospace industry. Today’s technology brings us advanced composite materials and inexpensive CNC routers and 3D printers which allows a guy-in-a-garage to become an entrepreneur and produce high-quality frames and body components. Local manufacturing will reduce carbon footprints and create clean tech jobs. Advances in large format lithium batteries will keep this modular design on the cutting edge of electric vehicle range and performance. The open-source format will attract a design community to refine the design and add more options and body styles.” – ZWheelz

According to PluginCars, Krysztopik and his wife have sold their house and bought an RV, and will soon undertake a journey around the US about building your own plugin electric car, and trying to “create a foundation” for DIY electric cars.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of open source DIY electric cars, Krysztopik’s website is a wealth of information, including some CAD files and spreadsheets about battery size options for electric vehicles.

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

Derek Markham has 470 posts and counting. See all posts by Derek Markham

8 thoughts on “Has The Time For Open Source DIY EVs Come?

  • Ironically in my opinion the time for do-it-yourself electric cars is coming to an end. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be room for hobbyists and tinkers as they’re always has been. Over the last few years there was a point that do-it-yourself electric car community was a valuable member to the electric car movement. However it will never go mainstream. There is a reason 99.9% of cars sold are made by multi billion dollar companies that can achieve an economy of scale and warranty that the one off makers or diy’ers will never come close too.

    I was an avid reader of diy electric car forums and builder blogs. I seriously considered trying my hand at it, though like many of my flights of fancy was much more fun to think about then would realistically be accomplished. I’ve come to the realization however that it was the push by industry (with government support) into large format lithium battery tech that allowed the diy community to get anywhere beyond the lead sled pickup trucks that dominated previously.

    What I see the biggest service the diy community provided was an outlet for enthusiasm and proof of viability for electric car fans while there wasn’t serious commercial options. Now that there are more quality electric cars (some that are truly affordable) then I can count on one hand that time had passed. I think much of that technolust has moved on to Tesla to be honest.

    I wish Gary the best of luck, but I can’t pretend he is going to revolutionize the world at this point.

    • As much as I appreciate the spirit of the DYI movement (been there, done some of that) and feel that people who take on projects like this should be rewarded for their tenacity and ingenuity, I, like Adam, feel that it’s now a little late in the game to witness this develop into anything much beyond Gary and a handful of his friends/collaborators building a small number of theses vehicles for their own use and enjoyment.

      There are folks in the local EAA chapter I belong to who have converted old ICE cars and some who would give a project like this a second look. But most people who don’t attend monthly electric car meetings – and, increasingly, many who do – simply want to buy warrantied, manufactured automobiles. It would be different if all we had to choose from today was the $85K Tesla S, but the world changed for many when far more affordable production EVs, like the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, became a reality.

      When evaluating any sort of home built project it’s wise to move beyond the cost of just the finished car. Not everyone has a few thousand dollars of tools and an unoccupied two car garage at their disposal to get started. And then one has to account for the investment of time. Not all who even desire to start a project like this are willing to forgo a year of early evenings after work and weekends to make it happen. Ask anyone who has completed an EV conversion . . . and those who got going with the best of intentions, only to shelve it indefinitely.

      I also wish Gary all the best in his endeavor and to continue pursuing his dream. If a few of these gets built by talented tinkerers AND several hundred thousand affordable OEM EVs hit the road in the next couple of years, the world will be a better place. In some ways this is different than dropping a Warp 9 and a bank of AMG cells into the old Saturn that’s sitting in the carport. In many ways, though, it’s very similar.

      Postscript to our article author: “Who Killed The Electric Car?” came out in 2006, so I’m guessing Gary (like I) saw this inspiring film the following year, not in 1997.

      • For another thing, as much as the i-Miev is derided for its lax performance (and frankly appalling styling), what often goes unsaid is the fact that it’s a damn sight better than what the overwhelming majority of DIY projects have produced.

        • Last Earth Day, our electric car club had an EV display at one of the local festivals. One of our guys who was displaying a car that day brought along his absolutely beautiful custom EV conversion of a late model VW Jetta . . . lithium cells, etc. I’m guessing he has about $30K and much of his own labor on top of that invested.

          Another one of our guys displaying that day – who had done his own EV conversion back in the day when all you could get was lead acid batteries and rather primitive ancillary gear – had just purchased an i-MiEV (I subsequently got to borrow it for a couple weeks, love it and now want one of my own.) That the soon-to-be-released 2014 one now comes with L-3 charging on the base model and costs $23K before incentive is really quite amazing.

          Our Jetta EV owner, I’m sure, has no regrets in pursuing his own conversion – and he has a one-of-a-kind gem to show for all his hard work and money invested – but I’m pretty sure he would probably buy a Leaf or i-Miev (both only pictures on web sites when he started his project) if doing it all over again today.

          • Thank you for sharing! Certainly, the potential for truly superb EV conversions exists- I have seen some for myself. In particular, I see EV conversions and engine swaps as a way to keep classic cars alive long after keeping them to original spec has passed outside the realm of feasibility.

            As a side note, I’m very excited for Mitsubishi’s newer electric offerings.

  • There is a “middle way” between the Leaf or Tesla and a DIY electric car that hobbyists can build from a kit. I am old enough to recall when the ONLY personal computers available were kits that the purchaser had to assemble, e.g. the Altair. Then along came the IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh.

    The Macintosh was entirely proprietary, but the IBM PC was built using off-the-shelf generic parts and an open architecture — which gave rise to a thriving industry of third-party manufacturers who produced hard drives, monitors, memory modules and a variety of add-in cards for video, networking, etc. And that inevitably gave rise to the “clone” industry — manufacturers like Compaq who built “PC compatible” microcomputers that could use the same components as the IBM PC, but cost less, and in some cases were more technologically advanced. And the “clone” industry didn’t stop with big companies like Compaq. Small computer shops all over the country started building PC compatible clones from third party motherboards, cases, power supplies, etc.

    Given a similar open-architecture EV design, using off-the shelf components with industry-standard form-factors and interfaces, there might well emerge a “clone” industry for EVs. You won’t necessarily build these yourself, but rather they will be manufactured by a variety of companies from large (think Dell) to small (“Joe’s Custom EVs” on the corner). And the best part is, they’ll be designed to be upgradable, like PCs, so when a more efficient electric motor or a better battery comes along, you (or your local shop) can just swap in the new components for the old ones, and voila, you have more range per charge.

    • Much of the enthusiasm that can be generated by a project like this is also related to age. I’m in my mid 50s now and remember a thriving aftermarket of aftermarket parts for any number of 1960s and early 70s cars. Hot Rod magazine was favorite junior high and high school reading back then, when publications like this abounded with articles on how to install better carburetors, manifolds and ignition systems.

      My home state of Pennsylvania, though, had (probably still does) some of the most restrictive laws as to what you could do to your car and it wasn’t so long before the earliest of emission controls were also starting to come on new cars everywhere. Engines, consequently, were becoming increasingly complex and many stopped working on their own cars at around that time. The first great oil shortage of 1973 was another extenuating factor.

      One of the last cars of that era that was fun to work on was the lowly VW Beetle. A marvelous VW repair book, John Muir’s Compleat (sic) Idiot’s Guide, was used in conjunction with more formal shop manuals to help us through any sort of repair job. I had numerous friends, family members and romantic interests who had these cars and I loved working on them in my early 20s.

      A little later, when I moved to the land of rust-free cars (ie: Arizona,) I scored on a very clean 1951 Chevy Coupe that had been partially restored and I added to the effort for almost a decade. It was a perfect car for me to have in my early to mid 30’s and I drove it daily – and performed most of my own repairs on it – until I sold it in the late 1990s. All cars I’ve owned since then – standard issue late model ones – I’ve gladly handed over to professionals to work on.

      I missed out on the early years of computers and, thus, never really embraced the DYI fervor there that others experienced. Perhaps it would have been a different story if I had been a few years younger when these things started showing up. That’s probably why I became a Mac user/owner while watching others “roll their own” PC.

      I do hope some who have a little extra money, time on their hands and youthful enthusiasm (that’s the magic combination you really need) will get involved in projects like Gary’s. If I was 25 years younger young, I might have jumped in as well.

  • I neded up buying an used i-Miev, after years of wanting to convert a car myself and more than enough skill to do it, I had almost put enough money aside to do it and then came a production car at a lower price point than I could build one for. Maybe, someday I might pick up a scrap electric to use in a conversion project but for now, I will be happy with fulfilling the lifelong dream of driving an electric car with near full warrenty and near zero maintenance. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t beat that deal doing it myself.

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