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Published on July 20th, 2020 | by Jesper Berggreen


Volkswagen T2 Camper Vans Electric Conversion — Part 3

July 20th, 2020 by  

This series is the result of conversations with Kit Lacey about his entrepreneurship in converting classic cars to electric propulsion. Kit’s UK-based company is called eDub Services. I encouraged Kit to share the concrete and chronological information on his rebuilds with CleanTechnica in his own words.

You may want to catch up with part 1 & part 2 before I hand it over to Kit Lacey yet again. This time he goes on a rant about the superiority of the electric drivetrain as such, a bit about the reversibility, and particularly about the upgradability.

Part 3 — Long Lasting Power

Surprisingly enough — well, to me anyway — is how desirable the reversibility of a conversion is. Let me explain. I got into this business to give classic vehicle another 50 years of life. Keeping them powered by petrol is not going to last long for two main reasons. Firstly; the parts. They will become worn and harder to get hold of. Replicas are ok but frequently don’t perform. Secondly, engines are on their way out. Cities around Europe have already banned petrol guzzlers, I think national parks will be next, then where do you take your camper? In my opinion, once converted to EV, these vehicles should stay that way.

Some of the main components for a Transmission Drive 144v conversion

However, I see the argument of reversibility. It’s a lot of money to invest and it’s good to have a ‘get out of jail free’ card to go back to square one. Also, when you look at the two main components of a classic car conversion, 1: the car and 2: the drivetrain (batteries and motor), the car will hold its value as it’s a classic and the drivetrain is already secondhand and won’t decrease in value, so most of your investment stays in the vehicle, unlike the ID Buzz, don’t get me started! Interruption from Kit’s first-in-line editor, Jesper: “No, wait, what’s that with the ID.Buzz, afraid it’ll nick your business?” Nope. They’ve advertised it as a camper van, but it’s not, it’s an expensive people carrier. Very clever marketing, a brilliant vehicle, but it’s trying to be a classic and it’s not.

So let’s look at the costings of a classic conversion. Take a standard T2 camper van. Done right, they can be worth around £20,000. These are a solid investment, even if it’s not converted to electric. In a few years time, it’ll be worth more. Then take the conversion. The main parts we use, batteries and motor, are often second life. So selling them on would fetch the same amount as they were purchased for. We use new chargers and battery management systems, plus fabrication and labor. But the investment is therefore not as deep as you may think.

The 6.6kW charger and DC converter mounted where the petrol tank was

What about future-proofing? Let’s say you go for a 100-mile range conversion today. That will suit you fine for now. But maybe in a few years, when battery prices are lower and more savings are in your piggy bank, you may want an upgrade. The beauty of an EV conversion is that is possible. The electric motor will last forever (ish) as there are very few moving parts. So you then upgrade the battery pack to give you more range. You can do this by either doubling the battery pack into 2 parallel cell blocks, or by upgrading the type of battery to match the voltage. Such as from a BMW pack to a Tesla pack. This can increase your range by anything from 20 miles to 120 miles per charge. Plus the original batteries won’t be worthless, then can be sold on for other conversion projects, solar storage, or recycled.

A BMS board mounted onto one of the battery cells

Interruption from Kit’s first-in-line editor, Jesper: “Hey, let’s get back to that green camper you spoke about in parts 1 and 2, shall we?” OK, let’s talk about Indie for a bit. So as we continued planning our green-machine conversion, safety was a big deal when working with high voltage components. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been shocked a few times by home electrical sockets. That gave quite a jolt at 240 volts, so imagine dealing with 400! In our conversion we decided to use a 144V system. Not as high at 240 but still considered high voltage, so necessary precautions are needed. Thankfully, the EV system will not work unless safety parameters are met. The battery box needs to stay isolated so that the high voltage stays secured in the box. This is done with high voltage contactors on each end of the battery so that if there was a fault, even in the rare occasion that one contactor fails and stays closed (been there), the other will open and break the connection. Next; pre-charge. On the positive end of every high voltage battery is a pre-charge circuit. This closes first to connect a resistor to the circuit, protecting against any in-rush current to the high voltage apparatus. Lost? Don’t worry, I was too. Just know that a pre-charge is good.

A HPEVS AC51 motor with clutch

At this stage you may be thinking; “I think I fancy myself one of these classic electric doo-dahs, but heck; the cost!” Now hold your horses. Have you ever heard of something called Cost of Ownership? A car is a big investment, and costs a lot of money. But if all you look at is the up-front price on the forecourt then you’re missing a trick. Let’s look at general car costs for a second, I’ll get back to the classics, I promise.

When you purchase a vehicle, that’s not the last time you’ll be parting with hard earned cash to keep it going. There’s tax, insurance, and then the big one; fuel. In general, the following applies to an EV; tax is lower, or nonexistent, insurance is about the same, and fuel, well, let’s take a look. Now here’s where some of you may have heard some, frankly, wrong stories about electric cars and their eco credentials. You’ll hear stories of clean diesel and how batteries aren’t recyclable (both untrue). We could natter for hours about all these separate points (and I’d win every time), but the bottom line with an electric car is that you have a choice of how to fuel it. You could power your EV via the sun, via wind, via tidal, via nuclear, and yes via oil, coal, or even diesel generators. The point is, you have a choice. With a petrol car, no choice. You put expensive squished dinosaurs in one end and chuck poison gas out the other. No alternative.

testing the BMS software

Let’s get back to the cost. So take a classic camper van. Now they were known for their speed and agility, not to mention their great fuel mileage, and… sorry, couldn’t keep that one going! If you were lucky, you could get about 25 miles to the gallon out of a classic camper (most report closer to 10). I know I’m mixing numbers here, so let’s follow that through. A classic camper petrol tank is 60 liters. Let’s remember the good old days when petrol was £1 a liter, so that’s £60 for a full tank. (1 gallon is 3.79 liters, so you travel 25 miles for every 3.79 liters used.) So at that rate, £60 will get you 395 miles. Now let’s look at electric. Charging my camper from home costs me about 17p per kWh. 100 miles range is about a 40kWh pack for a camper, so that’s £6.80 to top up (are you following yet!…) If I was to travel nearly 400 miles in my electric camper it would cost me £27.20! Less than half, plus no squishing dinosaurs, and petrol is NOT £1 a liter anymore!
The logic of electric is miles ahead (pun intended). Not to mention you charge whilst you sleep at the campsite, you increase the power and reliability, your drive is smoother and quieter and guilt free. If you haven’t yet opened another webpage to look at Teslas then you’re crazy, or why not pick up a secondhand EV? You’ll sell it in a few years for the same amount you buy it for today…

To be continued…

Tune in soon for part 4, where we look at interior trim and controls.

All photos courtesy of Kit Lacey, eDub Services.  


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About the Author

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

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