Why convert car to electric? Let Ryan Bohm answer that

By Kelly Hafen
The Herald Journal
October 3, 2005
Ryan Bohm parked his gray and white 1984 Nissan in the 'Electric 
  Car Parking Only' spot at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab and plugged it in.

Ryan Bohm parked his gray and white 1984 Nissan in the 'Electric Car Parking Only' spot at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab and plugged it in.

NORTH LOGAN—Ryan Bohm parked his gray and white 1984 Nissan in the "Electric Car Parking Only" spot at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab and plugged it in.

The car looked like any other 1984 Nissan on the outside, except the exhaust was missing. On the interior things were a little askew. Ten car batteries sat in a row in the back seat, connected by electric wires. Under the hood, two more batteries resided in place of a gas engine. Beneath those was an electric engine.

Bohm, 26, said he engineered his completely electric car more as a challenge than to save gas or protect the environment. A senior at USU in the computer engineering program, Bohm said the car is completely street legal, keeps up with other traffic and is registered, although lacking a gas engine and an exhaust.

The Mendon native spent two years and almost $8,000 converting the standard gas engine. The new electric model has a life of about 15 miles before it needs charged again, but Bohm has plans of converting something that will be able to travel a greater distance. He is just waiting for the right time.

HJ: Why did you decide to convert your gas car to an electric car?

RB: One of the main reasons was the challenge. I have talked to a lot of engineers and people that tell me they have always dreamed of doing this type of a project, an electric vehicle. I say go out and do it. That's why I did it, because you can. You just have to take the initiative, have the time and a little bit of money.

It is economic. It is good for the ecology. It doesn't produce any emissions. For all of my in-town driving, which is five to 10 miles a day, I don't produce any emissions. There is no tail pipe. That is another reason.

So the challenge and for the environment, those are probably the two reasons.

HJ: What is an electric car?

RB: An electric car has no gas motor. There are different types of electric cars. There's a hybrid electric that you see and hear a lot of nowadays -- where it has an electric motor, and it has a gas motor.

But a pure electric vehicle doesn't have any gas motor at all, just an electric motor. Mine is pure electric. It doesn't have any gas components at all.

HJ: How did you convert your car from gas to electric?

RB: I started off by ripping out all of the gas components: the engine, the exhaust, the gas line, the gas tank, the radiator, just ripped all of that out. From there, I had some custom adapters made for the electric motor and the transmission, which it still has -- just the five-speed manual transmission. Then the electric motor hooks up to the transmission.

In a real basic sense, it's just 12 batteries hooked up in a series, and then they connect up to the electric motor. That's a simple way to put it.

HJ: How often do you have to plug your car in, and why do you have to charge it?

RB: I plug it in whenever I go home or when I am at work. They let me plug it in at work.

The one reason you don't see everyone driving around electric vehicles is they don't go very far. This particular vehicle will go about 15 miles on a charge. The reason why I did the conversion is because I only drive five or 10 miles at a time here in town with that car. And it made perfect sense. It's not a long distance vehicle, but it does the job.

HJ: Can you make an electric car where the charge will last for more than 15 miles?

RB: Yeah. There's GM that put out a car almost a decade ago. It would go 150 to 200 miles on a charge. You just have to go with more advanced batteries. That means more cost. Since I am just a college student, I had to do it as economically as possible.

HJ: How much did it cost you?

RB: It was between seven and eight thousand to do the whole conversion.

HJ: Tell me what kind of car you used and why you chose that type of car.

RB: It is a 1984 Nissan 200SX. I chose it for a couple of reasons. The main reason is I already owned it, so I didn't have to go buy another car. It had 204,000 miles on it, so the engine on it was on its way out. I've had the car since I was 16, that was another reason, so I didn't want to get rid of it. I had kind of bonded with the car. I wanted to keep it around for a while.

HJ: How long should your car last?

RB: It is basically like a brand new drivetrain in the car. The engine is all new, all of the components are brand new. It should last hundreds of thousands of miles more. As long as the frame holds up that long.

HJ: Can you convert any car, any vehicle?

RB: Yeah. It seems to be most suited for manual transmissions, stick shifts. There is a whole big group of hobbyist throughout America, throughout the world, who do this. They've done automatics, sport cars, trucks and vans. Pretty much any car you could do.

HJ: Do you have plans to convert more cars to electric?

RB: My wife tells me no. But I am planning on it. I would like to do two different conversions. One, a more high performance vehicle.

In fact, most people view electric cars as sluggish, like a golf cart. But even this car will do zero to 60 in 11.6 seconds, which keeps up with the average car on the road. I would like to build one that is real high performance, that would catch some eyes and turn some heads. I would also like to do one that would get a larger range. In the 100, 150 mile range. But those are in the distant future, not in the real near future.

HJ: Do you know any other people in the valley who have converted their vehicles to electricity?

RB: I do actually. One guy gave a lot of inspiration to me. It was about two years ago that I first got the idea by talking to this friend. He had been telling me how he had seen and heard of people converting their cars to electric. He had a VW bug that he wanted to convert.

At first I just dismissed it as kind of an odd idea. As we talked about it more I saw that it was really feasible and really looked like a neat thing to do. He was working on his before I even started. He didn't have as much time to put into his, so it took him a little longer. But he just recently started driving it around also.

HJ: Have you saved any money by driving an electric car rather than a gas car?

RB: With gas going up lately, I figure if I drive 10 miles a day, if my car got 20 miles to the gallon before, then I would be using about a half a gallon every day. So roughly a $1.50 a day. The electricity for the 10 miles that I drive costs a quarter or two at the most. So you add that up, and it is a savings.

Now one thing that people misconceive about that is that I am just saving a ton of money for now and forever. I have to put new batteries in it every few years, that's not real cheap. When you weigh it out, it is hard to tell if I am saving any money in the long run. If gas goes up any more I will really start to save.

HJ: Was your intent to save money when you converted your car?

RB: No, it wasn't at all to save money. That is another one that my wife jokes about, because of how much money it cost to convert it. I think if it was more of a mass consumption, then the cost of those components that I had to buy would go down, and it could really be a cost saver. But that isn't why I did it.

HJ: Was it difficult to convert your car, and how long did it take you?

RB: It took a lot of motivation to keep going, because it was a several hundred hour project. It took some specialized knowledge. Not every person out there could go and convert their car to an electric on their own. But with a little bit of knowledge about cars and mechanics and the drive to do it. It was definitely a hard project.

HJ: Are you glad you converted you car?

RB: I haven't regretted it since I started driving it last December. It was just those eight months or so that I was working on it that really were tedious.

HJ: Would you suggest anyone else convert their cars to electric?

RB: I don't think everyone could do it on their own. But I am kind of waiting for someone to come along and ask me to convert something like a high-end sports car. I think what would really be fun is to convert a Hummer. I am just waiting for one of these people in the valley that have a lot of money, more than they know what to do with, to give me a call and say, "Hey, I want to have something that will really turn heads."

It certainly would be a head turner -- to take a really high-end sports car and make it electric. You can make them super high performance. It's a really odd feeling when you drive one, just how electric motors behave differently than gas motors. I am waiting for someone to come along and want to convert something like that.

Copyright © 2005 The Herald Journal. Logan, Utah