DIY Movement Sprouts for Electric Cars PlanetGreen
The industry has been slow to bring electric cars to market, but that hasn’t stopped people from making their own.
DIY electric cars are not a new phenomenon, but they’ve been the hobby or interest of a pretty niche crowd for a long time, and it seems like they’re becoming increasingly popular around the world, whether the major auto manufacturers embrace the technology or not.
A couple of years ago, two Canadians built a street-legal electric car (named the ForkenSwift) for $672. Before that, some MIT students converted aPorsche to electric, and a man in Utah just did the same all on his own. And while I can’t say increasing the demand for yet another mineral is the best way to go to address an environmental problem, UK students have solved one of the obstacles to bringing electric cars to a broader scale by throwing extra lithium batteries into an electric car to give it a range of 248 miles.
Just this month came news of a Chinese man who not only created his own electric car, but made it out of salvaged materials and at a cost low enough to make commercialization appealing. If that happens, the car will cost about $820—making it the world’s cheapest electric car. Zhang Haiting has been commuting to work for a year now in this car—which is adorably bumper car-like and is totally worth clicking through for the pictures.
NPR recently reported on Electro Automotive, a company that “has been converting gas-sucking cars into all-electric vehicles since 1979.” Electro’s founder Mike Brown, according to the story, “was the first to sell parts for gas-to-electric conversions, and he teaches workshops on DIY conversions. ‘The market we focused on was the grocery-getter,’ Brown says.”
The growing market for electric cars may hurt Brown’s business, but by increasing public awareness, it can also help it to grow.
And there certainly is growing interest. Online how-to guides are aplenty. And Trexa has put out an open-source model for a DIY electric car priced at $15,999 that Gizmag describes: “Modular and scalable, the standard Trexa platform will feature an aluminum, carbon steel tubing and thermoplastic shell containing open source and user programmable electronics and advanced battery technology.”
If the limited range of an electric car still sounds troubling, a chronicle of a Beetle conversion over at Wireddoes a good job of reminding us why it’s important, and that the benefits of emissions-free driving far outweigh the minor inconvenience of having to recharge for every x number of miles.
It’s not like stopping to fill up at a gas station is a joy ride.
More on DIY electric cars:
Converting Your Car To An Electric Vehicle
Build Your Own Electric Car: 5 Questions to Ask First
MIT Students Convert Porsche 914 to Electric
Could Range Anxiety Sabotage the Promise of Electric Cars?
Difference between Canadian subsidies and the Indian way of using Western ways to sell Eastern products – An interesting discussion doc. from Financiaal Post staff.
By Ron Banerjee
Ontario is offering a wide array of aggressive tariffs and incentives to promote green technology, particularly toward renewable power generation and alternate energy vehicle production. It should instead follow the example of India, which has based its success in the green economy by sparing its own citizens the cost of inefficient subsidies and capitalized on the incentives offered in other jurisdictions.
The Ontario government offers up to $10,000 in rebates towards the purchase of electric cars as well as special plates that allow unlimited travel on HOV lanes. Additionally, charging stations will be built at GO stations and other provincial facilities.
Also, wind and solar power operators will get guaranteed feed-in tariffs for 20-year periods. Small scale (less than 10 kilowatt) solar projects for rooftops will receive an astronomical 80.2¢ per kilowatt-hour, while ground units will get 58.8¢. Larger-scale solar projects receive more than 44¢. Onshore wind projects are guaranteed 13.5¢, while offshore providers get 19¢.
By contrast, conventionally generated electricity costs about 3¢ to 5¢ per kilowatt-hour in Ontario.
The purported benefits, in addition to environmental sustainability, include the establishment of green industries, technology, and employment. In the pursuit of these goals, consumers are expected to bear increased costs in the hopes that future benefits will accrue and exceed current pain.
It is not clear that such incentives will necessarily kick-start the establishment of globally competitive Canadian green technology giants or create massive long-term employment that can survive past the inevitable end to huge subsidies.
The largest investment attracted so far illustrates these concerns. Ontario has used half a billion dollars worth of taxpayer dollars to lure an alleged $7-billion solar/wind power project from South Korea’s Samsung.
No job guarantees came with this agreement, and limited transmission capacity means that so much capacity will be tied up by this foreign firm’s project that domestic players will be squeezed out.
Furthermore, Samsung is a diversified conglomerate that has little presence in this type of technology. What appears to be happening is that a large well-capitalized foreign company is taking advantage of our generous incentives to vault itself into a green technology giant, at the expense of Ontario taxpayers.
It is true that large European green-technology firms have been fed by local EU subsidies. German, Spanish, and Danish companies are successful manufacturers of wind turbines and solar installations. However, Europe has the benefit of access to a huge and wealthy integrated market. European firms also have the scale and wherewithal to invest heavily to take advantage of domestic subsidies.
Canada has a small population and the fact that the Obama administration is also promoting such industries means that unlimited access to the U.S. market is not assured.
Is it possible to build world-class green-tech companies, while not imposing these costs of domestic consumers and industry?
As an object lesson, we can observe India, which has strenuously resisted imposing massive costs on her population. Despite this, India has a leading array of green-technology giants, the likes of which Canada cannot match. For instance, the largest electric car manufacturer in the world is Bangalore-based Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicle Co., and the world’s fourth-largest wind-turbine manufacturer is Gujurat-based Suzlon Energy.
It is no accident that regions of the country with the best governance and most business-friendly leadership are precisely the areas which have spawned these world-leading corporations. Gujurat is widely acclaimed as India’s star state, with the highest level of industrialization and best scores on governance, as measured by the Fraser Institute. Bangalore, of course, is India’s Silicon Valley, with a state government ruled by the same pro-business BJP party as Gujurat.
Rather than selecting national champions by lavishing corporate welfare on green firms, progressive governments in India have created a positive business climate for all industry. The entrepreneurship and high education levels that blossomed in these well-governed states spawned private firms eager to enter the green sector.
Despite the lack of ruinous green incentives in India, these private firms prospered by taking advantage of opportunities overseas. The EU has a stunning array of state subsidies, including reduction of VAT taxes and insurance costs, free recharging facilities, and exemption from tolls and congestion charges.
The United States has approved tax credits from US$2,500 to US$7,500, plus $2.4-billion for the production of everything from batteries to charging stations. This is in addition to various municipal and state incentives.
The result of this corporate welfare has not been encouraging for U.S. carmakers. Even with rebates, most carmakers have not even come close to large-scale production of electric cars which combine reasonable cost with sufficient range, speed, and charge time.
Government initiatives to help domestic e-car makers serve as a crutch which permits such manufacturers to pump out impractical products at sky-high prices. This form of corporate welfare penalizes consumers and citizens, and actually weakens domestic car firms by encouraging the production of unsustainable products in the long term.
On the other hand, foreign manufacturers that have no such props in their home markets are forced to compete ferociously for any subsidies in distant shores.
For instance, Indian electric car firms, rather than waiting for India to replicate such inducements, boldly took full advantage of overseas opportunities.
As a result, Reva Electric sells relatively few electric cars in India but has produced thousands for sale in London and other European cities. Their vehicles are marketed as ‘city cars,’ which means they cannot be driven on expressways but avoid central London’s congestion fees. Priced at about £7,000 ($11,200), they are marketed under the name ‘G-Whiz’ and have achieved a cult following in the U.K.
These cars seat two adults and two children and have a 120-kilometre range.
Taking advantage of European incentives while sparing Indian consumers from extreme pain has allowed Reva to leap ahead of competitors from other nations in terms of offering practical cars at reasonable prices. This year, Reva has built a 30,000-unit e-car plant in Bangalore, the world’s largest, and is introducing two new models, the NXR and NXG.
Both are crash-tested to European NCAP standards and will be operable on expressways as well as city roads. Top speed ranges from 104 to 120 km/hour, and range varies from 160 to 200 km on a single charge.
These cars will also be manufactured in Syracuse, N.Y., next year and are expected to retail from US$17,000 to US$25,000. New York State has offered US$6.76-million in incentives.
Tata Motors Ltd., owner of Jaguar/Land Rover and manufacturer of the revolutionary Nano small car, has moved even closer to launching genuinely competitive mass-produced e-cars. The British government loaned £10-million to Tata’s European Technical Centre to develop and launch an electric version of the Indica four-seater.
This will be a genuine vehicle, fully crash-tested and certified, with a 200-km range and 105-km/hour speed.
The vehicle will be built at Tata’s U.K. plant and launched across Europe this year, followed by local production and sales in India next year.
The two important lessons to be drawn from the Tata saga include the fact that an Indian firm will build electric cars in Europe before India, and also that the British government will provide loans to a foreign Indian firm rather than a domestic or European company.
Tata will build these cars in the UK because by leveraging British loans and European incentives, the e-Indica later manufactured and sold in India will sport pricing affordable enough to win market share without requiring excessive incentives and pain for Indian governments.
These developments accentuate the strategy employed by India Inc., and provide pertinent lessons for Canada. The U.S. and British governments, in addition to general incentives for green industry, have offered specific subsidies and loans to Indian firms. Loans have been provided to these firms because of the superior competitiveness fostered and encouraged by business-friendly governments in states like Gujurat and Karnataka.
In other words, avoiding excessive penalization of the local economy through subsidies, while providing a progressive business-friendly environment, can spawn global green technology giants who use their own competitiveness to win foreign subsidies and succeed globally.
This is the only path to green-technology success for both India, which has a developing low-income economy, and Canada, which suffers from a small, heavily taxed consumer base.
It is unfortunate that only one of these two nations has recognized this reality and acted accordingly.
Ron Banerjee is a director with the Canadian Hindu Advocacy.