A Do-It-Yourself Approach To The Electric Car

Sep 20, 2011
Originally published on September 21, 2011 8:38 am

Jack Rickard and Brian Noto have developed something of a cult following on their webcast EVTV, or Electric Vehicle Television, produced from their garage in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Every week, they talk in soul-crushing detail about the intricacies of how to gut a gas-guzzling road warrior and convert it into an all-electric vehicle. On Wednesday, they host the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention at the Cape Girardeau airport.

"Most gatherings are about how electric cars are cool and how they'll solve the environmental problems," Rickard said. "We're more about how to build an electric car."

In the 1980s and '90s, Rickard owned and published a trade publication called Boardwatch for the fledgling Internet industry. Now, his enthusiasm and zeal for innovation is aimed at electric-car conversion.

Within days of his mentioning a convention on EVTV, 130 do-it-yourselfers from eight countries had signed up to go to Cape Girardeau to share ideas and to learn from the master.

Nabil Hanke from Des Moines, Iowa, said he wants to convert a Volkswagen Superbeetle.

"He's an eccentric guy that happens to have enough money to play with the toys he wants to play with," he said of Rickard. "What he is doing is something absolutely crucial."

Rickard says that it's about leveling the playing field.

"You can now build a car, anyone can, much less a manufacturer," he said.

Brian Noto, the other half of the EVTV team, showed off a replica of a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster. It's powered with 100 percent lithium-ion batteries.

The electric Porsche replica drives for the most part like a regular car. It accelerates quickly, though it feels like there's a drag when you let off the accelerator.

But is it safe?

Missouri Highway Patrol Lt. John Hotz says yes, but it has to be done right. He says the main problem has been do-it-yourselfers who don't correctly convert the power steering and power brake systems.

"If they don't do that, then you're trying to use that system and it's not going to work as it was designed," he said. "That's the biggest concern.

"As long as those things have been properly addressed, there's not a lot of safety issues with the vehicles as far as actually driving them on the road."

Rickard and Noto say they have that part covered. For them, the trick is in the batteries. They use Chinese-made lithium iron phosphate batteries instead of lead acid batteries. But those batteries are pricey. A typical conversion can run between $15,000 and $20,000; half of that is the cost of the batteries.

Why in the world would somebody pour that kind of money into a car when the major carmakers can't seem to find much of a market for their own electric vehicles? For some it's simply a hobby; others just love to tinker with gadgets.

Rickard says it reminds him of the early days of the Internet.

"I can't tell you who they're going to be anymore than I could have told who would be running Google or Facebook starting 10 years ago," he said. "It's most likely two guys in a university who are skipping classes today to build their electric car."

Rickard says if everybody contributes just one thing toward innovating electric cars, it could be a game-changer for how cars are used in the future.

The convention runs through Sunday.

Copyright 2017 KRCU. To see more, visit KRCU.

DAVID GREENE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

If you've ever wondered what it would take to build your own electric car, two guys in Missouri can show you how to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're going to go ahead and install this on our spindle. But what I want to do first is schlop a bunch of axel grease on here.

INSKEEP: Schlop. A pair of entrepreneurs want to bring electric car technology to the masses. And they're doing it by hosting an online video where they put cars together piece-by-piece. Jacob McCleland of member station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Missouri reports on an eclectic do-it-yourself convention kicking off there today.

JACOB MCCLELAND, Host:

Jack Rickard and Brian Noto have developed something of a cult following on their webcast EVTV, or Electric Vehicle Television, produced from their garage here in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Every week, they talk in soul-crushing detail about the intricacies of how to gut a gas-guzzling road warrior and convert it into an all-electric vehicle. And today they're hosting the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention at the Cape Girardeau airport.

JACK RICKARD: Most gatherings are about how electric cars are cool and how they'll solve the environmental problems. We're more about how to build an electric car.

MCCLELAND: Within days of mentioning a convention on EVTV, 130 do-it-yourselfers from eight countries signed up to come to Cape Girardeau, to share ideas, and to learn from the master. Like Nabil Hanke from Des Moines, who wants to convert a Volkswagen Super Beetle.

NABIL HANKE: He's an eccentric crazy guy that happens to have enough money to play with the toys he wants to play with. What he is doing is something that is absolutely crucial.

MCCLELAND: For Rickard, it's about leveling the playing field.

RICKARD: You can now build a car, anyone can, much less a manufacturer. It's not a golf cart. It feels good.

BRIAN NOTO: This is a replica, a fiberglass, a kit car, of a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster.

MCCLELAND: That's Brian Noto, the other half of the EVTV team. We hit the streets to get a feel for one of the converted cars.

NOTO: Turn on the key.

MCCLELAND: OK.

NOTO: And that's it. Let it go. Yeah. I would pull it down into second gear straight towards you.

MCCLELAND: So I'm about to drive a battery-powered Porsche.

NOTO: A battery powered Porsche. A hundred percent battery electric with lithium ion batteries.

MCCLELAND: But really, is this thing safe? Missouri Highway Patrol Lieutenant John Hotz says sure. But it has to done right. He says the main problem has been do-it-yourselfers who don't correctly convert power steering and power brake systems.

JOHN HOTZ: If they don't do that, then you're trying to use that system and it's not going to work as it was designed. So that's the biggest concern. As long as those things have been properly addressed, there's not a lot of safety issues with the vehicles as far as actually driving them on the road.

MCCLELAND: So why in the world would someone pour that kind of money into a car, when the major car makers can't seem to find much of a market for their own electric vehicles? For some it's simply a hobby. Others just love to tinker with gadgets. Jack Rickard says it reminds him of the early days of the Internet.

RICKARD: I can't tell you who they're going to be anymore than I could have told who would be running Google or Facebook starting 10 years ago. It's most likely two guys in a university who are skipping classes today to build their electric car.

MCCLELAND: For NPR News, I'm Jacob McCleland in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.