Home » Which Cars Are Ripe For EV Conversion? Which Should Absolutely Never Be Converted To Electric Power?

Which Cars Are Ripe For EV Conversion? Which Should Absolutely Never Be Converted To Electric Power?

2020 Dodge Grand Caravan
ADVERTISEMENT

Unless you’re just emerging from a cave you stumbled into back in the mod-2000s, you’re already aware electric power is the future. For years now, lithium batteries have had the energy density required for practical long-range electric power in full-size automobiles and trucks, and battery technology continues to improve. More and more EV models are being announced from new and legacy brands. Charging networks are growing, and heck, it looks like we’re landing on a standard plug. You can even embrace the electric revolution without giving up your favorite engine-powered machines, thanks to EV conversion kits like these:

Ev Kits
This selection of EV conversion kits is from EV West.

With enough ingenuity and know-how (or the bucks to pay someone with them), we reckon virtually any ICE car could be converted to electric power. Some make a ton of sense, like the Honda Element in the top shot. Says Jason, “The Element makes an excellent EV conversion option because that was never a car defined by its motor. Anything that propels that thing in the direction of your choice is just fine, electrons or pistons. And the size and ride height of the Element should adapt well to packaging batteries without eating up too much internal space.” True! Whoops, wait, he’s not done. “Plus, it has the sort of look that can adapt well to fat cables snaking around it, if needed.” Yes, also nice!

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

And some cars, like our Lamborghini Miura example, make little sense as EV conversions. What’s a Miura without its snarling, mid-mounted, transverse V12 engine just inches behind you, rattling your fillings loose?

And so, The Autopian Asks:

Which Cars Are Ripe For EV Conversion? Which Should Absolutely Never Be Converted To Electric Power?

To the comments!

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
100 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
VanGuy
VanGuy
11 months ago

Conversion vans, maybe. I miss my old one and want to get another one, but they’re hard to justify, gas and maintenance-wise.

Myk El
Myk El
11 months ago

In my brain, my targets for EV conversion are cars that were unreliable or looked far better than they performed (or both). Lancia Scorpion as an example. The ones NOT to do I think fall under uncommon machines with uncommon drivetrains.

Top Dead Center
Top Dead Center
11 months ago

Wait a minute is that a brushed RC car motor in that photo? 550 maybe?

Scott
Scott
11 months ago

In comments for some other thread, probably here or maybe at the other site, someone asked the same question, to which I replied ‘Honda S500 or 600.’ Of course, that’s a fairly insane and useless suggestion on my part, since those old Honda S cars are A) rare, B) somewhat expensive, C) diminutive, and D) built very lightly. So: they’re far from ideal for an EV conversion, though I imagine with enough time, money, and perseverance it SHOULD be possible to put the necessary bits from a gutted first-gen Nissan Leaf in there somehow. Those little old Hondas are just SO adorable, I simple WANT to see more of them, even if that means there’s an air-cooled Leaf battery inside providing only 40 miles of range (those worn-out Leafs go pretty cheaply when they come up for sale too).

For a more practical suggestion, of course the Honda Element seems ideal (using a high-mileage FWD model as a donor car… preferably finding one that fails smog or something so it’s really cheap (the further under $5K, the better). To begin with, the Element is/was an interesting and practical car: when they first came out I drove them with the manual and the automatic, in both FWD and AWD (needless to say, the manual really is more entertaining… makes you feel you’re tooling around in a Japanese version of an old Defender) and the back of the box is so big and square that you’d still have plenty of storage even if you had to put the battery box on the floor instead of under the hood or someplace. And as Jason mentions, the overall gist of the car even would allow for some bright orange exposed cables here and there if unavoidable.

So: find and buy a 200Kmile FWD Element for say, $3,500. And (for example) an early Leaf (surely not still with it’s original battery) for say, another $3,500. I choose the Leaf because it’s undesirable air-cooled battery would make for a less complicated install w/o plumbing elsewhere. Then: go to Harbor Freight and buy a dangerously flimsy engine hoist and proceed to remove the engine, transmission, exhaust system, and fuel system/tank from the Element, along with every associated and now unnecessary bolt and bracket (so save weight). THEN remove the Leaf’s guts a chunk at a time, carefully laying it all out on the garage floor, with labeled tags and plenty of notes and pictures about what connects to what. Up to this point, I actually think I could do all of the steps required.

NOW, you’d have to transplant all the relevant Leaf bits into the available areas of the Element, fabricating brackets, adapters, extension cables, etc… as necessary in order to get all the bits to fit securely and reach each other as they did when they lived in the Leaf. I guess you’d probably have a screen and perhaps some buttons from the Leaf on top of/next to the Element dash so you could interact with the EV system, read about errors, etc… I’m unsure about how to get the Leaf’s drive motor turning the Element’s back wheel(s) (which, being from a FWD car, were just along for the ride anyway) …I imagine some sort of gear attached to a rear rotating bit (like a big bike gear behind one of the rear wheels maybe?) could then be driven via a belt or chain… of course, allowing for wheel motion relative to the drive motor, and figuring in the respective ratios. There’s probably a better way to do all that… I’d have to do some research, but it probably wouldn’t be necessary to re-invent the wheel (pun not intended) since existing kits and conversions must provide for this already.

THEN, you have to either add a step-down transformer to get some usable 12 VDC from the Leaf battery for the 12V systems on the Element, or it’d probably just be easier to keep using a regular 12V battery for that, maybe replacing it with a stand-alone Lithium Ion unit to save weight (I’d also delete the back seats entirely, and maybe replace the front ones with light aftermarket ones for the same reason). Then, you’d also have to install a small auxiliary electric motor under the hood to run the power steering, air conditioning, etc… that were previously motivated by parts of the Element ICE engine that are no long present.

Frankly, it all sounds like a bit of a nightmare… I mean, I’m handy, and have lots of tools, space enough for a couple more cars, and the patience acquired with middle age, but I’m not an engineer or even a hard-core grease monkey. Likely as not, both cars and all their bits would wind up sitting unfinished behind my house until I shrugged off this mortal coil.

But it’s fun to think about: an Element EV! For cheap(ish)! It might even actually be possible, if attempted by someone more skilled than I. 😉

Scott
Scott
11 months ago
Reply to  Scott

Reading that all back now, I see that it’s clearly beyond my abilities. And I’m sure I’ve overlooked more than a few necessary steps/components too.

Still, I kind of want to try. 😉

Smellsofbikes
Smellsofbikes
11 months ago
Reply to  Scott

I feel like in general rear wheel drive cars would be an easier conversion prospect, because you only have to drive the differential by whatever route you think best. A ton of FWD cars had the engine, transaxle, differential, and half shafts all integrated into this giant lump, and that’s a big engineering challenge. With an old rear wheel drive car you could even choose to keep the transmission in case you really like shifting.
Though what I spend most of my time daydreaming about, and some time actually designing, is a Locost version of a caterham/lotus super 7: very simple tube steel frame, but in the hump in back where a live axle or jag suspension would usually sit, instead sticking in the drive unit from a Tesla Model S, which seem to be available for around $4K. Bunch of batteries from a Leaf stuck under that narrow little hood, and an aftermarket controller, and you have a really minimalist car whose weight is largely determined by how many batteries you decide to include. (This runs solidly into the rocket equation: if you remove 20% of the batteries, does a 14% lighter car go further? If so, how much further, and where’s the tradeoff optimum?)

Alexander Halvorsen
Alexander Halvorsen
11 months ago

A Mazda Miata with an automatic gearbox. Get power and good handling. Since the auto ru8ns the driving experience.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
11 months ago

I’d do it to any un-sporty luxo-barge, particularly the ones that were pretty but not reliable. Such as the Cadillac Allante, any older Rolls Royce/Bentley (despite their lack of aerodynamics), and any other car that’s enhanced by silence. I’d particularly love the Allante if I could also convert it to RWD in the process, as it’s a beautiful car that would actually become MORE sporty by sacrificing weight for acceleration, due to its less-than-stellar chassis and drivetrain. Another good call is the DMC12, a car that lives by its styling and dies by its drivetrain. Really, anything whose chassis and/or drivetrain is largely unremarkable is rife for a conversion in my book, as you’d be simply eliminating the hassle of the engine in favor of the quiet, smooth electric setup.

But if we’re talking about cars I WOULDN’T electrify, it’s anything that’s liked for its handling, engine or weight. I’d never electrify a 912, because it’s only good due to its light weight, and a battery would ruin it (though I’d be open to an engine swap). Likewise, I’d NEVER electrify an old 911 because the air-cooled flat-6 is half of the appeal (as evidenced by being worth twice as much as a 912). Roadsters and sports cars would be protected from electrification under the Weight Distribution Protection Act of 2023, along with anything else that fits in a category that anyone would compare to a Miata in a review. These cars exist for driving pleasure, and making them electric is just “complicate, then add heaviness”. The only way to keep the weight matching would be to have a range of 40 miles (calculated based on the weight of a Miata’s engine divided by the weight of a Leaf’s battery and multiplied by the Leaf’s range), which is such a short range that an old, unreliable, noisy, leaky, dirty engine would be less stressful.

Marlin May
Marlin May
6 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

EV West has built a solid business out of first converting, then training mechanics and creating conversion kits for Porsche 356, 911, 912, 914, air-cooled VWs. Here’s Torch (from 10 years ago) in a Karmann Ghia with an EV West kit. The kits are 10 years better now.

Joel Sinclair
Joel Sinclair
11 months ago

Any classic cars, trucks or SUVS that aren’t known for their performance or sound. An EV conversion would be the perfect way to resurrect an old RR or Bentley.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
1 year ago

None and all of them

Joe Staffa
Joe Staffa
1 year ago

I think an HHR would be great

Is Travis
Is Travis
1 year ago

I’ve got an ’89 Mitsubishi Montero SWB V6 Manual that is my candidate for electrification, but it still runs and I don’t have the heart to gut it while still working as a machine. The platfom though, ripe for slapping a battery pack where the gas tank was and getting it done.

Ben
Ben
1 year ago

I want a Camaro EV just so I can swap the badge to Camero.

Huja Shaw
Huja Shaw
1 year ago

BMW 2002. Bring it.

Who Knows
Who Knows
1 year ago

I’d say any car that is generally used just locally for shorter distances would make sense to convert to EV, since the battery pack could be smaller, lighter, and easier to integrate. Also, until batteries are more widely available, it certainly doesn’t make sense to have a giant battery pack for longer distances, especially if the vehicle isn’t a primary vehicle and doesn’t see much use.

Overall, the best vehicles for conversion would be daily driven locally, so ~100 miles of range from a small battery pack would be fine, and would be used regularly. The type of vehicle doesn’t really matter that much (other than excluding rare sports cars that would lose most of their character from an EV conversion), more important is the use case.

100
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x