Could the Electric Vehicle revolution have started 4 decades ago?

Written By: EightySix

Based on Exclusive Interview for Best Green Cars

E-V Concepts: Disemboweling Gas Cars since the Seventies 

2002 MercedES-BENZ SL500 - Converted to Electric Vehicle 
Photo Provided By E-V Concepts

A bright red 2002 Mercedes-Benz SL500 launches off the line and rapidly muscles its way to 135 mph. The coupe's long hood, clean lines and classic German beauty are just like when it rolled the assembly line. It displays the same aggressive power and agility through corners. Perhaps it's even more quick and nimble, but something's different.

Maybe it's the missing V8 roar. And 600 pounds. And exhaust pipe.

The Mercedes is an electric conversion designed by S. Monte Kase and his team at E-V Concepts in Charleston, South Carolina. A Netgain WarP 11 series wound DC motor sits where the old 5 liter used to be. 80 Thunder Sky 100 amp 3.3 volt lithium-polymer cells are mounted in the front and rear. An Evnetics Soliton controller ties the whole 260 volt system together. The car's maximum range is 75 miles.

The car retains the original 5 speed automatic. All the accessories, like the power steering and air conditioning, are still in place. It has dropped from its original curb weight of over 4100 pounds to a trim 3500. Kase and his team are NASCAR racers at heart and extra weight is not tolerated.

Kase never met the owner of the Mercedes. They exchanged a few phone calls and emails before he converted the car and returned it. The job took 90 days for a cost of $18,000. Of the 100 clients he has built cars for, he has met perhaps 5%.

“They send the cars and I send them back,” he says.

2002 Mercedes Benz SL500

Converted in - 2009

Top speed - 135 MPH

Electric Range - 75 Miles

Conversion Time - 90 days

Conversion Cost - $18,000

Curb Weight: 3,500 Pounds

System Voltage: 260 Volts

Photos Provided by:
E-V Concepts

 

 


Where did the Concept Begin?

For Kase, it is only partly about the challenge. Everything he does, from kit cars to automobile conversions to electric speedboats, is a custom job. Seven days a week, he's working on something different.

Before moving east, Kase lived in Los Angeles and spent extensive time in the region's famous traffic. Under a canopy of smog surrounded by sputtering and coughing internal combustion engines, he knew there had to be a better way.

At the time, he was building and racing in the NASCAR series. He was spending more time maintaining his gas-powered cars and boats than he spent enjoying them.

He was inspired by an elderly lady who would routinely drive past his home in her electric golf cart. He became envious of her silent, fume-free transportation. She parked at the front of the lot of the grocery store. She plugged her car in when she returned home. It was charged in the morning. She never worried about maintenance.

It was the 1970s and gas prices had skyrocketed from 30 cents to 75 cents. “The gas companies were taking all the high octane poisonous lead out of the gas. How was I going to race to the store and back in my big heavy high-compression gas-guzzling noisy American dream car?”

Soon after, he found an older Fiat Coupe with a blown engine. The owners were happy to have it out of their yard and he was happy to own it. He mounted lead-acid batteries in the front and rear and replaced the ruined fossil-burner with an electric motor.

His new car seated four, didn't vibrate while stopped in traffic and he was the only one not dumping more emissions into the sky. It could do 80 mph and go 40 miles between charges.

“This was just the kind of car the gas companies and car manufacturers didn't want me to own.”


Going into Business

“New ideas and aspirations began to build.”

His imagination was inspired by his enjoyment of his electric car. In the seventies and early eighties, his favorite starting points were Italian sports cars, particularly Fiats. Their compact designs, superior steel, adjustable 5” coil springs and “the best 5-speed manual transmissions in the world” fit perfectly with what he wanted to do.

Electric Vehicle Concepts was born. So was its sister company, Spherical Fiberglass Designs.

Together EVC and Spherical began mounting custom bodies atop Italian gliders and powering them with electric motors and lead-acid batteries. Kase's favorite was based on the early Ferrari Boxer Berlinetta.

It mated a General Electric 11” Series Wound DC motor to twenty-four 6 volt flooded lead-acid batteries. Its range was 45 miles with a top speed of 90 mph. Since the first one was built in 1977, EVC has built over a dozen of them with various battery set ups.

Ferrari Boxer Berlinetta

Converted in - 1977

Top speed - 90 MPH

Electric Range - 45 Miles

Conversion Time - 90 days

Conversion Cost - $22,000

Curb Weight: 3,600 Pounds

System Voltage: 144 Volts

Photo Provided by:
E-V Concepts

The Shifting World of Batteries

Back in the 1970s, lead-acid batteries were the only option for EV builders. Sealed gel cell batteries were a major safety improvement because they did not leak, but they could not be refilled. Overcharging the batteries would cause vapor to escape. Therefore, an abused battery lost power which could never be replaced.

Flooded lead-acid batteries are more resilient to this kind of power loss, but all lead-acid cells are dependent on proper treatment and care. The weight and temperamental nature of lead-acid batteries put restrictions on EV builders.

In 1989 Stanford Ovshinksy of Ovonics Battery Company invented the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery. General Motors acquired a controlling interest in Ovonics in 1994 with the intention of using the NiMH cells in the EV1 and other cars. Field tests showed the car achieving a range of over 150 miles.

1117 EV1s were produced from 1996-99. All were leased. None were for sale. In 2001, Chevron-Texaco purchased GM's shares of Ovonics. The next year, the EV1 program was abruptly cancelled. All the vehicles on the road were repossessed and most were crushed, despite the protests of satisfied lessees.

The same year, Ovonics sued Panasonic, which supplied batteries for the Toyota Prius, for patent infringement. Panasonic was no longer allowed to create large NiMH batteries for vehicle use.

In 2003, Ovonics was restructured as Cobasys. Chevron retained veto power over how Cobasys used its technology. They could sell NiMH batteries of fewer than 10 amp-hours (sufficient for a hybrid) but nothing large enough to power a BEV. Cobasys could produce larger batteries, but would only accept orders of at least 10,000 making it impossible for a startup EV company to acquire any. Even when Mercedes-Benz placed a large order, Cobasys did not deliver, prompting a lawsuit for contract failure.

Chevron's grip on this patent expires in 2015. However, it is too late for NiMH technology. While the blanket was over NiMH, lithium batteries have improved and are now the superior choice for electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, EVC has shifted exclusively to lithium-ion batteries. Their conversions, however, have turned out to be too exclusive a product.


The Future

Kase has stopped doing conversions. “It cost too much of my time and I made nothing.” Fifteen grand and up for an electric conversion isn't in most people's budget. He makes his living building kit-cars and performing fiberglass fabrication for other EV companies.

“Designing the fiberglass concept vehicles is what keeps me going,” he reflects. “Building pieces of art is the most satisfying for me.”

Since the 70s, the world hasn't changed as fast as Kase hoped it would. He did prove it could happen.

For a Brazilian bio-diesel company, he built his masterpiece: the Sigma GTE (photos). It is a purpose-built race car crafted from tubular steel and Ford Mustang Cobra components. The sculpted fiberglass body cuts the air like a polished bullet. A pair of Advanced DC 4001 Series motors power the front and rear wheels independently. The lithium-polymer battery system is rated at 300 volts. Its range is 90 miles and it tops out at 150 mph.

Kase raced it against a variety of high-powered cars including Mustang GTEs.

“And walked away from all the gas-powered cars every time.”