Several hundred electric vehicle enthusiasts from around the world are bonding this weekend in a somewhat unusual locale: an airport hangar at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
The get-together is tapping into an underground of hobbyists, inventors and regular folk who want to convert their gas-powered vehicles into zippy, green-powered Electric ones -- from classic 1975 Chevys to sporty Shelbys and luxury Porsches.
"What they have in common is a passion to build a lithium-ion powered electric vehicle," said Brian Noto, co-organizer of EVCCON 2011 and co-host of EVTV, a weekly webcast on D-I-Y electrical vehicle conversion. "Some are environmentally conscious. Some are electrical engineers, some are automotive enthusiasts. They all converge on building an electric vehicle with the latest technology."
Electric vehicle conversion costs anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 plus the price of the car, explained Noto. That's a big savings over the lowest-price production EV: the Nissan Leaf, which costs $32,000 to $35,000 before tax credits.
Noto said people have been building their own electric cars for the past 100 years. But what’s changed recently is battery technology. The availability of the lithium-ion battery, which is replacing lead-acid batteries, “has changed everything,” Noto said.
"They performed like go-carts, not like a car," he said. "Now you've got a battery pack that is a third of the weight."
Noto and his partner, Jack Rickard, are former trade industry publishers who have found a niche with this segment of EV drivers. He says their webcast has grown to 100,000 views per week in the past two years.
He says electric vehicles probably won’t replace internal combustion engines because of the range. Driving across the country, for example, “is not a pleasant experience in an electrical vehicle” because of the difficulty in charging it up.
However, if people can move 10 to 20 percent of their mileage from petroleum fuel into electricity "that would make a huge change in the environment and foreign oil dependence," Noto said.
His advice to car owners who want to make the switch? Don't expect to turn an old, crummy car into a Cinderella-like EV.
"We've had people who have started out with a 1974 Datsun B210," he said. "When finished, you have a $1,500 car and you've put thousands of dollars of equipment but you still have a $1,500 car."
Mark Emon, a winery owner from St. Michaels, Md., is trying to pick up a few tips on converting his grass-green Porsche 914. He's seen everything from an electric Geo Metro to a Volkswagen Rabbit truck at EVCCON. Emon said he's motivated by a desire to both preserve the environment and drive extremely fast in a sharp-looking, gasless Porsche.
"The payback is when I get it bolted together, this little sucker will go zero to sixty in six seconds," Emon said from the conference. "It's not the green that's going to sell these cars, it's the mean."
The conference runs through this weekend with a car show, EV demonstrations, and of course a drag race.