No joke. The 1971 VW Fastback pictured above is powered by a 2015 Nissan Leaf powertrain.
The powertrain of any vehicle includes the mechanisms which transmit engine power to a vehicle’s axles, and the axles spin the wheels. In petroleum-powered car, it includes the engine, transmission and axles. In an EV, power flows from the battery directly to an electric motor on the axle which spins the wheels.
Definition of powertrain
Many of us have loved and lusted after certain classic vehicles from years gone by. For Mick Longley of Durango’s Busaru, those vehicles have been Volkswagens.
Recognizing the huge impact burning fossil fuels has on our planet’s climate, some of us regret we can no longer drive those cars or trucks. Or we’ve driven an electric vehicle and experienced how vastly superior they are and don’t want to go back to the cost and inconvenience of petrol power. For Mick Longley, this was a problem he could solve.
Mick’s love for classic VW’s started in the mid 2000’s when he picked up a VW Westfalia camper to travel around in. He moved out to Durango, Colorado in that van and started BUSARU, the VW to Subaru engine swap business. He had been holding onto the 1971 VW Fastback for a few years – awaiting a project.
I was initially going to put a Subaru engine into it but got re-inspired by the EV conversion scene. I had converted a 70’s Kawasaki motorcycle and a slough of classic bicycles back in the day, even had a small business doing that in CA called zombiEVintage.
The most difficult part was mounting the battery and motor in the old VW, but he was able to find a solution which allowed keeping the LEAF battery completely intact, including all its safety mechanisms.
Removing the internal combustion engine (ICE) equipment is actually a ton of fun!
LOTS of experience with electronics packages for the do-it-yourself (DIY) Subaru-VW community helped with navigating the electronics and wiring diagrams for the LEAF-based conversion.
Will he convert your classic car into an EV?
He’s definitely interested in taking on projects once he gets more experience converting his own vehicles.
He’d love to hear about other people’s EV projects. Let him know what dreams you’re cooking up.
He plans for Regen EV’s to offer kits for DIY tinkerers to more easily retrofit their VW Bus and Vanagons (and possibly other vehicles) to electric power.
For a deeper dive into Mick’s work on the Fastback, check out his YouTube channel video below and continue reading below the video!
As Mick expected, the mounting of the battery and motor were the most challenging parts. Most VW conversions rely on using the VW transaxle and adapter plate to mount an aftermarket motor, and batteries mounted in the cargo areas.
Since I wanted to use a mass-produced donor vehicle to keep costs low and reliability high, it brought up some unforeseen challenges. In a way, the VW chassis made the battery location decision for me. The floor pan was rotten with rust, which needed to be replaced anyway, so I just cut all of it out and built a frame out of rectangular tubing. This allowed me to keep the LEAF battery completely intact, including all of its safety mechanisms, as well as providing a structural component for the car – the many benefits of keeping the center of gravity low in the chassis! Once the battery was mounted it took a few days of playing with different drive unit mounting schemes. In short, once the battery was figured out, everything else came together pretty easily.
What was the biggest challenge in starting this project? It was believing it could be done!
Parsing the overall project into smaller projects really helps. Removing the internal combustion engine (ICE) equipment is actually a ton of fun. You get to see how cars are put together without the pressure or fear of breaking something you’ll need. In the case of the Fastback project, I knew I wasn’t going to be using any of the VW ICE equipment, including the transmission, so it was pure fun removing the old rusty grease-caked parts to make way for a clean EV drive unit.
In a Subaru engine conversion, the most intimidating part of the project for do-it-yourself DIY folks is the electronics. I have completed nearly 1000 electronics packages for the DIY Subaru-VW community and that experience really helped me navigate the electronics and wiring diagrams for the LEAF-based conversion. With the electronics mystery figured out, the conversion became more and more fun to work on, and a great learning experience. The next conversion will benefit greatly from what I learned on this one.”
Does Mick plan to do more EV retrofits?
I want to get a couple more personal EV conversions finished before taking on customer work. These include a 1973 VW Bus (LEAF conversion) a 1965 GMC pickup (Tesla conversion), and a 70’s vintage Ford Bronco project that I’m converting for a friend.
I am definitely interested in taking on projects once I get a little more experience converting my own vehicles. I like to experiment on my own vehicles first! I love to hear about other people’s EV projects though, so let me know what dreams you’re cooking up.
Does he have plans to make EV retrofits of classic cars part of his regular business?
Yes, like with BUSARU, I plan for Regen EV’s to offer kits for DIY tinkerers to more easily retrofit their VW Bus and Vanagons (and possibly other vehicles) to electric power. I’ll keep supporting the VW community (especially the camper van VW’s) because they really represent the spirit of adventure and travel, and there’s nothing like cruising to an adventure destination on battery power!
In January of 2020 I received information from Ford that I could order a Mustang Mach-E. I just needed to put down a fully refundable deposit of $500. So I did. I had been waiting for an all-electric SUV of at least medium size, and having something with at least a little bit of Mustang heritage looked good! (I have owned several Mustangs in the past.)
In July of 2020 I was asked to put down an additional $500 to confirm my order. (I actually gave the local dealership $1000 and Ford refunded my original $500 deposit.)
I ordered the Mach-E with all-wheel-drive which is important since I live in a part of SW Colorado where we get a good amount of snow each year. I also ordered the standard range battery since it was not my intention to take road trips in the Mach-E. It would be used mostly for local driving. And of course, I ordered the Rapid Red color!
I have to say it was not easy to get information about the car directly from Ford or my local dealership. They could have done a much better job of having contacts that knew something!
I was finally told the car would be built the week of December 14, 2020, but they did not give any indication of when I might actually receive it. It showed up at the dealership on February 6, 2021, and my experience with the dealership during the actual sale (strangely enough) was actually quite good. Durango Motors gave me a fair trade-in, and we closed the deal.
Now that I have had the car for a month, I have to say I am very pleased!! Here are some things I really like about the car:
It’s plug-in electric!! I don’t have to buy gas, and I’m not putting nearly as much carbon into the air.
It drives great. Acceleration is dramatic, and the handling is very close to what I have experienced with “real” Mustangs.
It’s great in the snow. I put winter (Nokian) tires on it immediately, and I have driven in fairly deep snow twice. The car has super traction in the snow.
There’s lot of room inside. With the rear seats down, I can carry quite a bit. With them up, there’s still plenty of room. And of course there’s the frunk (front trunk).
I like (not love) the styling. Lots of Mustang hints and styling that stands out.
The displays are excellent. There is one directly in front of the driver and a much bigger screen in the center. Just about everything the driver needs to see is on the screen directly ahead, so you don’t have to look away from the road.
The car comes with a portable charger which you can plug into a 120-volt or 240-volt outlet. (Charging with 120 volts is pretty slow, but it was all I had until I got the 240 outlet installed.)
Ford EV’s still qualify for the $7500 federal tax credit, and Colorado has a state income tax credit for EV’s.
The Mach-E is quite well built. The suspension is tight, the doors fit perfectly, and the wind and road noise is very low.
There are lots of very nice features, too many to cover here.
There are a few things I’m not crazy about:
Ford only supplies one key fob and expects you to use your phone as a key. It took me several days to get my Android phone working as a key. This has been a common complaint on the web.
Support at Ford and the dealership is still pretty spotty. They could have handled this much better.
There’s a pretty steep learning curve if you want to use all the features. I’m also not sure if I will ever have the courage to let the car parallel park itself!
The FordPass app, at least for Android, takes quite a while to learn. It would be very nice if you had a way to group the things you commonly do in one place instead of constantly searching for them.
Overall, I am very excited about my Mach-E and I am really glad I bought it.
We bought our 2018 Chevy Bolt in 2018, feeling assured the 238-mile range advertised for the vehicle would meet our daily needs and make our most common weekend trips. Knowing Electrify America was making steady progress on installing DC fast chargers on interstates from coast-to-coast, we figured the Bolt would also allow cross-country trips on the rarer occasions we needed to make them.
Battery and Range – What You Expect
Therefore, our decision to buy the car was based on two things: the size of the battery and how the battery management system (BMS) functioned.
The size of the battery determines the maximum distance you can travel between charging stops.
For the Bolt, that distance is about 238 miles in mild weather, with no extremes of cold or hot temperatures.
The BMS determines (among other things) how often you can use a DC fast charger each day and during periods of high or low temperatures.
The Bolt’s BMS includes a liquid cooling system. When you use a DC fast charger to add electricity to your car’s battery, the battery’s temperature increases. The liquid cooling cools the battery quickly enough it can accept another full charge by the time you need one. You can DC fast charge multiple times a day, regardless of the outdoor temperature.
In contrast, the 2018 Nissan Leaf used only air cooling. It could not cool the battery fast enough to allow more than one fast charge a day on a hot summer day. So range is significantly limited on hot summer days.
What Chevy Bolt, Kona Electric and Ioniq Electric Owners Got
Chevy recalled a “select number” of 2017-2019 Chevy Bolts built with:
“high voltage batteries produced at LG Chem’s Ochang, Korea facility that may pose a risk of fire when charged to full or very close to full, capacity. As an interim remedy, dealers will reprogram the hybrid propulsion control module 2 (HPCM2) to limit full charge to 90%.”
We had DC fast charged four or five times a day for each of the 3 days of the trip both coming and going. At several of those charging stops, we’d had to charge to greater than 90% so we could get to the next DC fast charger with some cushion.
A recall is issued when a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a vehicle, equipment, car seat, or tire creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards.
In other words, under federal law, there is no protection for EV owners if a safety fix causes a reduction in vehicle range.
If Chevy proves limiting the charge capacity to 90% fixes the safety issue, the NHTSA recall can be closed if that limit is made permanent by the BMS software. Owners would have to band together and sue based on the loss in value of the car due its reduced range. It seems unlikely that after the lawyers were paid there would be much left for those of us still owning these vehicles.
Finding Fault: Battery Manufacturer or Car (BMS) Maker?
Chevy Bolt Not Alone with Battery Fires
The cause for the fire hazard in the Chevy Bolt is not yet settled. The Hyundai Kona Electric and Ioniq Electric are also on recall for battery fires right now, with batteries also manufactured by LG Energy Solutions, though at a Chinese facility.
Hyundai has claimed the fires were caused by defective manufacturing (a misalignment of an anode tab) of some battery cells on LG’s part.
GM (Chevrolet) has stressed the Bolts’ batteries use a different cell separator than Hyundai and so the two recalls are unrelated.
On 2/24/21, LG stepped into the fray. In a statement on the Kona EV recall, LG states the Korean agency responsible for confirming the cause of the fires has not been able to confirm the problem is misalignment of the anode tab. They claim Hyundai misapplied the BMS fast charging logic proposed by LG. They are cooperating with the “relevant authorities” to discover if that had any connection to the fires. LG also says damage to the batteries’ cell separators has been confirmed as unrelated to the fires by a joint investigation team.
So, for Chevy and Hyundai, and Bolt, Kona and Ioniq owners, the question is: Do the batteries need to be replaced or is it a BMS software fix?
Hyundai has had more fires in their affected vehicles and their recall covers a larger number of vehicles. Rumors are circulating that for Hyundai, all battery packs may need to be replaced. Kona Electric owners are suing for depreciation the issue has caused. Chevy owners haven’t organized on that front yet, but I would not try to sell or trade in our Bolt until this issue is resolved. I think most buyers would hesitate to buy a Bolt affected by this recall.
How do you Fix it? What Chevy Says
I called the Chevy EV concierge on 2/27/21 after reading the following on Chevy’s Bolt Recall webpage:
A team of GM engineers has made substantial progress in identifying the root cause and potential remedies for this issue. They are in the process of validating state-of-the-art software that can diagnose potential issues early and restore 100% charge capability. A final remedy for this recall is anticipated for April 2021. Until that time, if you have not already done so, we recommend scheduling a service appointment with your dealership to update the vehicle’s battery software to automatically limit the maximum state of charge to 90 percent.
I asked the concierge how a software fix (a BMS fix) would solve the problem. Would it detect changes within the battery and provide a warning to the owner if changes occurred which might lead to a fire? Then the battery could be repaired or replaced before a fire could happen?
The concierge said it has not yet been determined the final fix will be software. He said it hadn’t gotten to the point of even discussing if a warning system would used or required. They don’t yet know if it will be a software fix or a battery replacement. We might find out earlier what the fix will be, but the fix won’t actually be available until April 2021.
It seems GM appreciates the importance of maintaining the range promised to buyers at the time the vehicle was purchased. A ten percent range reduction may not sound like much to a judge behind a bench, but when you’re sitting in the dark, gravel parking lot in front of the I-70 diner in Flager, CO at 11 PM, hanging in there for yet another 20 minutes to be sure you make it to your motel in Colorado Springs two hours away, it seems like an awful lot indeed. GM would do well to keep their EV early adopters in mind as they plan for their all electric future. I hope they won’t leave us furious with the cure to this recall, whether it be for the battery or the BMS.
They don’t, but neither does your internal combustion engine (ICE) car, and no one whines about their ICE car in the winter (if it starts). All vehicles lose some efficiency when they are cold, but alert reader Richard Grossman pointed out a recent article (link: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11022021/inside-clean-energy-norway-electric-vehicles/) on Norway’s adoption of EVs: 56% of new car sales, compared to 2% in the United States. This fact was highlighted in a recent Superbowl ad for Chevrolet, but remember this: the top FIVE countries for EVs sales are all near the Arctic Circle:
The linked article explores the reasons for Norway’s rapid adoption of EVs, which include celebrity endorsements, an early and rapid government-funded build-out of charging stations, and tax breaks that provide purchase price parity between regular cars and EVs. If you are interested in EV policy incentives, be sure to check out the lively article by Dan Gearino in the link above.
They found an average of 2.3%/year range loss for the EVs on the road today. “If the observed degradation rates are maintained, the vast majority of batteries will outlast the usable life of the vehicle.”
In a surprising move, Volvo announced that it will transition its sales offerings entirely to electrics by 2030 (no ICEs or hybrids after that date), and that it will sell the electrics online only. This online-sales only announcement is a surprise because Volvo has an established car dealer network (though the nearest to the Four Corners is Corley’s Volvo Cars in Albuquerque) and a majority of states prohibit non-dealership sales of new cars. My source is an AP wire report Mar 2, 2021 by Matt Ott (accessed from Greenwire – eenews.com – which is unfortunately behind a paywall).
Volvo did promise that dealerships “…will remain a crucial part of the customer experience and will continue to be responsible for a variety of important services such as selling, preparing, delivering, and servicing cars. However, a Four Corner’s buyer would be inclined to take purchase locally, and seek service locally, rather than have to return a potentially disabled car to Albuquerque for routine service.
The prevailing business model for car sales is that new cars are sold with minimal profit in exchange for creating a captive audience of owners beholden, or at least greatly encouraged, to use the dealership for highly lucrative service. This business model is under threat from EVs, both because so many upstarts (Tesla, Rivian, etc.) are not following the plan, and EVs themselves need very little servicing.
In response to previous economic threats to dealerships, several states, including Colorado and New Mexico, have restrictions or total bans on the non-dealer sales of new cars. Colorado recently amended its laws to allow several additional manufacturers to permit in-state sales of cars without dealers (Tesla has a dealership in Denver and is therefore exempt). Volvo’s plan may run afoul of the dealership-protection laws in some states.
In addition to shaking up the business relationship between manufacturers and dealerships, Volvo’s push into EVs is startling in its ambition. Volvo has stated that it expects 50% of global sales to be fully electric by 2025 (US sales of pure electrics are about 2% now; about 100,000 of Volvo’s global sales of about 600,000 vehicles per year are in the US). Volvo’s first entry into the all-electric field, the XC-40 Recharge (crossover SUV) is currently held up in ports of entry, as an essential software update is needed before they can be sold to the public. That hiccup aside, Volvo is getting good technical reviews for their EVs.
Although Volvo’s timeline for the phase-out of ICE (internal combustion engine) cars is among the most aggressive of the major manufacturers, others are not far behind. BMW expects 50% of its global sales to be all-electric vehicles by 2030 (versus 2025 for Volvo). BMW has not announced a date for completing the phase-out of ICEs; they expect to sell hybrids for some time. GM is more aggressive for the end of the phase-out of ICEs (2035), but GM expresses it more as an aspiration than a commitment. Jaguar, on the other hand, has promised the earliest phase-out (2025), but of course, if you could afford a Jaguar, why would you settle for anything less than an electric.