Electric Road Rules

University of Washington electric vehicle project aims to create sporty, no-emissions car.

Published: 28-Jan-2005

Imagine driving in a car that is completely silent, is emission-free and requires no gasoline.

While this environmentally-friendly car is still in the works, a group of students from the UW are working daily to create it. The goal is a zero emissions, all-electric vehicle that has the style and beauty of a sports car.

The group, which consists of about 14 students, is aiming to create and complete this project by spring quarter.

"It's mine and a few of the others' senior project, and we're really excited to see what the end result is going to be," said Stephen Johnsen, a senior majoring in industrial design with an emphasis on environmental design.

Johnsen is the founder of the Student Electric Vehicle Project, which is working to construct a completely battery-powered vehicle that can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds.

The team ultimately hopes to create a car that benefits its driver on an environmental level as well as electronic and aesthetic ones.

The final product will be a converted Pontiac Fiero, which, according to the group's Web site, will be a sporty, innovative, pollution-free vehicle ideal for commuters, seating up to three people.

"We want to make a car that people will be attracted to and will want to spend money on," Johnsen said.

The project started when Johnsen saw an Internet video of a converted, all-electric Mazda beating a Dodge Viper in a race. This inspired him to build a similar all-electric car for his senior project.

However, such a large endeavor couldn't be undertaken alone, so Johnsen asked a few of his friends if they would be interested in helping him with the project.

"They were all hesitant and critical at first, but when they saw the video and realized the capabilities that an electric vehicle could have, they were convinced," said Johnsen.

After getting his friends involved, they then began to tell others about the project. One of Johnson's friends, Ron Easley, a UW senior majoring in mechanical engineering, was at a social gathering one night when he began talking to Nick Smith, a senior also majoring in mechanical engineering.

Easley told Smith about the project and he too was enthusiastic and willing to help.

"This project sounded like it was going to be something great, and although I realized that everything I've learned will be of no use when there is a complete conversion to electric energy sometime in the future, I'll be glad knowing I had something to do with it," said Smith.

Students participating in the project come from a variety of fields including electrical engineering, law, aeronautical science and industrial design.

"It's important that we have people from all of these different fields of study helping with the project. You have to take into consideration all the different aspects concerning the building of a vehicle, like whether it's street legal, if it's environmentally sound, properly designed, etc.," said Johnsen.

The first hurdle to overcome was finding group members who represented the fields of study necessary for completing the car. Because the group represents various fields, many University resources are now at the group's disposal.

However, in order for the project to be successfully completed, $37,000 is needed to purchase all the necessary equipment and materials used to convert the vehicle to run solely off electric energy. The dollar amount includes the price of the used vehicle.

"What we need specifically are batteries big enough to not only power the car, but to charge it up as well. Other electric cars have been powered by laptop batteries, but it required hundreds of them. It would be ideal to have only two big ones. One to power, and the other to charge," said Johnsen.

The group is reaching out to car companies, industrial design corporations and overseas corporations alike for support in materials, appliances and knowledge on the construction of the vehicle.

The project has already received aid from the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association which is located on Northeast 45th Avenue. Additionally, the group has also been received a great amount of help from professors in the mechanical, industrial and electrical engineering field.

"Our professors think that what we're doing is great, and they're willing to help in any way that they can," said Smith.

The group has recently been receiving criticism in addition to praise. There are several people on campus expressing their thoughts on the project and its capabilities in a negative way, according to Johnsen.

"We've been receiving quite a bit of hate mail," said Johnsen, "Such as, 'you guys don't know what you're doing,' 'you'll never pull it off,' etc."

Despite the criticism and the lack of funding, the project is still underway.

The group works daily on the car, using the resources they have at the moment to gut the old workings inside the car and remove all gas components. The project is set up in the mechanical engineering building on campus.

The no-emissions vehicle project has its own Web site, located at http://students.washington.edu/toro66/. Group members welcome comments from anyone interested in donating to the project or those looking to learn more about electric vehicle history.

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