Saturday, May 17, 2008

Finally...let's get this party started!

When I ran across the Bluesky website, my biggest concern was that my expectations of the kit would differ from the reality. Fortunately, the website had some links with contacts on them. After researching all I could online, I finally called Adam Clarke, another BugE owner who built a kit. The conversation I had with him was overwhelmingly positive.

Finally, the day came to tally how much I had and order what I could. To give myself the best chance of success, I decided to buy all my materials in "kit" form whenever possible. So one check went to BlueSky for the vehicle body & control kit. Another purchase was for a BugE propulsion "kit" from EVParts. (I decided to go for the deluxe kit rather than the basic one since I wanted my vehicle to have reverse too) I figured even if the parts had slightly inflated prices, I would still save money since I could consolidate shipping charges and I would be spending less time and petrol scrounging the local area for parts. I figure by the time I assemble the vehicle, I'll have saved up enough to buy the batteries for it (around $800 for lead-acid batteries) An unexpected bonus was when the manual arrived before the rest of the kit. This enabled me to review the assembly steps while I prepared my workspace.

It's my opinion that the assembly area should be clean to reflect the cleaner nature of the electric car. Unfortunately, my garage suffered from chronic concrete and sawdust. So I decided that I had to clear out the work area and resurface the floor. It took around 160lb of materials to refinish the floor! It also was also cluttered with 6 van loads of junk. Cleaning it out became a major project!

Meanwhile, the main kit was going to arrive earlier than I expected. I originally paid for it, then wanted to delay shipping until my work area was cleaned up. However, I decided to take an early delivery since the price of fuel (and therefore shipping) was going to go up if I waited! Once the kit was shipped, it took about a week to make it across the country. Turns out, when FedEx specifies arrival date, the estimate is for when the package arrives at the Depot, but NOT when the item arrives at my door! The delay at the depot was due to needing a lift gate truck to be used to deliver to my residence. When the BugE box finally arrived, the driver just pulled out a pallet jack, put the package on the lift gate, then wheeled the whole pallet into the garage. Took about 5 minutes! After he left, I did an inventory of my package. No damage was detected on the major body parts or the canopy (which was a relief) and the parts were grouped together so taking inventory was easy.

I then went through the manual and did a listing of materials that I needed. A few parts like headlights and mirrors need to be ordered online and should arrive about the time I need them. Most other parts such as nuts, bolts, connectors, paint and that sort of stuff should be available locally. Some materials I already have from previous projects. So, the next few days will give me time to revise the manual to include some optional steps I want to do such as putting in an adjustable seat, undercoating the frame, adding a reversing circuit and laying out the control panel better.

After a last re-read of the manual, it will soon be time to layout the first parts and do the first procedure. However, it's close to Memorial Day weekend so I'm going on one last petrol fueled holiday binge before I dive into to this project.

Components purchased so far...
$3400 - BlueSky body kit
$325 - BlueSky lighting kit
$610.61 - BlueSky FedEx shipping
$1450.24 - EVParts - BugE electric kit (motor, controller & other parts itemized on website)
$48.67 - EVParts shipping

Est. $150 for floor refinishing supplies (some materials I already had)

Materials used so far (mostly just finishing up my garage floor)
High quality face mask, safety glasses, Floor refinishing supplies, push broom, cardboard cutter, water hose, bucket, trowel, drill & paint mixer bit for concrete, concrete leveling tool, screwdriver, lineman's pliers.

Time used so far
Web research & interviews with BugE owners - several days.
Blogging (this site) - 4 hours+
Reading manual & generating list of additional parts needed - 3 hours.
Floor refinishing & garage cleanup - 3 days
Web shopping & vendor correspondence involved in purchase - 2 hours.
Checking in parts & inspecting contents (EVparts & Bluesky) - 45 minutes

Post construction comment: Repairing the garage floor before I got started was definitely worth it. The garage used to generate concrete dust that would get on (and into) EVERYTHING. By using concrete sealer and painting the floor, I practically eliminated that dust.

EV shopping

Well, I felt I wanted an alternative energy vehicle. I had around $7000 cash but felt I could go as high as $15K if I could finance it (meaning it had to be turnkey). So I looked at my choices. Here's what I found:

Getting a new EV was one route I investigated. During my search for a NEW vehicle, I found quite a few artist conceptions, lots of promises and some waiting lists (most requiring deposits). However, I did not find any new car models that were ready to go in my price range. I'm sure this will change soon. However, I didn't feel I could wait for the market.

So, I considered the lower cost (and lower performance) cars. Vehicles in this category include golf carts (that aren't street legal) and vehicles from EZGo and Cushman. These "Near Electric Vehicles" are, in my opinion, an almost useless category of cars. They may look like normal cars, complete with standard lights, standard looking body, license, insurance and even seat belts. However, the speed is limited by legislation to be 25MPH. Since all but a few streets are 30MPH or higher, the NEV's of today have severe limitations on where they can be driven. For this reason, it was easy to eliminate this category of car from serious consideration.

Converting an existing car to be an EV was another option to consider. There are lots of motivational sites on this topic that show what kind of activities are involved. One good site on this is Jerry's EV conversion that show what conversion involves. There is also a good series of videos on YouTube called Gav's EV conversion. If I was to do a full size conversion, the simplest kit would probably be for a chevy S-10. However, the cost of the conversion kit and a full size donor car and batteries makes the conversion option rather pricey.

At the same time, there were some interesting 3-wheel alternative vehicles available. These include the Aptera, the Sparrow, the T-rex and the Carver one (or venture one) and several offerings from ZAP. However, all were expensive, had waiting lists, or were otherwise unavailable. However, there was one low cost electric vehicle that looked hopeful. It's a kit called the BugE. It was available either in kit form from Blue Sky Design or assembled from a company called Harvey Coachworks. Although it was VERY tempting to buy a ready-to-roll model, I opted to assemble my own instead. It wasn't so much to save money as it was to say I build my own car!

Decided to just do it.

So, here's how it all started. My car was getting expensive to operate and I need a reliable transportation solution to replace it. At the time I was deciding on my next car, I was taking an automotive course on how to fix them (which I highly recommend since fixing automobiles costs quite a bit if you can't do the work yourself). During the course, I was struck by how many systems there are to correct for the failings of an internal combustion engine. In my opinion, the internal combustion engine is at the point where the whole idea should be abandoned. It's just too complex!

If you don't believe it, take an inventory of the systems needed for any present day gasoline engine powered car. First, the engines get too hot, so they need liquid coolant, oil & transmission fluid systems that all have their own reservoirs, hoses, filters and pumps. These systems, being mechanical, are all prone to failure and need periodic replacement of their toxic fluids. Four cycle engines are noisy and vibrate so they need a muffler, pipes & anti-vibration measures. They spew toxic gas so they need a computer, fuel injectors, spark plugs, numerous sensors and electric cables to deliver fuel in just the right amount to regulate proper combustion. They don't operate well at all speeds, so they also need a transmission gearing system and it wastes energy when the vehicle is at a stop. The combustion cycle doesn't even work on it's own! It needs a separate electric "starter" system with motor, wires & battery. All this extra weight makes cars very HEAVY so they need a large chassis & lots of energy just to cart the system around! If a HYBRID vehicle is considered, there is all the above, PLUS an electric system and a large battery system too! In my opinion, the approach has just become TOO COMPLICATED AND EXPENSIVE!

Even if engines weren't so complicated, there is always the fuel issue (which has turned into a blood-for-oil issue or food-vs-fuel issue). If my workplace was closer to me, pedal power would be something I would consider. I also have other energy alternatives too. I've signed up for power from a renewable power company. In addition, I could easily generate electricity (via solar panels) or possibly grow my fuel. This, in my opinion, could potentially enhance the reliability of my transport system a great deal.

I drive a regular motorcycle (Harley 883) and I've noticed that over the past few years, the savings over my summer driving season has been significant. In addition to using less gasoline (the Harley gets 50-60mpg) I've noticed the maintenance and insurance were less expensive too. What I don't like about the motorcycle is the convenience. Riding the bike is weather dependent. Because of the wind chill, I won't ride in cold weather (below 40 degrees F) nor do I like riding in the rain. I also need to wear a helmet and earplugs due to the noise and need to suit up in a rainsuit or extra leathers depending on the weather. Then, there is the issue of being covered with tiny bugs at the end of the trip. Plus, on every trip, I need to wait a few minutes for my bike to "warm up" before use and "cool down" before I cover it for the night. Of course, with a small fuel tank, I also need to find a gasoline station quite often. I don't live too far from a gasoline station but those miles out of my way do add up. All these issues should be non-issues with my EV.