Ford showed off a totally clean 1978 F-100 pickup retrofitted with a Mustang Mach-E powertrain and it was the hit of the Ford stand at SEMA. Well, that and Keith Urban’s ’69 Mustang. Hard to compete with Keith Urban.
With both the front and rear electric motors from the Mach-E, the rebuilt and electrified F-100 offered 408 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. It looked really cool and certainly (we assume) drove well, having been designed and constructed by a phalanx of Ford engineers. Looking out over the crowd of several hundred journalists, buyers, and Blue Oval believers, it was easy to imagine those cartoon thought bubbles over many heads in the crowd with the words, “I could build one of those!”
And Ford is perfectly happy to sell those budding Thomas Edisons and Michael Faradays the electric motor that powered the oh-so-clean F-100, but only the front electric motor, the smaller one. The so-called Eluminator is basically the front motor from the Mach-E drivetrain and it costs “only” $3900.”
But that is only the electric motor and one or two minimal ancillary items.
“Of everyone here at SEMA there’s probably only one or two people with all the experience and training to know what to do with one of those,” said Jake Hawksworth, commenting on the Eluminator electric motor.
Hawksworth’s company, Hypercraft, is in the process of creating complete vehicle systems, not just the motor.
“Of everyone here at SEMA there’s probably only one or two people with all the experience and training to know what to do with one of those.”
“You need an inverter, motor controller, vehicle control unit, power distribution unit or power distribution module, you need to have a battery pack that has thermal management, battery management, charging system integration, DC-to-DC converter, user interface or interfaces. So even if you have a CAN bus output… many people don’t even know what CAN bus is.”
(For the record, a CAN bus is a Controller Area Network bus, a robust vehicle bus standard designed to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other’s applications without a host computer. It’s like a flathead Ford, but more electronicky.)
Likewise, at last year’s SEMA show, GM introduced its Connect and Cruise concept eCrate propulsion package, which offered a plug-in electric drivetrain for retrofitting into hot rods and other vehicles the same way LS3 gas engines go in now. In theory, the GM system would work better than the Ford Eluminator because it includes all the peripheral paraphernalia needed to make a car go down the road without catching fire or electrocuting its builder/driver.
But GM hasn’t released its Connect and Cruise package yet. Ford is selling Eluminators as fast as it can pull them away from the Mach-E assembly line, which isn’t very fast because Ford is also selling every Mach-E it can manufacture. Sources suggest Ford has put 30 to 40 Eluminators into privately held hands so far. GM, meanwhile, says it will have the eCrate on the market soon.
“We can confirm that progress continues on the development of the Electric Connect and Cruise eCrate package and Installer Certification Program, and more details will be revealed soon,” said GM in response to a query about it.
Not everyone’s impressed.
“I have reviewed the GM and Ford offerings,” said EV-converter and custom-cool-car maker Jonathan Ward, founder of ICON 4X4. “While cool, they’re likely just media grabs to test interest, because without management systems, thermal management solutions, and battery packs that can communicate with them, it is just not a solution. I do wish an OE would step up and offer a more comprehensive solution. Thus far, offerings leave me thinking they just want to make sure they are included in the conversation…”
The bigger problem in retrofitting quaint old cars and trucks with electric powertrains lies in safety and engineering. Just because you can do an LS3 swap in a Buick doesn’t mean you can engineer the CAN bus necessary to safely upload data to the DC-to-DC inverter etc. etc. and I don’t know what I’m talking about, either. I’m not an electrical engineer, and neither are most engine-swappers. If you do an LS3 swap wrong, the car doesn’t start, or it won’t idle, or something like that. If you incorrectly guess what that 800-volt battery pack might do when you connect it to what you think is the controller, your entire garage catches fire. Maybe. Who knows?
“I do wish an OE would step up and offer a more comprehensive solution.”
So what’s needed is training in retrofitting EV systems and drivetrains. Here there are several possibilities.
“As revealed during the original announcement, participating Chevrolet dealers and aftermarket companies will receive the training, tools, and equipment needed to work with high-voltage systems and charging stations to install eCrate packages and service customers’ vehicles,” GM said.
Corvette-tuner and aftermarket pillar Lingenfelter says it is one of a few trusted GM affiliates that will be offering training on the installation and conversion of electric retrofits as soon as GM finishes the packaging of the Connect and Cruise.
“We’re working with GM on a project for a future EV conversion program for the aftermarket so when that project comes to fruition, and it’s coming very close. What we want to do is educate the aftermarket in the proper installation, safety, that type of thing with the systems,” said Lingenfelter COO and VP of operations Mark Rapson. “So through the process of actually creating the conversion, we’re also creating a certification program in conjunction with GM so that anybody that has any hands-on with the actual EV products will be trained and certified.”
It’s necessary, believe you me. Ask anyone who’s tried to rewire their garage.
“This is not, ‘Buy a conversion program and install it in your garage.’ This is going to be a certified training network of companies that can properly and with certification, install these products that meet all the safety guidelines that should be in place,” Rapson said. “There are too many people doing it roughly in garages, without the understanding of the safety side of the programs in mind.”
But it looks so simple!
“Anybody can pick up some electric parts and make an electric car. It doesn’t mean it’s safe. It doesn’t mean that it meets all of the, not only government, but OEM-style requirements,” Rapson said. “So that’s what we’re trying to make sure, as the whole EV market evolves, and it’s evolving very, very quickly, GM wants to make sure not only to show leadership in this whole thing, but they are linked to the aftermarket, just to have the proper training and understanding and the proper safety alongside of it so that as people start to do aftermarket activities with EVs, that all those pieces are in place.”
Another approach to training comes earlier on from a company called Switch Vehicles Inc. Switch Vehicles was at SEMA and showed off what are basically three-wheeled EV kit cars that they sell to high schools or trade schools to give students hands-on experience with electric vehicle construction from the ground up.
“The vehicle platform (that Switch offers) is specifically designed to be an educational platform for automotive, and STEAM or STEM programs,” said Jozef Antolin, a high school teacher who also instructs through Switch Vehicles. “So if a school decides to buy into this program, what they will receive is the vehicle—that includes all the bits and pieces for steering, suspension, the brakes, etc.—and all of the components needed for the electric drivetrain to the EV drive training.”
That’s not all—Switch Vehicles is selling a package.
“It also includes, for instructors that buy into the package, a week-long workshop,” said Antolin. “So whether they come to us or we come to a region that has several schools that have bought the package, we’ll do a week-long, ‘teach the teachers’ or ‘train the trainers’ program.”
So as OEMs and the aftermarket step up, it looks like safe and efficient retrofitting of EVs could be happening soon. It does look like a cool concept, if complex. There are a number of solutions to safety and training.
“At ICON, we are starting in Q1 to develop EV solutions for our production FJ-BR-TR model lines, (Toyota FJ, Ford Early Bronco, and 1947-53 Chevy Thriftmaster),” said ICON 4X4’s Ward. “From the experience and lessons learned with our previous three EV projects with sublet partners, we now have an in-house EE (electrical engineer) and a bunch of ideas that look quite promising!”
You may not be able to afford your own in-house electrical engineer, but soon you’ll be able to learn enough of the basics that you can safely retrofit an old car to electric drive. Some day we can all have Ford F-100s safely humming along on electricity.
Would you attempt an EV conversion yourself, in your own garage? Or is it a job best left to a professional? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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