At the recent Australian Electric Vehicle Association exhibition in Brisbane you could barely miss it; in-between the glamorous Jaguar I-Pace and a Tesla Model S was a bright red VW beetle – a 1964 version, and fully electric.
Australians have been struggling to get their hands on an affordable electric vehicles. The Tesla and BMWs have been pricey, and to get hold of a new Nissan Leaf has virtually meant having to get the sales person into a headlock to convince him or her to sell it to you.
As a result, many enthusiasts have taken matters into their own hands. Conversions are a rapidly growing trend (and for some an emerging business), and EV enthusiast and clean energy entrepreneur Nick Lake has been bitten by the bug.
He was in Shanghai, reading the Wall Street Journal of all things, and saw a story about a guy who had converted an old VW. He decided he wanted to do the same, got hold of a bright red Volkswagen Beetle, and set about the task.
Lake lives in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, with plenty of acres, 13.5kW of rooftop solar and 60kWh of battery storage. He’s not (yet) off grid, but is largely self-sufficient.
“Transport is a big carbon emitter,” says Lake, who has also helped pioneer the EnergyLab program that is nurturing clean-tech ideas, including some relating to EVs and new mobility business models.
“I thought about it for years. I believe we need to have fossil free transport and I wanted to go electric. But outside of Tesla there were not many options.
“So “I thought ‘why not do a bug?’. I bought one, took the motor out, imported some batteries from China and put in a new electric motor.”
Well, it wasn’t quite as easy as that. But it was mostly fun, doing it in his spare time, on the weekend with friends, and occasionally getting some help from experienced conversion experts, such as James Pauly from Traction EV in Brisbane.
After spending about $30,000, the electric red bug is complete. It has a 22kWh battery and a range of 130km – about the same range as the first Nissan Leaf.
And it is an unbelievably good drive. (Lake drove me and The Driven contributor Bridie Schmidt to the EV conference from the Tweed. We got there with a few kilometers to spare!)
“It’s got everything but the noise. Better speed, better acceleration, lower maintenance,” Lake says.
“And the kids love it. I take them to school, all their friends gather around and I feel like it’s an education piece.
“It’s an awesome conversation starter. The look of it attracts attention, and there’s no dak dak dak of the engine.
“For me, this is giving a classic car a new lease of life. It retains its embodied energy and will carry it for another 50 years.
“The whole beauty of converting an old car is that it becomes essentially maintenance free, it’s more fun to drive, there’s more power, greater acceleration, and it’s cheaper to run.”
Lake uses the car mostly to run around the Northern Rivers, to the office in Byron, to the school near Lismore, and shopping and sporting runs.
He charges it every second day – the charging is slow, but he can do it overnight, and it’s emissions free given the amount of solar and battery storage he has at his home.
Yes, once. Lake was driving back from Brisbane and his gauge was not properly synchronised. He came to a stop 7km short of home in the middle of the night, and had no choice but to walk the rest of the way.
“You only do that once,” he says.
But Lake won’t stop with a bright red electric bug. His next project is converting a 1950s-era Porsche 356 – the model made famous by James Dean.
“It’s super cool. It has a similar engine to the VW, and you can use exactly the same EV motor,” Lake says. “But they are as cute as.”
Postscript: The electric red bug is for sale! You can either come through his Mr 10%, which is us, or contact him directly at Energy Lab.
You can also listen to my interview with Lake, in situ in the EV, in the latest episode of The Driven podcast.
And here’s a video featuring EV Traction’s James Pauly and some more details about this electric red bug that also may interest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2JK9mwcdLQ.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of www.TheDriven.io, and also edits and founded RenewEconomy.com.au and OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au. He has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.