DIY Electric Car attracts Media Attention

Reader Contribution by Ben Nelson
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This summer, I got a call out of the blue from a magazine reporter based out of New York. 

That wouldn’t be surprising, if I LIVED in New York. But I’m just some guy living a modest life in the Midwest. The only thing is that when I work on a project, I often blog about it. Anyone interested in the subject, if they really look, can find information about it.

And the odd thing is, there’s a LOT of people looking. Most of my hobby projects the last couple of years have been in finding ways to get myself around in a way that is practical, affordable, and eco-friendly. That’s meant building my own electric motorcycleelectric car, and experimentally hybridizing that car. 

I’ve been in the local papers a couple times, most notably when I got a speeding ticket in an electric car. (“But officer, I don’t even have an ENGINE in this thing!”) But I hadn’t spoken with reporters from the east or west coasts before. What was even more surprising was that the reporter wanted to fly out and visit me! Of course, he still didn’t have a big budget, and if he did come out, it would have to be when there was some sort of event or gathering of other interesting folks who also “eco-modded” vehicles.

I had been going to the Green Drive Expo, in Madison, Wisconsin, the past couple of summers. It’s a great event for hybrids and green transportation. I’ve been able to hang out with Tesla Roadster drivers, met Chelsea Sexton, and even see an EV-1 still up and running. It was the perfect event to bring a reporter out to.

When the weekend of Hybridfest (Green Drive Expo) arrived, so did the magazine reporter, Zach. He came out to my house. We talked. I showed him my car and my motorcycle, and various other projects (“You flush your toilet with laundry water!?!?”) Him taking notes the whole time.

The next morning, we drove to Madison in my little Chevy S-10, with my electric motorcycle in the back. (Although I prefer not to use gasoline to take an electric vehicle long distances to show it off, I think the public education is worth it. I once tracked my fuel economy of the truck with the motorcycle in the bed and towing the Electro-Metro. It beat the US national average fuel economy for passenger cars – NOT loaded with two other vehicles.)

At Hybridfest, I shared a booth with my friend Thomas, who had his factory-built electric car on display, and one of his friends, who designed the motor controller on his car. Events like that give me a sore throat. I end up talking for two days straight talking to the public, answering questions. Sometimes the same ones over and over. Sometimes talking to the most fascinating people you will ever meet. In the mean time, Zach was out talking to other presenters at the event.


One thing that I have noticed when displaying an electric vehicle at any kind of car show or event – they are completely unimpressive WHEN PARKED.

A gas car doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t rumble and vibrate, doesn’t belch smoke – WHEN IT’S PARKED. When a gas car and electric car are parked next to each other at a car show, the electric car is boring. People only think about how it can’t drive as far as the gas one, or have other negative thoughts, because they have never driven one, or likely, even seen one move under its own power.

I’ve been going to the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair the last few years to participate in their Clean Car Show. Of course all the cars are stationary, just parked on the grass, with modest signs listing make, model, range per charge, etc. But, at the end of the day, my friend, Ryland, was moving his car to take somebody out for a ride. One of the straggling public was walking past, while talking on a cell phone. The moment he saw the electric car, he exclaimed to his caller “Wow, you should see this! This car is moving completely silently as if propelled by some kind of INVISIBLE FORCE!”.

Yep, it’s called electricity.

So, once the doors had closed for the day at Green Drive Expo WE MADE SURE that our reporter was going to get to see an EV or two in action! Thomas and I both took our cars outside to the far corner of the convention center’s giant parking lot. Of course, anytime you get two or more of anything together, males’ competitive spirit comes out, and you HAVE to race them. In a case like this, there was more than a little pride involved, as my car was built by hand with little more than a socket wrench and easy access to salvaged materials, and Thomas’ car has a custom electric-engineer-designed power system at the heart of it. (I got to drag-race a Citicar once too! We miss you, Bob B.!)

EVs excel at drag-racing. Even a low-budget Geo Metro can press you into your seat. I got to go far a ride in a Tesla Roadster once. The coolest thing about it is the way the acceleration felt. It felt EXACTLY like the accelleration in my Geo Metro. It’s just that in the Tesla, that feeling keeps going, whereas in the Metro, it only lasts but a moment.

Many people think of Electric Vehicles as golf carts. They do NOT think of them as a “real” vehicle. So, when somebody gets to go for a ride in my car for the first time, I usually put the car in low gear and gun it. Most people have never felt 50 horsepower from a dead stop without an engine start and rev. 50HP from a dead-stop is startling. It is literally enough power to throw you right out of the car. (I almost did that in a Citicar once too. Really bad door design on those…Time to instal that racing seat belt..) Come to think of it, I DID do a power left-hand-turn with the reporter in the passenger seat, didn’t I?….

We had plenty of fun racing around the back of the parking lot, burning rubber, spitting gravel, leaving black streaks on the pavement. (If you have never driven an Electric Car before, PLEASE do! The thing that will appear on your face is called an “EV Grin”!)

So, Mr. Magazine Reporter got a good, up-close view of a couple of home-made and home-modified electric cars.

Weeks went past, and I got a message or two from a “fact-checker”. Still waiting, I knew the article was eventaully supposed to come out. Just the other day, I finally got a web link to the article, originally researched and written this summer. You can read it at the OnEarth web page – the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the mean time, I’m going to keep working, building, tinkering, sharing, showing off, displaying, and teaching about clean transportation, and how when you put your mind to it, and apply a little leverage, anything is possible.

Ben Nelson is a motivated DIY who has designed and built his own electric car, electric motorcycle, solar hot water system, and graywater recycling laundry system. You can follow his projects at