ElectroClassic EV
Classic Cars Reborn into the Electric Future

AltCar Expo 2013


I always look forward to the yearly AltCar Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, mainly because it provides me with a super easy way to show off the electric Porsche 914 to a keenly interested audience. But it’s also an essential way of integrating into a growing community that heralds electric cars as a crucial piece of the future puzzle.



Like the previous year, I parked at the free charging stations among the Leafs and Volts, and broke out the Armor All and microfiber for final touches before the crowds arrived. Then I left a few business cards on my windshield, and hoofed it over to the main exhibit area to scope out the show.



One of the first notable encounters was with the new BMW i3. The base model is a pure electric plug-in, but a range extender option can be fitted for an additional $3K. The car was bigger than I expected, but matches the size of the more recent BMW Mini. I would have loved to explore the interior, but they kept this model locked up tight.



Here is the rear view. The vehicle has been designed from the ground-up as an EV, and the aluminum frame and carbon fiber body reduce the weight for better pickup and range. BMW had hinted they were launching a breakthrough battery technology in this car, but the range on a single charge is still less than 80 miles. The notched-out windows don’t really speak to me either, but this is still a cool little car. Big brother BMW i8 was absent from this show because there are only a few display models currently in existence.



The Cadillac ELR is built on the same basic GM platform as the Chevy Volt. It’s heavier, so the battery range is closer to 35 miles rather than the Volt’s 40 miles, but the overall power output has been significantly boosted. Since there is no radiator to cool a normal gas engine, the distinctive Cadillac grill on the ELR is just a signifier of a bygone era – a simulacrum as it were. Go look it up.



The cockpit is both posh and snug, with tech and control that exudes Cadillac classiness. Even though the Tesla Model S has set a new design standard for luxury cars, there’s something ultrasexy about the Cadillac philosophy when applied to an electric platform. I don’t completely understand the feelings I’m having. Pinch me.



One of the fun things about the AltCar Expo is the opportunity to drive a decent selection of production electric vehicles from big name manufacturers. Available for a test spin were the Chevy Volt and Spark, the Mercedes B-Class F-CELL, the Ford Focus and C-Max, the Honda Fit EV, the Nissan Leaf, the Toyota Prius Plug-in, and this cute little Smart electric, which I took around the block.



The interior was surprisingly comfortable and quiet, with plenty of leg and headroom. I found the dash, display and controls to be simple and yet well designed, well constructed, and well laid out. On the road, it was snappy and sure-footed. I was reminded by the sales rep that Smart is owned by Mercedes, and the quality of ride and practical comfort for such an economy-sized vehicle upheld the name. I really enjoyed it.




Here is a bit of electric hybrid legacy on display from the Petersen Automotive Museum. It’s amazing how many of these obscure failed projects litter the landscape of EV history. A quick inspection on one knee revealed that the Hybricon’s rear axles were not turned directly by the electric motors, but indirectly by belts that looked only slightly beefier than what spins a vacuum cleaner beater bar.



But the real highlight of the day was Team Marine from Santa Monica High School, who have spent the last 4 years converting this Volkswagen Beetle convertible to electric from scratch. Other than the electric 914, theirs was the only other representation of EV conversions at the Expo. I really admire their spirit of discovery, innovation and ingenuity, and they deserve all of the praise and attention they are getting.



They were using the same HPEVS AC motor that I installed in the Porsche, only they hard-coupled the motor and transmission, and drive the car in second gear without a clutch. Shifting gears is possible if you know how to double-clutch.



The team used 96 GBS brand 100Ah lithium cells, and parallel ganged them in groups of three, in effect tripling their amp hour rating to 300Ah. It gives their electric beetle a projected range of 100 miles! The little green circuit boards you see between some of the cell terminals are components of the distributed battery management system (BMS).



On a final note, we witness a casualty of an EV extinction. After selling only 100 electric cars in California, Coda Automotive went belly up in May of 2013, leaving Coda buyers stranded without any mechanical or technical support. This is one man’s solution to getting the help he needs. Knowing that many Coda technicians and managers migrated to other EV manufacturers, he came to the AltCar Expo hoping for some generosity, expertise and fellowship. That’s community-building in a nutshell.



2 Responses to “AltCar Expo 2013”

  1. I wish I had been there with you.

    Next year for sure.

    Did you see any Karmas?

    • Hey Ed,

      It’s always a pretty laid back affair, but great fun to show off the P914. I guess it’s obvious I’m not entirely sold on the truck idea. The direction ahead for me looks like classic 911s, maybe from 69 to 82. Let me know if that interests you.

      Sorry, no Karmas in sight. Hope you are well, and your sister’s project is free of obstacles.

      Best, Mark

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