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Zig's Amazing Electric Vehicle: Electric Cabriolet For Sale SOLD 1/29/2003

Zig and Zig's Electric Cabriolet

January 2003: For Sale: $1,000 SOLD 1/29/2003

Yes, I sold my electric Cabriolet. I purchased a shiny new Corbin Sparrow in April 2002, and no longer drove my Cabriolet. It sat in my garage right in front of the new Sparrow.

The Cabriolet was at the end of its second battery pack, and needed a new pack. Even its accessory battery was dead from disuse.

Car Stats

Car1985 VW Cabriolet
Conversion DateJuly 1997
Conversion Mileage119,000
Converted byMike Slominski
Current Mileage132,000
Real Life Range30 miles
Batteries16x US125s (need replacing)
ChargerZivan Mod. K2 110V
Also includes original K&W BC-20 charger

Image Gallery

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Zig's Second Amazing Electric Vehicle: Corbin Sparrow For Sale SOLD 1/27/2003


January 2003: For Sale: $8,500 SOLD 1/27/2003

Car Stats

Car2001 Corbin Sparrow, #245
Purchased NewApril 2002 from E*carmotors for $15,000
Current Mileage1600
Real Life Range30 miles

In April 2002, I purchased a Corbin Sparrow. With 156V performance and less weight than my Cabriolet, the Sparrow zips up hills and around town. Driving the sparrow is a blast. It's small enough to squeeze through traffic and parks just about anywhere. It is the ultimate commute vehicle.

In December 2002, my company (WildPackets) moved into new headquarters. 25 miles away from my home. With no option for charging at work. Too far for the Sparrow.

So my beloved Sparrow sat in my garage, unused. I took it out once every few weeks to keep the batteries in reasonable shape, but that was it. I like to see EVs vehicle out on the road, reducing traffic and tailpipe emissions, rather than just using up space in a garage. So I sold it.

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The rest of this document describes my real-life everyday experiences driving an electric car, written in 1997-1998 after driving my electric VW Cabriolet.


Photo Gallery

I put all the photos on another page so that they won't interfere with reading this page.

Another EV Rookie on the Road

I logged quite a few email messages during my first few weeks of electric vehicle ownership. These messages originally appeared on the Electric Vehicle Discussion List. I've copied them here so that everyone has an opportunity to laugh at my mistakes.

I think my first month of electric vehicle ownership is fairly typical. Converting a gas-powered car to electric drive is a custom engineering process, even when using a standard conversion kit as I did. There usually must be an initial "debugging" phase when the last few problems get fixed, and the driver learns what's "normal" for an electric car.

Why Drive Electric?

When people discover that I drive an electric car, one of the most frequent questions I get is Why?

Less Smog

Electric cars produce zero tailpipe emissions, and produce little additional pollution from electric power plants. I like the idea that I'm not contributing much to the San Francisco Bay Area's local smog problem.

More Efficient Than Gas

Electric cars are more efficient than gas-powered cars. They waste far less power on heat than an internal combustion engine. Electric cars have low rolling resistance (I can push my electric car with one hand), and they coast extremely well. I use no energy going down hills and sitting at stoplights: idling gas engines consume fuel all the time.

More advanced electric cars (not mine) can recover energy when braking and reuse that energy later. Gas cars just waste braking energy by heating up brake pads.


A gas car needs to drive to a gas station and spend 5 minutes refueling every 200 miles (320 km) or so. To refuel my electric car, I just plug it in every evening when I park it at home. I can't even measure the brief moment it takes every night to reach down, pick up a cord, and insert it into my car's plug, oh-so-cleverly installed behind my gas cap.

A gas car needs an oil change every 3,000 miles (4,800 km) or so. An electric car has no engine to oil. I also have no spark plugs to replace, no timing to tune, no smog equipment to check: a lot less to maintain. Electric cars are low maintenance.

Toy Factor

I'm shallow. I'm easily distracted by bright, shiny objects. I'm an early adopter. I like being the first on my block to drive an electric car. I enjoy trying new things, helping new markets grow into big markets. My electric car is just a big giant toy. It's so fun to drive that I often forget that I'm sitting in traffic during an evening commute.

Cut Through the Hype: Electric Isn't for Everybody

Range: Local Trips Only

Range is an electric car's biggest weakness. My car carries hundreds of pounds of lead-acid batteries, but the energy equivalent of less than two gallons of gas. I cannot take my electric car on long trips or weekend getaways [this is particularly disappointing: my electric car is a convertible that is perfect for weekend getaways, if it had the range or fast-refueling capabilities that my gas-powered car has.]

Lead-acid batteries are improving, but only incrementally: I doubt we'll see more than a 10% increase in capacity over the next few years. More promising are newer batteries such as nickel-metal-hydride and zinc-air, and power generation systems such as fuel cells. But none of these are remotely affordable, most aren't even available. I truly hope that some miraculous new advance will double or quadruple the storage capacity of my electric car without doubling or quadrupling the price, but I don't expect it. The microchip industry might be able to pull off such miracles annually, but battery technology isn't so lucky.

Recharge Time

My electric car takes all night to recharge. I cannot just plug in for a few minutes and get another 200 miles (320 km) of range, which is what my gas-powered car effectively does when I pull up to a gas station.

The recharge rate is entirely solvable. If you need fast recharge, install a high amperage outlet in your garage, and buy a charger that can deliver all those amps to your batteries. The GM EV1 charger can do just that: it can recharge the EV1's battery pack to 80% capacity in less than an hour.

Performance Varies

My electric car is a relatively inexpensive 96 volt conversion. The result is that my electric Volkswagen Rabbit has about half the horsepower of a gasoline-powered Rabbit. I've also added several hundred pounds of lead-acid batteries. My Rabbit has horrible acceleration above 45 MPH (70 km/h). I can get up to the freeway limit of 65 MPH (100 km/h), but it takes a while. On shallow inclines, my Rabbit slows to 55 MPH (90 km/h). One highway near my house has extraordinarily steep hills that slow my Rabbit to 25 MPH (40 km/h). My Rabbit's performance on this highway is so horrible that I no longer take that route in the Rabbit.

Some people can accept the poor performance with statements like I use it for driving around town most of the time, where performance is the same as a gas-powered car or commute-time traffic rarely goes fast enough that my performance differs from the gas-powered cars around me, but I cannot. I drive on the freeway for just about every "in-town" trip: Every city I've ever lived in required some freeway travel just to get around town.

Not all electric cars have this performance problem. When you buy a car, you can choose a Geo Metro or you can choose a Corvette. I bought the electric car equivalent of a Geo Metro. There are also electric equivalents to the Corvette. There are street-legal electric cars that go 130 MPH (210 km/h), and specialized speed machines that break 200 MPH (320 km/h).

I'm a Geo Metro kind of consumer. I don't want to spend Corvette-sized dollars on Corvette-sized performance. So I'll live without incredible acceleration or hill-climbing ability. If I needed better performance, I would have spent more money on a higher-voltage conversion.

You Need a Gas-Powered Car

An electric car is a terrible choice for a single-car family. Electric cars are great for zipping around town, but are lousy at long trips and vacations. 95% of your trips might be short local trips that an electric car handles perfectly, but the remaining 5% will require a longer-range, gas-powered car. Unless you want to rent a car every time you want to leave town, you're better off with a gas-powered car in the garage before you get an electric car.

Here's an ironic twist: your gas car's starter battery might die if you buy an electric car. Since I do all my local driving in the electric car, I've gone weeks without getting behind the wheel of the gas car. All the cute little electronic doodads in a car (clock, radio, alarm, who knows what else?) do slowly drain your gas car's starter battery. If your gas car will sit undriven for weeks, you might want to buy a battery starter. I suppose there's a way to jump-start a gas car off an electric car's accessory battery, but I'm not sure I want to find out....

Zero Emissions Isn't

My car has no tailpipe, so it doesn't pollute, right? Wrong. My car plugs into a wall outlet and draws electric power, which comes from a power plant. That power plant emits pollution. Electric power plants are far more effective at controlling emissions than automobiles, so the pollution I indirectly generate is still far less than a gas car, but I do pollute.

My car still crawls along the freeway in traffic with a single passenger in it. I contribute to traffic. All the gas cars on the road with me have to slow down just a bit more thanks to one more car on the road, so I'm causing everybody else's car to generate just a tiny bit more pollution.

My car stores its energy in lead-acid batteries: not something you'd want in your landfill or water table. Every few years, these batteries get recycled into new batteries. Battery recycling is extremely efficient, but some lead does end up as waste. Gas cars also have lead-acid batteries, but not nearly so many, so frequently replaced.

My car produces a lot less pollution than an equivalent gas-powered car, but it still pollutes.

Still Dependent on Oil

The plastics in the keyboard on which I typed this sentence all came from oil. The ship that carried the parts from Asia to the US was powered by oil. The freight train the carried the parts from a port to Apple's assembly line burned diesel. The truck that carried the assembled keyboard to my local Apple Authorized Dealer burned diesel. So did the trains and trucks that carried the food to my local grocery store. My electric car did nothing to reduce this consumption of oil, all consumed indirectly on my behalf. My completely uneducated guess is that if we replaced every single passenger vehicle in the US with an electric vehicle, we'd reduce our oil consumption by no more than 25%. I'd love to see some statistics on how much oil goes into passenger vehicles versus freight, manufacturing, and other uses.

An electric car the the most effective way for an individual consumer to reduce dependency on oil, but it won't decrease any individual consumer's demand for oil down to zero.

Zero Maintenance Isn't

As easy as an electric car is to maintain, it's not maintenance-free. An electric car still needs new brake pads, just like a gas car. Electric cars with regenerative braking use the brake pads a lot less, but still use them.

Most electric cars still use lead-acid batteries that require occasional watering (just like the starter battery in a gas-powered car). I figure the batteries need a check maybe 3 to 6 times a year. It takes me about 15-20 minutes to check and fill all 16 of my batteries. Newer "sealed lead-acid" batteries do not require filling (they never lose water). Owners of electric cars with sealed lead-acid batteries love these batteries, with good reason.

The same batteries that need occasional water also need occasional cleaning. Once every few months, I take a few paper towels and wipe off the tops of the batteries under my hood. Lead-acid batteries emit a small amount of moisture when charging. After a couple weeks of charging, this moisture is enough to warrant a quick wipe with a paper towel. Left unchecked, this moisture (which is a weak acid) will eat through the paint on metal battery racks, will conduct electricity from the batteries to the car's chassis, and will cause your electric car's safety equipment to kick in. This was a big problem during my first couple of weeks of electric car ownership. Sealed lead-acid batteries do not emit moisture when charging: another reason they're so loved by their owners.

How Much Does It Cost?


Here's the math:
Purchase a used 1985 VW Cabriolet in excellent condition: $5,000
Purchase parts to convert from gas to electric drive: $10,000
Labor to convert from gas to electric drive: $5,000
Total: $20,000

This is about how much I spent on my gas-powered car several years ago. I needed a second car for my household, so I set a similar budget.

For comparison, I could have purchased a new gas-powered Geo Metro for about $8,000. That's less than half the price of my electric Car, I'd have better range, and at 49 miles per gallon, pretty good efficiency and pollution reduction, too.


I'm paying about $35/month in fuel costs for my electric car. This is about what I'd expect to pay for a gas car.

I don't have a separate meter for my electric car, so I cannot accurately tell how much energy my car consumes each night as it charges. However, I do note that my monthly electric bills have gone up about 8-9 kWh per day since I've started charging my car. Multiply that by your local utility company's electric rate (Pacific Gas & Electric, my utility, charges about 13 cents per kWh).

What's Its Range?

I estimate I can get about 35 miles out of a full charge, if I drive with an eggshell touch on the accelerator and keep it below 55 MPH (90 km/h). I hate driving this way, and the cars behind me would hate it, too. So I don't. My roundtrip commute is 15 miles. Even when I run a bunch of errands during the day, I usually arrive home with more than half a "tank" or more than 50% state of charge.

Ask any electric car driver and they'll answer this question the same: I have enough range for my daily driving needs. This answer isn't just an evasive way to avoid the truth. It is the truth. I drive my electric car every day, on the same commute that I used to drive a gas-powered car. I've yet to run out of electricity.

What Happens When You Run Out of Electricity?

I've never run out of electricity, so I can't say for sure.

Same thing that happens when your gas-powered car runs out of gas. The car stops. Unlike gas-powered cars, electric cars have chemistry on their side: batteries recharge themselves just from resting. Pull off to the side of the road and wait 10 minutes. The batteries will grow gas and you'll be able to drive for a few more miles.

Why Didn't You Buy a GM EV1?

The EV1 is a fantastic vehicle. Its range, performance, and accessories all blow my little Volkswagen Cabriolet away. The terms of the EV1 lease take care of maintenance, new batteries, all that stuff that I'll have to perform or pay for myself. This makes the EV1 even lower maintenance than my low maintenance electric car.

The EV1 has a major company behind it. If you have troubles with your car, just call GM and they'll take care of you. GM has picked up drivers who ran their batteries empty. I suppose some higher-end leases will pick up drivers of gas-powered cars that run out of gas, too. That's nice service.

I've seen the EV1. I've read several reports from EV1 drivers. I like the EV1. A lot. I want an EV1. But....

Number one reason I don't drive an EV1: price. GM's lease terms work out to close to $20,000 for a three year lease. After three years and 20 grand, all EV1 lessees have to return the EV1 to GM. $20,000 down the drain and nothing to show for it except three years of transportation. For $20,000, I purchased my electric car. In three years, I'll still have a car to drive: I'll have something to show for all that money.

Number two reason I don't drive an EV1: too new. I'm an early adopter, but I'm not entirely crazy. The folks leasing EV1s right now are beta testers for General Motors. They're providing General Motors with a necessary service so that GM can get the kinks out of their electric cars before rolling them out to the mass consumer market. I think GM is doing the intelligent thing by keeping the initial EV1 market small until everybody has a bit more confidence in the vehicle. From reports, the EV1 sounds like a really solid vehicle.

Number three reason I don't drive an EV1: conspiracy theory. I don't really trust the motives of major auto manufacturers. Major corporations do not always do what is in the best long-term interests of their own employees, their company, their economy, nation, or planet. I don't expect them to: this is commerce, not charity. I truly believe that major auto manufacturers are scared of the electric car. It's an unknown market to them. Electric cars last longer than gas-powered cars and they have fewer parts to wear out. This makes it harder for auto manufacturers to make a profit selling and servicing electric cars, so they'll do what they can to prevent the electric car market from cannibalizing their lucrative gas-powered market. It took state mandates to get the auto manufacturers into the electric car market. If it was up to GM, we'd still be driving gas cars and gas cars only. I like to reward that kind of customer-oriented thinking by shopping elsewhere: shopping at small, local companies that provide me with the choices I want.

For More Information

The internet is a fantastic source of information on electric vehicles. You can probably find dozens of electric vehicle-related sites through a search engine, but here are my favorite spots.

Bruce Parmenter

Bruce Parmenter has collected the most informative electric vehicle packets on the net. His package serves as an excellent starting point for learning about electric vehicles, as well as a source of links to other sources of information, both on and off the net.

The Electric Vehicle Discussion List

See for instructions on how to subscribe.

As with any mailing list or discussion group, read the FAQ (or Bruce Parmenter's EV package) and lurk on the list for a while before posting.

The EV list is a mailing list that discusses electric vehicles. The writers on this list are mostly folks who have converted or created their own electric vehicles, and the discussions tend to get a bit technical and testosterone-filled. The folks on the list are quite friendly. They helped me through my first month of electric vehicle ownership with good advice.

Mike's Auto Care (Retired)

I didn't perform the gas-to-electric conversion myself. I have practically no mechanical ability whatsoever, and no experience with electric car conversions. I knew enough to know when to let professionals handle it.

When I asked around my local (San Francisco Bay Area) electric vehicle community, several people immediately replied Mike Slominski at Mike's Auto Care. I'm glad to add my voice to the chorus. He's a fountain of information, he's a patient teacher, and a nice guy, too. If you're thinking about having a car converted to electric drive, give him a call.

Mike retired in 2001. He's not taking on any more electric car conversions.

picture of the friendly folks at Mike's Auto Care

The folks at Mike's Auto Care, from left to right: Adam Slominski (Mike's son), Bart Rushing (the guy who did most of the work on my car), Mike Slominski.