In 2007, I went to a local car dealership to look at some of their electric cars. Why? It just seemed crazy that everyone on was driving a car that polluted our planet. There had to be an alternative. And, at the time, there was – they were called “NEVs”, which stood for Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. Problem was no self-respecting person would drive one. They resembled a Mr. Bean car, tiny and box-ish. I test drove one, taking it for a spin on the roadways around the dealership. While at a stoplight I got odd looks from other motorists, who had to be asking themselves … what the hell is that thing?! When the light turned green, I sped off leaving the others behind me in the dust … man this car could move – it went from 0 to 15 miles an hour in about one second. Suckers! The problem with an NEV was, however, that it’s top speed … was only 20 miles an hour! Cars drove around me with a few flipping me the bird – a kind way of telling me to get off the road.
Were these NEVs really the future of electric cars? There had to be something way cooler yet eco-friendly. Nope there was nothing on the market.
So, what’s a lifelong entrepreneur do with a problem like this?
You guessed it. I decided to make my own car. But, it had to be badass.
My goal was to create a cool car, that didn’t burn fossil fuel, that people (my target was men) would be eager to drive.
I attended a meeting of the local EV club in Raleigh, NC made up of gear-heads who had built their own battery powered flatbed trucks. I asked them about build something cool, and one suggestion was a Volkswagen. Nope. A VW didn’t fit “badass”. So, the following week I flew down to Florida and bought a beautiful used Porsche 911. And, over the next year and a half I had a mechanic rip all of the guts and components out of it, and install 28 lead acid batteries, balancing them across the front and back of the car. We also installed a very simple yet powerful Electric motor, with only 7 moving parts. This ended up being a very difficult build that took way longer than expected, getting all components, including the AC, radio, and power steering/brakes to function properly.
I was pleased to hear that a start up company called Tesla was building a production electric car, with lithium ion batteries. Word on the street was that they were having problems with their lithium battery packs becoming unstable, which I knew to be a problem as we had difficulty with voltage leakage when lead acid batteries were inline.
After two years, in May of 2009, I finally took delivery of the car. This time on-lookers marveled at it instead of scoffing at it and couldn’t quite wrap their brains around the fact that it had an electric engine that didn’t need gasoline). This car was the antithesis of an NEV – it WAS indeed badass. However it was also very finnicky; the batteries became completely depleted a couple of times, and needed to be replaced. Sigh.
I ended up buying a black Tesla Roadster (#856) and donated my prototype Porsche 911 to a test track in eastern North Carolina which tested the car (in some type of partnership with Google) as a self-driving EV. I thought that was pretty cool.
People ask if I ever seriously pondered starting an Electric Car company? No. Elon Musk envisioned creating a world-changing company while I considered retrofitting the chassis of select makes/models of used cars with electric engines. However after my build, realizing how difficult it would be to scale, I was grateful that Tesla was building such a fantastic vehicle(s) … and made commercially viable EVs. I’m a huge fan of Tesla and feel a close connection with this brand and mission. Footnote: my daughter in the picture above … her first car = Tesla model Y.