Electric 1972 Beetle making its way across Canada


August 31, 2010

The E-Beetle in Vancouver

The E-Beetle in Vancouver

Image Gallery (5 images)

Despite the stunningly futuristic looks and high technology of cars such as the Aptera, practical electric vehicles don’t need to be exotic. Take, for instance, the E-Beetle. It’s a 1972 VW Beetle, which a group of students from the University of British Columbia Electric Car Club retrofitted with an electric motor. They had originally intended to enter it in the Zero Race, in which teams in electric cars are racing each other around the world. Once they realized they couldn’t make the deadline, however, they settled for a more modest goal – to drive it 6,400 km. (3,977 miles) across Canada... and they’re almost done.

The UBC Electric Car Club is made up of students from a variety of disciplines. What they all share, according to their website, is a desire “to break the fossil fuel dependency for transportation and commuting purposes.” They’re also interested in establishing UBC as a center of excellence for green technology, and in motivating other students worldwide to get involved in the field.

Although the club was formed just a year ago, they’ve already put together an impressive little car. The E-Beetle’s original combustion engine has been replaced with an electric three-phase AC induction motor, powered by a lithium-iron phosphate battery pack. Some extra power is generated through a four-wheel regenerative braking system. According to one of the drivers, Ricky Gu, they recovered over 2,000 watt-hours of energy from braking while coasting down from the Rocky Mountains.

The car has a range of 550 km. (341 miles) at 50 km/h (31 mph), or 300 km. (186 miles) at 100 km/h (62 mph), and takes about four hours to recharge. It has a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph).

The two drivers and their dog set off from Vancouver, British Columbia on August 21st, and hope to arrive at their destination of Halifax, Nova Scotia by September 3rd – by doing so, they hope to break the speed record for driving across Canada in an electric vehicle. They are making the trip without the assistance of any support vehicles.

Unlike many EVs, the E-Beetle doesn’t require special charging stations. The team have been recharging at standard 50 amp outlets in places like campgrounds along the way. Unfortunately, soon into their journey they discovered that one of their onboard chargers was defective, bumping their required charging time up to about six hours. That may have been remedied as of the time of this writing, as they are currently in Toronto, where they were hoping to get their system repaired.

"The car had performed beyond my expectation and I am very happy with it," Gu told us. "This trip had taught myself what EVs are capable of. I would expect the electronics to malfunction from the blazing heat or the battery to under perform from the constant hard driving-charging-driving-charging every single day. But it just keeps going and going without any problems. Being able to experience this vehicle's performance first hand in such harsh conditions just gives me more and more confidence in electric vehicle technologies."

The E-Beetle still has another 1,264 km. (785 miles) to go before it reaches Halifax.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

That\'s not all across Canada!

They should have started in Tofino on Vancouver Island and end at Cape Spear in Newfoundland.

That\'s across Canada.


I guess it is fortunate that they have the charging split between two units. This kind of thing, where there is a mishap on the first trek doesn\'t bode well for confidence in this technology.

Paul Anthony

I think this is a neat project and I would hope there is more interest from the media in EV technology to get this kind of stuff to market faster.

Jay Thorburn

Plenty of quibbling going on here. That the lads aren\'t trying to hoof it \"all across Canada\" is a fact important, I should think, only to jobless cartographers: it\'s still 6,400 km, even if they still have a fifth of it left to cover. And that\'s a hell of a lot more from the usual homegrown electrification garage to the closest four-point crossing.

What is it exactly that \"doesn\'t bode well for confidence in this technology\"? What technology? EVs in general? It seems to me that there\'s plenty boding \"well\" for this tech - the future\'s all about it. Or this particular Bug EV? The story doesn\'t say that they\'re trying to flog this \"tech\" to the biggies - yet; just have a crosscountry ball because they couldn\'t participate in the Zero Race. Next year, we\'ll be in a position to comment on the \"confidence\" bit. Till then, here\'s a gigantomorphous thumbs up from me.

Kajal Basu

The real test would be crossing the Prairies in bone-chilling winter weather,35-40 degrees below zero. I bet a charge wouldn\'t last nearly as long.


Congratulations for the guys and its VoltsWagen.


\"Doesn\'t bode well?\"

Yes,I can see how the Titanic clearly proved how futile it is to attempt to try to make ships unsinkable.

As somebody who has built many machines of many kinds I can categorically state that all machines face trial&error adjustments- even brand new \"normal\" cars often need adjustments and repairs upon arrival at the dealerships.

Remember: these are students showing iniative- not some big corporation with massive resources.

For them to attempt to take a car they\'ve built, electric or not, entirely across Canada or not, is still impressive considering that they chose to have NO support vehicle. THAT\'S CONFIDENCE! If they hadn\'t had told you about it, you wouldn\'t even have known! The fact that they\'re making it on only one charger only confirms what all pilots should know: make redundant systems wherever necessary!



This is great! I am so pleased to hear about this project - good on ya guys!

\"Does not bode well?\" ... um, what? This is a prototype crossing Canada unassisted - very cool and bodes VERY well for this type of machine.

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