Professor Carmona's Electric 'Bug'
By Bill Moore
German (pronounced 'Herman' in Spanish) Carmona is a professor at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. He converted his first Mexican-built Volkswagen Beetle a decade ago. He currently drives his 1997 "Voltswagen" conversion -- his second -- every day from home to school where he teaches engineering... and back for half the cost of driving the already frugal gasoline model.
So, when he stands up at events like the EV International Forum held on May 8, 2007 in Mexico City, he knows whereof he speaks; that electric vehicle technology is here today, it works but it will take serious government policy support to see more than just a handful of electric cars on the streets of the world's second largest city.
I met Professor Carmona on the eve of the EV International Forum at Herman (and it is pronounced 'Herman') Fuchs custom auto repair shop located not far from the university campus. Carmona wanted to see the converted Nissan Tsuru that Electro Autos Eficaces de Mexico or EAE was planning to debut to city officials at the opening of the Forum.
He and his students have converted two "Voltswagens", as he likes to refer to them. It's an amazingly simple, straightforward piece of engineering as demonstrated by the photo's below. The 'Bugs' air-cooled, gasoline-burning engine has been placed by an electric motor -- sorry I didn't get the size (Carmona doesn't speak English and I don't speak Spanish, so I had to rely on translators, including Azure Dynamic's Ricardo Espinosa.). But from the photograph it appears to be a 7 or 8 inch, brushed-DC motor that is powered by 14 8-Volt lead-acid batteries. The amount of power fed to the motor is managed by the controller that sits above the electric motor. This combination gives the car a range of 55-60 km (34-37 miles) and a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph), which Carmona says is quite sufficient for his transportation needs in Mexico City.
Electric drive motor, controller and batteries in German Carmon's Voltswagen Beetle conversion
[The last VW Beetle rolled off the assembly line in Mexico City in July, 2003. It was the 21,529,464th one built in the 70 years since it first debuted in Hitler's Germany, making it the most popular motor vehicle ever built. The second most popular was Ford's Model T, some 15 million of which were built between 1908 and 1927.]
Professor Carmona told the Forum audience that while the car isn't intended for highway travel, it is ideal as a city commuter car. He pointed out that he was late for the opening of the Forum because of typical Mexico City traffic. A trip that should have taken 15-20 minutes, took an hour and 40-45 minutes of it he spent siting in a traffic jam along with tens of thousands of other cars. But whereas the other cars were burning fuel at idle speed, wasting money and polluting the city's air, his little car sat quiet, burning no fuel, making no pollution or noise.
Before he took Espinosa and me for a ride over to the University to see his two other electric vehicle projects -- two battery-powered, 30 passenger, mini-buses -- he told me that he estimates he drove 10,000 miles (16,000 km) on his first set of batteries. He has some 2,500 km now on his second set. He also calculates that he can drive the vehicle some 20,000 miles before having to replace the bushes in the motor, which he assured me is a relatively simply, inexpensive job. In the ten years that he's been driving his two Volkswagen electric car conversions, he has had no significant mechanical problems.
While showing Espinosa, who is Azure Dynamics' VP for Engineering, and me the two prototype 30-passenger electric mini-buses, he expressed his frustrations with the previous government's lack of support for electric vehicles -- support that now appears more forthcoming from the current liberal-leaning Federal District administration that oversees greater Mexico City and its surrounding communities. The Marcelo Ebrard administration has now endorsed the efforts of EAE to convert an initial 1,000 city-owned Nissan Tsuru/Sentra's to electric drive.
Carmona lamented that his second electric mini-bus project only operated a few months in 2001 when the previous government abruptly pulled his funding and the bus largely sat unused until recently when the government provided him with enough funding for a six month trial transit program around the University campus. Considering there are more than 30,000 similar mini-buses, called Rutas, running around Mexico City, his bus demonstrates that those too could be converted to electric or to hybrid-electric drive. He is currently working with a company in Mexico on a hybrid-electric drive system.
Based on his own personal experience, he sees niche roles for both electric city cars like his 'Voltswagen' Beetle, for hybrids and non-hybrid vehicles where each is matched to its specific task. City electric cars like his are ideal for short daily commutes of 40 km (28 miles). Hybrids, especially in Ruta mini-buses and larger city buses, including the soon-to-be-expanded MetroBus bus rapid transit system, would handle trips over 100 km (60 miles) day, replacing the current dirty diesel buses now in use.
He urged the attendees to the Forum to "take the bull by the horns, as we say in Mexico" and support important electric-drive vehicle initiatives like that being developed by EAE. "If there is no political will, there will be no progress," he stressed.
National University of Mexico engineering professor German Carmon with his Voltswagen Beetle conversion. Note the additional 8-volt lead acid batteries in the front of the car.
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