An Electric Car Rises in Karachi
Parked in the carport of Faraz Khan's Karachi home is a faded, tired-looking Suzuki Mehran hatchback that the U.S.-trained (Cornell University) software engineer bought for 90,000 Pakistani Rupees (PKR), or just over a $1000US.. The ICE was toast, but the manual transmission was still good. Having rebuilt a 1967 Jeep CJ for off-roading in the rugged mountains of his native Pakistan, Khan decided his next challenge was to build an electric car; and the aging Mehran would be the donor vehicle. His web blog has more of the technical specifics on the project.
Petrol, as gasoline is called in Pakistan, and diesel have to be imported and it's relatively expensive, costing the equivalent of $3.20US a gallon (66 PKR per liter), a price "well out of reach of the local population, delving them further into poverty," Khan explains. Since Pakistan doesn't require fuel economy ratings, comparable Suzuki products typically can get around 45 mpg, which translates into the equivalent of about 4.3¢ US per kilometer or in 3.6PKR on petroleum. Khan estimates the cost of operating his converted Mehran at 1PKR/km at current electric power rates in Karachi. The motor, controller and charger he mail ordered from
Driving electric in the crowded streets of Pakistan's largest city makes sense economically and environmentally. Khan estimates that the car, which uses a 6.7 inch Advanced DC electric motor with 16.5kW peak power, a Curtis 1209B controller and a Zivan NG1 battery charger, along with locally produced UPS 12V lead-acid batteries consumes about 5Ah at 45 km/h. He calculates this is comparable to getting 133km/liter of petrol. At higher speeds between his home and office where he runs Emergen Consulting, an Open Source core software development house, the car consumes 9Ah at upwards of 70km/h. That's like getting 74km/liter or 180 mpg in US fuel economy terms. If more drivers followed his lead, it could have a huge impact on the country's growing debt.
He explains, "Pakistan has no oil and is in extreme foreign debt. Of the $6.5bn Crude imported, 70% is used for refinement into gasoline. Out of the $5bn additional oil products imported 50-60% makes it way back into the automobile in form of diesel and lubricants. You can safely say that automobiles suck up at least $7bn worth of foreign currency. For a country with a GDP of $160bn, that is a large chunk!"
"At $3.20 per US gallon, gasoline is borderline unaffordable in Pakistan. A middle class salary is defined as $500 per month (before taxes). Out of this you can safely assume he spends anywhere from $50-$100 every month on fuel for commuting very small distances. Due to jam packed roads, internal combustion cars spew havoc on the roads with pollution and fuel wasted idling. On average, a car in Pakistan's major city (Karachi) delivers 20-30% less efficiency than what's quoted by the manufacturer."
Of course, the electricity to charge Khan's car and any future EV's that take to the streets of Lahore, Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan, comes largely from thermal electric plants. Karachi's first nuclear power plant went on line in 1972. While the country does have hydropower, much of its generation comes from burning oil, gas and coal. Additionally, according to TED Case Studies under-investment in infrastructure and generation capacity leaves a significant gap between demand and production estimated at 2,000 MW annually. Demand is growing at more than 8% per year and it is projected that the country will need to add an additional 50,000MW of capacity by 2018.
Further complicating the matter are the built-in inefficiencies in distribution and outright theft of power. Much of the power lines used across Pakistan are steel instead of copper. Pakistan estimates it looses as much as 3,000 MW annually due to its "dilapidated distribution system" and load shedding, a fact Khan acknowledges.
"Pakistan, like many third world countries, has a shortage of electricity. So blackouts are fairly common, occurring on a daily basis. However this has become such a norm that most people have backup power systems in their homes, including banks of batteries and back-up generators.
"We still buy air conditioners dont we? Those are purely luxury items and consume FAR FAR more electricity than a EV!
"We buy generators to support them in times of load shedding. The EV is no different. In times when KESC (Karachi Electric Supply Corporation) does not come through, a very small (2kVa) generator can be used to charge the EV. If a good generator is used, the cost of diesel/fuel for the generator will still be somewhat less than the equivalent fuel consumed by a internal combustion engine car. Basically the EV is still slightly cheaper than a comparable car EVEN when using a generator to charge it.
"Since many households already carry a generator set, a EV charger presents about the same load as a hand iron," he observes.
Khan is often asked why he moved back to Pakistan, instead of staying in the United States -- after Cornell, he worked two years in New York City. He responds, "to me it was always about belonging. I always felt like this place was my home and wanted to give back whatever I could using my intelligence. I feel that Pakistan needs people like me to even have a chance to succeed in these dark times."
"I wanted to do something that would directly and significantly help the betterment of our environment and I believe that an Electric Car does just that. I wanted to showcase a vehicle which may give others the inspiration to develop such cars on their own. I wanted to show that it is possible to promote such an idea even in a third world country such as Pakistan. "
Now that he's proven the feasibility of operating an electric car in Pakistan, he's set his sights on an even more ambitious set of goals.
"The idea is to develop two powerful, yet cost efficient cars most likely retailing at around PKR 450,000.00 or USD $5,500 or under for the economy version and PKR 950,000 or $11000 for a performance version. Also, the main aim is to provide comparable performance - this will not be the average go-cart 48v underpowered NEVs being produced worldwide. Even the economy car utilizes a 29hp motor, runs on 72v and utilizes Deep cycle lead acid batteries. The performance version utilizes a massive 70Hp motor with state of the art Lithium batteries for performance that would beat the current Toyota Vitz (Yaris)."
These vehicle he's code-named "Elektra 2". It would be equipped with "state of the art Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePo4) batteries from a very economical supplier. Packed with a 70Hp mammoth motor, the car would be capable of going 110Kmph with acceleration that surpasses existing gasoline cars."
His Elektra 2 would feature amongst other things:
- a custom (locally) designed ultra-light rust proof and dent proof fiberglass body.
- Body style : Wide Hatchback (vitz - like)
- Air conditioning
- 70 Hp motor power on tap
- 110Kmph top speed with excellent acceleration
- Rear wheel drive for better handling
- Full custom dashboard
- Massive cargo bay and trunk space.
"You sit in and turn the key and all you hear is a click on the main contactor coming on – the car is running and powered on though completely silent. You tap on the accelerator and the car pushes forward, with decent power and acceleration. And dont worry – there are no gears or clutches. It is impossible to stall a electric car – even on sharp inclines.
"When you let go of the accelerator when coming to a stop, the car does not buck - instead it smoothly coasts along. You simply press on the brake to slow it down further
"There are no vibrations, no idling. When stopped in traffic the car consumes zero electricity as the motor spins down to exactly zero making it ideal for Pakistan's stop and go urban traffic. Unlike gasoline cars, electric cars develop power at extremely low rpms. This means that driving in stop n go traffic is exceptionally painless – no more revving the engine and slipping the clutch maneouver."
This is clearly an experience he'd like other Pakistanis to enjoy. They can save money, reduce pollution, slow the out-flow of the nation's wealth paying for oil, and enjoy a fun, exhilarating ride, even on 29 hp.
Faraz Khan can be reach in Karachi, Pakistan by email at: email@example.com.
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