It's alive! Electric car takes to SK's streets

Billy Joe Knight, left, and Robert Gakin look under the hood of their converted Volvo, which runs entirely on batteries and runs for 80 miles before needing a recharge. - Aaron Burkhalter/Staff  Photo
Billy Joe Knight, left, and Robert Gakin look under the hood of their converted Volvo, which runs entirely on batteries and runs for 80 miles before needing a recharge.
— image credit: Aaron Burkhalter/Staff Photo

Billy Joe Knight and Robert Gakin figure their new car’s fuel will cost 1.5 cents per mile, but it took about $10,000 and two months of hard work to get it there.

It started out as an old red Volvo, but what’s under the hood is a far cry from what it looked like coming from the manufacturer years back. The inside is now filled with wires and 12 batteries.

The electric car belongs to Knight, a South Kitsap resident who got tired of paying more than $3 per gallon for gas. Purchasing an electric car wasn’t an option — with so few on the market, and even those are expensive. Knight noted that one car he saw at an auto-show cost $13,000 and only ran 30 miles before needing a charge.

And Gakin doesn’t see the industry changing any time soon.

“My feeling is the auto industry is dragging their feet,” he said. “They don’t want to make electric cars.

“I don’t think there’s that much money in them,” Gakin said. “They’re making so much oil right now — they’re making billions of profit. If I was making billions of dollars on a product, would I change it? I would fight anything I could to keep electric cars off the market.”

With Knight’s experience in electronics and Gakin’s mechanical background, the two grabbed a book called “Convert It” and purchased a kit to turn a Volvo into an all-electric vehicle, which can travel 80 miles on on charge.

Even with the $10,000 it cost for the kit, car and other expenses, the two see this as a major savings, especially with the cost of maintaining gas-based cars.

“No oil change, no spark plugs. It’s supposed to get to 85,000 miles before you need to replace the brushes,” Knight said, adding that even those are fairly inexpensive, “I’d say in the neighborhood of $100.”

Gakin added, “If things work out the way it’s supposed to, and I think it will, Billy’s going to drive this around for a penny and a half cents an hour.”

Turning it on, the car doesn’t emit the rumbling sound of a gas car, but a high pitched tone, which they say will go away entirely after a few modifications. Once they’re made, the only sound you’ll hear is the sound of tires on gravel.

Next, they’ll build one for Gakin, and if both cars work out well they’ll consider building and selling the cars.“If this works out,” Gakin said, “then I’m going to do one myself and then we’re going to look into if people would be willing to pay the price above the cost.”

They noted that those wanting a converted car should first have a background in electronics and mechanics. They followed the instructions in the book step-by-step, but ran into problems a novice might not know how to handle.

“Billy being an electrician, he knew that the problem is this relay shorted,” Gakin said. “If you didn’t have experience with relays to know they shorted you'd be up a creek.”

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