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Interview with Seth Leitman, Author of ‘Build Your Own Electric Vehicle’

Electric cars are the way of the future, but not many of us can afford a Tesla and we’re still waiting on that Chevy Volt. In the meantime, author Seth Leitman shows us how we can green up the cars we own right now and transform them from gas guzzlers to mean, green electric machines.

With the economy the way it is, America’s DIY spirit will no doubt be stronger than ever and ‘Build Your Own Electric Vehicle’ could be the handbook that allows people to take the switch into their own hands. We interviewed Seth about his book and got a fascinating look into the world of electric vehicles.

What inspired you to write a book about electric cars?

SL: The book was first published in 1993, written by Bob Brant. Recently, Judy Bass, the editor of McGraw-Hill Professional, publisher of the volume, noticed that it was still selling well, but that it was in need of an update. She chose me for the project a little over a year ago because Brant had died and I had worked for the State of New York on electric cars.

Build Your Own Electric Vehicle provides step-by-step instructions for converting a regular gas-powered car into electric – for as much as or less than buying a traditional car. Does this process require prior knowledge about car repair and maintenance? Could someone like me – who’s handy, but doesn’t have much technical knowledge – take on this task?

SL: You could convert the car with prior knowledge of automobiles or are handy and are a do it yourself type.  However, if you feel any bit uncomfortable about converting the car, there is a source directory of companies, people, and a Foundry and Machine Shop that can assist you in your conversion process.

What would you say to critics who claim that electric cars aren’t eco-friendly because they use electricity drawn from fossil-fuel-powered plants?

SL: Great question.  The Environmental Protection Agency measures emissions by a grams or emissions per mile.  Even if electric cars are all powered with coal they would still be cleaner than any other alternative fueled vehicle; they have ZERO tailpipe emissions; coal powered plants across the country are spending money to reduce emissions from their power plants which will only reduce emissions further.

Since you wrote this book, the economy has suffered dramatically and oil prices have gone down. Have these factors, or any others that have recently come up, changed any of the concepts you cover in your book?

SL: While the economy is in bad shape, we still import more oil than we generate (55%) and we are reliant on a commodity that is rather volatile.  We saw over $140 a barrel this summer and we are now at a little over $50.  There was recently a report that Saudi officials believe that oil should be $75 a barrel.  Some analysts predict oil to go to $120 a barrel this upcoming summer.  Also, as the economy gets better in the US, the price will most likely go up since a barrel of oil is based on the US dollar.

In addition, Bob Brandt (the first author) in 1993 saw $100 a barrel as a need for change.  I am in agreement with Bob.

To some people a Porsche, BMW that gets about 100 miles to a charge costing about $15,000 – $18,500 for someone to convert is a good deal and would pay for a car that does that.  Some who can do it themselves would only pay $8,000 – $10,000.  Also, there are people that would even pay $40,000 – $45,000 for a Porsche, BMW, SAAB, that gets 300 miles on a charge. While not everyone can afford that, early adopters can afford the higher end prices and have expressed sincere interest to purchase cars that use no oil or gasoline.  As more people buy advanced batteries, the cost of a 250-300 mile EV will come down (just as with cell phones).  You now see power tools using lithium ion batteries and even duracell is selling lithium ion batteries.  These is a tell tale sign that advanced battery costs will come down and be more affordable.

In addition, since the US car companies have been building inefficient cars, people have been clamoring for anything electric, such as hybrid electric cars.  Now GM is working on the Volt which gets us an all electric range for 40 miles @ 40 miles per hour, plus they are working with US utilities to develop infrastructure for the vehicles.  This is a huge step!

We are now even talking about plug-in hybrids which allow you to plug in and get up to 100 miles per gallon.  We are getting closer everyday to electric cars in our automobiles and the electric car (as an EV purist) is the way to go.  We will get there and a conversion is the quickest way to get there today.

Have women traditionally had a role in the electric car movement?

SL: Women have been involved in electric cars since the birth of the electric motor. Genevera Delphine Mudge of New York City, has been identified by one source as the first woman motorist in the United States, drove an electric in 1898, and one Miss Daisy Post also drove an electric vehicle as early as 1898.

In ‘Who Killed The Electric Car?’ you had Chelsea Sexton who worked for Saturn and the EV1 and Co-Founder of Plug-In America.

Can you recommend any additional resources for women interested in learning more about electric cars?

SL: Besides the book, which has a source directory in the back, I also worked with Lynne Mason from Electric-cars-are-for-girls.com and Chelsea Sexton from Plug In America and Who Killed The Electric Car?, to make the book a resource for women. I hope it helps.

In the source directory I listed Electric Cars are for Girls, the electric auto association plug in America.  Also, check out Women’s Travel Issues and Are Cars Just a Male Thing? There are more but this is at least a great start.

Thanks, Seth!

Build Your Own Electric Vehicle is available at your local bookstore and online at Amazon.com.

Stephanie Rogers is a fashion- and beauty-obsessed freelance writer with an abiding love for kale and organic wine, living in Asheville, North Carolina.