Believing Middle East oil supplies are about to dry up, Chris Northover has built his own battery-powered car. He talks to Paul Charman
Convinced the world is facing another oil shock, Chris Northover has built himself a fully functioning electric car. The Wanganui lawyer believes an impending Israel-Iran conflict will cause an oil crisis reminiscent of the 1970s.
So the mechanical tinkerer bought a second-hand 1993 Nissan Sentra and imported a controller, rare-earth permanent magnet and brushless electric motor from China. Batteries came from the United States.
He stripped the engine and clutch out of the car, replaced them with the electric engine and batteries and made everything else required during the 18-month project.
It took hundreds of hours, cost $11,000 and was at times almost heartbreaking in its complexity, he says.
Northover contracted a lung infection through spending most of last winter in his garage working on the vehicle and says he might have quit but for the encouragement of friends.
The result is a car with a range of about 50km and a top speed of 100km/h. The engine generates only 11kW but it's more than enough for what the Northovers use it for - generally just getting from their suburban home into the city and back.
Although plans exist for future disruptions, our Government does not anticipate an oil crisis this year:
Treasury forecasts assume that oil prices will decline from December 2012 to mid 2017.
However, Treasury leaves the door open for a possible oil shock, saying: "Other notable international risks include the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, which has the potential to push up oil prices and disrupt trade."
A parliamentary report written in 2010, titled "The Next Oil Shock", did envisage that 2013 could be a difficult year for oil supply globally, but the report did not dwell on another Middle East conflict.
The Petroleum Demand Restraint Act 1981 allows for rationing of fuel and other emergency measures in the event of a severe fuel shortage.
The Auckland Civil Defence emergency management fuel contingency plan is primarily focused on ensuring that lifeline utilities, emergency services and health agencies have sufficient fuel to maintain their essential services.
Northover is unimpressed.
"We've run down our rail and coastal shipping, and now just about everything gets transported by truck. We have good renewables, including hydro and geothermal, but the public remains too dependant on fossil fuels. "It's not just being able to drive to the beach on Sunday - everything we consume depends on the availability of cheap oil.
"Transforming our national vehicle fleet to electric power deserves priority in my view, but politicians don't grasp the urgency."
If he was doing the car project again, Northover would tackle it differently.
"I'd just buy a Toyota Prius and put a great big stack of lithium ion batteries in the back, where there's space for them.
"Then I'd get a little piece of electrical trickery to fool the Japanese electronics into thinking that the battery wasn't getting flat so the motor would never start.
"Bingo, a dedicated plug-in electric car, good for 90km on battery power alone."