A Poor Man's Tesla

MIT students electrify a classic sports car

1 min read

If you’re itching to own a sexy electric roadster but can’t afford the US $109 000 price tag for Tesla Motors’ sleek new model, there’s another option you might want to consider: building your own.

Two years ago, Yang Shao-Horn, a professor in MIT’s department of mechanical engineering and head of its electrochemical energy laboratory, bought a 1976 Porsche 914 roadster on eBay for about $5000. She then donated it to her students so they could electrify the car, which is a popular model among hobbyists for electric conversion. The budding engineers put together a vehicle that, like Tesla’s acclaimed sports car, uses lithium-ion batteries (about $36 000 worth, donated by Valence Technology, of Austin, Texas) as well as an ac motor and controller. And like the Tesla roadster, which is based on the Lotus Elise, the MIT vehicle should inherit the superb handling of a midengine sports car. We haven’t seen its top speed yet—the students are only now preparing to carry out high-speed highway tests—but they have calculated the expected performance, and it’s very respectable for a DIY conversion.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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