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December 13, 2012

This Sierra Clubber's DIY Car

Zwheelz

Sierra Club members are known for camping, hiking, and campaigning to protect the outdoors. Building cars? Not so much.

But Gary Krysztopik of San Antonio, Texas, isn't your typical environmental activist. He's an electric vehicle advocate working on developing an open-sourced electric vehicle kit that will allow anyone to build his or her own EV. Now all you'll need is some space in the garage to put it together.

"My goal is to make building an electric vehicle as easy as possible," says Gary, who started his company ZWheelz http://www.zwheelz.com/ in 2007. "It's mainly for people who want to commute back and forth. It allows for a very easy entry point to get an EV."

The challenge of putting together an EV sounds a tad more difficult than assembling IKEA furniture. Gary's plan is to make it so simple that even people who have never picked up a wrench before will be able to build one. What might motivate people to build their own car? Money, of course.

Many people are finding the purchase of a new EV to be more financially do-able than they anticipated -especially with federal and some state tax credits as well as reduced fueling and maintenance costs. However, there are some people for whom buying any car is a financial hurdle they just can’t jump right now.

"The average person spends up to $3,000 a year in gasoline and drives about 30 to 40 miles a day," said Gary. He says that for those who can’t afford to buy a new EV, but who want to realize the emissions and gasoline savings of these cars, his kit can help them build their own.  

Gary's build-it-yourself EV, called the "EZ-EV Open Source Electric Kit Car," uses durable, composite materials that don't erode, such as fiber glass, instead of metal. This would enable the car's frame -- with periodic battery replacements -- to last generations. Imagine a world without junkyards filled with throwaway cars.

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In fact, for many years many do-it-yourselfers have been converting existing internal combustion engine vehicles or even hybrid cars to electric. For example, the folks at ConVerdant Vehicles out of Concord, New Hampshire, help people convert used Toyota Priuses and Ford Escape hybrids to be a plug-in hybrids.

Gary's vision for a make-your-own-EV might seem out there. But it doesn't sound so crazy when you ask where his inspiration comes from. Gary worked at the Department of Defense during 9/11 and the subsequent Iraq invasion. He says he became disillusioned when some at his workplace kept talking about grabbing Iraq's oil.

"I couldn't be a part of that," he says.

Gary says everything changed for him when we saw the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

"That was when I said that this was what I had to do," he says.

Gary hopes to spark a grassroots movement to car making.

"Even in developing countries, this open-sourced kit would make it possible for anyone. Cars will be locally built. No more shipping cars all around the world."

Learn more about Sierra Club's EV program.

-- Brian Foley

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