Zelectric Motors Are Turning Iconic VW’s Into Electric Vehicles
What could be better than daily driving a classic car? Now imagine combining the most iconic vehicle design of all time with modern electric engine technology. Say hello to the ZelectricBug. With its remarkable simplicity, the Volkswagen beetle is a natural candidate for electric vehicle conversion.
Zelectric Motors is the brainchild of award-winning designer-producers David Benardo and Bonnie Rodgers, partners in life and business since 1986. Lifelong aficionados of the VW brand, they’ve owned and loved vintage Microbuses, Karmann Ghias, and various 50s-60s Beetles.
Here is the transcription of TechDrive’s exclusive interview with Zelectric Motors Co-founder, Bonnie Rodgers.
TD: Can you tell our readers a bit about your background? How did the idea for Zelectric Motors come about?
David and I have been partners in life and business for almost three decades. Along the way, we raised a couple of kids. Our beloved family “expedition” vehicle was a 1965 VW 21-window Bus. It was a great ride. We’d throw everything into the back, load up the roof rack, and head to the beach. But all too often, it broke down somewhere along the way. We never left home without duct tape and bailing wire. David ended up spending a good deal of time with that Bus, patiently tweaking and tuning things to keep it running.
We’ve always crushed on vintage German cars, as did our parents before us when we were growing up. Over the years we’ve owned VW Buses, a Karmann Ghia and Bugs. Always loved the design but found that driving functionality left much to be desired.
How the idea came about.
As Bay Area-based designers working with a number of Silicon Valley firms, we were early adopters of everything tech. It first occurred to us 9 years ago, this concept of using modern drivetrain technology hidden within a perfectly stock iconic vehicle. It was irresistible.
In 2012, we hooked up with an engineering/design team that set the record for Pike’s Peak electric speed (street division.) We commissioned the electric rebuild of a high-performance, fast, quiet, collectible classic. Then we spent a couple of years field testing, fine-tuning and adding invisible modifications. The result: an exhilarating driving experience. We called it the ZelectricBug.
When Zelectrified, the VW Beetle proves to be shockingly fun to drive. And out of all of today’s sought-after classics, VW Bug parts are the most affordable, found everywhere and readily available. We simply update Ferdinand Porsche’s timeless design with modern tech, outfitting these beloved cars for the 21st century. There’s just something about vintage Bugs that makes people happy.
Zelectric Motors is still technically in its startup phase, really picking up speed in 2015 after having spent a few years in R&D. Are we a conversion shop? No. We offer turnkey German classics – restored and reborn electric. We are exclusively focused on vintage VWs: Bugs, Microbuses, Karmann Ghias, and Things. But our specialty lies with Beetles from 1958-1967, the sweet spot where drivability and collectibility intersect. Because we never cut or weld, the vehicles themselves are perfect “sleepers” and continue to rise in value.
TD: Can you describe the conversion process?
We begin by finding investment-worthy “core” vehicles that have been well cared for and loved for some 50 years. It’s all in the details. We go through everything and correct what’s needed, ensuring that each one is in top condition. More than just the electric conversion, key components are upgraded. Improved suspension, brakes, throttle, lights, transmission (and more) accommodate the added weight of batteries and provide a very different driving experience.
The stock engine is removed and replaced by an AC electric motor (and other components) that will ultimately be powered by hidden lithium iron. The motor simply mounts right into the stock-rebuilt transmission. So unlike today’s production EVs which are all limited to one speed, Zelectrics offer “selectable torque.” While maintaining their original gear ratio and four on the floor, Zelectrics can be driven easily like an automatic or more interactively manual. Naturally, lower gears provide more rapid acceleration, which is truly where the fun comes in.
Mileage range varies, depending on a number of factors – including but not limited to personal driving habits. ZelectricBugs deliver a reliable 80-90 miles on a full charge. Only Teslas go farther. Zelectrics plug into 110 or 220v outlets (typically in garage or carport) and use any public charging station. After driving 50 miles, for example, a level 2 charger will restore full range in 3-4 hours. But, like most EVs, they just plug in overnight, cell phone-style. Charging is easy.
TD: How different will cars and the driving experience be in, say, 2020 from what they are today?
The future is electric.
The driving benefits are unbelievable. Just ask anyone. There’s no going back. Fast feels faster. Zero emission – the only responsible way to drive. Zero noise pollution. Maintenance-free motor. Torque like you wouldn’t believe. Fuel that costs a mere fraction of gasoline, potentially from 100% renewable resources. It feels great to drive by a gas station, knowing that you’ll never need to stop there again other than to clean your windshield.
While the love of fossil fuel will continue unabated in motorsports, by 2020 we’ll see a dramatic increase in the number of electric cars on the roads, particularly out here in California. Every major manufacturer has already come out with a hybrid at least, and most are already heading to the inevitable 100% plug in models. Costs will decrease, batteries will shrink and get more affordable, and range will double. Fast charging stations will proliferate. That will be the tipping point. At every stage along the way, we’ll be upgrading the Zelectric build to harness and put to use the best, most advanced and proven technologies out there.
TD: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Zelectrics are not for everyone.
Those looking for a daily commuter car or an inexpensive way to drive electric should look elsewhere. These reborn classics stand on a bridge between practical and sweetly indulgent, offering an alternative choice: a good fit for those who see themselves driving something different, charming and unexpected. A modern EV with vintage character, and rising value.
This is all about the pleasure of driving timeless design enhanced with modern technology. Think about it. Why don’t classic cars get driven daily? They’re too precious. Parts are hard to find and can be pricey. They’re high maintenance and sadly, break down often. They may look wonderful, but they’re not particularly fun or practical to drive regularly. Our prime directive is to keep these iconic VWs on the road, doing what they were originally designed to do. Not trailer queened, or covered by a shroud in a driveway or dark garage. They were, and are meant to be driven. We’ve found a solution: classic icon outside, tomorrowland-electric drive inside.
For more information, visit zelectricmotors.com.