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Project Act-E

Doing An Electric Vehicle Conversion On My Own

Ben Parker

My 1993 Honda Acty Street G Van. The Honda Acty is a 660cc kei van that I imported from Japan. This van is awesome. It is ridiculously small it weighs about 1600lbs and has a staggering 35hp. These vans were made to zip around the city, to be used for utility so they've got a ton of room and are very ergonomically designed. Because they were popular and mass produced they're a great candidate for an electric vehicle conversion as they're lightweight, and cheap.

Credit Ben Parker

Article Highlights

This is project Act-E. Over the next few months I’ll be documenting the process of converting an 1993 Honda Acty from gasoline to electric. The plan is to make this a very capable overland kei van that’s electric powered. I’m no mechanic, or electrician but a guy with a lot of willpower and chutzpah. So here it is.

From the start of Voltage, my goal has been to better understand the process of converting gasoline cars to electric alongside better understanding electric propulsion and vehicles. My first plan was to convert my 1989 Nissan Pao to electric, although it’s still a plan of mine, it may not be the best plan for a first attempt at a conversion. The Pao is a great car that has a ton of character. It deserves a thorough build and frankly, I don’t have the funds to do that right now. But perhaps I could start with a smaller project, with a car that has more parts available for it, one with a manual transmission.

What car is good for an electric vehicle conversion? 

A car with ample space for batteries and preferably a manual transmission is best for an electric vehicle conversion. 

So I could’ve chosen a Geo Metro. But we’ve gotta do something more fun right? I’ve always admired kei cars, when I first saw a Subaru Sambar Van in person I thought there was no other van that deserved to exist. Since then they’ve always sat in the back of my mind as a car I’d like to get my hands on. More recently I started to actually look into kei vans and learned about the Honda Acty. The Acty was/is a popular kei van that has a fairly large community of enthusiasts surrounding it. The van has a lot to offer, it’s mid/rear wheel drive and comes in 4WD, if you get the Acty Attack you can get one with a locking diff. The Acty is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as more models become available because of the 25-year import law. The Acty was mass produced which means there are ample parts, and it means that they’re fairly cheap.

So an Acty it is. In a separate post I’ll describe the full process of importing a vehicle on your own, which is what I did. But December of last year I wired money to a bank in Japan to purchase my 1993 Blue Honda Acty Van. With a car chosen it was time to start thinking about some of the other important components of a conversion namely a motor.

Picking up the Acty from the Port of Long Beach. I would say importing a car for a conversion is not for the faint of heart. It is combining two nightmarish projects at once. We'll see how it ends up, but the actual importing part is done.

Credit Ben Parker

Here's a picture of me with the van for scale. This thing is teeny tiny. Among many other modifications this thing will get one of the first is a lift kit.

Credit Ben Parker

What motor do you use for an electric vehicle conversion?

There are a myriad of options for motors for an electric vehicle conversion, the most typical choices are AC or DC motors. 

The most important differences between these two options for me are price and power. Used DC motors are a cheap option for electric vehicle conversions and they can come from a bunch of different places. Many people actually pull motors out of electric forklifts to use in their conversions. There are also AC and DC motors made specifically for ev conversions. Some of the more popular brands making these motors are Netgain, and HPEVS. There are a few brands that repackage these motors and sell them as a package deal like EVWest, Electric GT (who’re now selling their own motors), or Electric Motorsport.

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Here is the Netgain Warp 9 DC Motor with coupler that is planned to go into the Acty. It can handle anywhere from 72-156V and is a tried and tested motor in many electric car projects including some of the fastest electric drag cars out there.

How do I get an electric motor for an electric vehicle conversion?

If you’d like to buy new there are a few good vendors to look at like EVWest, Electric GT (who’re now selling their own motors), or Electric Motorsport. If you’re in the UK ZeroEV and Swindon Electric are also great options. There is a big price difference between used and new motors, AC and DC motors. 

As far as buying a used motor, there are a few places to look. DIYelectriccar has a classifieds section where other attempted, or successful conversion(ists) sell parts and components. The forum has some pretty active members and things turn around fairly often. Ebay is always a great place to look, as well as some Facebook groups. I was able to find a few options for my price range in DIYelectriccar. 

I was looking for a good DC motor for under $1,000. Nearly as important/if not more important than the motor is the motor controller. After posting an “In Search Of” post on the forum for a motor I found someone local (Orange County) selling a Warp 9 motor with an EVnetics Solition Jr controller. The controller worth more than the motor, this seemed like a great option. The Warp 9 motor is an incredibly popular motor for conversions that have been used for nearly 20 years in conversions. 

So I bought it. One big benefit of buying from someone else who’s done a conversion is they have a lot of other parts lying around. You can even buy whole failed conversion projects for cheaper (sometimes) than the parts individually themselves. The guy who I bought the motor from threw in a coupler, shunt, ammeter, and a few other parts that’ll help with the conversion.

Here's a picture of the motor from when I first picked it up, before I cleaned it up and weatherproofed it.

One gamble that I took when buying the Warp 9 Motor was that I hadn’t seen the Acty in person and wasn’t able to get a real accurate measurement of how big the engine in the Acty is. The original engine is the Honda E07a engine that only has 660cc, it’s tiny. This was my biggest worry, but the Warp 9 is about 15” and one person who I messaged on instagram was able to give me a measurement of his Acty engine and said it’s about 16.5” So it seemed like it would all work (foreshadowing). 

Well a few weeks went by, up until last week when I got the notification that my Van had made port. Now here we are. With a motor and a van, and a whole lot to do. 

The last piece is the batter(ies)y. This is the biggest reason people don’t do these conversions. To get a decent battery range is an expensive endeavor. The most power dense batteries available are Tesla Modules, for their size they provide the highest Ah. So after much deliberation I decided this is what we’d use. I calculated that for this build 6 Tesla Modules would give us more than enough power capability with roughly 80 miles of range. If you’re interested in learning how to calculate battery pack size you can check out this post here. This undoubtedly is the most expensive part of the build. Modules are selling for about $1k each right now so 6 of them would make them more expensive than the van, the motor, and the controller.

This build is attempting to be economical, not cheap, but definitely budget conscious. Rich Rebuilds bought and converted a Mini Cooper for $5k, but in his accounting he glosses over a lot of costs, namely labor, transportation/towing, and all the little things that you can’t plan for. Hopefully in my documentation of this project I can be a bit more transparent of what the costs are to do this. 

So, what’s the plan? Well I’ll be spending all my spare time in my in-laws garage tinkering away for the next few months working on this but by the end there will be the first ever Honda Act-E. 

What do you think about this build? What tips do you have for me? What questions do you have for me? 

I’ll be posting more frequent updates on my personal instagram here if you’re interested.