New Zealand grandmother creates electric car for only $24,000

New Zealand grandmother creates her own electric car for $24,000

Rosemary Penwarden says the solar-powered vehicle has been running smoothly for three years and has thanked oil companies for the motivation

Rosemary Penwarden in her homemade solar-powered car.
New Zealand woman Rosemary Penwarden in her homemade solar-powered electric car, which is fully signed off and warranted. Photograph: supplied by Rosemary Penwarden

Tess McClure in Auckland

@tessairiniThu 26 May 2022 23.15 EDT

New Zealand grandmother has converted a 29-year-old wreck into a homemade, solar-powered electric vehicle, “to show it can be done”.

Rosemary Penwarden, 63, has been driving her converted vehicle around South Island roads for three years now. The project took her and a friend more than eight months of solid work and tinkering. “You do have to be a little bit mad,” she said. “I want to thank the oil companies for the motivation.”

Penwarden bought a 1993 car body from a wrecker’s, and took the combustion engine out herself. She replaced it with a new gearbox and electric engine, then packed the front and back of the car with batteries – 24 under the hood, and 56 in the boot.

In total the project, including labour, cost Penwarden $24,000 (£12,300). The car is fully signed-off and warranted. After several years on the road, her project recently came to the attention of local reporters.

Rosemary Penwarden and her homemade solar-powered car.
Rosemary Penwarden says though converting a car isn’t possible for everyone, she wanted to illustrate the possibility. Photograph: supplied by Rosemary Penwarden

Refrigeration engineer Hagen Bruggemann, who helped Penwarden convert her car, has now converted about eight cars to electric engines. “You can talk as much as you want about all this environmental crap, but you have to implement it,” he says.

Without free labour, he says converting a car is not a financially viable option for most people – but there’s a strong commercial argument for converting trucks and larger vehicles, where the body tends to be worth much more than the engine. Converting a diesel truck, he says, would pay off within five years. “Really, the polluters should be paying – I don’t see why they’re not,” he says.

The solar-powered Stella Vita on a stop in Brussels, Belgium

A longtime environmental campaigner, Penwarden says the time and money she devoted to converting her car isn’t possible for everyone – “I’m in a very privileged place” – but as the world adapts to the climate crisis, she wanted to illustrate the possibility. She charges the car at her home, which is fully solar-powered.

While Penwarden believes the car will pay itself off – she had once spent up to $100 a week on petrol for commuting – she says it wasn’t a cost-saving exercise and called on the government to support conversions. “Just to be able to show that it can be done is a priceless thing,” she says. “The biggest thing is to help stop the biggest polluters as soon as possible – and nothing that we can do as individuals I think matters quite as much as that.”

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