The New Electric Vehicles

A Clean & Quiet Revolution by Michael Hackleman

Journey into the world of conversions, scratchbuilts, human-electrics, solar cars, electrathon racers, planes & boats—all powered with electricity.

272 pages of EV technology, 465 photographs (over half in color), and detail on 65 vehicles. Includes 115 technical design and construction sidebars.

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One variation of Tariq Iqbal's home-built, drill-powered electric trike.

efore I moved to Canada late last year, I lived in Pakistan. When my father developed knee arthritis, I started thinking about building an electric tricycle for him. I had some experience building electric vehicles for fun, but none of my earlier prototypes was suitable for use by an old man on the road.

In a survey of the local Pakistani market, I found no locally developed products. A few imported electric wheelchairs were available, but these were very costly and there were many maintenance problems. I decided to make a cheap tricycle for outdoor use, using locally available materials. This tricycle can go up to 20

One variation of Tariq Iqbal's home-built, drill-powered electric trike.

kilometers per hour (12 mph) for about 20 km (12 miles) per charge.

Building a Body

The first task was to build a frame. I decided to design the frame based on commonly available L-iron. After a few days of careful thinking, I developed a sketch based on 3/4 and 1-1/2 inch (19 and 38 mm) L-iron. My plan was to use 20 inch (51 cm) bicycle wheels, handles, and brakes. Cheap 20 inch diameter bicycle wheels are available everywhere.

A mechanic in a nearby workshop agreed to build the frame for me. He delivered it after two days, in finished painted form, for Rs.1,500 (Rs. 54.5 = US$1 in June, 2000). Plywood was the most available material for bodywork. It is cheap and resistant to battery acid. I got a 4 by 8 foot (1.2 x 2.4 m) by 1/2 inch (13 mm) sheet. The 20 inch bicycle parts were purchased from a local bicycle shop.

Trike Wiring

Trike Wiring

In my home workshop, I fitted the bicycle parts to the metal frame and screwed plywood pieces into shape. I also bought foam and curtain cloth for the seat and backrest. I enjoyed constructing and painting the trike in my spare weekend time. The tricycle is 140 cm long, 72 cm wide, and about 1 m high (55 x 28 x 39 inches).

Power Unit

Locally made DC motors are not available in this part of the world. But cheap Chinese electric drills are very common. I decided to use a drill to drive my tricycle. My father's neighborhood is flat, and acceleration was not a major consideration. I decided to use a 420 watt, 1/2 inch (13 mm), fixed-speed, aluminum body Chinese drill. It is a geared hand drill, but can be used in continuous duty. It is based on a universal motor that can run on AC or DC.

The drill is fitted to the left rear wheel of the tricycle. I attached a 48 tooth bicycle gear to the tricycle wheel and an 18 tooth bicycle gear to the drill shaft. A 5 mm

Frame Plans

The completed frame.

Frame Plans

The completed frame.

(3/16 inch) thick metal strip acts as a support. This metal strip has two holes. Through one of the holes, I press-fitted the drill. The axle of the wheel goes through the second hole. Common bicycle chain is used to couple these two sprockets.

The local workshop did some machining and welding for me. The 48 tooth gear is attached through a standard bicycle freewheel (one way clutch). This allows free forward movement of the tricycle. In other words, if the tricycle is going down a hill, there is no need to run the motor.

At first I designed and built a 700 W, 12 VDC to 220 VAC pulse width modulated inverter to drive the drill in variable-speed mode. I installed it and tested it on the road for few days. It was costly and there were many blown fuses. Once I burnt my expensive set of power MOS transistors on the road and learned a lesson.

Later I decided to switch to a simple DC system. The universal drill motors can run on DC or AC. Torque output with DC supply is higher than AC because of much reduced inductance. I reduced the input voltage to have a reasonable torque. After some testing, I settled on 144 V as my battery voltage.

In a local battery shop, the cheapest option was twelve AGS 12 V, 2.5 AH motorcycle batteries. I decided to test my tricycle with these before buying costly 12 V, 6 AH maintenance-free batteries. To keep my system as simple as possible, I

An early prototype in progress.

decided to stick to a two-speed on/off control arrangement. The batteries are installed in a battery box under the seat.

Controls & Metering

A circuit consisting of diodes and switches is shown on page 85. One switch is a key switch, and the other two are on/off switches. These switches are normally used in automobiles and meant for DC operation. When switch S1 is on, the motor is supplied with 144 VDC and the tricycle goes faster (about 20 kph). When switch S1 is off, the two battery banks are connected in parallel to run the motor at 72 VDC, resulting in a slower speed. Diode D3 is a freewheeling diode. All diodes are rated at 600 V, 6 A.

A voltmeter is attached across the motor to indicate battery state-of-charge. I marked the existing scale with red and green areas to clearly indicate battery limits. I marked the lower limit as 11.5 V per battery when the motor is running.

Electric Tricycle Costs


Cost (Rs.)

12 AGS batteries, 12 V, 2.5 AH


Bicycle parts, 20 inch


Metal frame


Chinese electric drill, 1/2 inch, 420 W


Foam and curtain cloth, 15 inches by 4 feet

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