Published on July 1st, 2017 | by Subhash Nair0
Meet Malaysia’s Fully-Electric Proton Wira
Dr. Chew Kuew Wai is an Associate Professor at University Tunku Abdul Rahman. He may not look like Elon Musk, but this guy and his team of students from the University’s Faculty of Engineering & Science built an all-electric car.
It may not look like much, but what you’re looking at is a car that can take you 80 kilometres on a full charge. That may not sound impressive, but when you consider just how little money they had to build the car, it’s pretty remarkable.
Most of the components pertaining to the electric powertrain came from the U.S. The 144VDC motor swallowed a substantial chunk of the sub-RM100,000 budget. This was further compounded by high shipping costs.
One major compromise Dr. Chew’s team had to make was with the batteries. Instead of using Lithium batteries, which would have an increased capacity and lighter weight, the team had to use cheaper rechargeable lead-acid batteries. There may look like similar to car batteries, but they are fundamentally different as these are designed to be able to discharge themselves to a lower level and more frequently without much deterioration.
That being said, they really aren’t great for this use case. They’re not as efficient as Lithium-ion batteries in terms of volume-to-capacity and weight-to-capacity.
In this Wira’s case, 12 lead-acid batteries were strung together. Most were kept in the boot, but some had to be placed in the rear passenger compartment, making the rear seats useless to occupants. And despite removing the exhaust system, the fuel tank and the engine the car weighs 400kg more than it did originally. More expensive batteries would have brought that weight down significantly.
The project began sometime in 2012 and took about 2 years to finalise. We visited the car a few days ago and it’s still road worthy, but the batteries have lost some of their initial capacity as expected. The motor is still incredibly smooth and high-revving but the car was boxed in the car park so driving it was out of the question.
Dr. Chew’s electric Wira was put together in a local workshop with many minor optimisations and safety mechanisms hidden from sight. No, this wasn’t some ham-fisted operation. Many Final Year Projects were incorporated into the car to make it as usable as possible. In fact, Dr. Chew has on multiple occasions driven the car from home. The Wira retains its 5-speed manual gearbox and the electric motor idles when the car isn’t moving. This is to keep the accessories running.
UTAR’s electric Wira demonstrates that building an electric car, or at least converting an existing vehicle to use an electric powertrain is feasible. The fact that this was done on Malaysian soil for under RM100,000 using homegrown talent is very encouraging too. That being said, many highly motivated, highly skilled students worked on the project, so labour costs were not accounted for.