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Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project
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tarikvan
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PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2020 7:43 pm    Post subject: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

I am interested to convert a Vanagon into a plug-in hybrid petrol/electric, with the electric drivetrain(s) driving the front wheels. I do software, electronic and mechanical design for a living, but have zero experience with the Vanagon, as I don't own one yet. Finding one for rent is near impossible near NYC, so I might have to end up jumping straight into this, and buy one that's currently drivable, and use it for a while before starting this project.

From my initial findings, I should look for a 1986-1991 Vanagon Westfalia for the ease of finding parts, albeit finding one with preserved cabinetry, without too many modifications, that can drive more than 500 miles and no rust issues at a fair price is pretty tough.

Some of my draft reqs are:
- 180hp rear petrol engine upgrade
- 50hp per front wheel electric
- regen braking
- submersible lower-body
- full underbody skid plate
- can be run all-electric (city/traffic driving), or all petrol (breakdown recovery)
- 50mi range all-electric
- Shore electric port to level-1 charging circuit
- level-2 charging port
- low center of gravity, well-balanced layout for a good drive handling

Interior/small details I am also considering:
- rebuild of the Westfalia cabinetry using composite materials
- refurbishing of the fridge to electric using original fridge structure
- all-electric A/C compressor reversible as heat-pump -- not sure about keeping LPG heating as backup
- refurb of the HVAC air distribution layout for homogenous delivery of heat/cooling
- gray water tank and water cycling system

The goal is to have a T3 that drives and handles better than the original ever did, has good fuel economy, is both a good driver and expedition vehicle, performs as well or better than the AWD syncro version in most all-terrain conditions, and can hitch a trailer with ease.

My questions are:
- any notable difference between the 1986-1991 Westfalias? What is the best starting vanagon for this project in your opinion?
- any kits or parts may have already been done or available, which are usable for the project and that may save me time? I can't find much on hybrid conversion kits, my guess being that a lot of that stuff is pretty custom.
- what shops would you recommend that could be interested to work on this project with me?

I am still considering the hybrid approach, where the alternative is to use a syncro and add power on the main driveshaft with a single, larger electric motor, as well as considerations for the tranmission. happy to hear any thoughts on this.
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PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2020 8:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Wow. That's a lot. Many threads have been built on just some of your topics which are a good place for you to continue your research. Search <site:thesamba.com + your topic> in google to find tons of info.

It seems you'll be changing so much on your van that the model year or even base model becomes less important. If you've based your >1986 criteria on articles you read at Gowesty you'll hear plenty of folks here say pre-85 vanagons are great too. I like the later model years for the grey/black interior. I sold an '85 after 17 years and it was a great van, I just didn't like the colors and was one of the users who had brown plastic parts crumbling.

If you're going to rebuild the cabinets, no need to pay a premium for a camper. Build your own. Lot's of good examples here on that too.

These threads may interest you...

Vanabolt...
https://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=723737&postorder=asc

Camper interiors...
https://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=...mp;start=0

As for shops interested in this, there are a number of shops that specialize in Vanagons, e.g. Eion's, PeaceVans and Northwesty in Seattle. A few know they'll need to do more than subie swaps to stay in business or grow their market. Electric is something some of them are considering. if you have something to offer them send them a proposal.
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tarikvan
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PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2020 9:07 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Thank you! I have started digging in some of these threads over time.

Didn't find any hybrid conversion project that has ever been done, a couple of all-electric (including the one you linked, still reading the whole thread now), but no go for me because of range and power availability for expeditions. A good hybrid conversion can be a little bit more complex.

On the source van, I pretty much want to take the frame naked when this is all ready, treat, paint and refurb any piece that goes back in to new.

The idea of getting a Westfalia is mostly to be able to use the van as a camper for a summer before embarking on the project to inform it, and I may do the composite cabinetry as a part 2 project. I likely want to keep the Westfalia layout nearly identical to the original, so having all the original cabinetry would helps for getting all the dimensions as well. I think the original layout is a pretty good design, so I would like to have it as a starting point if I ever introduce any modifications besides technical modernization/weight-saving materials.
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PostPosted: Wed May 27, 2020 9:53 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

There's a great many page thread on a guy who converted a split window into a 23 window all electric with parts from a Tesla. It is a very serious mechanical routine. Recomend you read it.

But I have to ask the question --Why 50 miles on electric? What good does that do? You don't need the 180hp IC engine if you were to do more batteries. The electric drive will be almost infallible and so don't see the need for an engine other than extending the range. And the Syncro parts also add weight--read less range or performance. The Vanabolt had almost three times the range you are seeking. I'd do a huge amount more research before you get to convinced of a particular track including starting with a Westy. A tin top will be much cheaper and far lighter. Custom camping interiors can include lightweight storage and even beds. The rear bed/seat is enormously heavy. You could use marine fiberglass laminated panels with a balsa core which are stronger and far lighter than conventional plywood. An inflatable air mattress will also weigh less than a bulky space robbing bed as well.

Duncan
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 4:11 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Go for it. Hereís what I have noticed, the vanagons are hard to pick up cheap. Iíve got my own idea for a drivetrain, but it will require refabricating the entire rear end. Finding an affordable donor that can then be carved up and potentially loose the value is not easy.

As far as the front drive. A syncro will have the correct steering geometry and track. Youíd adapt your electric drive somehow to outer cv uprights. Fabing uprights from scratch is a project in its own. A syncro would also have a rear fuel tank to free up the room under the front floor. I doubt youíll pick up a syncro cheap.

Out of curiosity what is your budget and how long do you expect this to take? Do you have fabricating, machining skills, and the ability to weld? Post up your progress. I searched for a few years and ended up with a running 90 camper automatic and a wore out syncro passenger van. Iím am finally daily driving my converted 90 syncro camper.

There is a member tooling around in a Chevy bolt powered vanagon. Search should bring it up. Good luck.
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 7:01 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

I have thought about this kind of conversion before. My idea was to adapt a single electric motor to a syncro front diff and then go with a 1200-1300cc air cooled engine in the rear. I was thinking to have the work load be 60/40 front/rear. For the gas engine I imagined an early '60s 1200cc motor in a square back pancake configuration. Update it to have a modest increase in compression and modern aftermarket fuel injection. I don't know much about electric motors in cars. My plan to use a single electric motor at the differential is mostly grounded in keeping things simple. But, maybe adapting two motors at the wheels is more simple than I thought. Either way, there would need to be some kind of interface that monitors the rear wheels speed and limits the fronts to just slightly faster. Sort of like how my old International Travel All had 4.10/4.11 pumpkins. I would drive the van as usual with the stick shift. The electric motor would engage once 3mph was achieved (a relay would be triggered by the switch for the back up lights to reverse polarity on the electric motor for backing up). The throttle position switch could also trigger a relay so that anytime my foot came off the gas the electric motor would coast or possibly regenerate. The vast open areas under the van would provide storage for battery packs. If I ran out of juice, I could just limp home on the 1200cc motor. Anyway, that's my basic idea. Hope you make it happen, eventually gasoline is going to go away or get very expensive. It would be fun to think of Westies still roaming the great outdoors in 2050.

Good Luck!

Hans
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 7:15 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

The simplest thing would probably be to go all electric with a single motor hung on the trans and a crap load of batteries packed under the chassis, above the trans and up where the gas tank used to be... A 300 mile range is probably doable and that would work for 85% of how most of us use our vans...

Hans
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 8:41 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Sounds like a great weekend project. There is a guy around that had the same dream "Otmar with his Stretchla project" Sounds adventurous.

Stacy
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 9:51 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

tarikvan wrote:
I am interested to convert a Vanagon into a plug-in hybrid petrol/electric, with the electric drivetrain(s) driving the front wheels. I do software, electronic and mechanical design for a living, but have zero experience with the Vanagon, as I don't own one yet. Finding one for rent is near impossible near NYC, so I might have to end up jumping straight into this, and buy one that's currently drivable, and use it for a while before starting this project.

From my initial findings, I should look for a 1986-1991 Vanagon Westfalia for the ease of finding parts, albeit finding one with preserved cabinetry, without too many modifications, that can drive more than 500 miles and no rust issues at a fair price is pretty tough.

Some of my draft reqs are:
- 180hp rear petrol engine upgrade
- 50hp per front wheel electric
- regen braking
- submersible lower-body
- full underbody skid plate
- can be run all-electric (city/traffic driving), or all petrol (breakdown recovery)
- 50mi range all-electric
- Shore electric port to level-1 charging circuit
- level-2 charging port
- low center of gravity, well-balanced layout for a good drive handling

Interior/small details I am also considering:
- rebuild of the Westfalia cabinetry using composite materials
- refurbishing of the fridge to electric using original fridge structure
- all-electric A/C compressor reversible as heat-pump -- not sure about keeping LPG heating as backup
- refurb of the HVAC air distribution layout for homogenous delivery of heat/cooling
- gray water tank and water cycling system

The goal is to have a T3 that drives and handles better than the original ever did, has good fuel economy, is both a good driver and expedition vehicle, performs as well or better than the AWD syncro version in most all-terrain conditions, and can hitch a trailer with ease.

My questions are:
- any notable difference between the 1986-1991 Westfalias? What is the best starting vanagon for this project in your opinion?
- any kits or parts may have already been done or available, which are usable for the project and that may save me time? I can't find much on hybrid conversion kits, my guess being that a lot of that stuff is pretty custom.
- what shops would you recommend that could be interested to work on this project with me?

I am still considering the hybrid approach, where the alternative is to use a syncro and add power on the main driveshaft with a single, larger electric motor, as well as considerations for the tranmission. happy to hear any thoughts on this.


Or, its time to put the bong down. Idea
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 10:08 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Good god you are talking about a 2-3 year long investment here with more cost than it would take to buy one of the coming electric pick-up trucks with a camper on it or a current hybrid suv and even then you won't have half the reliability. People here love to encourage massive projects for spectating but don't fall for it, this is way too complex, will be too heavy and will endlessly be full of bugs. Also you said "expedition" which means you absolutely need 4x4 if you plan to leave the safe confines of the east coast, which has no real off-road regions to explore. Go where I do, here exploring the west trail systems, and a syncro with a rear locker is a minimum.
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 10:59 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Look into the Volvo V60 hybrid drive train, 70hp driving the rear wheels and 5 cylinder (D5) motor driving the front wheels.
Mine has been stage 2 remapped on a dyno to 275hp on the fron wheels, add the 70hp on the rear to a combined 345hp.
The range is 50km depending on the weather.
Totally amazing car!
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 11:03 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

MarkWard wrote:
tarikvan wrote:
I am interested to convert a Vanagon into a plug-in hybrid petrol/electric...


...time to put the bong down. Idea


that wish list will slim down.

A syncro with 100 hp gas to the rear and 50 miles of 100 HP electric to the front would be very interesting. Even 25 miles.
200 HP would climb mountain passes like a goat, and re-gen down the other side.
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 1:40 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Big project, but sounds like you have the background for it.

A Weekender with a blown engine might be found fairly cheaply, tho rust is an issue in your area.

I got a free composite panel for my sports car from an aerospace engineer - it was the wall from an airliner bathroom.

IIRC, the cabinets, stove, fridge, etc. in a Westy add about 300 lbs.
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PostPosted: Thu May 28, 2020 6:45 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

I thought about putting a Prius hybrid drive train in my van. I got as far as acquiring the Prius and parking under my van and taking some measurements. I could have shoe horned it in there but it would have added over a year to my project and I didnít think the power would have been a good fit. The hybrid drive train out of my wifeís Camry is just to wide to fit to be a good fit. Coming from a guy that has restored three airplanes and a few cars. That sounds like a six year project to me. The guy who built the vanabolt I think said it took him 2000 hours. If you canít do 95 percent of the work yourself I canít imagine how much money it would cost. For the time money and effort there has to be a better way to get you dream 4x4 camper. Just my thoughts. If you do it please share the pictures. John
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PostPosted: Fri May 29, 2020 8:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

All good feedback here. Mechanically I plan to design every part needed and verify the whole assembly on CAD prior to starting any work so my approach might be a bit different than most people. I could definitely see ~1 year of research, ~1 year of design, but once work starts it will hopefully be less than 6 months, especially as I plan to work with more than one shop if needed for different areas of expertise and outsource machining for most parts. Definitely a bigger cash investment, but maybe I can partner with a shop in sharing part designs and those could be sold later to anyone who wants to do the same conversion to recoup the investment.

As for why not go all-electric, you can probably only charge up to level-2 unless you have a Tesla, meaning that every time you need to charge up on your trip it could be a little while. And even if you hack something together for level-3 charging, you can only count on charging in select geographies, so you won't ever be able to do expeditions. By using a good hybrid drivetrain, battery system, and electric subsystems you get most of the advantages of electric (regen braking, charging, all-electric small trips, electric A/C) while retaining more flexibility (range, expedition, quick fill-up).

I definitely like the idea of finding a whole existing hybrid drivetrain for this as it will avoid developing and maintaining a complex system. It might still need some amount of adaptations. Still doing research on this, so let's see what I find...
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PostPosted: Sat May 30, 2020 12:14 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

what type of hybrid?

BMW style range-booster, or...?
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PostPosted: Sat May 30, 2020 6:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

Rapid charging stations are going to proliferate exponentially (it's started already) - so don't give up on the totally electric plus possibly a small genny for 'emergencies'.
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PostPosted: Sun May 31, 2020 11:46 am    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

I have a tentative PHEV drivetrain design, schema bellow:

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


The plan is to keep the petrol engine section and electric separate and make everything works in unison through the car computer. This is pretty much an identical approach to the Volvo S60 Hybrid drivetrain suggested in the thread.

In this approach, the electric motor (M), would connect directly to the front open differential (OD) from a Syncro, where the viscous coupler once went. Electronic-controlled brake pads on the front wheel will allow traction control on either wheel, allowing getting full motor power to a single wheel (a feature that even Synchros don't have on the front).

To allow control of the electric motor and petrol drivetrain in unison, I would use an electronically-controlled transmission connecting the petrol engine to the rear axle. Throttle and brake pedals become drive-by-wire. Finally, electronic brake pads are also placed on the rear wheels, allowing the same seamless traction control approach on the rear drivetrain, in place of the Syncro rear-locker option.

The batteries will be able to charge using a combination of plug-in charging, regen braking, regen coasting seeping power from the rear drivetrain, or charging from the 12V circuit using power from the engine starter generator (SG) when stationary and no other power is available.

Some advantages:
- low complexity
- flexibility
- the petrol engine can be chosen independently
- easy to convert/use as a full EV if desired: add more batteries and a rear engine
- similarities of front/rear drivetrain
- reuse of existing components
- infinitely customizable drive and power control

The big steps are:
- designing the drivetrain
- programming the drive computer -- could be an interesting open-source project
- designing new driver controls/dashboard to control the computer

There are some consideration around drive-by-wire safety, eg. having a mechanical fallback for braking and/or parking brake that will come a bit later in the design phase.

From this, it seems obvious that a Syncro might be a better starting point for this project, as it pretty much involves removing the transaxle and viscous coupler. But this could be installed on any Vanagon that undergoes some of the steps to a Syncro conversion.

Some questions I have:
- where to find all the vanagon schematics/CAD?
- where to find a listing of all the vanagon variants ever made and their differences? For example, some syncro/van models don't have rear windows, can't figure out which these are
- would a South African big window Syncro be worth considering for this conversion?
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PostPosted: Sun May 31, 2020 1:45 pm    Post subject: Re: Vanagon Camper Plug-in Hybrid Electric AWD conversion project Reply with quote

fxr wrote:
Rapid charging stations are going to proliferate exponentially (it's started already) - so don't give up on the totally electric plus possibly a small genny for 'emergencies'.


Only in cities where rich people drive Teslaís that they donít need
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