Fully charged Kombi hits the road

Electric conversion puts classic van on the cutting edge of future mobility.

A classic Volkswagen Kombi van has been brought into the 21st century after an electric conversion and the addition of new technology features.

The 1970s Kombi was commissioned for conversion to electric power by Southern Cross University and the work undertaken by Southern Cross graduate Andy Naughton, who now works for classic car conversion business Ex Machina.

The project took 18 months and provided hands-on experience for electrical and mechanical engineering students.

Decked out with eye-catching Southern Cross colours and a brightly coloured retro interior, the Kombi boasts an 88kW AC SRIPM electric motor coupled to a four-speed gearbox and draws power from 10 5.3kWh batteries sourced from a written-off EV.

“The batteries are split into two encased packs, one between the front seats and the other in the rear engine bay, with both being charged simultaneously,” Andy said.

“An elaborate battery management system controls the delivery and distribution of power.

“This particular combination of the range, the power, the idiosyncrasies of a Kombi all add up to make it one-of-a-kind electric vehicle conversion.

Southern Cross University's electric Kombi

“We had to learn along the way – there was no workshop manual for this one.

“The car has incredible torque and its acceleration is not what Kombi drivers would expect, that’s for sure.

“VW purists might miss that Kombi engine sound but with the whole world moving away from combustion engines, this offers a great compromise of keeping old vehicles on the road with new technology.”

Southern Cross University Vice-Chancellor Professor Tyrone Carlin said the electric Kombi was now part of a narrative about a university determined to find solutions to today’s challenges.

“One of our goals was to create a Kombi that had a range that was practical for regional Australia, and at 200km or even more per charge, we believe we have achieved that,” Prof. Carlin said.

“The romance and nostalgia attached to Kombis generally, but particularly in the Northern Rivers (of New South Wales), only adds to the story of this vehicle.”

Southern Cross University's electric Kombi

Electric Kombi facts:

  • Motor: 88kW AC SRIPM electric motor with custom-built aluminium transmission adapter plate attached to original transmission.
  • Batteries and charging: 53kWh water-cooled lithium battery pack (10 x 5.3kWh batteries); 6.6kW onboard AC charging system for faster charging on the road.
  • Braking: Electric pump-boosted disc brakes with additional motor braking (off-throttle pedal and on-brake pedal) for regenerative braking, increasing efficiency.
  • Power steering: Speed-variable custom electric power steering system allows for better manoeuvrability.
  • Gears: Four-speed gearbox.
  • Dashboard connectivity: Web-connected display with Android operating system and OBD connection to motor and battery information; adjustable regenerative braking modes with a dashboard toggle switch plus a drive-neutral-reverse switch; reverse camera.
  • Cruising speed: 110km/h highway cruising speed.
  • Optimum highway range: 200km.
  • Optimum urban traffic range: 250+km.

RACQ Roadside Assistance for EVs,