December 8, 2022

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Autopia 2099: Celebrating The Electrified Future With Cool Cars And Customs

The first-ever Autopia 2099 event showcased a very wide variety of electrified or fully-electric machinery and helped connect many enthusiasts who are looking to the EV future in terms of both production cars and home-built hot rods. Michael Van Runkle

A new event called Autopia 2099 debuted in Los Angeles this weekend, celebrating the future of automotive electrification. As consumers face an increasingly crossover-focused slate of EV debuts with each passing model year, Autopia 2099 hopes to attract internal-combustion and EV enthusiasts alike to spark a new excitement for the groundbreaking changes already visible on streets and highways today. 

“The goal of our event is to be optimistic,” said co-founder Bradley Brownell. “To throwback to a World’s Fair-slash-Motorama kind of event, where everything is focused on the future and focused on being optimistic about what’s coming, in a jet-age kind of way.” 

Brownell also co-founded the social media darling Radwood, a series of events that meld fun cars and retro style from the 1980s and 90s. But where Radwood might be seen as a refutation of today’s bland commuter cars, Autopia 2099 debuted with a more welcoming spirit, inviting everything from brand-new luxury EVs to early hybrids, hydrogen cars and even a handful of home-built electric-swapped classics.  

Here are some highlights that stood out from the crowd at Autopia 2099. 

Chevrolet Corvair Electrovair
General Motors actually built a fully-electric Chevrolet Corvair prototype back in 1966 but never did anything with the idea. GM Engineer Gregory Courter revived the idea on his own 1962 Corvair convertible. Michael Van Runkle

Chevrolet Corvair EV Conversion 

Most EV enthusiasts remember GM’s ill-fated EV1 but fewer ever knew about the Electrovair concept, a fully-electrified prototype General Motors built out of a Corvair four-door sedan way back in 1966. Current GM engineer Gregory Courter does, though, so he built himself a modern version of the Electrovair, which offered an impressive 80 miles of range over a half-century ago.  

Courter’s 1962 Corvair lost its original flat-six in favor of five Tesla Model S battery modules and a single NetGain HyPer 9 motor mounted between the rear wheels—in classic Unsafe at Any Speed style.  

A Model S employs 15 modules, so this modern Electrovair’s batteries now total 26 kilowatt-hours and can drive around 100 miles on a charge. The original four-speed manual still routes a continuous 173 pound-feet of torque through the rear axles but Courter said he drives mostly in third gear, only shifting up to fourth at highway speeds.

GM provided no support for the project, which Courter views as his gateway drug to electrification after a lifetime of passion for internal combustion. His wife now drives a Volt and he plans to get one of the earliest GMC Hummer EVs using his company contacts. 

Rivian R1T
The Rivian R1T is still brand new, but unlike other promised EV pickups, it’s actually in the delivery phase. Camping tents, serious off-road ability and charging for E-Bikes (in this case a converted Honda) are all likely to appeal to active consumers. Michael Van Runkle

Rivian R1T & Honda CR125 EV Conversion 

Rivian based much of the new R1T pickup truck’s marketing on an off-roading aesthetic. Whether many customers will actually take their electric pickups four-wheeling is an open question, though builds like the one that showed up at Autopia 2099 complete with roof tents, coolers and integrated kitchens certainly seem fun. In our Rivian R1T first-drive, Forbes Wheels also found the truck to be more than a match, performance-wise, for other off-roading pickups. 

This R1T sports chassis number 34 and belongs to Rivian’s Senior Manager of Vehicle Testing Matt Trainham, who has logged over 3,000 miles since the truck rolled off the production line on October 15.  

He also uses his R1T to haul a battery-converted Honda CR125 (the knobby tire visible above) that he spent three years building with a 30-kWh permanent magnet powertrain. Best of all, the dirt bike can charge plugged into the R1T’s AC outlets, using 1000 of the truck’s 1,500-watt capacity—no Jerry cans necessary. 

Volkswagen Transporter Bus EV Conversion
Many Volkswagen Buses have been modified over the years, sporting hotted-up VW, Porsche or even Subaru gas drivetrains. Battery expert Jehu Garcia swapped in a pair of Smart Fortwo battery packs and an AC 50 motor in his. Michael Van Runkle

Volkswagen Bus EV Conversion 

Jehu Garcia, once dubbed “YouTube’s Battery King,” brought his EV-swapped 1967 Volkswagen Bus to Autopia 2099. He acquired the Bus as a shell after it spent 30 years rusting in a field, then began a frenzied eight-week build process to swap in a pair of Smart Fortwo battery packs, which were actually made by Tesla. The batteries total 600 pounds and 48 kWh, though the Bus’ circa-1949 aerodynamics mean it can only manage about 150 miles of range. 

Garcia, who runs battery supply company Jag35.com, estimates the electrical components cost about $20,000—including an AC 50 motor with regenerative braking—but he had already used the batteries on a previous build. Now, he’s hoping to highlight the potential for using electric scooter packs to power similar projects, since a huge glut of the popular Bird scooters now sit in warehouses stripped of their batteries.  

Tesla’s battery packs are only getting more expensive, but Garcia said a 50 kWh setup using scooter batteries would only cost about $5,000 today. He plans to build a fleet of electric Volkswagens and rent them to tourists in Hawaii, which may require figuring out how to efficiently add air conditioning. 

Honda S2000 EV Conversion
Futuristic dished wheels and a custom-fabricated front end fit this EV-converted Honda S2000, and the Tesla drive unit makes it rocket quick. Prior to Autopia, builder Ryan Basseri also showcased the car at this year’s SEMA show. Michael Van Runkle

Honda S2000 EV Conversion 

The wheels on this Honda S2000 conversion look perfect for an event called Autopia 2099, though owner and builder Ryan Basseri originally designed them to show off the brakes underneath. His EV-converted S2000 employs two Chevrolet Volt battery packs totaling 38 kWh, with a Tesla drive unit housed in a heavily modified S2000 subframe. 

Hawthorne, California-based AEM EV produces many of the components used to effectively heat and cool the battery, more predictably modulate torque delivery, and prevent accidental electrocution due to built-up energy. The whole car now weighs about 200 pounds more than a stock S2000 but Basseri explained that it’s just so fun to drive that he can’t get much more than 110 miles of range. 

E-Mulholland
Autopia 2099 also showcased fully-electric motorcycles, including this heavily-modified LiveWire One. Michael Van Runkle

Alex Earle’s Custom ‘E Mulholland’ LiveWire ONE 

Art Center College of Design instructor Alex Earle built this custom electric motorcycle in partnership with LiveWire, now its own semi-spinoff brand under Harley-Davidson. Earle began with a LiveWire One, aiming to transform it from an upright commuter into an adventure bike. Along the way, he realized that the instantaneously available electric torque makes for ideal canyon carving, so the project tacked towards designing and fabricating a perfect build for fun in the Malibu Hills.  

The custom seat now rides about three inches higher and Earle also dropped the handlebars three inches lower. Vertical lights flank the main headlight for better visibility while turning, while many of the exterior ribs and aero details actually perform important cooling functions to help the battery, motor, and ECU perform more reliably in the long run. Earle enjoyed building a custom bike without having to worry about liquid fuel and sees this kind of project as the future of motorcycle hot-rodding. 

Jaguar MkV EV
Like a vintage East End gangster, this Tesla-powered Jaguar MkV is the strong, silent type. A notoriously difficult and expensive car to restore, EV conversion gave this formerly derelict example a new lease on life. Michael Van Runkle

Jaguar MkV EV Conversion 

Matt Brown bought this 1950 Jaguar Mark V in a salvage yard for $10,000. He’s now partway through installing most of the mechanical components from a Tesla Model 3, including the battery, motor, wheels and brake booster. All in, the Tesla parts totaled around $11,000 and he hopes to complete the build for closer to $30,000. 

Fitting the batteries into the old Jaguar frame required serious creativity, including raising the body by three-quarters of an inch. Brown also removed every outdated British Standard Whitworth fastener, then installed all new wiring and sound insulation. He sees this Jaguar as a testbed for using Model 3 components, which fewer builders know how to safely and effectively install. Even with the 1,000-pound battery, the Jag now weighs less than it did new because the Tesla motors weighs far less than the original cast-iron “XK” inline-six. 

Toyota RAV4 EV
The original RAV4 EV was built from 1997 to 2003, but almost all examples were leased until, in 2002, the automaker decided to sell a small batch to the public. These EVs had only about 100 miles of range but inspired strong loyalty from their owners. Michael Van Runkle

Rare Factory Original Toyota RAV4 

Long before the RAV4 Prime, Toyota built a fleet of all-electric lease vehicles based on the internal-combustion RAV4 from 1997 to 2001, before deciding to sell 339 examples to the public for 2002 and 2003. This factory original RAV4 EV still used as an “almost” daily driver could be one of only 50 remaining on the road today and still manages around 80 miles of range thanks to 24 Prismatic nickel-metal hydride batteries with 10 cells each.  

The battery pack weighs 1,100 pounds on its own—which helps explain why Toyota speed-limited the first-gen RAV4 EV to only 80 miles per hour, despite having plenty of torque to go much faster. Other details that distinguished the RAV4 EV from its ICE siblings include ceramic-aluminum brake rotors, lightweight body panels and a high-voltage heated front windshield that can defrost almost instantaneously. 

Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Based on the funky Japanese Mitsubishi i microcar, the i-MiEV first appeared at the 2008 New York International Auto Show but did not go on sale until 2012. Its odd styling and limited range held it back in the marketplace, but at least one owner has crossed the 40,000-mile threshold in daily use. Michael Van Runkle

40,000-Mile Mitsubishi i-MiEV 

Owner Tina Robinson drove her 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV to Autopia 2099 very carefully, to make sure she can get home without running out of charge. This early commuter electric never prioritized performance, range, or styling but Robinson and her husband bought it out of Chicago in 2014 with only 2,616 miles on the odometer.  

Since then, they’ve logged over 40,000 miles while only charging at home on their 110-volt outlet, which takes 21 hours to fully charge. The i-MiEV represented an early exploration of affordable electrification but was repeatedly delayed, first appearing in 2008 but not going on sale until 2012, by which time there were larger and longer-range alternatives on the market like the Nissan Leaf. The i-MiEV was based on a gas-powered Japanese microcar, but with a tiny EV powertrain swapped in.  

When Robinson’s battery blew a cell two and a half years ago, Mitsubishi faithfully replaced the entire pack under warranty, though they had to ship the new unit in from Japan. The car reliably returns about 60 to 65 miles of range. 

Volkswagen ID.4
Famous rally driver Tanner Foust campaigned this Volkswagen ID.4 in this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 in October. If a rally-ready ID.4 looks a bit familiar, it’s because the ID.4 was also campaigned in the recent Rebelle Rally. Michael Van Runkle

Volkswagen ID.4 NORRA Mexican 1000 Racer 

Anyone who follows off-road or rally racing will recognize the Volkswagen ID.4 that Rhys Millen Racing and Tanner Foust modified for Foust to drive in the NORRA Mexican 1000 this year. While retaining a stock powertrain to prove that the electric equivalent of 201 horsepower will serve most commuters handily, this ID.4 1st Edition did receive significant work including rally coil-over shocks, tubular lower control arms and boxed lower rear end links to allow for a two-inch lift overall.  

Skid plates, 18-inch wheels and a raised radiator all helped the ID.4 complete the 1,141-mile torture test, of which 893 miles were off-tarmac, while only sustaining minor cosmetic damage to the rear bumper. This year’s race was made up of loop-style stages due to Covid-19, which meant the Volkswagen team could largely use portable biofuel generators to charge the ID.4—in addition to occasionally towing it to the next stage with regen activated. 

Nissan Formula E
EVs for road and track: the Nissan Ariya crossover lurks behind the batmobile-esque Nissan Formula E race car. Michael Van Runkle

Nissan Formula E 

Nissan joined Formula E for the 2018-19 season and joined Autopia 2099 as title sponsor for this year’s inaugural event. Coming straight from the world debut of the new Ariya crossover EV at the LA Auto Show, Nissan also brought a 2019 Formula E racecar’s body to help draw attention to the brand’s display at Autopia 2099.  

Nissan’s new car for season six of Formula E ratchets up performance significantly with 250 kWh worth of batteries, a 0-60 time under 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 173 miles per hour.  

The Ariya, meanwhile, debuted with up to 300 miles of range and an all-wheel-drive variant. And Nissan also brought along “plantrepreneur” Nick Cutsumpas, known as Farmer Nick, to discuss sustainability and his Leaf EV, which he uses to deliver plants to clients. But the Leaf also serves as a way for Cutsumpas to nudge those clients towards more than responsible foliage consumption. “If you care about plants, that’s great,” he said, “But it’s a stepping stone to other eco-conscious behavior.”