Partners for Prosperity

Home-grown Technology Pioneer Promotes Electric Vehicles

Cape Girardeau, MO – Jack Rickard got a pleasant surprise the first time he converted a gas-powered car – a Porsche – into an electric vehicle. “I hoped to get 50 miles on a charge,” Rickard said. Instead, the vehicle went 103 miles on its first run and was soon able to reach a speed of 97 miles-per-hour.

Those who drive an electric vehicle for the first time come away with what Rickard calls the “EV grin.”
“You can go from zero to 60 in five seconds, no shifting,” Richard says.  “It’s so different from what people are used to, so exhilarating.”

Now Rickard is on a mission to get 100,000 people to “clear a little space in their garage and convert a vehicle into an electric car.” Judging by his followers around the world, he’s well on his way to accomplishing his mission.

His weekly online TV show, EVTV Friday Show, attracts hundreds of viewers. Last fall he planned a modest workshop to teach how to do conversions; 150 people showed up and brought 30 cars. This year the event, scheduled for Sept. 26 - 30, is expected to draw 800 people and 100 autos.

Among Rickard’s most loyal followers are university students from around the world and around the corner. About 25 students from Southeast Missouri State University approached Rickard for help to form an electric vehicles club and to transform a dune buggy into an electric vehicle. Rickard has also lectured at the university, where he suspects he is known as “the strange old guy who works on things down by the river.”

Cape Girardeau is Rickard’s home port. It was his boyhood home before a career in the Navy as an aviation electrician and later as publisher of a trade magazine for internet service providers lured him away. The return to his roots renewed his passion for electronics. “Vehicle electronics goes back to my youth,” Rickard says. “Electronics became sort of magic for me very early on.”

Firsthand experience is the only way Americans will accept that electric cars are the wave of the future, according to Rickard. “It’s not as simple as GM building it,” Rickard says. “People have to want it.” He believes it is economically imperative to move personal transportation to electric drive, and that resistance is based on culture.

“People have to be familiar with the benefits of electric vehicles,” says Rickard. “Most of the focus has been on drawbacks. Charge time? Not an issue – the vehicles charge overnight. Distance is a red herring. Seventy-eight percent of drivers go less than 40 miles in the course of a day. EVs can go up to 150. But trends come slowly and right now electric car manufacturers do not have the trust of the consumer.”

But times are changing, says SEMO student John Dillard, a member of the electric vehicle club who graduated this spring with degrees in electrical technology, mechanical technology and sustainable energy.
Dillard is a non-traditional student who remembers the first energy crisis of the 1970s. “I think the energy spikes we are seeing now are the tip of the iceberg,” Dillard says. He predicts necessity – that mother of all inventions – will not only create acceptance of EVs but will drive down prices and spur demand. “Remember the first microwave ovens? The first cell phones?” he asks. “History shows us that products get better, faster and cheaper with consumer demand.”Dr. Brad Deken

Southeast Missouri State University is preparing its electronics students to meet the demands of new technologies. Dr. Brad Deken heads the industrial and engineering technical program and advises the students’ electric vehicle club. “We design our classes to be half class and half lab,” Deken says. “That allows students to apply what they’re learning in class to real world projects.”

Turning a dune buggy into an electric vehicle gives them hands-on experience. “Things change so fast that by the time they graduate from college new technologies have emerged,” Deken adds. “Our goal is to expose students to as many technologies as we can and give them the skills to stay current and adapt to change.”