Georgian students to retrofit 1972 VW Westfalia as electric vehicle

More than 30 Georgian College students are helping retrofit a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia as an electric vehicle as part of a major collaborative project spanning multiple academic areas.

The project, which officially launched Monday at Georgian’s Barrie Campus, will see students and faculty from engineering and technologies, interior design and other programs get innovative, hands-on learning experience.

The project also aligns with the college’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Two people stand and one person sits next to a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van that is parked inside a workshop.
Parker Johannesson, from left, Joshua Reitzel and Kelly Raffan are three Georgian students working on the project.

“Applying what we learn in class to a real-life project is beneficial, especially with the electrification of the vehicle, which is the way the automotive industry is headed,” said Joshua Reitzel, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student participating in the project. “It will really help us in the long run as we head into the workforce.”

VW Westfalia to get ‘second life’ with vintage-themed interior

Kelly Raffan is one of nine Honours Bachelor of Interior Design students creating plans to redesign the interior of the vehicle in a vintage theme.

“I’m super excited because I’m really into van conversions. I really love taking old things and making them new again – giving them a second life,” she said. “This experience is going to be really great, not only for my portfolio but also for getting to know and learn from the other students involved in this project.”

A group of 11 adults stand or sit along the side of a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van.
The core Georgian planning team and a few students involved in the project pose with the vehicle they will be retrofitting and redesigning.

Completed vehicle to showcase Georgian experience

The project team is aiming to have the vehicle fully functional and complete by spring 2024.

Once ready, the electric Volkswagen will be able to drive about 100 kilometres on a single charge and will be used more as a marketing tool for the Georgian experience than for long-distance driving.

Funding for the project comes from the Automotive Business School of Canada, Volkswagen Canada, Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, and Ideal Supply.

‘Ahead of the game’ with sustainability

“Volkswagen is a classic vehicle that’s popular for doing electric conversions,” said Ron Sky, an Engineering and Environmental Technologies professor who is the electrification project manager.

“People who like Volkswagen campers are ahead of the game when thinking about sustainability. That’s why there are more buses that have been converted, so that makes it easier for us to convert this one. We can get a kit that already fits the bus and get technical support from the supplier if we need it.”

A person gestures next to a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van that is parked inside a work area.
Ron is a Georgian professor and the Volkswagen electrification project manager.

To prepare for this project, Sky and two other faculty members went to California to visit electric vehicle kit-supplier EV West and get hands-on training at its affiliate non-profit, Electric Vehicle Training Center.

“I have worked on electric vehicles before. When I was in university, I worked on some of the first hybrid vehicles, and we did a conversion as a project. Things have changed since then. I’m learning as I go, too,” said Sky.

Side view of an orangey yellow Volkswagen Westfalia camper van that is parked inside a workshop with its doors open.
The Volkswagen electrification project is expected to be completed in late March 2024.

Students’ innovative projects also tackle climate change

The electrification project is part of Georgian’s Sustainable Projects Learning Initiative, which aims to get students involved in innovative, hands-on learning experiences that tackle the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We’re trying to tackle climate change issues, as well as meet some of the changes in the automotive industry,” Sky said.

“The students are excited to work with and learn from each other, too. Marketing students will learn more about the technology, which they should know if they’re going to be marketing and selling these in the future. Vice versa, technical students need to understand where the market’s going.

“There’s lots of opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration.”


We’re hosting a kickoff meeting for students from any program who are interested in participating in the Volkswagen Westfalia electrification project. Drop by to learn more about the project, how you can get involved, and meet other students and faculty who are involved. All are welcome.

WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 7 from 4 to 5 p.m.

WHERE: N101, Barrie Campus, Georgian College

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