Georgian unveils 1972 VW Westfalia students retrofitted as electric vehicle

Georgian College students steered a major project to retrofit a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van as an electric vehicle, officially unveiling the final product this past weekend at the Georgian College Auto Show.

Artemis Denstedt, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student, was one of more than 30 students who participated in the collaborative project spanning multiple academic areas, including engineering and technologies, interior design and others.

As an engineering student, one of my favourite things is to see my designs come to life. I’ve been working on this for six months and it finally works – I’m so happy. We spent a weekend in the lab to get the vehicle running, and when we first heard that motor whir, we erupted into applause. We were just so ecstatic and relieved that it worked. It’s been very rewarding.

– Artemis Denstedt
Five people pose inside or in front of a Volkswagen camper van that's parked outside in front of a bank of trees.
A professor and some of the students who worked on a major collaborative project to retrofit a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia as an electric vehicle.

VW project aligns with Georgian’s sustainability commitment

The project also aligns with Georgian’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which caught the interest of Scott McCrindle, Professor, Computer Studies, who is one of several faculty members who worked with the students.

One of the biggest impacts that we face in terms of the climate crisis is the greenhouse gas generation from the transportation sector, so this project is important because it shows how using off-the-shelf technologies we can convert existing vehicles and platforms to cleaner, more robust, more powerful, simpler, better ways of powering our commutes.

– Scott McCrindle

Funding for the project comes from the Automotive Business School of Canada, Volkswagen Canada, Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, Ideal Supply, and Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists. Faculty members also got support and training from electric vehicle kit supplier EV West at its affiliate non-profit, Electric Vehicle Training Center.

A person kneels down next to the back of a vehicle with its trunk door open and the door covering its electric motor.
Artemis, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student at Georgian, was one of more than 30 students who participated in the collaborative project spanning multiple academic areas, including engineering and technologies, interior design and others.

Quick facts about the electric Volkswagen:

  • Will drive 100 kilometres on a single charge.
  • Has a pop-up camper, table, and bench that folds flat to make room for a poster bed.
  • Has 120 horsepower – double what its original engine had.
  • Will eventually have a J1772 plug for charging, but that may be switched to a North American Charging System plug.
  • Has a HyPer 9 – 144Vdc brushless motor.
  • Has six Tesla batteries – 24 volts each.
  • Rated for 38 kilowatts at 3600 rotations per minute.
  • Has a HyPer 9 high voltage controller.
  • Still has a transmission, which most electric vehicles don’t have. This means the driver can still use the gear shifter.

‘I’m blown away’

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’m blown away,” said Hunter Moore, a Mechanical Engineering Technology student who was a project team lead and did everything from help remove old cabinetry, to make room for the new battery and motor.

“I was able to help mentor other students to help them put that connection between theoretical and practical. To explain these concepts to them – heat transfer for the brakes, suspension, etc. – I could show how their math translates to the car. That helped me get a deeper understanding of the topics I was learning in class, too.”

An interior photo of a camper van, showing a plaid bench, wooden floor and white table.
The interior of the driver's and passenger seats, steering wheel and dashboard of a vehicle. Text at the top of the windshield reads "Georgian College."

Nine Honours Bachelor of Interior Design students also created plans to redesign the interior of the vehicle in a vintage theme.

Now that the VW is complete, it will be used more as a marketing tool for the Georgian experience than for long-distance driving.

Eight people stand next to each other in front of a Volkswagen camper van that's parked in outside in a parking lot. Two blue Muskoka chairs and a firepit sit in front of the people.
Students and employees involved in the project unveiled the retrofitted VW at the Georgian College Auto Show on June 7.

“The amount of collaboration and teamwork has been incredible,” said Rebecca Sabourin, Dean, Engineering and Environmental Technologies at Georgian.

“This revitalized van is not just a vehicle; it embodies our commitment to sustainability, innovation, and the preservation of automotive heritage. By integrating state-of-the-art electric powertrains and innovative battery management systems, we have transformed a vintage icon into a symbol of the future of transportation.”

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