What started as a conversation among Erik Mortenson and two of his automotive students at Watauga High School has turned into a group project to create the school’s own electric car.
Mortenson has been an instructor in the school’s automotive department for about a year and a half, and said he struck up a conversation with two students in September who were interested in engineering. The discussion developed into a brainstorming session of what a car of the future would look like. Over the next several weeks the three discussed ideas and made some rough sketches of a future vehicle with the hopes of it being fully electric.
“I said, ‘What if we try to build one here?’ and the room lights up with interest,” Mortenson said. “When talking with kids at that age, the idea of creating something from scratch is a big deal for them.”
Mortenson next received the approval from WHS Assistant Principal and Career and Technical Education Director Tierra Stark as well as the automotive department advisory committee in late September to early October.
The idea for the project so far is to build an electric car with a range of nearly 100 miles per charge that can be added to the Watauga County Schools fleet for teacher and staff use. The hope was to create a two-seated vehicle with enough room for passenger items as well as modern technologies like GPS capability. The group wanted the interior to be comfortable and the exterior to be aerodynamic.
“All of them are excited to be part of the future in the sense that they’re going to build a car that’s going to be used by teachers and staff here for many years to come hopefully,” Mortenson said. “They’ll be leaving a permanent mark on the school system and change the world a little bit for the better.”
A group of eight to 12 students has met each day during the school’s FLEX time for the planning phase of the electric car. The automotive department has enlisted the help of Dinah Miller and her drafting students as well as Genal West with the art department.
One of the more interesting parts of the project for Mortenson is the variety of students interested in the project.
”The team we have working on this project is quite unique,” Mortenson said. “It’s kids from all walks of life, including those one would not normally associate with trying to save the environment and that is what makes it special. Everyone has come together with the same goal.”
Mortenson said that within the last week, project organizers have received word that it will be acquiring two important pieces for its vehicle. One donor will be giving the school a Volkswagen Beetle and another donor — a teacher from another school system — will be contributing an older converted model that doesn’t work but has the parts. Mortenson said the group is basing its design off of a Beetle as it will be able to build the body and then place it on the vehicle frame.
Additionally, he said conventional parts — such as those that could go in any vehicle, whether electric or gas — are more inexpensive and easier to come by. Mortenson said Miller has also offered the use of her 3-D printer to fabricate smaller parts.
Mortenson believed that the group may end up building a four-seater vehicle instead of the two-seater like originally thought. If the group is able to make the vehicle from scratch, the outside will likely be made from fiberglass. But the group will be flexible with the design in that it is dependent on funding.
The automotive department has applied for a few grants for the project, and is also accepting community donations. While the project may take a total of $25,000 to $35,000 to fund, Mortenson said more than $10,000 worth of components have already been donated.
For more information on how to donate to the project, email Mortenson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit osp.osmsinc.com/WataugaNC/BVModules/ProductTemplates/Bvc2013/Product.aspx?productid=CX336-VAR8&fbclid=IwAR0mfqgEKx-s_glWkb5GOTwpsPiRBuwdCWYaQElGcPry33R7meervwMmdmI. More information about the automotive department can be found by searching for Watauga Automotive department on Facebook or Twitter.
The hope is for the group to start building its project after it returns from Christmas break, with plans to finish the vehicle by the end of the school year. The next step is to build a solar charging station to be placed at the high school. Mortenson hopes to reach out to Team Sunergy at Appalachian State University to discuss the ideas to potentially build the charging station next school year.