DIY Hybrid Pickup Truck

by Ben N on August 13, 2012

For a while, I’ve had an idea rattling around in my head….

A couple years back, I picked up an old Mercedes 240D as a parts car, to use the engine to convert my pickup truck to diesel. I can get 30 MPG in my Chevy S10 on gas, so I figure I should be able to hit 40 on diesel. More recently, I’ve kept helping out friends on their electric car projects, and for a while there even ran my Electric Geo Metro as a propane hybrid.

This summer, I was amazed to have been invited to Vienna, Austria to be a participant in a brainstorming/think-tank to help design the car of the future.

Somehow, I’ve managed to stumble my way through the school of hard-knocks in clean transportation design.

When two of my friends started converting pickup trucks to electric with large forklift motors we pulled out of a junk yard a couple years ago, it gave me and idea. The DIY Plug-In Hybrid Pickup Truck.

Where I live, everything is either really close by, or an 80 mile round trip. I’d actually be a good candidate for a Chevy Volt, except that I actually do use a pickup to tow a trailer, haul firewood, transport motorcycles, and do the things that trucks do. Now I don’t want the Volt to take this personally, but it’s also a bit out of my price-range, and still runs on gasoline. (They are nice cars though, if you are in the market, take one for a test drive.)

If I built my own hybrid, I could design it the way that I want – my choice of fuel, engine, and motor.

Once I had that concept in my head, I really couldn’t shake it out of there. I’ve come up with a couple ideas, including using a 4×4 Geo Tracker or a classic VW Rabbit Pickup Truck. Both of which would have some limitations. ¬†Finally, I’ve settled on a Mercedes diesel engine, a forklift motor, and a two-wheel drive truck. Here’s why.

1) I already have most of that stuff! People sometimes talk about “ideal” ways of designing something, using very particular parts, but the costs add up. By mostly making do with what I have, I can afford to make the project happen.

2) DC Series-wound forklift motors have already proven themselves to me. The Electro-Metro runs great on a $50 forklift motor. A couple of friends are driving EV trucks with forklift motors, and I’ve always been impressed by the hotrod motors that Jim Husted makes from stock ones. While a series-wound DC motor is not usually that good for regen, it IS possible to do it. More importantly, a series-wound motor has the TORQUE to spin the differential directly. Also, forklift drive motors typically have a driveshaft and a tailshaft. By shortening the drive-shaft and inserting the motor there, I’ll be able to to connect the transmission output to the motor. In effect, the motor itself becomes the “power-split device” required to connect two power sources to one set of wheels. (Think of it as a really low-tech planetary transmission!)

3) The diesel engine is pretty obvious. Not only do diesels get better fuel economy than gasoline, but you can also run them on bio-diesel or waste vegetable oil. The Mercedes 240D was very popular for veggie oil conversions.

So, the over-all concept is to be able to drive the truck on just the electric at low and medium speeds, around town, and general use. With the manual transmission in neutral, the engine is no longer connected to the motor, and doesn’t even need to be on. When I want to go on the freeway, or need additional power (towing, etc) I can turn on the diesel engine. The engine goes through the transmission, spins the motor (unpowered) which spins the driveshaft, and the car goes down the road.

What I showed in the video is a basic overview of the driveline. Of course the big trick is going to be all the details. The mechanicals of hooking everything together will be a fair amount of work. After that, it’s just a matter of dropping it in the truck. Then it’s on to modifying an Open Revolt motor controller to make it work in a plug-in hybrid instead of just an electric car.

I know this project is going to take a while, but it will be exciting, and with a little positive input from my friends, we’ll build something great.

-Ben

PS:
A few questions already from YouTube:
Q) Not an AC motor?
A) No, I haven’t seen any that meet the magic ingredients of having a tail-shaft, enough torque for direct-drive, and are affordable.

Q) What system voltage?
A) As high as I can afford – aiming for 144V, but that also means changing the timing, so I wouldn’t be able to have reverse gear in electric (as timing would then be retarded.)

Q) Where would the batteries go? Going for Used batteries again?
A) The batteries would go under the bed of the truck, similar to most EV pickup conversions, but I’ll have to work around the exhaust system and fuel tank. I might put a smaller fuel tank in there to make more room. I’ll have NEW batteries in the truck this time, lithium if I can get some sort of sponsorship, otherwise just new lead-acid will give me proof that everything works the way it should.

Q) How about having the diesel engine run a generator, make it a series-hybrid?
A) I already experimented with the Electro-Metro as a series hybrid when I added the LP generator to it. My making the truck a PARALLEL hybrid, EITHER system can push the truck down the road. If I ever have trouble with either system, I can drive home on the other. As a parallel hybrid, I’d also be able to get a power-boost by using both systems at once – think of having an electric turbo-charger on a diesel engine!

Q) What are the “weird details”?
A) It’s things like the accelerator. Since I have two different drive systems connected to each other, do I need two separate pedals?!?!? I don’t know, but figuring it out will be half the fun. Also, in one of the photos below, I mocked-up where the driver and passenger seats will go. In the truck, it’s got a bench seat. I might have to convert to bucket seats just to cut a hole in the cab to make the motor fit!

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 BobD August 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

Perhaps you could switch the positions of the motor and the transmission. You could then have both engines on the same side with the diesel still at the front. Have a freewheel coupling between the engines.

Then you could keep your reverse gear and your bench seat. You will of course, need to move the radiator and belt train. Maybe extend the front end. Now, I’m feeling nauseated.

2 Mike Greig August 13, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Thanks for the video Ben, you were one of the originals that inspired my conversion and website. Incredible ingenuity on this new project! I will be watching to see how it goes.

3 Ben N August 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Thanks Mike, that means a lot. Your web page looks great too!

-Ben

4 Plymouth Station Auto Center August 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

This looks like it is going to be a brilliant project. I can’t wait to see how it ends up.

5 Rocky Su September 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

This is definitely a cool project I need to follow! I look forward to seeing how this goes. As far as the throttle goes seems like you could piggy back something like a golf cart potentiometer with the throttle, as long as input voltage is off then it wouldn’t try to run the electric motor at the same time, plus since you’re using fuel injection, it wouldn’t be a problem moving the throttle on your diesel when it’s off. Did something similar to an electric golf cart that I had a gas engine running a power take-off

6 Ryan September 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Ben this is looking great!! I cant wait to see more of this project.
Idea for the fuel tank diamond plate tool box with a false bottom. The fuel will then be gravity fed to the engine fuel pump and you have some storage.

7 admin September 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I was thinking of a tool box to put the batteries in, but depending on the exact motor configuration, the stock gas tank might conflict with the size and shape of the motor. I could put the motor and batteries UNDER the bed, and the fuel tank on top. Better yet, make it an extra-small fuel tank! I still want to be able to throw my electric motorcycle right into the back of the truck, so I can’t take up too much bed space.
Hadn’t thought about the liquid fuel up top, but that would make it easier to swap out to a diesel filler as well. Hee hee. That means I could repurpose the ORIGINAL gas filler for an EV charging port!

8 Jake September 11, 2012 at 11:22 am

Ben, I really enjoyed reading through your ible on the Metro conversion. Looking forward to this one as well. Pertaining to the “weird detail” of the accelerator, could you possibly employ a 3-way toggle switch (one position for each system and the third for both systems)? You might look at the switches that some are using on wood gas trucks that switches from diesel over to gassified wood. Keep up the great work!

9 Ben N September 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Hey Jake,

Right on, a three-way toggle switch is the type of technology I’m thinking for this project. Keep things simple, but with good clean user control. I’ve got a whole pile of little ideas like that started.
Keep the good ideas coming!

-Ben

10 Keith HP November 10, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Hi Ben,
I’ll be following this awesome project closely as a source for my hybrid truck. It’s an F-350 crew cab dually with a na diesel. Because of the weight of my truck compared to yours (in the neighborhood of 6000lbs), I’m considering 2 of the motors that you use but mount then with a belt drive to the transmission tail shaft. Because mine is an auto trans, I will have to leave the diesel idle when the electric drive only is running, so my setup will have some different challenges, but that’s the fun of open-source right?
I saw one person suggest an engine-motor-trans layout. If you did this, you might be able to impliment an on-demand start stop system for the engine, reducing fuel consumption. Floor and firewall clearance may be a big challenge there.

Anyway, it’s a great project and objective and I’ll enjoy following in your footsteps!

11 Joe August 10, 2013 at 12:41 am

What about a belt or chain driven system linking the drive shaft and electric motor? The electric motor would be mounted in the pickup bed on springs to allow for the up and down movement of the drive shaft thereby maintaining the tension in the drive chain or belt. This might allow for a more universal fit with less mechanical modification. Utilizing the bed space would also reduce the need for under body mods. I have been thinking along these lines and am pleased to see others like you are doing the same. You inspire me to pursue this further. Let me know what you think. I pray you have success and am looking forward to hearing about your success.

12 Joe August 10, 2013 at 12:45 am

Obviously a hole would need to be to be cut in the bed of the pickup to accommodate the drive chain or belt.

13 Ben N August 10, 2013 at 9:03 am

A friend of mine mentioned once doing something similar to this. I wouldn’t want to, because part of the project is to keep the pickup as USABLE as possible. Anything that takes away from bed-space starts limiting how the truck can be used. The upside of some sort of belt or chain is that GEARING can then be introduced, which can be used for modifying speed/torque between the motor and driveshaft. But it starts getting mechanically complicated and introduces multiple points of failure.

The important concept to remember is that some sort of “Power-Split Device” is needed – a way to combine the power of the engine OR the motor (or both) to the drive wheels. HOW that’s done is up to the designer, and half the fun!

14 Ben N August 10, 2013 at 9:05 am

A friend of mine built an EV pickup truck, with the batteries under the bed (which he designed to tilt up for access) he could fit all of the batteries but ONE under there. So, he cut a hole in the bed and mounted that one battery on top of the others. The bed would tip up and down with the one battery staying there, but the bed tilting around it.

15 Jeremy S October 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm

This is an amazing project!…best of luck. You guys are way further down the road than me in terms of applying the ideas you are floating. I am new to the EV game and have been soaking up as much information as I can for a couple of years now. I just need to get to a point professionally that I have time to start tinkering. I can’t wait to follow this project and see how you overcome the various oddities.

16 Mark Hytwr December 8, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Throwing out ideas: -run both the diesel & the motor together like a power boost

-Change rear suspension to independent and mount the electric motor behind the rear diff.

17 JD January 16, 2014 at 10:28 am

Just a thought on your drive train layout that I think needs some safety consideration. If your motor controller burns out (not sure what your intended design is) you could wind up with a runaway motor with no way of stopping your truck. At least if your motor is mounted in front of the transmission then you can pull it out of gear or depress the clutch (w/a manual).

18 BenN January 20, 2014 at 9:00 am

Yes, of course, safety first. EV’s usually have an ELECTRICAL EMERGENCY SHUT-DOWN. Besides the main contactor (which is a huge remotely controlled ON/OFF switch) and main fuse, it would be easy to design a secondary power shut off connected to a giant red button. In case of some sort of problem with the motor, power can be disconnected.

19 Greg March 1, 2014 at 8:43 pm

How does the drive train work with the additional load of the electric motor? If the diesel engine is running the drive shaft, how much power is lost before transferring to the differential? Does the shaft spin through the electric motor freely when it is turned off?

Also, could you also not harness electricity while the motor shaft is spinning?

Cool project!

20 admin March 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Drag on the engine with the motor off should be pretty minimal. It’s only the weight of the motor’s armature spinning, and in that sense, would act as a bit of a flywheel. The motor spins rather freely when not powered. Also, series-wound motors generally do NOT act as generators. They have no permanent magnets, and thus no magnetic field to cut with a rotating armature when not powered.

21 Alex May 11, 2014 at 9:22 pm

It’s nice to know that others are doing these little, ever-important innovations. I am doing something similar with a VW conversion that I’ve reiterated into an electric VW trike (with a small truck bed on rear). I’m planning on adding a LPG generator to hybridize it so I can drive it across the country. I just took the trike for its first electric spin around my yard and it was nice.

22 Ben May 15, 2014 at 11:02 am

Sounds great, Alex! Do you have any photos you can share?

23 Tom Miguel June 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Ben are you concerned about getting the motor internal components wet as they are exposed to the elements? wouldn’t it be more practical to have the motor mounted inside the body, enabled by an electric clutch and drive a timing belt to the drive shaft?

Great project good luck

24 Ben N June 27, 2014 at 8:15 am

No, I’m not worried about the motor getting wet. Under the bed shouldn’t be much more wet than under the hood. A simple splash guard can always be added. There are all sorts of different ways to connect an electric motor. I’m just trying to do it in as simple of a way as possible. Having it NOT under the hood gives a LOT more room to work with.

25 Terry Clark October 3, 2014 at 8:56 am

Ben, I bought a 2003 Civic Hybrid a week ago, and the IMA battery has already died. What would be the possibility of converting it plug-in? or even back to gas. I live in central Florida

26 Ben N October 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Hi Terry,
Lots of hybrids have been converted to plug-in, but usually with an additional battery pack that charges from the wall. I suppose that it could be converted to gas, as it is a Civic, and there’s tons of gas Civics out there, but running on just gas sure feels like a step backwards. Likely the best thing to do is replace the hybrid battery pack. You may only even need to replace a few cells, NOT the whole pack. There are some shops out there now providing that service. Here’s one that belongs to a guy that I know in the Midwest. http://www.evpowers.com/ I’m sure you can find somebody similar a little closer to you.

27 Roberto Palacio November 12, 2014 at 1:03 pm

What about putting the electric motor after the ice motor and using a clutch to engage or disengage,then putting the transmission which would allow you to have reverse gear.If the engine was a gasoline you could also use it to as a starter as well.Just an idea.

28 Ben N November 12, 2014 at 1:59 pm

What you are suggesting is not unlike Honda’s IMA hybrid system, where the electric motor is right in with the flywheel. However, having a second clutch mechanically complicates things, and the entire drivetrain starts getting pretty long, custom, and complicated. The planetary gearing in the Prius is a more elegant way to put together an engine and electric motor for a production hybrid. In my case, I’m trying to make the system as simple as I can, and putting the electric motor outside the engine compartment leaves enough space up there for the engine and transmission to work the way they should. Of course, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”! I’d love to see some other people build hybrid pickup trucks and try a couple of different styles of hybrid setups.

29 Michael April 13, 2015 at 11:48 am

Hello,

Skimmed your article. Seems like you know your stuff and are willing to think outside the box.

I’ve been dreaming about various electric conversions (mostly so I can get in the HOV lane on my way too long commute, but also to combine a few needs/wants for my next vehicle.) So tell me if this idea is crazy, then tell me something about feasibility and cost. Idea: Convert a VW Combi, but first (or secondarily) add another row of seats (for 6 to 8 passengers) leaving just enough bed to haul trees or a half yard of mulch.

Thanks for thoughts.

30 Marty May 11, 2015 at 9:14 am

I have been dreaming about a torque converterter electric motor with with magnetic coupler. The motor would run in town but once you hit the highway the batteries are recharching while the engine takes over from there. You can plug in at night to top it off. Just a thought.

31 Pierre Ardans September 10, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Ben…so far, yours is the most promising approach to a gas/electric hybrid car I’ve come across. Please keep me posted on developments. Thanks.
Pierre Ardans

32 Micah St.Clair September 29, 2015 at 10:35 am

Hey I love your project SuperTruck. It blew my mind. I am very uneducated about how to do something like this, but have you seen the VIA truck? Chevy truck with a generator hooked to the v6, but the v6 doesn’t drive the truck, only powers batteries for EV motor once the batteries are depleted. What do you think of this setup? Can you hook a generator onto any ICE? ALso, what is the differenece between ad DC motor and DC generator? They look the same. Thanks, also what is the cheapest controller you can use on an EV? can you use a Golf Cart one or is that too small. Thanks
Micah

33 John January 31, 2016 at 9:29 pm

I know this is an older post but I just found it. I love this idea. I just snagged up a 98 S10 5 speed with less then 10k on a rebuilt 2.2. I’ve already talked with my wife and she thinks it would be great too.
Using a 4×4 transmission would make it shorter and give you a flat surface for building a mount. But the speedo unit is housed in the transfer case in a 4×4 and in the tail housing in a 2wd. Using a 4×4 trans means you’d have to figure out some way to send the right signal (or a way to mount the cable depending on the year) in order to have a working speedo and odometer. You can easily use a gps app for speed but I’d really like to have an odometer for calculating my gains after a conversion like this. Any ways you’ve been a huge inspiration. I’ve book marked your site and now come here often and I’m seriously planning on making our S10 a hybrid.

34 Steve Andrews February 7, 2016 at 11:50 am

My thoughts are on my 1993 Ford F150 XLT. I do love the Truck except for gas mileage. My thoughts are connecting the DC motor just aft of the transmission. When I get to freway speeds just put transmission in neutral and use DC motor to maintain speed. Or even have both motors going to use less gas in City. Would use belt drive to driveshaft in truck bed. Good idea?

35 Justin June 24, 2016 at 7:11 pm

I have a 1966 chevy c20 that I was wanting to convert to electric but I go camping a lot and far distances away so that won’t do it. Then I came upon this post and thought this was perfect, make it a hybrid. I am in the process of restoring the truck and I need to pull the 292 for rebuild (it burns oil like crazy) so while it is out cyme up with a way to contest a forklift motor to behind the trans and make a adapter play that is welded to the frame of the truck. Use the electric power for around town and the engine for highway or long distances. Possibly over volt the motor for 72 volts and have the batteries in the bed. Also add a generator to the engine sk while the motor is off and using the gas engine it would re charge the batteries. That would work right?

36 admin June 25, 2016 at 8:04 am

Sounds like it would be a great project! Go for it!.

37 Alessandro Diaz November 2, 2016 at 11:09 pm

Hello Ben, I’m looking forward to hearing from you regarding my Dakota hybrid supertruck it’s a 3.9 liter v-6 w 5 speed manual transmission..It would be very cool to make a supertruck hybrid together.
Also, wanted to ask your insight on building a hybrid boat together..I have a 97″ Four Winns 238 Vista. It’s a decent cruiser with a 5.7 Volvo Penta i/o set up. It’s a dual battery 12 VDC system charged by an typical automotive alternator. I’m willing to install a 6 battery system in series mated to a totally independent electric dual prop (pod system) driven by (2) waterproof fork lift motors driven by a separate dual throttle system and a 3 pole toggle switch which can still be steered by the existing outdrive motor in neutral..would greatly appreciate your insight and possible guidance through this new and innovative project.

Best regards,

Alessandro

38 Scott Johnston December 1, 2016 at 6:18 pm

Do you have an update on your project?

Here’s a link to an awesome option for a motor:

http://www.siemens.com/press/en/feature/2015/corporate/2015-03-electromotor.php?content=Corp#event-toc-2

39 darius September 26, 2017 at 3:54 am

Just out of curiosity, with that large a engine wouldn’t it be more efficient to eliminate the transmission and run a large generator for the motor? that’s how trains run I believe.

40 admin September 26, 2017 at 7:15 am

Trains are serial hybrids. A large engine generator creates electricity, and the electric motors move the train. The PRIMARY reason for that design is NOT efficiency, but rather to eliminate the transmission. I actually researched it once – if a train used an engine and transmission to move, the transmission itself would need to be it’s own entire car, and that would all be gears and other moving parts of a transmission. The electric motors have enough torque to ELIMINATE all of that.

In my original concept for a hybrid truck, it would be a parallel hybrid. Either the engine (and transmission) OR the electric motor could move the truck. It would be redundant in some ways, but you could keep driving if you ran out of either gasoline OR electricity, or had a problem with either system.

A vehicle like a Chevy Volt is actually a Series/Parallel Hybrid, but with a strong emphasis on the Series style.

My DIY Hybrid Car project was a series hybrid, with a propane generator and an electric motor. It was a great project. I learned quite a bit working on it, and it was a lot of fun, but it also lead me to have some different ideas that went into the truck concept, including making sure the engine was on the other side of a firewall, fuel tank arrangement, etc.
http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Plug-In-Hybrid-Car/

41 Alexander October 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Hey Ben,

This looks awesome and reading this has strengthened my resolve to attempt my conversion once again, thank you.

I want to run the electric motor with software, cause that’s what I know and I think I’ll have the most flexibility and control with that. Do you know of any fully-comprehensive software that I can use to control/monitor both the output and vitals of the electric motor and most vitals of the ICE?

Also, would you put the batteries above the Emotor in this scenario? How is there enough room for a usable bed in that case?

Again, really love your project

Alexander

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