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The Low-Cost, DIY Romanian Tesla

A half-French, half-Catalan engineer crossed the continent to build an electric car anyone could afford.
April 22, 2016, 9:00am
Marc Areny in his workshop, proud of his 100 percent electric Dacia Logan. He's run hundreds of tests and tweaks to lower costs and maximize the car's range on a single charge. Photo: Alin Ionescu, Auto Bild

What do you do if you can't afford a Tesla? You build one yourself. Marc Areny did just that, for only $13,000.

In 2011, the half-French, half-Catalan engineer sold his property in France and moved to Pitesti, Romania, planning to make "an electric car anyone could afford, not just elites," he told me in flawless Romanian.

He started with his foster country's national car, a 2005 Dacia Logan, Renault's low-cost brand. He got rid of the petrol related parts and replaced them with batteries and an electric motor.

"I'm a regular guy trying to find solutions for regular people."

The car doesn't have Tesla's huge touchscreens and gizmos, but it's reliable, as fast as a gas-powered car, and will take you to your destination, he said. It has since taken him 12,500 miles, he told me, no repairs needed, and will run for 100 miles on just $1.80 and a six-hour charge.

But while he had no trouble getting his car certified by the Romanian Automotive Register (RAR), he had a different experience in France.

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In 2010, Areny was unable to get approval to drive his DIY electric Porsche 944 on French roads.

After months of phone calls and emails, he gave up. "They tld me I had to do a frontal and a lateral crash test in order to certify the car," he said. In other words, he'd have to destroy two cars in order to certify a third one.

In Romania, a country where the average take home pay was less than $500 a month this February, owning an electric car is out of the question for most people. Used vehicles, often bought from Western European countries, and the local brand Dacia make up most of the market.

Areny said his car will be in top shape during the first 190,000 miles. Afterwards, batteries will be at about 80 percent of the initial capacity. Photo: Alin Ionescu, Auto Bild

A second-hand Dacia with basic features can be bought for $1,000 to $ 3,000. You add 20kWh lithium-ion batteries for about $7,000, enough to drive 100 miles on one charge, Areny said. The electric motor, power regulator and additional parts score between $4,000 to $5,000.

Another benefit of being in Romania is that mechanics get almost every job done for $10 to $30 for labor, he said.

Repairs and maintenance for such a car cost next to nothing, furthermore, as it doesn't require oil changes or air filter replacement. Brake pads wear out after a longer period of time compared to a gas vehicle, since part of the deceleration is obtained using the electric motor as a generator.

Areny driving at 75 miles per hour on A1 freeway in Romania. Photo: Alin Ionescu, Auto Bild

Areny stopped using gas in 2008, when he modified his then car, a Renault Clio 1.9 Diesel, to run on leftover cooking oil he got from restaurants. Since then, he's been working to lower the cost of converting gas vehicles to electric ones.

"I'm a regular guy trying to find solutions for regular people," he said.

Areny, who believes current electric cars are overpriced, hopes to scale up his efforts and mass-convert, or mass-produce, his gas-to-electric vehicles. "I could lower the price this way," he said. "I don't want to get rich out of this. I just want to do it."