Electric car dream turned into reality by two Tupelo college students

TUPELO – When Louis Rosa or his brother, Nick, goes anywhere in their car, heads turn.
The sleek, low-sitting, candy-apple red sports car gets plenty of attention just for its looks, but it gets even more stares when onlookers spot the “Danger High Voltage” sign in the back window.
And the “Electric” badge on the rear deck lid and the bright yellow plug where the gas cap normally would be.
Yes – it’s an electric car.
“It’s a conversation starter,” said Louis, who recently graduated from Georgetown University. Younger brother Nick is a senior at the California Institute of Technology.
The two built their electric car not necessarily on a whim, but as a challenge.
With gas prices hitting $4 last summer, their interest in alternative power grew.
“We were talking about electric cars and thought ‘maybe we can do this ourselves,’ ” Nick said, noting that other electric cars being sold, such as the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma, cost around $100,000.
General Motors is expected to sell its Volt electric car next year for about $40,000.
Those companies have hundreds, if not thousands, of employees spending millions of dollars in research and development, a luxury the Rosas don’t enjoy.
So working with a much smaller and manageable budget, the Rosa brothers got financial help and support from their parents, Kathy and Louis.
“It became a challenge for them,” their father said. “‘If you fund it, then we’ll build it,’ they told us.”
They bought a kit car and the components they needed to build their own electric dream vehicle. What they didn’t have, they built themselves, including a battery rack.
Total cost to build the car: about $18,000, not including labor.
Spending spare time
Even while Louis and Nick were in college, they managed to work on their dream during holidays and breaks. And by April of this year, the car was road-ready.
“We’ve always been do-it-yourselfers,” Louis said. “But we also did a lot of research into it.”
They also joined electric vehicle associations, made contacts with people familiar with what they were trying to do, and gathered as much information and expertise as they could.
“I knew they could build it,” their father said. “The real factor was, was it doable? We’re not professional mechanics, but I had garage skills that could be applied.”
After getting their kit car, the Rosas disassembled the engine and transmission in order to get their electric system in place.
Building the system to power the car took several trips to Sears and AutoZone, along with several consultations with Tom’s Automotive owner Jeff Robertson.
The fiberglass body keeps the car lightweight, even with the more than 1,200 pounds of batteries that are used to drive the wheels.
The sporty bucket seats highlight an otherwise utilitarian dashboard. The car holds two people only – driver and passenger.
Instead of doors, a canopy pops up and down to let riders in and out of the vehicle. The car can be driven with either the canopy open or closed, although claustrophobic drivers and passengers would prefer having the top up.
“Driving it in the summer is cool, but not so cool, too,” Louis said.
“It’s got pretty good acceleration, too,” Louis added, pressing down on the “accelerator” that resulted in a nice push off the line from a neighborhood intersection.
A small whine emits from the electric car as it accelerates, but there is nothing to be heard when it’s at a standstill.
The range of the vehicle is about 60 miles on a full charge. It’s also able to reach speeds of about 90 mph or more.
“It’s street-legal, too,” Louis said. “We’ve taken it to the grocery store and other places around town.”
The license plate and state inspection prove it is indeed a “real” car, although applying for the tag was an exercise in patience.
“They asked us how many cylinders it had, and we told them none,” Louis said with a laugh. “Then they asked if it was gas or diesel, and we said neither.”
Finally convincing state motor vehicle authorities they did indeed have a road-ready vehicle, and following another inspection or two, the Rosas got their license tag in April.
The price: $69.28.
Their car – which truly is a “green” car with no emissions – is fully charged after six hours. Simply plug it into a typical wall outlet.
“It takes about 50 cents to go 50 miles,” Nick said.
And now that their challenge has become a reality, the brothers can sit back, relax – and take a drive anytime they want in an electric vehicle they built themselves.
“It took a lot of work, but it paid off,” Nick said.
GM hasn’t come knocking on the Rosa’s door, and neither has any other automaker, for that matter. Not that the brothers are interested in mass-producing their car which, by the way, they haven’t given a name.
“It was something we wanted to see if we could do,” Louis said.
And they did.
Contatct Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal