Team Marine students with Volts Wattson (Photo courtesy Benjamin Kay)

SAMOHI — After four years spent under the hood, students in Santa Monica High School’s environmental science and advocacy group Team Marine have finished their gas-to-electric car conversion project.

The students, who range in age from 14 to 18 years old, finished the conversion of a 1971 red convertible Volkswagen Super Beetle earlier this week, according to a news release. They replaced the car’s combustion engine and gas tank with an electric motor and 30-kilowatt hour lithium iron phosphate battery pack.

Team Marine students with Volts Wattson (Photo courtesy Benjamin Kay)
Team Marine students with Volts Wattson (Photos courtesy Benjamin Kay)

The students unveiled the plug-in at the Santa Monica Alternative Car Expo, which kicked off at the Civic Center parking lot Friday and runs through Saturday, Sept. 21. In coming weeks, they will conduct local tests to showcase the anticipated 100-plus mile range, maximum freeway speed, and zero to 60 mph time.

The car, affectionately named Volts Wattson, was donated to Team Marine by the Poon-Fear family in 2009 with the purpose of having students turn it into an environmentally conscious EV. Since then, the students have focused on acquiring funds, parts, and the knowledge needed to overcome the many electrical, mechanical and logistical hurdles in the conversion process.

Team Marine has simultaneously developed an electric vehicle instruction manual along with award-winning educational materials and multi-media presentations that are designed to raise awareness about climate change, ocean acidification, energy conservation and carbon-reduction strategies.

“Electric conversions are part of the solution,” said lead student engineer Patricio Guerrero. “This project is an example of what is possible to achieve and hopefully inspires other engineers and scientists out there to go down the path of sustainability.”

With technical and financial contributions from environmental partners Plug-In America, the Wells Fargo Foundation, Trexa, Alliance for Climate Education, QuikSCience, TeenNick, Left Coast Electric, city of Santa Monica, and Gas to Electric Conversions, Team Marine will tour Volts Wattson at many civic and community events, schools and other academic institutions, science fairs and alternative transportation exhibitions throughout Southern California.

“Our project shows that even high school students can do things to reduce reliance on fossil fuels,” said Ivan Morales, co-captain of last year’s Team Marine.

“We’ve built solar boats, and even watercraft made from plastic straws and bottles, but never anything like this,” said Samohi science teacher and Team Marine coach Benjamin Kay. “This was a prodigious mission, and as a teacher, I am proud beyond words of the students’ achievements and so thankful to our many community partners.”

A look under the hood.
A look under the hood.

Team Marine, formed in 2006 by a group of environmentally conscious students to increase the public’s awareness about the sensitivity of the ocean and other natural environments, has created numerous programs to mobilize the citizens of Santa Monica and nearby areas in Los Angeles to conserve and clean-up the California coastline.

Their efforts have been recognized by the city of Santa Monica, TeenNick Halo Awards, The Wyland Foundation, Southern California Edison, and other environmental organizations, companies, and government officials.

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