TCC auto tech students convert used truck to electric
Posted on 05/02/2023
The auto tech class poses beside the converted Chevrolet S-10.

The automotive technology class at the Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center recently completed the electric vehicle conversion of a five-speed truck, a campus-wide project a couple of years in the works.

“This is where the industry is going; like it or not, they’re gonna be driving electric cars. They’re on the streets. They’re in the shops. Someone at a dealership is working on one right now. They come out here recruiting,” explained instructor Steven Layman, the TCC’s 2022 Teacher of the Year. “If the students can work on it, they’re gonna make substantially more over people who are just doing the oil change stuff that will start disappearing.”

Having taken over the program four years ago, Layman—a master certified technician through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence—acquired the conversion kit via a $7,500 Vocational-Technical Education Enhancement grant along with a $3,500 match from the district during the 2020/21 school year, according to TCC Director Charles Kinsey.

“During his first year we had an extensive conversation about the future of the automotive industry,” Kinsey recalled. “We built something to allow students to basically see how it’s done one way, showing how the parts interact – from a combustion engine to an electric driven system.”

Because of shipment delays created by the global pandemic, it took until around Christmas break of this school year for the Chevrolet S-10 to be drivable, complete with seatbelts and license plates, noted Layman. With a few final touches, he hopes to display the vehicle in car shows beginning this summer, as a way to promote the TCC.

“We practiced on these little electrical kits from Amazon, and one of the rewarding moments was when we powered up the ignition after we worked up the last relay, and a student said, ‘This isn’t any harder than the kits,’” Layman reflected. “It’s all done one circuit at a time, using hundreds of wires, breaking every system down step by step. Then all of a sudden you're done, and it doesn't seem as scary."

The Chevy pickup contains 12 deep cycle batteries pumping out 144 volts total, in order to save money over lithium. Another alternative option would have been to pay about $35,000 for what Layman compared to a large go-kart through a company that manufactures an inclusive training system for students. The custom truck should drive 70 miles per hour for up to 100 miles, he estimated, though it has mainly been tested across campus or in town.

“Most every class that could help, helped,” Layman said. “If we can get them involved, we did, and they seemed to enjoy it. I’m hoping we can come up with more projects going forward or continue on this one.”

Coordinated among the auto collision, building trades, computer science, HVAC-R and welding classes, the collaborative effort included a coat of paint around the wheels, wooden panels assembled for the electronics later wrapped with ductwork, 3D printed emblems and bezels, the tilt bed lift secured in place and battery boxes fabricated.

The computer graphics & print technology class made a trade with Bluff Signs to service a machine for the business in exchange for otherwise unavailable materials to wrap the truck. Students installed the electric motor using their own wooden mockup that Heartland Tool Works was then able to replicate using the precise measurements of the engine block from General Motors, according to Layman.

“Electric work is profitable and I try to stress that end because I think it will benefit them, especially in the future,” continued Layman, who drives a Toyota Prius. “We don’t know what the future is gonna bring, but we do know whatever’s coming is gonna be heavily computer-controlled, so the more they get involved, the better off they’ll be – if I can get them going on the right path.”


Cutline: The auto tech class at the Technical Career Center, along with Director Charles Kinsey and instructor Steven Layman, poses beside the converted Chevrolet S-10 on Wednesday, April 19.

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