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This auto shop class teaches high schoolers how to make their own electric cars

If electric cars really are the future, then a new generation of mechanics will need to be trained to work on them. That’s exactly what Ron Grosinger, an auto shop teacher at Memorial High School in West New York, New Jersey, is doing. He teaches students how to convert old gasoline cars to electric power, helping to revive interest in the school’s ailing auto shop program in the process.

“If you’re teaching students about gasoline cars, that’s basically the equivalent of eight-track players,” Grosinger said in a Volkswagen press release. The class got the German automaker’s attention because of the first car Grosinger chose to convert — a 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet.

When Grosinger first proposed the class in 2008, West Memorial High’s auto shop program needed a jolt of electricity. As in many high schools, the program was on the chopping block due to high costs and low enrollment. Grosinger had recently taken an intensive two-week EV conversion course, and felt working on electric cars would help teach students about larger scientific and engineering principles through an automotive lens.

The VW Cabriolet was chosen for its affordability, and the ready availability of spare parts, Grosinger said. The car is also lightweight, which helped keep the cost of batteries down, he noted. Students were taught to make the parts needed for the electric conversion, as well as perform the welding and wiring needed to put the car together.

Within a year, the makeup of the class had expanded to include advanced math, science, physics, and engineering students, according to VW. More female students joined the class as well. Grosinger hopes to eventually have a 50/50 male/female student ratio. The department has since expanded from two to four teachers, and includes an after-school program, according to VW. The school has also been awarded grants for new equipment — including 3D printers.

If you have the skills, time, and budget, it’s possible to give an internal combustion car a new life with electric power. In Germany, Volkswagen offers an electric conversion for the Beetle, and is considering expanding availability to other classic models. Numerous other classic cars have gotten electric conversions, combining vintage style with modern tech.

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