If Volt Runner, the neon green car, didn’t attract attention, the driver’s broad smile would. When Jeff Finn of Bellevue passes gas stations his smile becomes a megawatt grin. Electricity powers his vehicle. Instead of gasoline, he plugs an electrical cord into a receptacle behind lid to the former gas tank.
Finn advocated for efficient cars for years. He and his wife ordered their first, a Toyota Prius in May of 2001. They also own a Camry hybrid. Four years ago, when he began looking for a car that got better than the 40-to-50 miles per gallon they were getting on road trips, Finn joined the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA).
He found more than inspiration in the group. He found experts. One is Dave Cloud of Woodinville, a noted longtime electric vehicle builder. They created the Volt Runner together.
The Volt Runner was born as a Chevrolet Metro. Finn purchased the 2000 model in 2008 after the car had 190,000 miles on the odometer. The engine was dying from hard use in a courier service fleet. He paid $250 for the car and with Cloud as a partner, began rebuilding.
“I was just like A.J. Foyt and his race cars,” Finn said. “I’m the driver and the project manager and watch the other people do the work.
“My job as a partner was to hand Dave a part. Then I’d hand him a soft drink, I’d get him a tool and then I’d hand him a check.”
Parts cost $8,000. Labor $5,000 and a custom paint job, $800. Last year he upgraded from lead acid batteries – which had cost $1,500 originally – to lithium batteries. Parts and labor for the change cost $7,500.
The net result is more than a vehicle to get to and from the grocery store. He uses it, Finn said, to demonstrate, to educate -- and hopefully to proliferate. The more electrical vehicles on the road, the better it will be for the environment and our dependency upon oil. Theoretically the Volt Runner should last about five million miles.
The advantages, Finn said, outweigh the necessity of recharging it every 50 miles or so. When something goes wrong – if it ever does – all he has to do is remove the small computer – a compact box in the engine compartment and send it out for testing. It is elegantly simple: There’s an on-and-off switch. He keeps up with traffic as he runs errands on Eastside streets and it does just fine on short freeway hops. Places like and have outlets so if he goes shopping or goes to City Hall on business, he plugs in the car when he parks.
The back seat of the Volt Runner has been removed to contain the batteries. A clear Plexiglas panel covers the space but so people can see where the power resides. The former engine compartment contains components including the computer and coolant for the brakes. Everything in the engine compartment is labeled. Whenever Finn wants to show off the vehicle, he whips out a poster board that contains all the technical information and props it up under the hood.
He painted it neon green to attract attention of kids. He takes the car to fairs, sustainable living symposiums and events at high schools.
“A 15 minute trip to QFC takes 45 minutes to an hour,” Finn said. “People approach me and ask if I mind if they ask a question. That’s why I put the ‘Electric’ sign on the front and back window. I want people to ask questions.”
Finn calls the Volt Runner his retirement project. He has had multiple careers before he became an electrical vehicle evangelist. He started working in his father’s CPA firm in Indiana, earned an architecture degree from the University of Washington and worked for Seattle during the Forward Thrust years in the 1970s. He stumbled into computers when he figured out how to hook his Apple into the city’s Univac machine. He ended up spending half his time in community development and the other half working on computers. Eventually he ended up at Microsoft, grayer than most of his coworkers but with vastly more life experience.
“I retired seven years ago,” he said. “I’m probably the only person to retire from Microsoft who actually went right onto Social Security.”
His latest project ties into his electrical vehicles. He and his wife are having solar panels installed on the roof of their Bellevue townhouse. The 150-square foot panels will produce enough electricity each year to power their cars.
“Some days I feel like the Church Lady from the old “Saturday Night Live” television show,” Finn said. “Whenever I drive down the highway and go by gas stations, I have that smug look on my face.”
Find out more
Check out Jeff Finn's website for his Volt Runner at http://voltrunner.com/
2000 Chevrolet Metro (a.k.a. Suzuki Swift)
In 2007: courier vehicle 190,000+ odometer = $250; Parts = $8,000; Labor = $5,000; Exterior Paint = $800 = $13,050
In 2010: Lithium Battery upgrade parts & labor = $7,500
< $100 for 2 ½ years
Two 1) Electric motor rotor, 2) Main contactor (power on/off)
Electricity: $12.00/month @ 500 miles Gas: $0 forever
4.6 miles/kWh (214 Watts/mile)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
Zero (0) [Puget Sound Energy Green Energy Customer]
50 miles* (@ 70% Discharge)
Electric power storage:
48 Lithium Cells: Thundersky 3.2V 100Ah LiFePo4
Connected in series for a total of 15.4kWh
< 3 hours 220v 30amp or < 6 hours 110v 15amp
Curb Weight:Estimated < 2100 lbs (GM's factory ICE vehicle spec was 1850) * 78% of U.S. daily trips are 40 miles or less (Robert Lutz, GM Vice Chairman, on 60 Minutes on 10/5/08)
--- Jeff Finn's Volt Runner website