Photo/IllutrationAn ordinary gas-powered car, right background, and an e-Bug, whose motor and other components can be seen under the opened engine hood (Minao Ota)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

YOKOHAMA--Classic cars such as the Volkswagen Beetle are getting reborn as an eco-friendly electric vehicle, thanks to automobile lover Osamu Furukawa.

Furukawa, president of Yokohama-based Oz Corp., converts gas-powered automobiles into vehicles running on electric power.

One such model is the e-Bug, an electric car based on the old version of the iconic Beetle, which was produced for more than half a century until 2003.

The Beetle’s round body and unique flapping engine sounds have long hooked the hearts of motorists and car enthusiasts.

The exterior and interior of the e-Bug, created and sold by Oz, located in Tsuzuki Ward, are almost the same as those of the original Beetle.

The only difference is the sound of the engine. When the gas pedal is pressed, smooth engine sounds are elicited and the vehicle starts moving slowly. That is because the engine has been replaced with an electric motor.

“The steering wheel is heavy and the motorist can feel vibrations while driving just in the same manner as the original Beetle,” said Furukawa, 48, while manipulating the wheel of an e-Bug.

Furukawa, an automobile buff, founded a company to sell auto parts and remodeled cars in his 20s. At that time, consumers wanted to upgrade their vehicles to improve their driving performance.

But when minivans grew in popularity, Furukawa thought that cars would someday be used merely for transportation, and not a kind of fashion statement or a way to express oneself.

As gas-electric hybrid vehicles were released in succession, he predicted that the eco-friendly feature could become more important than engine horsepower and acceleration in the future.

Deliberating what kind of business he should operate as a car remodeling agent in such an environmentally conscious era, Furukawa hit upon the idea of turning commercially available gas-powered cars into electric ones.

Furukawa bought the required parts from the United States and finished a demonstration vehicle in 2010. After that, he marketed a kit to remodel minivehicles into electric cars.

But the upgrade kit’s price of more than 1 million yen ($9,200) was too expensive for motorists to convert ordinary minivehicles.

“I thought additional value must be added to establish the project as a business,” said Furukawa.

Acting on that thought, Furukawa started engaging in converting vintage cars into electric vehicles.

The elegant designs of time-tested automobiles are so appealing that a lot of owners hesitate to scrap their vehicles even after they have repeatedly broken down and been repaired.

Furukawa started with Messerschmitt, Isetta and other renowned classic models under the electric car remodeling project, and the number of orders gradually increased.

But the conversion costs of those vehicles are high because those electric cars are made to order.

To enable customers to enjoy driving classic-car-turned electric vehicles more easily, Furukawa decided to sell the ready-made e-Bug model.

While the basic e-Bug’s maximum driving range of 70 to 90 kilometers would be shortened when equipped with an air-conditioning unit, the e-Bug generates little noise and breaks down less frequently.

Even those who worry about the mechanics of automobiles can drive the electric model with peace of mind, according to Furukawa.

“The e-Bug can be called a futuristic classic car because the model boasts the same design as the Beetle in olden days but has the latest eco-friendly features and is not often plagued by mechanical problems, unlike aged vehicles,” Furukawa said.

Prices of the e-Bug, which differ depending on the battery capacity and whether the car is equipped with a quick-charging function, start from 2.65 million yen.

Furukawa explained his future goal.

“Few agencies in Japan offer electric car conversion services,” Furukawa said. “I want to make the business a well-established genre.”