GPRC alumni paving the way with electric motors
Wednesday, February 24th, 2021
GPRC alumni, Arlin Sansome.
Arlin Sansome’s love of hot rods first sparked when he was just a toddler, tinkering on cars by his father’s side in the family garage. The son of an automotive mechanic, Sansome soon discovered a passion for motorcycles and racing that later evolved into a record-breaking career working on electric vehicles.
Today Sansome, 41, has set the record for the world’s fastest front-wheel drive electric car. His innovative work in electric motor controller development for electric vehicle propulsion has been featured on the Discovery Channel. Now living in Nanaimo, B.C., Sansome still keeps in touch with the instructors he first met while completing his Motorcycle Mechanic Certificate from GPRC Fairview in 2001.
“When I was applying for jobs in the motorcycle industry, everyone kept asking me if I had been to Fairview College. That’s how I knew it was the place to be and how I found my way into the industry,” says Sansome, whose first gig was working on snowmobiles in a shop in Milo, half an hour from where he grew up in Vulcan.
“GPRC Fairview is where I did all my training and how I met my instructors, Dan Bruce and Brad Chorney, 20 years ago now. They were the ones who got me daydreaming about the things I could do with my life. As much as I loved cars, I didn’t like getting into awkward positions underneath them and getting dirt in my eyes.
“In the late 1990s/early 2000s, I found the motorcycle world was so much more technologically advanced, and much farther ahead of performance cars. That’s where the real engineering was happening at the time, the high power-to-weight ratios and advanced control systems I wanted to get my hands on.”
A daredevil in his teens, Sansome grew up riding motorcycles and spent his 16th birthday in a wheelchair with casts on both legs after a stunt that went awry. Needless to say, that didn’t deter him from earning a Journeyman Red Seal accreditation in motorcycle mechanics and ultimately opening his own motorcycle repair, customization and fabrication shop after moving to Vancouver Island in 2006.
As he sought a way to avoid paying for high-priced fuel, his interests gradually evolved into the electric vehicle business.
“I wanted to drive a fun car that wouldn’t break the bank so I did a lot of research on alternative fuels,” says Sansome. “The efficiencies of hydrogen-based fuel didn’t make sense to me so I started diving into the electrical stuff. Eventually I stumbled into building an electric bike in 2007; once I got it running, that’s when things really took off.”
Sansome estimates he spent about 10 years and $30,000 developing a motor controller to achieve 303 horsepower at the wheels, using a Nissan leaf motor with custom batteries. This would break the world record for the fastest and quickest front wheel drive car, earning a feature on the Discovery channel.
“As far as anyone can tell, I have the most power out of a Nissan motor, with much more to come,” he says. “I want to see if I can develop an electric street legal car with the fastest quarter mile from 0 to 60.”
In 2015 Sansome started Underground Electrics, a business dedicated to developing and promoting high performance electric vehicle technology. In addition to consulting for companies such as AirBus and Lightning Motorcycles and developing motor controllers, he also teaches motorcycle and marine mechanics at Vancouver Island University.
“I spend about 25 hours a week working with students, and I also spend time as a toolroom attendant when I’m not instructing. A lot of the work I do is by myself on the computer at home, so it helps to get out sometimes,” he says.
“One company hired me to develop a battery charger for those electric scooters you can rent on the ride share apps. I developed a charging station that charges 12 at once and enables users who drop their scooters off to get a discount. This alleviated the issue of scooters just lying around on the sidewalks and allowed them to get returned to where they belong.
“Most of this work was done with my feet up on my couch.”
Sansome has turned down offers of up to half a million dollars to further develop electric vehicle technology in the U.S. The demand for his line of work, he says, is “insane” and pays extremely well, allowing him to live debt-free with his wife and two young children on the island, along with nine electric motorcycles, an electric motocross bike, and a Honda CRF 450 which he is currently converting to electric power. "It will have over 70 horsepower at the wheel and run all day in the tails or one moto main event on a charge," he says.
“For the first few years the objective of my work wasn’t about being green; it was about the performance and cost advantages. But then I realized I liked breathing clean air, eating pure food and drinking water without getting sick or dying, and that we need to clean up our act,” he says.
“We are one of the worst countries in the world per capita for CO2 emissions - and if everybody just passes the blame on, nothing will ever get done.
"I feel pretty lucky I landed in this field of work, and that I get to live in a place with a year-round motorcycle-riding season, clean lakes to swim in, and thousands of kilometres of bush for my family and I to play in. So everything we do now must be as green as possible because we have a short window of opportunity to make a difference.”
Learn more about GPRC’s School of Trades, Agriculture and Environment here.