Eva Hakansson has got something in common with all EVolocity students – she builds electric vehicles and then competes in them! Eva also holds the world record for fastest electric motorcycle, and also used to be the fastest female motorcycle rider. So she knows what it’s like to take a vehicle build from start to finish. And she might just have some tips for you!
Eva’s story starts in Nynäshamn, Sweden. Her father was the 50cc Swedish roadracing champion in 1962 – he built the motorcycle, including the engine, in the evenings and weekends. Eva’s mother was his mechanic. You might say building and racing vehicles is in Eva’s blood, as she’s not the only one in her family with an engineering degree. Both of her parents and her two older brothers are engineers too! Eva says her father had a full machine workshop in the basement of their home. “It wasn’t until many years later I realized how unusual, and beneficial, it was to know how to machine, weld, and to have other machine shop skills.”
At age 16, she helped her father put together her first motorbike, and with his guidance, replaced the gearbox of her first car at age 18. These were formative experiences for Eva, though she admits: “I would prefer to never change a gearbox again, but it did indeed give me a real taste of technology and boost in self-esteem.”
Having this background, and having won several first-places in national science competitions with clean tech projects during high school, you’d expect Eva would have gone straight into engineering studies. Except you’d be wrong. “I decided to broaden my mind and picked an unexpected field of study. Because money rules the world, I decided to get a business degree,” says Eva. She also got an environmental science degree, and feels that learnings about the “intricate relations between technology, economics and the environment” is what fueled her passion for electric vehicles.
Almost ten years after leaving school, and by a twist of fate, Eva moved to the USA and went back to university to study and eventually earn a PhD in engineering. The idea to build a record fast electric vehicle came from the drag racing experiences of her husband Bill’s electric motorbike, which was fast, but not fast enough to make waves in the public mind. “I decided that I wanted the answer to the question “How fast is it?” to be at least “300 mph” (484 km/h). We didn’t have the budget or garage space for a car, so it had to be a motorcycle.” It also had to be a streamliner motorcycle (where you sit inside the vehicle, like in a car) to be able to achieve that kind of speed. That build began in 2010.
Fast forward 11 years and Eva has set records as the fastest female motorcycle rider, and fastest electric motorcycle with a speed of 434km/h (270mph) and has built a second vehicle with her husband, the Green Envy. After working as a lecturer at the University of Auckland for two years, where she was actively involved with EVolocity, Eva took 2020 off to attempt to set new records. Unfortunately attending the racing event in Australia has been scuppered both in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID19 outbreaks. While a disappointment, this isn’t stopping Eva: “Just because we can’t make it to Speed Week doesn’t mean the works stops. We will bring the Green Envy back to New Zealand and make it even faster for 2022. It’s just a bump in the road in our mission to show that electric power is the way to go.”
This tenacity is what Eva calls her biggest asset. “To be the best in anything, you have to work on it every day. You need to want it so badly, that you never give up. I also enjoy the building process more than riding, which is important because you spend 360 days of building for 5 days of racing,” she says. While this grit is key to success, Eva says the most important skill is really the project management. She quotes the saying ‘to finish first, one must first finish’. “A race is a firm deadline, and it takes serious management skills and discipline to get everything done in time. My favourite saying is “Whatever I do today, I don’t have to do tomorrow”. That’s how I get so much done.”
Alongside her “expensive hobby” Eva is now also developing a 3D printing filament manufacturing business right here in New Zealand. In the long term, KiwiFil aims to use recycled plastics to produce the long plastic string (filament) that is used as the ‘ink’ in 3D printers. They are currently using a bio-plastic made from corn. “I have only been in NZ for three years, but I aspire to become a true kiwi and I have wholeheartedly adopted the “number 8 wire mentality”, and this business is definitely following that mentality. We are using a re-purposed plastic drinking straw machine, and we hope to soon be able to also use recycled plastics,” says Eva.
Eva feels that when choosing a career, one big misconception is that if you want to make the world a better place, you should become a healthcare worker or study a social science. “Healthcare workers do absolutely wonderful work, but they would be quite lost without all the medical technology and the science that make modern medicine possible. If you want to save lives or make the planet a better place, there are endless possibilities in STEM,” advises Eva.
For Eva, her electric vehicles are “ecoactivism in disguise”. Her mission, she says, is to show that being eco-friendly can be fast and fun, while raising awareness about the potential of low emissions vehicles. “An electric vehicle is like chocolate without calories: it gives me everything I want – power, speed, and torque, without the things I don’t want – pollution and noise. I know that engine sound isn’t considered a “noise” by many people, but the feeling of power and speed is actually much more intense in complete silence,” says Eva. Pass the chocolate!
“Engineering is a great career choice, particularly for women. You can work with pretty much anything that you are passionate about, you are well paid, and well respected. Engineers hold the key to a better future. The only really important thing to remember going into engineering – you need to be strong in maths! You don’t have to like maths (I don’t!), you just have to be good at it! If your math skills need a bit of a tune-up, check out www.khanacademy.org.”