Biodiesel is moving into the world of posh consumer sport utility vehicles thanks to diesel engine conversion specialist Johnathan Goodwin. His fuel economy- and horsepower-enhanced vehicles have been featured on MTV’s Pimp My Ride, sold on eBay and have now caught the attention of some high-profile figures, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He’s the one they call when all the others say, “It can’t be done.” His peers refer to him as the "foremost authority on Duramax diesel conversions of all vehicles." His work is in such high demand that he could sell one converted diesel engine Hummer an hour, if he wanted. Although he has a right to brag about his innovations, Jonathan Goodwin’s quiet, reserved nature communicates his preference for a low profile. That’s not quite possible, however, as the Wichita, Kan., native’s talent keeps him in the spotlight. In fact, his upcoming conversions are going to be taped for a television series that is set to air on the Discovery Channel, and one of his diesel conversions involves California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal vehicle. Goodwin’s projects are cutting edge, but he insists that he’s simply a hard-worker and a determined problem solver, doing what he loves. "I’m not a chemist, I’m not a scientist or an electrical engineer," Goodwin says. "I’m just one of those people that will take something that I’m interested in and I can’t leave it alone, and I will push it to the highest edge."
Now the head of two of his own companies, Jonathan Goodwin Twisted Conversions, a Hummer conversion business in Wichita, Kan., and SAE Energy, a technology development entity, he got his start working on motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle engines when he was 15 years old. In 1998, Goodwin converted his first Hummer, an H1, to a Duramax diesel engine after a few roadside repairs, running it at high speeds through a pond, pushing all the vehicle’s limits and bending all the rods in the motor. He decided to drop in the new engine to modify a few complications and gain more horsepower and has been refining issues associated with the Hummer line ever since.
Goodwin began to hone in on the environmental and fuel-efficiency aspects of his conversions at the request of a client and since then his business opportunities have snowballed. In 2006, Goodwin partnered with a group called the EcoTrek Foundation to convert the perceived worst gas-guzzler of all sport utility vehicles (SUVs)—the Hummer H2—to run on biodiesel rather than conventional gasoline. Goodwin and environmentalist and auto enthusiast Tom Holm, founder of EcoTrek and the host of Outdoor Life Network’s “Adventure Highway” television series, aligned with General Motors Corp. (GM) to customize the vehicle with a Duramax LBZ engine, an Allison M1000 transmission, sustainable soy-foam seats and nonpetroleum-based tires, along with several other upgraded features. Needless to say, the EcoTrek H2 Hummer was a hit at the 2006 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, the premier automotive specialty performance products trade show that attracts more than 100,000 industry professionals each year. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest with mass transportation and some fleets of 800 are just waiting for us to come out and offer this to them,” Goodwin says. “We’re getting close to wanting to do that, but we’ve just been having so much fun refining the technology. It’s been incredible.”
Almost immediately following the SEMA Show, Goodwin received a call from Martin Tobias, the CEO of Imperium Renewables, with an out-of-the-ordinary pitch. He wanted to convert a beat-up classic American muscle car to run on biodiesel for a special Earth Day episode of MTV Network’s “Pimp My Ride” (PMR) television show. Goodwin agreed and flew out to Galpin Auto Sports’ garage in Southern California to begin work earlier this year. After 500 hours of taping and build time, the outcome was the ideal “green machine”—an 800 horsepower biodiesel-powered 1965 Chevrolet Impala that gets 25 miles per gallon (mpg). Not only did Goodwin convert the engine despite skepticism from producers of the show, but the car also demonstrated the sheer performance that can be achieved using the renewable fuel. The upgraded Impala raced a Lamborghini at the Pomona Raceway and left it in the dust. “I’m glad that I was able to show them that this diesel engine running on canola oil can pretty much yield all the power that you want,” Goodwin says.
When the green machine covered a quarter mile in about 12 seconds it caught a lot of attention. Rap artist Dr. Dre offered to purchase the vehicle dubbed the “Bio Rocket,” and Tobias and Schwarzenegger were in attendance for the race during the final day of the PMR shooting. Both are having their personal vehicles converted by Goodwin this summer. “Governor Schwarzenegger came right up and started talking to me about the conversion, and I introduced myself as the person who had done it,” Goodwin says. “The next thing you know we were over there talking about his Jeep Grand Wagoneer and we are now in the middle of negotiations on converting that.” Goodwin is putting a Duramax diesel engine into a 2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT for Tobias, and adding his patented ethanol fuel injection technology that will allow the car to get 30 mpg and add 110 percent horsepower to somewhere around 800, conservatively, Goodwin says. The vehicle will have a number of customized changes, including no chrome parts, he says.
Goodwin will then start converting Schwarzenegger’s 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer to run on biodiesel. GM has also talked to Goodwin about having him build an H2 Bio/Hydrogen Hummer for the governor, a dual-fuel technology vehicle that can run on both biodiesel and hydrogen. This would “pretty much just emit water and vegetable oil,” he says. A similar process may take place with one of the governor’s old military-style H1 Hummers. Details of all the conversions Goodwin has planned will be captured by the Discovery Channel and a German television channel comparable to National Geographic, which began filming its first installment in early June. Goodwin says another possible show topic would cover the work he is doing on biodiesel engine conversions in offshore pleasure boats. Portions of the series will be taped in high definition, and all the conversions will be completed by the end of the summer, so the vehicles can be displayed at the 2007 SEMA show in late October.
Goodwin says the response from his participation in the PMR episode has been overwhelming, along with the questions and comments. His conversions also seem to have had an effect on GM. GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced in February that all vehicles in the Hummer 2010 model year will be renewable-fuel compatible, including an H2 with the same Duramax diesel engine, as well as a V8 E85 Hummer H3. If the interest and demand is any indicator then there is certainly a market for vehicles that can run on biofuels, Goodwin says.
In early June, Goodwin and his team were just getting settled into SAE Energy’s new workshop, a 1,000-square-foot space in Wichita. “Things are kind of a mess but there has just been a huge demand for what we are doing, so we had to step it up a little bit,” he says. While the majority of his projects have focused on biodiesel, Goodwin has developed an H1 Hummer that is completely computer controlled and can run on several different fuels, including propane, natural gas, ethanol and hydrogen. Once the dust settles, Goodwin plans to begin work on a specialized vehicle for himself—a bioelectric H3 Hummer. His design will feature a four-cylinder biodiesel-powered Isuzu motor, which already gets 50 mpg, that will power the batteries for the vehicle’s electric motor. The electric motors have 2,000 pounds of torque, that can propel the car from zero to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds, he says. “I am really excited about doing that because I’m going to personally be driving the wheels off of that one,” he says. “I’m going to play with that one quite a bit.”Lindsey Irwin is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 746-8385.