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This week is a bit of one of those “aha” moments which is what I’m really in this stuff about.

I recently received a kind of strangely critical note from someone with the Minnesota Electric Vehicle Association and consequently visited their site to see what was up in the great north.

What I found was a bit interesting – some active projects, all badly done with lead acid and components from five years ago – and touted in the local press as the very latest developments in electric cars by those “cute” hobbyists, not to be confused with real electric car manufacturers.

At the same time, we had just returned from our visit to Special Editions Inc in Bremen, and I was pawing through our contest entries trying to get a hand on who you guys are and where you are and why you are and so forth.

At the same time, I’ve been working a bit with Matt Hauber, recently joining us from San Diego. A bright young man with a lot of desire, Matt is just unabashedly enroute to building a business in electric vehicles come hell or high water, and at his own expense flew to Cape Girardeau with one suitcase and a dream to learn about electric cars.

Hmmmm…. I’m kind of a sucker for that sort of thing. I like people with a passion and a mission and I like em better if they are generally pretty smart. Lacking any formal education of any kind in basic electronics and electricity, he faces a daunting challenge. But oh to be young and have your knees work and be able to work all day and all night again….

So I’m a little disoriented this week. The state of the art, in Minnesota at least, is pretty much still taking old junk cars, loading them up with a ton of lead batteries, iota DC-DC converters and auxilliary 12v batteries, aging Zilla controllers, and direct drive issues with differentials.

And in our contest submissions, I see description after description after description of quite advanced projects but a VERY consistent underlayment that shows up in entry after entry after entry – probably as much as 75% of them. “I want to work on electric cars as my life’s WORK.”

Hmmmm. This was a bit of a surprise. I have to tell you I don’t SHARE that dream. I do NOT want to work on electric cars as my life’s work. I like making them. And I guess I’m pretty much committed to doing VIDEOS about them at this point. But actually make cars for a living?

I was about solving MY transportation problem and ending being a VICTIM of the forces of the universe. A personal one man initiative to stop the gasoline right HERE and right NOW. I think it would be a remarkable thing if everyone with the ability and a garage would do the SAME thing. At some number, this becomes a grass roots movement that really will change the world, and in some very cool ways.

I’ve done this before. The Internet.

But oh, I had nearly forgotten. Along the way, somebody poured gasoline on the Internet fire by showing guys with bulletin boards that it was ok to charge for their services and make money by doing it and in the end, how to become an Internet Service Provider or ISP, a term we coined actually, among many others, at Boardwatch Magazine. And many of them did wind up making a living for awhile, and some made millions selling their small companies to larger entities later on.

The dream was to build a global network that acted in many ways as a great equalizer, a force for freedom and democratization.

But yeah, I guess it was kind of cool that a lot of us made a living doing that, and some a fortune by anyone’s account.

Fortunes may come and go, but the memories, ah the memories, they just mostly go….

So. What’s the model? Well let’s start with what is NOT the model.

1. Lead acid is not the model.
2. Junk cars are not the model.
3. Will do Electric Car for Food is not the model.

One of my heroes is Wayne Alexander in Walton Kansas. Many people find this surprising since Wayne does almost EVERYTHING different than I do, so of course I think wrong. The other side of that would be that Wayne thinks about everything I do is all wrong.

But he’s a good workman, very pragmatic, and very devoted to the mission of converting cars. He has adopted the stance that he’ll convert any car for $12500 to a lead acid behemoth that will go down the road sprightly for 30 or 40 miles. He likes to do small pickups, and indeed I agree that’s probably the most practical vehicle for ALL electric conversions.

Check out his web site.

Here’s a news piece on Wayne that will give you a better idea.

So what’s the problem? Well, Wayne is tired and wants to sell his business. Looking it, any wonder.

Wayne doesn’t type a lot. He DOES do a lot. Claims some 147 conversions completed. So he knows how to do them, at least with lead. Here’s the problem. He’ll do ANY car. In the video, you see a VW THING that looked like some of his better work actually.

To do any car anyone brings him, Wayne has a basic set of components he knows and uses, and applies them to different cars as the need arises and demand warrants. The result is he has to engineer EACH car from scratch.

I don’t care HOW similar two cars are. They’re not the same. Things have to be moved around, installed differently, tuned differently, the gearing is different, the battery layout is different, etc. etc. ad nauseum. I’d be tired too. This guy reinvents the wheel, one wheel at a time.

You might eek out a living with this model. And you might even do some nice conversions, particularly if you’ll bail on the lead acid thing. But you can’t make any money and in the end you have no “equity” in your business to sell. The only thing you have to sell is you. And you’ll be REAL tired after engineering 147 different conversions from scratch. I would be ground off about mid-thigh level by now if I was Wayne. Nothing left above the waist, that’s for sure.

If you want a model to get involved with electric cars the model has already been presented – last week. But since it hasn’t apparently sunk in, we’ll just repeat it THIS week. It’s in Bremen.

It’s kind of a specialized world. I can’t take on Discovery Channel head to head. But I can specialize in Electric Vehicles and pretty much kick their ass, on that narrow field of specialization.

Kevin and Carey Hines and Special Edition Inc are probably not going to go head to head with Audi or even Saab. It’s just not a battle they can win. As Porsche aficionados, I don’t know quite how to picture them “competing” with Porsche. Actually they personify the origins of Porsche in ways far beyond what Porsche is today.

They have “specialized” in a very narrow area of two classic Porsche’s, the Spyder 550 and the 1957 Speedster. They are replicas of course, in many ways better than the original vehicle to my way of thinking, not being a purist. And they’ve built up such a clientele over the past 30 years that they churn out 125-150 very nice vehicles per year, really quite CUSTOMIZED vehicles at that. But using the same two basic vehicles. And as best I can tell, they live rather well thank you.

How can this be? It is all about MASS PRODUCTION. Actually I’m stealing that term since you all and most of the automotive world are fixated on it. Picture something like MASS PRODUCTION at the THREE MAN SHOP level. They have to do 2-3 cars per week with a handful of employees. That’s pretty busy.

But the secret is deep discerning knowledge. They KNOW those two vehicles extremely well. Everything about the body. Everything about the paint. Everything about the instrumentation. Everything about all available power plants. Everything about the transmissions. Everything about the suspension and steering. After doing the first two or three thousand cars, they know a lot about them.

Do you want a square hole in the dash for a 7-inch touch screen? No problem. They’ve done that. Special color? No problem. But although they are willing to customize what they know, they aren’t going to build you a 65 Mustang.

Our second electric speedster is frankly light years better than our first. While we were out there we discussed a number of changes to the vehicle that we’ve made in the four or five weeks THEY have had it looking at it. We’re going to change the front battery box layout thanks to Eric Kriss of Krissmotors. He came up with a way to do that eliminating two cable jumpers. I’m embarassed I didn’t see that myself.

We’re going to install the braided EVWORKS cell straps and nordlock washers – depicted in today’s video. We’re changing to a different shock absorber and coil overspring in the rear at Carey’s suggestion. And we’re going to adopt the Toyota Prius inverter cooling pump for the cooling system. It is smaller. It is lighter. It is less expensive. It runs cooler. It uses less electricity.

And so you can refine the design. I could redesign the Speedster every year for the next ten years and I guarentee you I would never get bored, never get tired, never feel ground down, and the car would do nothing but get better and better and better. If anyone cares and buys some, that’s precisely what I’ll do.

This is not stultifying boredom guys. This is how cars evolve and are refined and it is like layers of an onion. The more you peel away, the more layers there are. WHILE WE’RE TALKING, these guys in Bremen, in a 30 year old business, are not bored. They’re working like crazy to move their glass works INTO the U.S. from Brazil. They’re rolling out a new line extension with the Porsche 904. They’re expanding their facility. They are having new molds built. They’re looking at carbon fiber. They’re evaluating an electric version. Far from boredom, they have more going on right now than they can possibly say grace over. They’re ENERGIZED and the younger Hines is clearly having a ball.

So to bring all this to ground, and make it real for Matt Hauber and all the guys in this contest who so painfully WANT to get into this business and make a living at it, the answer is YOU CAN AND YOU NEEDN’T APOLOGIZE. It’s a GOOD dream and we will cheer you on every step of the way. And some of you will make a fortune at it.

And how does competition from the OEM’s play into this? Well the concept is your car has to be different, and in some ways better than theirs, and you have to hand build it and customize it so the buyer is getting great value and a unique car. Duh…

So you need to pick a car. And not just any car. A car you love. Better a car that others can love. And that makes sense as an electric car. And then you start making them. With each car you make, you improve it. After 147 of them, they should start to get to be pretty good. And you should start to have a following. And you continue to refine it down to every nut, bolt, screw, battery compartment, cell heating element, etc. The components available will change for you every year. The batteries will change every year. And you have to learn to select the good stuff for YOUR car. The process doesn’t actually end.

As you do this, the efficiency will increase dramatically. The build time goes down. The component costs go down. You just get better at it as you go.

So quit doing electric cars for food. Do them on purpose. And most of all, get the lead out.

In this video there are a lot of little clues. We convert a Vantage van from lead to LiFePo4. When we do so, we go from 800 lbs of batteries and boxes to about 350 lbs offering twice the power. The result is an easy 100 mile range in a cute little van. Vantage is doing just what we advocate – specializing. But they’re doing it with lead because it brings the price down. It also kills the vehicle.

This is our longest most rambling video ever. If you pay close attention, I think you’ll see why. If you listen casually, you should probably skip it entirely. If you have no interest in a career in EV’s, it’s probably not worth the feature length film length of two hours and ten minutes. If you ARE interested in that, it’s the roadmap that can’t actually fail if done that way…

Jack Rickard