Share →

This week, we received a copy of a new JD Power and Associates study on the adoption of Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles. Note that they do make an appropriate distinction.

The Study is subtitled More Hope than Reality, and indeed it paints a bleak picture.

In my opinion, JD Power and Associates is one of the most prestigious survey firms in the world. NOT to be confused with the poseur think tanks funded by oil companies and automobile manufacturers. They live on customer satisfaction surveys and they’re very good at getting right down to what’s important.

The most important thing IN this study is some believable, and not so believable, numbers on total automobile production and operation.

Everyone is focused on peak oil and what it means. Peak oil is very real and I am very persuaded by such things as Deepwater Horizon’s record setting operation in September 2009, before it was blown up in the Gulf oil spill disaster, to drill a hole 35,000 feet in the earth. Such a hole costs in excess of $200 million to drill. Somebody has got to want oil pretty badly. Surely there must be some closer to home. Apparently, to an increasing degree, not.

That’s an indication that easy to obtain oil is not so easy to obtain, on the face of it. I don’t have to know much about peak oil beyond the fact that they think they can, and need to, drill 35,000 feet to get at it profitably. I’m not one of those who decry oil companies and automobile manufacturers as somehow being stupid. I personally think they are VERY smart and have the very best people in the business, in the business. I don’t particularly believe their interests are allied perfectly with MINE. But I do believe they will act in their OWN self interest pretty reliably and actually quite intelligently.

As to oil, what I got from this was basically that we produce 38% of the oil we use and China produces 46% of the oil they use. And the two countries make up the bulk of the automobiles in the world. They also have the lowest gasoline prices currently at $2.85 and $3.71 respectively. Everything in Europe is north of $6.00.

Oil is not precisely my focus, and not precisely the problem, as incredible as that statement may seem. It’s cars. We have a lot of them. And we’re making a lot more.

Any moron of sufficient age to remember, can remember what traffic was like, and what it is like now. Astute observation is not required to believe we have a lot MORE cars on the road. It’s true we have a lot more people as well. But that almost doesn’t account for it. We have a LOT more cars on the streets than we did 30 years ago.

It took a hundred years, give or take, to put the first 500 million cars on the road by 1995. It will take just 20 years to put the second 500 million on the road by 2015. At the end of 2010, we are looking at 896 million cars and we’re manufacturing them at the rate of 44.7 million per year.

JD Power is looking out to 2020, ten years from now, and projecting an annual production of slightly more than 70 million cars with 1.2 billion in operation. That’s a lot of cars. That’s exponential growth in the number of cars.

It’s true that many will be in India and China, along with a few Mercedes Benz from my friend in Dhubai. But wherever they are at and from wherever they issue, they are almost all going to burn gasoline.

I’ve said for years that the problem is not that gasoline is too expensive, but rather that it was too cheap. And had it been allowed to seek a natural level over time, the true costs of gasoline could have been gradually absorbed by our economy. We could have, for example, instituted more aggressive taxation of gasoline, since energy has ostensibly been a NATIONAL PRIORITY since Jimmy Carter. But we did nothing.

Simply putting a big tax on it now and using the funds to subsidize alternate energy is no longer an option. There isn’t time. And it essentially is impractical. The cost of oil goes straight to the heart of the cost of transportation. Our global economy is founded on a historic move AWAY from local manufacture and consumption of EVERYTHING and toward global transportation of EVERYTHING and so the cost of EVERYTHING has a transport component built into it. NOt only the cost of everything, but of the cost of everything used to make everything. ANd so it is layer upon layer of transport costs. A sudden increase in those costs would be DEVASTATING to every economy on the globe.

And so there is no possibility, read NO possibility that the U.S. can lead the way on a cure. It’s politically impossible. If you tried to enact a gasoline tax in this country at this time, it is NOT that you would be voted from office. You’d likely be assassinated. It would be UNLIKELY that you would live your elected term.

If we could, it would wreck our own economy on ANNOUNCEMENT and put us into a depression that made the 1930’s look like a free lunch program.

And so we have before us the elements of THE PERFECT ENERGY STORM.

Less cars? Come on. In America we have had cars for a hundred years. They are almost everyone’s most prized possession. We do not take trains and buses. We drive where we want to drive. Would you believe that now other people in other countries want the same thing. And why not? Personal mobility is a treasure. Everyone wants it universally. And it so constitutes at this point a basic human desire – to be neither ridiculed nor denied.

More oil? Where? How? The five largest corporations in the world with larger cash flows than most nations and the brightest people on the planet on that topic are doing everything they can and they’re down to drilling seven miles into the earth looking for droplets.

We have oceans of natural gas, and yes, coal. And an enormous electrical distribution system. I already know the answer. But Americans aren’t having any. I’ve mentioned REPEATEDLY that there is currently NO market for a compact car or mommy van as a battery electric vehicle.

According to JD Power, 61% of American consumers would now consider a hybrid vehicle. When advised that the difference in price might be $5000 on the initial cost of the car, that interest drops to 30%.

Battery electric vehicles are worse. Just 17% of American drivers would consider an electric vehicle with its limited range. When advised there is a $15,000 premium, that interest drops to 5%.

This isn’t ORDERS. This is just INTEREST.

JD Power predicts an increase in Battery Electric Vehicles from just 20,100 vehicles in 2010 (including GEMs, vantage vans, etc.) to some 1.3 million by 2020. But 62% of those go to Europe. And 25% go to China. The U.S. will produce and use just 97,000 BEV vehicles for 7.5% of the world’s electric cars.

In typical American fashion, as the perfect storm comes together and gasoline rises to $22 or $44 or $66 per gallon, there will be a LOT of interest in battery electric cars. They will be an overnight sensation. It won’t matter. It will take years to produce them at that point. Too little. Too late. Another CNN emergency. But this time we don’t get to cheer as the miners emerge or the oil spill is stopped. No magic bullet. No brilliant solution. Just misery and unemployment for millions who can no longer get around.

Technology has a standard S shaped adoption curve. ALL technology. First you have the tinkerers and innovators working with a technology that doesn’t exactly work. It kind of sort of works just well enough to have an avid group of believers who keep dicking with it.

At some point, it gets good enough and you begin to see small businesses emerge to produce very expensive models that are a little awkward and clunky. Picture cell phones the size of a brick with its own suitcase that cost $3500 and feature a $1 per minute charge for calls that can only be made from six cities in the country.

At this point, the technology either fails and collapses, or gains ground. This is entirely a function of two things: human desire and early adopters. If the advantage of the new technology is sufficiently great that people DO want it even if they CAN’T afford it, it has a chance.

If for example, I told you I had a matter transporter that would safely transport a human from Los Angeles to New York city in 800 milliseconds, you would want it. If I told you it cost $26 million for a ride, you would STILL want it, but you could not afford it.

This is where early adopters come in. After the first ride, I can drop the price to $20 million. After the second ride, I can drop it to $10 million. After that it quickly drops to $1 million per ride and I’m doing a couple of rides per week. At $100,000, we’re up to a couple of rides per day. At $10,000, thirty rides per day.

When it gets to a buck and a quarter everyone in Los Angeles is transporting to New York for dinner and back. The food’s just better in New York.

Without those first early adopters, the transport machine gets disassembled and we’ll use the parts to build an ice cream truck.

My take. Lead acid cells powered the early tinkerers and innovators with a technology that really just didn’t work. RAV-4 and EV-1 included.

LiFePo4 changes the game. Electric cars can now be used as cars for most purposes. And it has attracted an early adopter set. Tesla is my poster child. At $150,000 for a roadster, it is expensive. But they have decoded what an early adopter might want and be willing to pay for in an electric car. Their Model S, which as you’ll see in today’s video is actually modeled after the Aston Martin Rapide, is frankly another very good move. Four passengers and luggage – much more practical as a car. But still very much an early adopter vehicle and probably priced in the seventy odd thousand range. I expect it to do VERY well.

But VERY well is relative. For a startup, who has sold 1500 vehicles total, what would a VERY well number look like. Five thousand would be a HUGE number by comparison. Ten thousand would be even grander. It would be a phenomenon.

What is the effect on the perfect storm? Well, ten thousand Tesla model S’s if done well and show well would establish that the well heeled can drive an elegant sedan that does not run on gasoline. This is ATTRACTIVE. It appeals to HUMAN DESIRE. I can’t afford one yet. But I WANT one. And because there are 10,000 of them, I can see one. I might even get to ride in one.

Let’s contrast this with the Nissan Leaf. A compact mommy van that DOES offer the advantage of electric drive. It will NOT appeal to early adopters AT ALL.

It is intended to jump start this into the mass market. Will the mass market go for it? It’s a one in a million shot.

Here’s a compact car for $18,000. Here’s a hybrid compact car for $23,000. Here’s a Nissan Leaf, at $32,000. Ok, we’ll subsidize it to $25,000. It’s cool. It’s electric. It also only goes 100 miles on a charge. Is this going to go?

There IS a fringe element of a few THOUSAND people who desperately want to go green and be cool and can’t afford either. They spend most of their time whining about how OTHERS should spend their money on green, as a kind of annoying horsefly in the face hobby. I would expect them to buy the Nissan Leaf to finally scratch the itch. So they’ll also sell 10,000.

The difference is that Nissan is a huge company gearing up to sell hundreds of thousands of these. Tesla is a startup without a chance who has thus far sold 1500 cars. 10,000 for Tesla is a huge win. 10,000 for Nissan is a HUGE loser. An enormous loser. The press will pick up on it and start parodying the “death of the electric car” again. They’ll interview disatisfied stranded Leaf owners on camera.

One example greatly furthers the cause. The other example damages it extremely.

NEver mind GM trying to horn in with a 37 mpg hybrid that they insist is an electric car WHILE requiring gasoline in the tank to even start the vehicle. Understand that with a fully charged pack, you don’t move without a tank of gasoline in a Volt. Not a foot. Interlocked.

The difference is the recognition of reality and where we are on the adoption curve for electric cars. Actually, there is an enormous opportunity here for any one of you with the guts to play. But it involves unique custom cars that are powerfully electric, done to the highest professional standards, and offered to interested early adopters that can afford them.

EVERY effort in that area assists the move up the S curve. Attempts to defeat or circumvent this curve actually can be harmful. And badly done hobby lead acid vehicles are a sure sign we’re not ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, the forces converge with less and less oil, more and more cars, and a very loudly clicking clock….

In this episode, we talk about first impressions with the Rinehart Motion Systems AC inverter/controller that we are using to replace the TIMS600 in the 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman.

Our mini cooper tear down is very interesting. We found a LOT of interesting problems in this tear down that we didn’t even know we had. The right side mount was torn, the clutch was burned, and most impressively the coupler shaft was actually twisted.

I’m trying to puzzle through the forces at play here. The most we could have conceivably applied in this car was about 365 amps at 335-340 volts. That cannot be over 125 kw or 167 hp. So how can we cause an engaged clutch disk to slip so badly it scorches the disk? And twist about a 5/8 inch 4045 tool steel machined shaft that is only two inches long?

The thing that has bitten me in electronics all my life is what I call the “time zone”. Trons live in a different one than I do. I picture everything in people time. That’s not where electrical devices live.

Let’s take a 400 hp internal combustion engine. The 400 horsepower is at 3600 rpm, more or less depending on the engine. How long a time frame is required to step on the gas pedal and make 400 hp actually happen to the drive train? Well, the valve in the carburator has to physically open, more gasoline and air have to enter the chanber and vaporize, and that has to pump into the engine. With each detonation and valve action, a greater “gulp” of this mixture is achieved and the rpm rises. I would guess the “delay” from flooring the pedal to 400 hp would be 700 or 800 milliseconds unloaded, and actually through the drive train it could be a couple or three seconds.

Electric motors are different. RPM is different. First, higher RPMS means more cooling air. That’s a good thing. At some point, higher RPM means increased counter electro motive force, decreasing torque – typically at 3500 rpm or so. But at instant ONE, if we put the pedal to the metal, the controller will ramp up the current into that motor very quickly. In theory, you coudl ramp this up in 6 to 10 milliseconds and have the full 167 HP applied to that shaft that quickly.

In actual practice, there are actually software mapping to RESTRICT how quickly that current output builds. I would urge yhou to take advantage of it. Because in electrical time zone terms, you can apply ALL the horsepower in a relative RIGHT NOW fashion. And the drive trains are NOT designed for that.

Yes, we’re going to beef things up with a new stage 2 racing clutch and a much larger coupler. We’re going to beef up our mountings. But with the Rinehart, we’re also going to look for ways to slow down the action.

And this lesson will be particularly valuable in our ESCALADE PROJECT.
That’s simply awaiting our Jim Husted twin 11 inch series DC motors. These are capable of instantaneous 320kw power applications – 428 hp. We think the retention of the TORQUE CONVERTER is key, not for torque multiplication, but to slow down the application of power. We’re going to use SOliton1’s very easy to use ability to map the current/second rampup quite conservatively as well. This, to prevent the Husted/Netgain motors from throwing my freakin transmission and rear end out through the tailgate and into oncoming traffic….

Don’t think horsepower. Think horsepower per second. It matters….

Jack Rickard