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Our longest show ever. One reason is Speedster Nippon. We like to do builds week by week in a kind of plodding fashion matching our weekly publishing schedule. In this case, we are under some pressure to complete this build by November 1 and we do want to ship it to Japan at least in
time for a December car show. Fortunately, our new Shop Meister, Jesse Hale, is just phenomenal at getting things done. My main problem is this guy tries to read my mind and gets out ahead of me. There are hundreds of little decisions on any build, and it is difficult to communicate them all in one brain dump. In this weeks show we note a clearance problem on our hydraulic brake transducer. As it turns out, they are available in 1/8th NPT as well as 1/4 so I think we can replace it and eliminate the adapter. This would require we rebleed the brakes AGAIN but will almost certainly eliminate the clearance problem. But Jesse had forged ahead connecting up the wiring to the transducer. That will have to be done over again.

Hard to complain about a kid that is getting TOO MUCH done on a car build – so much so that it causes problems. But for video purposes, we did a LOT on the Speedster in a little over a week. We need to. BUt if we are to show it in any useful detail, it gets to be a bit much for a single show. Yes, I can push some video off to the next week. But this builds up too and the world is moving very quickly. My experience with pushing things off is that they KEEP getting pushed off until they are irrelevant. If it’s not important enough for this weeks show, it’s not important enough for ANY show.

The guys in Japan report they have demonstrated Speedster Duh for the press there and to RAVE reviews. That it is the finest built electric car they have seen and driven. These are journalists that have ONLY really ever driven FACTORY BUILT electric cars. That’s the mark they are comparing to. We also heard from an automotive repair shop that did work on the car to qualify it for Japanese roads. Again, they voluntarily contacted me with the admonition that it was the best built electric car they had ever seen, and could we help them do the same thing to a Miata.

I lived in Japan for several years, albeit on a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier. But I had an apartment in town and learned a great deal of the culture. Their business structure is of large corporations with lots of workers cooperating in a very teamlike fashion and that is considered a very good trait there. Rogue entrepreneurs are just not part of the culture. But we have kind of hooked up with one with a career as a serial entrepreneur with some success. He and his childhood chum, who lives here in California, have teamed up with this idea of marketing a retro classic electric car in Tokyo. From what I know of Tokyo traffic (30 years ago), Speedster Duh would go 150 miles on a charge there. It’s very urban. And small cars are a plus.

I of course have no feel for marketing in Japan and never did. And my experience would have little applicability 30 years later in any event. But these guys are virtually revolutionaries in adopting American guerilla entrepreneurial marketing techniques.

And of course I don’t like to pass out “NO’s” so when asked if we could produce them in small numbers I avowed that it could be done. My fear at this point is that they will return from Tokyo with 10 or 12 immediate orders for the car. I’m not sure we can get rollers in those numbers timely, and I would need a half dozen Jesse Hale’s to actually perform this act.

I’ve heard so many tales from enthusiasts newly aggrieved of the electric car fever and hell bent for taking over the world with it regardless of realities, that I considered this possibility quite remote. But in truth, Speedster Duh was my overhwelming favorite and my daily driver for a reason. It was the best car we’ve ever done to my way of thinking. Not the car with the longest range. Not the fastest or the quickest car we’ve done. Not the most luxurious or comfortable car we’ve done. BUt on balance, all the way around and by feel, the best and really it isn’t even a close call. It’s pretty, it’s sporty, and it is very elegantly balanced in the sum total of tradeoffs and choices. It is just a joy to drive. There IS a little transition from a gasoline powered version, mostly with the odd combination of clutch and regenerative braking. But this takes about a DAY to become accustomed to. After that, it is just a different driving experience and in all respects delightful.

We are working on another iteration of that and taking advantage of every opportunity to improve it. Mostly in very subtle ways. But I think we are going to achieve a new level with Speedster Nippon.

So ok Jack, you’re putting a pretty heavy bit of lung into that horn of yours you are blowing. What’s the point? Beyond explaining a bit of a longish video you will find challenging to download, the world is starting to shift in our direction in very distinct ways that will effect you very directly.

Let me regress to my youth once again. I was on the USS Midway. This is an aircraft carrier with 3000 guys on it. I don’t like crowds. Two thirds of the crew worked during the day, and one third at night. For nearly four years I rose at 6:00PM and began my day, which actually went on all night. To this day, I have no biological clock in the normal sense. One night, I went up on the bridge of the boat, and was shocked to find a lone third class petty officer driving the ship in a room by himself. A lonely job at night. I just assumed there were a dozen officers up there keenly strategizing on every movement of the massive ship. To find a kid younger than myself as the only one driving a ship with 3000 souls on board in the night was a bit of an eye opener. Kind of like the Obama Administration driving our economy.

In any event, I had a cup of coffee with him with an eye toward keeping him awake. Incredibly, he offered me a turn at the wheel. I accepted and he admonished me to maintain a steady course of 320 degrees. Since the thing had a compass the size of a washtub right in front of me, how hard could that be. But within a few minutes, it crept to 322. So I turned the wheel. Nothing happened. 323 degrees. So I turned the wheel some more. 324 degrees. So I turned the wheel some more. 323 degrees. 322 degrees. 321 degrees. That’s better. 320 degrees. 319 degrees. 318 degrees and accelerating. 316. 312. Whoops. Turn the wheel back to the right. 310. Further to the right. 309. Finally 310. 314. 318. 322. 325. You get the idea. I looked out the back of the boat, and there as a perfect S shaped trail. Some drunk driving an aircraft carrier. Forunately in low traffic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The kid straightened me out and let me try again. On the third try I kind of gave up and let him back on the wheel while I got us both a cup of coffee, something I was competently trained to accomplish without terrifying all whales and fish worldwide.

The world is like that. You can change it, but it has a terrific understeering problem. Years of effort show up years later. But this week I kind of got a glimpse of the future, and things are very slowly coming around on the horizon and moving directly toward us.

I kind of knew, from my admittedly biased experience with the development of the Internet, that these large corporations were not going to accomplish quite what they claimed and you thought. I predicted this nearly three years ago and have held to that mark patiently every week since then. I think most of our viewers just humored me on this one, assuming it was one area where I just didn’t know what I was talking about. Actually I do. It’s not a guess. It’s deep knowledge paid for in flesh and blood. But the lens of our media and communications is such that large corporations have become very adept at “spinning the message” and saturating the airwaves with the story they want told. The problem is, it has been a confusing and inconsistent tale because of their deeply ingrained and visceral lack of feel for any part of this pending world revolution, and mark my words – nothing less.

I also had a positively mystical exchange with a college Professor purporting knowledge of Lithium ionic batteries. After a condescending exchange where he attempted to get me set straight on what was what, which he failed miserably, he retreated to pathetic appeals to authority revealing an averarching awe of large corporations and their WalMart sized testing facilities, notably at GM, and the BILLIONS they spend on battery research and the THOUSANDS of cycling machines and all the deep, though secret, knowledge they have obtained on these topics. I, on the other hand, wanted to put eight cells in two styrofoam coolers and charge and discharge them a lot. I admit this looks bad. But I’m smirking at the same time. I’m not lost dazed and confused. I’ve BEEN to the mountain. It is not what you think. It’s not what he thinks. Once you’ve been in the gut of the beast, you have no awe. You get two coolers and get started. It is great to be 57 and it NOT all by mystery. I worked in HUGE corporations for 25 years. In government. In government contractors. I was building the machine that the Wizard was manipulating behind the curtain. I have as a result no awe of Wizards – nor of curtains. I know how to make the smoke. Forgive the double entendre. It is a great feeling. I know where innovation comes from. I know where knowledge comes from. And indeed it sometimes DOES come from Universities believe it or not. Which was why I bothered to correspond with him. I kind of thought I could accelerate the process by GIVING him some batteries and funds, and if he could marshall some students and coolers, we could make some hay here. As it turns out, he’s too ” busy.”

Why then, if a University Professor toiling away in a salt mine like 12 hour work week is too busy, am I not too busy working 100 hours a week? He has a total belief system based on what I happen to know is total bullshit. That’s the difference. And on any given topic, in this case the effect of heat on cycle life, they have about a 50% chance of being right in their analysis. As heat DOES hasten entropy, maybe 55%. I can get those odds from a pocketful of pennies. And he’s willing to not only buy into it, but pass this misinformation on to our children. That’s HOW myths perpetrate. When presented with such an idea, STOP, QUESTION, and TEST. If its true, it will show up soon enough. And the process of replicating the work will deepen your knowledge of it from “I read” to “I saw with my own eyes.”

More to the point, a thing can be true but be irrelevant in a practical sense. It’s all a matter of degree. If heat reduces cycle life by 4%, I’m not going to spend a lot on cooling. If 14%, maybe. At 24% yeah. If fast charging reduces cycle life, I don’t want to fast charge right? Well again, it’s kind of a practical matter. If it reduces cycle life by 4%, Im in a BIG hurry. If 14%, I’m in a little bit of a hurry. At 24%, I’ve got all night to charge anyway. And so we have knowledge. And we have knowledge in context. And so not only cannot I rely on GM’S results, I can’t even rely on their ability to ask the right question. Or to derive answers relevant to me. Or to recognize and answer to a question when it presents itself. I’m distrustful in this way.

Let me repeat again. GM and Nissan are not simply going to tool up, print 150,000 electric cars a year, sell them to rave reviews, and spool that up to 10 million. Technological change is a VERY complex beast and mostly so because it is only PARTLY technological. There was no magic in hooking up networking worldwide. The phone company already had our voicees mostly digital in 64kbps channels when we STARTED. The issue is product availability and mostly ACCULTURATION of the consumer population that they might WANT an Internet connection. When they were $2000 per month for a connection, not many did I can assure you. But some of us sprang for it. C’est Moi Lancelot.

A viewer informs me this week that he was offered, and accepted, a Nissan Leaf at a lease price of $69 per month. Leaf’s are going begging. Chevy is shouting success at 2800 volts per month, as opposed to the measly 25,000 Chevy Cruz’s they sell per month. From 20 yards, you can’t throw a cat between the two cars and get it to land on the ground. A123 announced their bankruptcy this week. EnerDel months ago. Fisker continues to rake in investor money on a not only obviously but rather horribly failed car. Toyota has announced they don’t see electric cars in their future after all. Nissan faces a class action lawsuit on range issues. Think. Wheego. Aptera. Phoenix. Azure Dynamics. Coda. What happened to the Ford Focus? iMiev? Now even the briliant TEsla is starting to stumble. Owners and reservationists are incensed over this $600 per year “maintenance fee” to maintain your warranty. The 5000 cars by yeae’s end isn’t happening. They’ve had to do another IPO. Reservations are being cancelled in large numbers. And the car is frankly over $100 grand – not $55,000.

What’s working? AMP. Via. Small conversion shops. And what action there is with the Cadillac ELR and continued devotion to the Volt is all about demonstrating CAFE standards in California. It is all about Obama’s 54 mpg mandate.

Here’s a little bit about this mandate. The fleet average is now up to 23.3 mpg. A 54 mpg fleet average is JUST ABSURD. The government has estimated it will cost $3000 per car when fully implemented. In order to reach 54 mpg you either get to pay $60,000 more for the car, or learn to settle for little bitty gasoline powered cars. When the American people discover this, the 54 gallon thing goes away. And with it, the devotion of these OEM’s to electric cars. Now who killed the electric car the SECOND time?

Ironically, and in fact identically, the current Volt and Leaf owners are by and large ECSTATIC with their automobiles. They just love them. OVerwhelmingly. Is this the hugest DISCONNECT in all of history? How can thousands of people LOVE electric cars, and millions not care AT ALL about electric cars, all at the same moment.

Well there is the different strokes for different folks theory. But it just doesn’t quite band-aid this disconnect.

As I’ve said from the beginning, to drive an electric car is to want one. But the value proposition is very difficult. Ergo, I see a decade of dawning awareness, driven one driver at a time, one car at a time, one day at a time. This is NOT as depressing as it sounds. It doesn’t have to reach EVERYBODy. There is a “tipping point” phenomenon in such things where at about 10-12% of the population, a concept “flashes over.” 40,000 cars out of two years sales of probably 25 million in the U.S. doesn’t quite qualify. But we are getting there. It is 40,000 more than we had. And the Toyoto hybrid gig is introductory. People DO get the feel. The Volt hybrid IS introductory. The VOLT owners quickly DO get it. It’s not the range extender part that is cool. It’s the electric part.

Meanwhile the DIY movement has been roundly discounted, dismissed, and just dissed at every opportunity by the OEM’s, the government, bankrupt battery manufacturers, and the press. But inch by inch, more builds. And MUCH better builds. EVCCON 2012 was an eye opener. I literally was ashamed to open the hood of my Escalade with my crazy wiring running everywhere. We had real CRAFTSMEN showing up with gorgeous cars. Eric Kriss, who was at EVCCON 2011 but was very pregnant with grandchild for 2012 is doing a Saab Sonnet that is just unbelievably gorgeous. Fred Behning’s MG TD is just a huge step up from his Bugeye Sprite – which has been sold and is being upgraded to CALB CA cells as well. I see SEMA. I see the future.

I do not see the elimination of OEM efforts. Or the world going to all custom cars. But the prow of the ship has steered in our direction and I think you will see dawning awareness that people keep on building gorgeous desireable custom cars with electric drive. That racing is altered by electric cars. And that the plublic will gradually come around to the obvious advantages of electric cars. As the price of gasoline rises, that interest will intensify. But the quest will always be for a better car at a more attrative price. The Tesla will be much like the LIsa or the NeXT Cube. Courageous, but overpriced. And the iPhone of the electric car will remain “out there” for a decade to come.

Meanwhile I see a growing market for components, tools, and techniques enabling individuals to convert beloved and desirable cars to electric drive. And that represents tremendous opportunity.

George Hamstra wanted to do a “business session” at EVCCON. What he did was an entrepreneur session on the EV space. I almost asked that this cup pass my lips at this time. It is so INCENDIARY that I kind of fear the results. I’m excited about them. But there is heartbreak in this as well. Having done this with bulletin boards and Internet Service providers, halfway through his introduction I knew we were in deep deep trouble. But there was nothing to be done but go with the flow. I’ve since had a DOZEN e-mails from people absolutely CHARGED with this who are hell bent for turning their lives upside down to go become a player in this space. Like a train wreck, this is terribly terribly exciting but not something you really want to be responsible for. His admonition that this was dangerous, like getting licquored up, playing with some high voltage, and going for a drive was too little too late. Nobody remembers that part. They got a glimpse of the future with themselves working hard at something they really loved and believed in. Now how can I pour cold water on THAT.

So we have a dozen people KNOWN to come out of that session hell bent on doing it. And more quietly pondering the implications. Oddly, the world follows desire. This kind of spark tends to find tinder. They will start buying and selling and trading with each other, and before it’s over
there will be a full blown on fire industry in components, displays, software, and every kind of accessory for DIY electric vehicles. ANd I say vehicles. The session before was about boats. I’ve personally crafted the world’s LOUDEST electric vehicle in the John Deere lawn mower. Bicycles and motorcycles are already part of it. It’s going to be a revolution.

And no, rather than pour cold water on it, I have to in good conscious encourage it. And I believe that right at this moment, the world is slowly coming across the horizon and directly AT you and your plans. It could be an absolutely WILD ride before it is over.

And if you do well, ten or twelve years from now I am confident that CAFE or no CAFE, $10 gasoline or $2 gasoline, the move to universal electric drive for personal mobility will be seen as a growing and global phenomenon. Because in the end, it is about personal satisfaction, and the EV grin. And if you haven’t felt that, you have much before you.

Never MIND the fact that I have the ONLY Cadillac Escalade EXT Electric Drive vehicle on the planet – and GM STILL managed to issue a recall on it and make it stick.

Jack Rickard