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And a $6,500 dollar $23,000 van is better than a $57,000 dollar $23,000 van. Duh.

Busy week. We moved 15 sets of Siemens motor/DMOC 645 controller from Saturday to Thursday.

Shot our video on Friday and I was infuriated to find that the Sound Juicer battery had failed halfway through our Friday session. Yes, of course a camera man would be in order. But we don’t use one.

SOOOOoooo. We had to come in Saturday and reshoot a good bit of it. Somewhat fortuitous since the carrier with the Azure Dynamics Ford eTransit Connect was in the parking lot.

This has kind of been an unexpected gift. We bought this “incomplete” vehicle as listed on the auction catalog to get a look at the wiring and the Johnson Controls-Saft battery onboard. It occurred to me that we MIGHT be able to finish it off, but probably not as it is riddled with software and battery management systems and so forth. But hope springs eternal.

Instead, we get a fully functional vehicle, apparently the last they built and it is numbered 286 if that is any indication.

We also found it interesting that it already had a VIN, and indeed a window sticker. This vehicle was truly a conversion – complete with window sticker and a price of $23,750 originally. AZD was selling completed conversions for $57,750 and I’ve even seen them quoted at $65,000. Any way you cut it a dead stone bargain at 2.42x the price?

So it not only runs, but it will be trivial to license. Just like a new vehicle from the dealer.

Looks like an 80 mile range. With the one speed gear box, a touch golf cart-ish but very able acceleration – and we had it up to 85 mph locally. Not so golf cart-ish really.

It has “creep” coded in so if you put it in D it will “creep” forward if you let your foot off the brake. Similarly reverse.

Instrument cluster was a bit of a surprise. Using the tachomoter to show remaining range. Has a working gas gage as well and a little digital advisory panel in the middle. Everything is kind of low end plastic. It’s an inexpensive commercial vehicle. But cool.

They are currently made in Romania and arrive in New York with windows and a rear seat. They take those out and replace the windows with steel panels and return the windows and seats to Romania. This is to avoid a 25% tarriff on light commercial trucks. If you have windows and seats in the back it is a passenger vehicle you see.

Engine compartment is much more professional than I had expected and less crowded. You could actually pretty much get to everything.

I haven’t looked at the battery as yet. Johnson Controls-Saft supplied it to Azure Dynamics – a 28 kWh pack overengineered to extremis at a cost of $14,000. That is $500 per kWh and I think representative of what’s going on in OEMville frankly.

One of the AZD employees on the left coast has set himself up to provide support to fleet owners etc that have these vehicles. Apparently there are about 1000 of the larger hybrid vehicles on the road, and he thinks he can do okay for a few years servicing them. He dropped a couple of little bombs on me I found interesting.

First, most of those larger hybrid vehicles are going to be converted BACK to ICE vehicles over the next five years as they break down etc. That means a slow but steady trickle over 5 years of DMOC 645 inverters coming available via eBay during that time period. So DMOC has life quite beyond the 56 we picked up. And a salvage three phase inverter could be a great boon to DIY builders.

The second thing he mentioned is that they already have quite a bit of a problem with the Johnson Controls – Saft battery pack. JCI is very protective of these, and so at the moment they have to go back as a unit to JCI for repair.

I had to smile when he told me the cells hold up great – never a failure. But the BMS goes whacky, shutting down and disabling the vehicle.
Where have you heard THIS???

They cool the cells. They heat the cells. They measure every cell’s current and voltage. They run the charger. They talk to the Vehicle control unit. They are on the CANbus. And of course all that is what fails. The cells don’t fail. Never HAD a cell failure.

This was not one of the design engineers. This is a customer service guy who kept fleets happy for Azure Dynamics. In the field. Fixing them. Hands on maintenance.

Who was it said that electric vehicles were maintenance free? It wasn’t me.

The maintenance is somewhat easier if you built the vehicle yourself because you know how it works. But there IS maintenance. In the end, an electric car is just a car. Just less oily and dirty.

Actually, we’ve heard from a number of Azure Dynamics employees that are very enthusiastic about our acquisition and very willing to help. I did attract one opportunist who offered some very able help, and then could not help revealing no small measure of greed along the way. The concept of an open architecture and open software is just hard for these guys who live in a proprietary world to get their head around.

Now why would I do an open source open box VCU myself? Couldn’t I sell them and make a fortune. I happen to know something about open source that most people do not. The fact that it IS open source and you won’t be orphaned, that the source code is available, that others can improve it, etc. makes the box MORE valuable. And 99% of the users just want to order the box ANYWAY. They don’t want to solder anything or compile anything. But its a great feature that they COULD or they could get somebody else to, if after the sale they decide I’m evil and fat.

And it does cut out the fat. If I charge too much for the box, someone else will jump in with a less expensive version. As I have no interest in assembling boxes myself, this is all pretty ok. But the poor guy, so anxious to get a knee in under the table of plenty, gets fired the first week and never gets any of that.

I call this digging for quarters in the grass. The reason most people wind up working for other people is they spend too much of their time bent over trying to find quarters in the lawn. The hundred dollar bills floating around about head height in the air are just not on their radar screen because they don’t see them – too bent over peering into the grass looking for quarters. In truth, there aren’t that many quarters lost in the grass to start with. But hope springs eternal.

I’m just not running a charity school for the differently abled. If you’re really too damned dumb to be a playuh, get a job. Somebody will certainly be willing to take advantage take care of you.

Actually, while I dont’ know precisely where all this AZD stuff will take us, as usual there will be tons of opportunities along the way.
I myself am actually in a kind of an awkward position. I showed up at the EV party a bit too early. And so the players are all very small and just learning how to run a business. So I wind up in components sales, and now with my nightmare of nightmares, warehousing stock – HEAVY stock now, paying people to move it around, sales, etc. I’m in competition with my own should be customers. ANd now I’m in software development.

I’m actually a pretty talented software geek. BUT THAT”S NOT WHAT I’M HERE FOR. I set my sails on publishing a long time ago and that is what I’m REALLY good at. And what I want to do. I don’t want to make things. I don’t want to sell things. I don’t want to ship things. I want to tell YOU ALL about it. ANd YOU make things, sell things, ship things, store things, invent things, manufacture things, optimize things.

This way I get NEW news every week. And next week I’m on to the NEXT shiny bauble. ANd I learn all about that, and we talk about all that, and the next week the NEXT shiny bauble. And you NEVER get bogged down on the same project for a year, or if succesful for eight years.

If you have an IQ of 160, but the attention span of a FOUR YEAR-OLD, that’s what you like to do. Open boxes full of presents, hold the shiny baubles up to the light for all to see, and move on to the next exquisitely wrapped gift box. It’s a good life.

To do it well you have to live it. You can’t just interview people and talk. Total niche dominance trade publishing requires you to become absolutely knowledgeable about the problems both the users and the manufacturers face. So to talk about electric cars, you have to walk the walk, live the life, and BUILD electric cars. That has somehow gotten me off into the concept of being a car manufacturer, or a product developer, or a software developer. THAT’S NOT THE GIG. I’m a publisher. I show up early, learn every facet of it, build a loyal following, and then when it does inevitably become a fad and EVERYONE wants to do that, I sell out and move on to the next frontier. Whiskey. Fibromyalgia. Cellular Breast Implants. Social Networking for Alzheimer’s Victims (you get to meet a lot of new people – every day). Something.

But we may have showed up a little early on this one. Which is ironic in that most of our viewers and some of the developers think we’re too late and the automakers are going to take it all away.

Kind of a big NOT there. But it’s only now becoming obvious. The “OEM” play has not worked out real well. Not for the OEM’s. And not for those who supply them. Johnson Controls and Siemens wound up stuck with a LOT of product designed rather specifically for Azure Dynamics. And it’s stuff that would be very difficult to repurpose for other customers.

Unless…. well unless those other customers were willing to adapt their design to the available product, rather than designing the component to the hoped for car. Hmmmm. Where could we find such?

So a few more miles before I sleep…

The good news is there is a WORLD of opportunity out there. A $57,000 dollar $23,000 dollar van isn’t precisely a solution guys. I’m sorry. And similarly, the heroics my viewers have to go through to MAKE a car electric is a need, an opportunity, looking for an inventive person. When instead of having to wire up and fabricate almost everything to do a conversion, you can bolt on plug and play components after the fashion of custom car modifications – hot rods have been for years, this segment will take off like a rocket and wind up with a multi-billion dollar industry and tens of thousands of builds going on all at the same time. And several HUNDRED such inventive people will be multimillionaires many times over, all ready, able and willing to bring Barack Obama’s dreams of socialism come true – no doubt fare thee well.

Opportunities always show up looking for all the world like problems. The world never did lust after a better mousetrap. They want to be rid of the mice. But even a partial solution has value.

Get over the awe and adoration of large corporations. Quit looking in the grass for lost crumbs. Take a piece of the problem and work it off. People will send you money in the mail.

Of course, it might help if you MENTIONED that you had a solution and somebody knew about it. ……might I suggest a short video commercial advertisement on…..EVtv?

Jack Rickard