Coming up on Christmas and have just survived another Cyber Monday. And every day at EVTV is a bit like Christmas Morning. I have shiny new toys stacked up without time to even play with them. And many more coming.
Whence this cornucopia of bling things? It’s raining EV components and we’re getting into other things as well – some minor solar things for examplitude.
Failure. It is raining failure all over us. And it puts me in a delicious melancholy and even a bit of fear which makes no sense. I intentionally embrace failure and so have no fear of it. But you kind of get caught up in the noise and smoke of a thing even when you know better.
The Azure Dynamics failure was of course our first foray into liquidation and it continues. We bought a number of motors and controllers and chargers in that. Others did as well. Mostly they have had more difficulty dumping them at a profit than they thought and so one by one they’ve come to us, large and small, hoping we would buy them. We did. And have. Until we can hardly move for all of them. Siemens being the largest of course with 100 motors. But we continue to flush out a DMOC here and a motor there and we did pick up another 25 BRUSA chargers along the way.
CODA failed, selling less than 100 cars. I initially agreed to buy 20 of them with an eye to parting them out. I had a few provisos that proved problematical for them and so we dropped that. They have since come back and offered to part them out for us and just send us the UQM inverter and motor and eGeardDrive. I’ve bought 10 of these sets to see if we can do SOMETHING with them. I have a description of their CANbus protocol and so should be able to GEVCU them.
One of the most fascinating failures is Better Place. They raised over $800 million in a scheme to hot swap batteries and derive revenues from the public essentially based on how much they were spending on gasoline, at least that’s how the investor prospectus read. That anyone buying an electric car might have an eye to REDUCE what they were spending was rather glossed over. Renault did produce an electric car with this very unusual battery pack called the INFLUENZA. Actually something like that. They apparently failed to go viral as they sold 3400 cars worldwide over three years.
After a number of offers for the remaining carcass fell through, my understanding is the bankruptcy court realized about $450,000 from the assets. In all of that, I have somehow obligated to purchase 72 of the 22kW Lithium Manganese Oxide replaceable battery packs at an ahem somewhat of a discount from their original cost.
We’re actually suffering a bit here at EVTV from all of this. First, we’re quickly running out of space. And second, we’ve just put too much money in the effort. Most of these liquidations are VERY attractive per unit cost, but to get that they want you to take ALL of them or MOST of them and that results in the LARGE CHECK which of course is what they want – quickest liquidation with the minimum amount of brain damage.
But our sales kind of stumble along at the same erratic pace, up one month and down the next, only to recover a bit. If I survey others in the space, their first reaction is to lie and I never can tell which way. And then when they do come clean, it appears to be about the same. You see growth in EV component sales is a function of growth in EV builds. And that goes back to the army. As they see others, the desire to do it themselves grows as well.
Long term, I think this augurs well for a burgeoning industry centered on converting existing vehicles to electric drive. Follow Jeff Southern’s adventure in this weeks video and it is obvious the pride and satisfaction he takes in things as small as a stereo installation or his PLC vehicle monitor. But the bottom line is working on cars and drinking beer in Georgia kind of is a state sport. He’s no stranger to fabrication and transmissions and brakes and motors. But in this week’s video he makes a rather flat bare assed statement that he has NEVER had as much fun and self satisfaction as he has building this obviously whimsical quirky “car” into electric drive.
In addition to the joy of it actually working, and the sudden head rush of driving around town for an HOUR OR TWO using ZERO gasoline, and the surprising acceleration that is VERY different from a golf cart, picture for a minute if you will just what Jeff looks like to his friends and neighbors. Now everyone knows he works for a technology company and kind of teaches how to use PLC for plant automation. He’s not precisely a tobacco farmer or hillbilly subsistance moonshine deviant. But he went IN to his garage with a 1974 Volkswagen, banged around a bit and drove OUT of his garage in an electric car that goes 100 miles and doesn’t use any gasoline, it’s quiet as a ghost and goes like scat. He might as well have emerged from the garage with another head growing out of his shoulder. “Man, he must be some kind of freakin genius.”
Now there is just no motivation for him to explain he bought all the components ready made online and bolted them together. That his biggest challenge was moving the seat back two inches and dealing with the floor rust is just not anything these people want to hear, nor anything he carries any specific obligation to tell. And in this video, with even a touch of embarassment, he comes clean and admits he kind of enjoys the cranial detonations that go off when he shows them the car and explains he did this in his garage working nights and weekends for a few months. His craftsmanship actually IS pretty impressive and so the car also LOOKS the part – essentially a show car. But he’s out driving it to the grocery store.
It has even affected his wife, who has noted the attention from the female car enthusiasts with a wary eye. She’s riding around with Jeff in the car a tad more than she had been just to keep an eye on things and inevitably there ARE discussions of an electric car for her as well. Maybe store boughten. Maybe not. Jack’s wife got a Tesla Model S you know. Of course this BMW i3 is certainly sporty looking….
Dale Friedhoff is little different in his little suburb outside of St. Louis Missouri with a little red pickup truck. Except Dale really does have to have every wire in perfect position or he gets a little fidgety. Dale worked hard all his life, retired and is intent on being the good grandfather. A very modest, even retiring man, he is never really comfortable in the limelight.
Well except for the truck. The city, and the high school, and the EVA local chapter all wanted him to stop in and give a little presentation. And everywhere he goes he’s the guy who built the red pickup truck that goes 100 miles on a charge and makes no noise. He really doesn’t like all the attention. Well not much. Well not exactly. Well, ok, maybe at a local car show now and again, it’s ok to have people talk to you. Just to get the word out you know.
Actually he laps it up like a puppy after gravy train. He gets NOTICED. His opinion on such matters is SOUGHT AFTER. In a strange way, he has more IDENTITY than he ever did from his career. And all of this at a time in life where he feared he would retire and kind of be forgotten. To not matter except to a few close friends and of course the grandkids. Hell he’s a celebrity.
Anyone who does a vehicle conversion and shows up among a group of NERDS. Within 10 minutes they have suddenly become a serious NERD MEMBER and are conferred with intently on matters of issue to NERDS everywhere. If you walk away and go sit down with the ecofreak group who are worrying themselves into anorexia and eating disorders suffering for the planet and suddenly you’re the main point of focus. They were doing pretty well actually using reusable grocery sacks to prevent all that plastic buildup until you showed up with an electric freakin car. They were just about to confer on lightbulb changing strategies and concerned over the disposability of compact flourescent bulbs versus the high price of LED and holy cow you haven’t been to a gas station in HOW LONG????? What do you mean you don’t go at all?
You show up at the local hot rod custom car glide-in and you really glide. What’s the matter with that thing? It doesn’t make much noise? Within minutes they are poking at your cables and prying at the batteries. It does HOW many foot pounds of torque? It’s the size of a hatbox. How does it do that?
And so it goes across many totally disparate groups. All bridge players are interested in electric cars. Apparently all golfers are too. Even local CAR dealers are quizzing you over it.
But as in the early days of the Internet, it kind of grows organically, from one guy to the next. And it doesn’t matter what components are available or at what price. It’s about deliberating for a year with the central question “Can I do it?” And frankly that depends. How good are you at welding a seat stanchion to move it back two inches? The electric part isn’t hard. And it’s getting easier. But you find out along the way that your stock VW transmission is much better with the original 37 hp Volkswagen engine. You’re going to need a racing rig. It can take weeks to work out the LED lights. Not because LED lights are anything, but the wiring in the 35 year old car was so rotten you had to rip it out and you’re not sure just how to wire it up again. We spend MORE time on NON electric car things doing electric cars, than we do doing the electric car. In the end, it is a serial exercise in small problem solving events. None insurmountable, or even particularly hard. If you have the patience for that, it is very rewarding. And if you don’t, you don’t.
So everyone pictures the stopper as availability and cost of parts. It never was. It was belief system. I want one. I want to build one. Now make me believe I CAN.
We try not to oversell that, and we’re pretty effective. To some degree, no car at EVTV actually ever GETS finished. And we don’t spend much time trying hide our failures and revisits. But we do have a lot of fun doing it.
So we’re in the awkward position of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars stockpiling shiny glittery bling parts in massive piles, that there is no readily apparent need or demand for. How’s that going to work out? I’m not sure really. I know the world is not a static place. I know the cost of gasoline is low now, the world is mostly at peace, and we are all focused on health insurance at the moment. That we are one camel sneeze from a global financial and energy disaster only plays into it after it happens.
Churchill strove heroically throughout the 1930’s to maintain an eroding English military capability in the face of a popular notion that the War to End All Wars had already been fought and won and it was just unthinkable to have one. He was viewed as a doddering old relic chanting nonsense in the House of Commons. Ever ready to hail the sky is falling. As WWII began, he was suddenly thrust into the helm and told to do something about it. But all he had was blood and toil and sweat and tears. He would rather tanks.
And that brings us around to the remarkable topic of failure. The childminds that brought us into what is becoming more clearly the epic mess of the 21st century with the Affordable Care Act, hopefully about to be supplanted with the I DON”T CARE GIVE ME MY DOCTOR AND HEALTH INSURANCE BACK Act. And that is a basic misunderstanding of what failure in the American economy is really all about and why bailing out LARGE failures is not necessarily good public policy. All news is news. ANd it is GOOD news for some, and BAD news for others. Companies don’t fail because of want of a nail for a horseshoe. Unfortunate events and disasters don’t really take company’s out of the game. Each day, they can reinvent and readjust and refocus and so it is very rare for any particular disaster to take out a small company and its almost a preposterous notion with a large company. Failure tends to be systemic. To go bankrupt you have to embark on the wrong mission at the wrong time using the wrong tools and techniques, and if you have 3/4 of a billion in hand at the time, you have to work hard at doing the wrong things over and over and over.
Those resources are better used elsewhere for success. Tesla, bought the NUMI facility for $50 million. It was a billion to build it. It would BE that to build it now. It is a great asset to Tesla, but not one they could have ever had at list price. In fact, Toyota invested $50 million in Tesla with one hand, and sold them the facility for $48 million with the other.
AZD goes bankrupt and we have a very inexpensive AC motor and inverter combination as a result of sufficient power to make a very nice car. Better Place goes bankrupt and we soon have batteries that some will buy at a cost they otherwise might not have purchased, that leads to something else entirely. UQM wants $15,000 for a motor and controller. How about $9,00 for both plus the eGearDrive and half axles. The aged dying growth dries up and falls to the forest floor and is recycled into new green growth from the bottom up. Opportunity for some comes from the misfortune and failure of others. It is a MUCH more dynamic and creative and recreative process, of endless complexity and variety, than I believe a signficant percentage of our political leaders are cognizant of or can picture. No central government or entity can manage all that complexity. It is Darwinian. It is evolutionary. It is organic. It is life. Life happens. It’s not mandated by the President of the United States or the U.S. Congress.
For me, the most magic is that I simply am not given to know, nor can I imagine. I have not the vision nor the scope of view, to know just WHAT the individuals who wind up with these little shiny bits and baubles will do with them. I know that is where Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, and David Packard, and Bill Gates, and Linus Torvalds, and thousands of others come from and get their start in garages all over the world. And this is SO powerful, and SO immense, that it in fact changes the world entirely. Like a business, or individual, each sunrise brings a new day, and a new world, and a new chance to adjust, adapt, innovate, refocus, and reinvent.
To quote Martha Stewart: “And that’s a good thing.”