But I like it. What do a Miata in New Zealand and a BMW in Massachusetts and a Cabin Cruiser in Amsterdam and a VW Pickup in Missouri have in common? They’re all electric. And they’re all in this week’s episode of EVtv.
I guess I’m really jazzed at the state of the art currently. We see builds all over the planet. They’re great builds of great cars, and boats of course. Using better components than ever before for better results than ever before.
Right now we are in a mad scramble to get ready for EVCCON 2014. I need to get the shop cleaned up and a dozen other things all at once. So we’re kind of in a panic. We ostensibly start on August 12th, but the Smart Build Team, now 18 members strong, will start Monday morning of the 11th and I have a few people coming in over the weekend actually.
I think we’ll be about the same size as last year – perhaps a few more as our last minute registrations seem to be quite active. I am loathe to report that we’ve lost almost all of our “star” speakers including Edwin Black, Otmar Oebenhache, and most regrettably Damien Maguire.
Damien is my Yoda/mentor from Ireland and typifies the do-it-yourself end of EV builds. He is kind of like Martha Steward. If you want to serve orange juice, you start with an orange seed, grow an orange tree, hand select the oranges, press them yourself. Then you get some sand, melt it into glass, shape it like an orange juice glass, and put the orange juice in it. Then you put it on the table. But first you have to cut down a tree and build a table. We would have been over 3 hours long if I had included, as I wanted to, his experience with his Better Place pack which has replaced the atrocity he had concocted out of Headway cells in his BMW compact.
The allusion to 2001 A Space Odyssey should not be lost on many. If you haven’t followed Damien banging and clattering about in his garage in Ireland, you are missing part of the EV scene. He last week was informed by his employer that he is desperately needed there during the week oF EVCCON and he rather needs the job.
So we thrive on video from around the planet about EV builds and increasingly we are less and less the point of focus, and our viewer builds more and more and I love that.
At one time, the only way to GET an electric car was to build one. Increasingly there are manufactured cars available. But I see this as validating the do-it-yourself conversion concept, not actually displacing it. Indeed, in the future I see it ENABLING it with ever better components kind of falling from the OEM tree. I confess I have actually warmed up a bit to the Tesla Model S, which many of you may find a little puzzling. I at first didn’t like the contortions to get in and out but I have kind of mastered them. And it is truly a great car to drive. But it was $107,000 and I had to pay Missouri State sales tax – actually a use tax that defies all logic in it is specifically precluded IN the U.S. Constitution itself. But all in $115,000. We can really put together a great component system now for $20k. And to me, there is much more romance in a 1959 Nash Metropolitan. Or a 1974 Karmann Ghia for that matter. Or even a VW Thing. Those can all be had for under $10k. So the cost of a vehicle you do yourself is about $30k today – very nicely appointed actually.
That tends to NOT be financed for the most part. So it’s still “expensive” to a degree. But for most of us, that’s a choice level. Like a bass boat. Or a pontoon boat. You can have it if you really want it.
There remains a dark side ot all of this and it revolves around the purported “intellectual property” of the automakers. I don’t know precisely when or how this happened, but somewhere along the way it became alright for me to buy a car, and after I’ve bought it find out I’m not “entitled” to information on how it works or to be able to work on it myself. This was simply not always the case. But along the way, the automakers have kind of very much made this the case. And I’m quite botthered by it. Post warranty, dealer repairs are very expensive. There have been several runs at “right to repair” legislation but the automakers have pretty much shut that down at every turn. Again, government serving as an enforcement arm to ensure the “right” of monied interests to extract the maximum number of ducats from the body politic. When are people going to smarten up and shut this mealy scam down?
So one of the greatest advantages to building your own electric car is that you know how to fix it. And this myth of no maintenance for electric cars needs to be shut down right now. I’ve been battling the Escalade for a week now. Brad parked it and left the key on inadvertantly and drained the pack down to nothing. Despite careful bottom balancing we DID lose one cell. The rest seem alright. I towed a heavy boat with it and apparently blew up a Soliton1. But again, it was easy to diagnose and apparently was just coincidental with the boat. Suddenly, I could only go about 10 miles an hour towing this boat. I stopped the car and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I started it up, and it drove away completely normally. Five minutes later, back to 10 miles an hour. Wash and repeat.
It turns out my pump and heat exchanger were not operating and so the Solitons were overheating. They went into a very artful but annoying current limit. It turns out I had used one of the Soliton outputs (water pump) which they provide to turn on cooling to switch a relay, powering the pump and the fan on the heat exchanger. I connected 12v to the relay and both the pump and fan came straight on. Threw the laptop at the Soliton and got an ADC OUT OF RANGE 0x03 error. 0x03 refers to a temperature sensor IN the Soliton. It had gone out and so it never sent the water pump output.
The Soliton was out of warranty. But Sebastien answered an e-mail within an hour explaining the problem and we just have to send it in as it can only be repaired in their shop. We swapped it out with another from stock and the Escalade purred like a kitten.
I go through all that with you to point out that it did not take a Nasa scientist to troubleshoot this problem. When it cools down and works and heats up and doesn’t, you know you have a cooling problem. There’s a pump and a fan. Neither appeared to be operating. But if I connected 12v to the relay, they both worked fine. Soliton or wire. Soliton.
You see it is actually much SIMPLER than a gas engine car. Because I built it, I know what’s where. But as anyone who has attended EVCCON can attest, when someone has a problem with one of their cars, the cause is usually found IN MINUTES by somebody.
If I had the same symptoms with the Model S or a Volt, I would be lost. A victim of their service center – whenever and however they got around to it.
But this is a bit of a double edged sword.
I was asked this week to compare and contrast the difference between the EV development and the early BBS/Internet world. They share mostly remarkable parallels. But we quickly determined that bulletin boards could be run on a subscription basis for profit. People would pay to access multiline bulletin boards to get free software (shareware) in those days because the free bulletin boards could not afford multiple telephone lines and so you got a constant busy signal from them. By paying a modest subscription fee – $50 per year or so, you could join a large BBS that had multiple lines and get in whenever you wanted. Eventually those bulletin boards became Internet Service Providers connecting their callers to the Internet and it really took off. At one point, our directory listed 7700 Internet Service Providers in the United States. They are mostly gone now, but for the vast majority, not unhappily. They were fetching $240 per subscriber in the acquisition/rollup phase of this.
The EV hobbyist really doesnt’ have a clear cut path to even a modest income from EV activities. The obvious model is Wayne Alexander’s conversion shop. But most of those who have tried this, including Nabil Hanke in Iowa, our component contest giveaway winner in Pennsylvannia, and others have found that it is kind of a hard sell to get someone to pay the expense to convert a car, plus the labor, plus overhead, when they can buy a Leaf for less. More to the point, for most rank and file motorists, they don’t want to fix it themselves and they have no repair/service structure to go to. Neither dealers nor the normal automotive mechanic can do anything with them at all.
So it dawned on me this week, that a high percentage of our viewers want to be ME and do videos and sell components. And their path seems to be bad video and ever cheaper components. EV West has teamed up with Jehu Garcia it would appear and are doing a series of pretty upscale videos. And while they do conversions, they really see just selling the same parts we do for less as somehow the path to riches.
I AM flattered of course. But a bit worried. Not for us actually. EVTV has some sort of magic life of its own at this point. But the downward pressure on component sales is where we found it several years ago. And the hyper competitive nature of it drove margins to nothing – resulting in some really ugly situations where dozens of builders would send in money, and as the vendors went busted – the money would disappear but the components never arrived. This had a chilling effect on the entire DIY scene. Nobody wants to send $16,000 off for batteries and lose the money and not ever get the batteries.
Which is kind of both HOW and WHY we got into components. Brain and I are PUBLISHERS. We don’t even like retail. We don’t understand it. And we’re not very good at it. But there was this huge ugly vacuum there in EVland.
The response, despite our Internet price match guarantee, has been very gratifying actually and we’ve doubled in SALES each of the past three years. I think this is what is driving the apers to try to replicate our position. Unfortunately, the pressure to ship timely AND offer just one more thing they need, has driven us to ever increasing inventories of ever more and different parts. So try to picture my position, knowing what I know. Here are all these little guys abandoning conversions to go into video/components sales, as this week I plug another $150K into the vending machine, my fourth infusion THIS year totaling some $750K.
Nabile may indeed be able to control the TCCH charger for less at some point. But where’s he going to get the money to pay them to use it?
Which brings up the question as to why WE do it. Well, it’s a little larger picture than picking your pockets for chump change. We don’t just want to make money. WE WANT TO TAKE OVER THE FREAKIN WORLD. And that means LOTS of electric cars and LOTS of options. And what it really means is EMPOWERING the little guys to get just as good quality components as Tesla or Nissan or BMW. They actually pay much LESS for components than we do.
And now perhaps you will understand my fixation on GEVCU and why it comes up so much. I have a very difficult problem eplaining what it really is and means.
First, it means we can access the salvage pile – all the TEsla and BMW and Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf parts left over AFTER the encounter with the telephone pole. Typically perfectly sound little used components at bargain prices. The SAME components the OEMs use.
There is another class of components that I think are very innovative and actually admire greatly. That is the Rinehart Motion Systems controller and the UQM Powerphase and the T4 and the Sevconn. Imagine my frustration when these very well intended, very creative companies, explain piously that THEY ONLY SELL TO OEMS and either refuse outright to sell the product, or price it at FIVE TIMES as much money as they offer it to OEMS to. And understand that they NEVER get a single credible OEM to take their products and they NEVER WILL. They wind up selling to very risky startups such as Azure Dynamics and Coda, which then go bankrupt leaving them holding the bag.
Why will they never sell to OEM’s? Because motors and inverters aren’t that hard to an OEM. They make their own. Nissan winds its own motors. Chevrolet winds their own motors. Tesla winds their own motors. Compared to the 2500 parts they have to assemble to make an ICE engine, an electric motor is CHILD’s PLAY. The engineering was done 100 years ago. They have robots that can completely assemble a motor in a tiny corner and churn out enough to fill current needs without really any floor space or electric lights.
And so some very creative minds that have created some GREAT products never will sell them to OEMs. They will supply the odd startup as they go from one niche to another desperately trying ot find a seam in the zone to sell small numbers of ever more specialized vehicles to.
So why don’t they just sell them to you? Because of the product support issue. They are caught between two rocks, keeping their precious IP secret, and actually enabling you to use the product. And if they support you, they have sold one unit. If they support CODA, they have sold 10,000 units. They just didn’t in the case of CODA or Azure Dynamics, actually get PAID for any of them.
But the product support issue is real. If you have a 10 man company, it’s hard to have 8 of them on the phone all day every day answering the same questions over and over. The cure is actually DOCUMENTATION and SOFTWARE. But they always view both as too expensive. Worse, they are constantly updating their products and maintaining technical documentation is both icky and horrendously expensive. The head of the company is invariably a design engineer and they grow up pathologically hating the TERM “documentation”. It’s just built into all engineers everywhere.
Enter GEVCU. It moves all of it, software, documentation, and product support over onto us. And since we can’t do it either, ultimately onto you. You see if it is OPEN and everybody has access to it, anybody and everybody can support it.
Will this work? This week we will receive our first shipment of UQM Powerphase 100 motors and inverters. How’s that? Didn’t we already receive some earlier. Well yes, we did. We had them dismantled and removed from Coda cars. This week we receive our first shipment FROM UQM – brand new in box. They were stuck with $7.9 million in Coda parts. And we have persuaded them to let us sell them to you. No warranty. No UQM support. But at least new product from a manufacturer that basically won’t run dry. An essentially limitless supply. I can tell you it is a very modern permanent magnet motor and a quite powerful inverter. As of EVCCON we will be offering them at $8000 for a 100kw AC system and a 90 lb motor 10 inches long.
It’s something of a beginning of a relationship. If we do well and sell a lot of them, I would expect they will gradually become more comfortable with us and with you and find that selling the larger 150kw and 250kw stuff in their line as well is not so painful. Over time, I expect GEVCU to similarly persuade the other independent vendors of quality components to do the same.
If one of my very best customers goes bankrupt, I would have a hard time telling it without test instruments and/or some woeful e-mail coming from them directly. We’re not dependent on any one entity you see. And so we have higher margins and a more sustainable (at some point I hope) business model. For ME, I picture it as aggregating a large number of diverse buyers into one buyers block or co-op with sufficient muscle eventually to get the good deals at the OEM prices.
WE have a contingent of viewers who in kind of a child mind trance bleat piteously that things should either be a lot less expensive or free. I have no sympathy for the young communists. The real world works the way the real world works and it works that way for many good and varied reasons. But there ARE real ways we can employ to drive towards better quality components at lower prices and towards the empowerment of the individual against the empowerement of the state or the large corporations.
This will lead to more and better electric cars, and specifically to new life for the venerable 1959 Nash Metropolitan. Which I think deserves another shot.
But more broadly.
In 1886, Charles Martin Hall, a graduate of Oberlin College, tinkering in his basement, discovered the process of smelting aluminum, almost simultaneously with Paul Héroult in France. He realized that by passing an electrical current through a bath of cryolite and aluminum oxide, the then semi-rare metal aluminum remained as a byproduct. This discovery, now called the Hall-Héroult process, is still the only process used to make aluminum.
On Thanksgiving Day 1888, with the help of Alfred E. Hunt, he started the Pittsburgh Reduction Company with an experimental smelting plant on Smallman Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1891, the company went into production in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. In 1895, a third site opened at Niagara Falls. By about 1903, after a settlement with Hall’s former employer, and while its patents were in force, the company was the only legal supplier of aluminum in the US.
“The Aluminum Company of America” became the firm’s new name in 1907. The acronym “Alcoa” was coined in 1910, given as a name to two of the locales where major corporate facilities were located.
George Eastman, Eastman Kodak. Thomas Edison, General Electric. Henry Ford. Bill Hewlett. Steve Jobs. Elon Musk. Over and over and over and over and really WITHOUT EXCEPTION. All the things we know today as corporate giants, the largest corporations, the bluest of the blue chips, all started as one or two guys in a garage or basement or garret. ALL OF THEM. How can our entire population be so blind and not see?
The United States of America today has 6.5% of the world’s population, but over 50% of all the STUFF. All the wealth of the world – half of it belongs to the U.S.. Why? How can this be? Good government???? Democracy??? Providence???? Luck????
It is none of those. It is the simple fact that we were largely isolated and bringing in STUFF from other places was expensive. So from early on we valued people here who could “make up” stuff. We have an unbelievable culture of tinkering and innovation and creativity when it comes to inventing new things. And there have been so very MANY examples of guys who have invented stuff that then grew into really almost unbelievable fortunes and companies and corporations employing MILLIONS with good paying jobs. This then is how wealth is created. By disruptive innovation and invention. Our entire society is based on it, and the world has fallen into line behind the model. But it happened here and in America every single adult male down deep pictures himself inventing something. It is our HIGHEST aspiration. Every doctor, lawyer, politician, university president, corporate CEO, and line worker, ditch digger, and used car salesman, really down deep pictures themselves in their most guarded dreams as an INVENTOR. That’s the best it can get for anyone. In America given a choice between being PRESIDENT and being INVENTOR, 99% of all the males would choose INVENTOR. That’s what the definition of WISH is. Guy Who Invented SHit.
So I don’t want the inventor of the next great thing to lack a motor or inverter or battery because we only sell to OEMs. I’m a publisher. But I know that those guys who DO invent and tinker and innovate are the goose who lays the golden egg. It is the fountain, the source where all the wealth comes from that can support service sycophants and secondaries like doctors and lawyers and politicians and publishers. And all this child mind talk of sharing and who rides in the back of the bus and who rides in the front of the bus and who’s turn it is and how it ought to be need to understand this. It is what it is. And if in all that theorizing you kill the goose, there will be no more.
Perhaps this explains a little bit about me and what we’re doing here. It goes a bit beyond making videos and selling batteries. It’s about empowering individuals and disempowering governments and large corporations. The balance has to be maintained. I’m confident fortunes will be made among you. I don’t know WHICH you, but certainly among you. And while the Tesla Model S is a nice ride, the ultimate personal electric transportation device has not yet been SEEN. But until it is, a Metropolitan would get me around in pretty good style.
In the future, a BIG part of what we are going to be about is OUTING intellectual property. If you buy the car, you are ENTITLED to the information. And I’m quite willing to void my warranties to prevent you voiding yours. I am fearless, and I don’t mind going broke doing it.
I was born 59 years ago this past July 24th. As I said to Jehu:
“When I came to this country, I was broke too. I had no money, no job, no home, and I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t even HAVE the shirt on my back – no clothes at all. But unlike you, I hadn’t been here a week and they chopped the end off of my taliwhacker. And the next week they took me to a big building with a guy hanging on a cross, told me it was MY fault and held my head under water. You got nothing on me.”
PS. For you early arrivals, welcome to the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention 2014. Feel free to use this forum to leave messages regarding arrivals and meetups.