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This week we start right off in our efforts to deliver a sub 3-hour long and boring video with a look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s October release of their annual TRENDS report, this for 2014 which in true governmental fashion really deals with the world as it is LAST year at the end of 2013.

As customary in our blogs, I’ve provided a link to the full report for your own use and examination. It contains MUCH more data than we very selectively extracted because we thought it was interesting and you may find that YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. Click the title page to download the full report in all it’s PDFness and glory.

Some of the cheery goodness of this report is that it does go back to those cars of yore and yesteryear and I found a couple of items remarkable. I was legally empowered by the state of Missouri to operate a motor vehicle in 1970 actually with a permit at age 15. I think I drove on that for about 3 years before actually getting a license.

In any event, automobiles in 1975 sported an average 0-60 time somewhere over 14 seconds in those days and a peak horsepower of about 136. Today, at over 200 hp they average 8.2 seconds for that same span. Despite the much higher power and much improved acceleration, the fuel economy has likewise improved from some 13 mpg to over 28 today. Viewed in the context of a lifetime, it is really almost magical how much improved automobiles are today over then. A car with 100,000 miles on it in 1975 was considered “shot” and really not worth repairing. Today, you would find a vehicle that required any notable maintenance beyond the usual tires, battery, filters, fluids before 150,000 miles as a “lemon.”

So the Darwinian evolution of the automobile in a free or mostly free marketplace has provided a remarkable result. And frankly, the corporate automakers are really quite good at grinding out evolutionary or incremental improvements year after year to the degree that 41 years later, the car is just a marvel. All of them.

We also extracted some data and combined it with weights to produce our own chart which we scrolled up the screen. Perhaps more handily here, listing the plug-in electric vehicles only – no hybrids, along with their weights and energy usage in kiloWatt hours per mile. The EPA is somewhat stuck on MPG and they have extended that to electric vehicles with the concept of MPG equivalent or MPGe. And that is to say that a gallon of gasoline has 33,705 Watt-hours of electrical energy in it, which of course it does not. But it ostensibly contains the EQUIVALENT energy to 33,705 Watt hours and if you could convert that to electricity at 100% efficiency that is what you would have. Then you calculate how many MILES you can travel on a 33,705 Watt gallon, and that is your MPGe – often over 100 for plug-in electric vehicles.


I find that all strangely tortured. Apparently so did the EPA because they handily listed the electric cars in how many kiloWatt hours per 100 miles driven. Better, but we’re still doing math in our head. But it is easy enough to carry the decimal place two digits to get to where WE have been all along – Watthours per mile.

I like this much better for several reasons. First, we are billed by the electric company by the kiloWatt hour. But it hopefully doesn’t take a full kiloWatt to drive a mile unless you are in an 8000 lb Cadillac Escalade. Second, our batteries decrease in voltage as we drive from fully charged to empty. So an ampere hour, which is easy for us to measure with current equipment, actually VARIES in the amount of true power it represents. An AH at 335 volts is NOT the same amount of power as it is at 325volts.

And so Watt-hours per mile is my favorite measure of energy efficiency in an electric automobile. It will be constant regardless of battery state of charge. It most truly represents the amount of work being done.

That few of us can either afford or find a hiding place in our car for enough batteries to actually hold 33,705 Watt hours of energy – that in one gallon of gasoline, pretty much puts a point on the vastly superior efficiency of driving electric in the first place.

For those of you contemplating the process of converting an existing car to electric magnetic drive, you probably have a few questions. We are rather intimately familiar with those questions in that we get a lot of them here and they don’t vary very much. The heart of the initial design process when starting out is to determine how many/what size batteries will I need in the car to achieve a certain range and performance and mostly range. Battery seletion is of course a bit complicated by the voltage and current demands of your controller and motor. But after that, you have a lot of leeway as it turns out.

Almost immediately when we started publishing the videos in May of 2009, this was the central question we recieved in literally hundreds of e-mails per day. And they continue today – literally a couple of hundred e-mails per day. So we developed a rule of thumb. Rules of thumb are always rough – quick calculations that will get you close to an answer without any arithmetical heroics. But this one is complicated by a stark reality of electric vehicles – the range you get is ENORMOUSLY variable based on how you drive the car. One of our 356 Porsche Speedsters, my favorite electric car Speedster Duh, could drive 186 miles on a charge at 40 mph on flat ground. On normal hills and freeway at 75 mph, we would see something like 70 miles total range. And so you could forgive me saying that the RANGE of Speedster Duh, was precisely 128 miles per charge, plus or minus 58 miles. In other words, any range you want within those limits.

And that’s with me driving it. YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. Point being, your mileage WILL vary and it will vary on any given drive and for numerous reasons including your mood, the terrain, the temperature, whether your are using air conditioning or heat, speed, and what specific brand of cologne you use to drive the ladies wild on the way. Because of course THAT varies the weight of the prospective LADY you are likely to attract to the seat beside you…

This is not very satisfying, I realize. The CENTRAL question surrounding all battery operated vehcles is always, always, and forever always HOW FAR WILL IT GO. And ironically, ALL answers to this question are essentially nonsense. Knowing and deliberate lies or unknowing and forgiveable lies, but lies they are. And on the next drive it WILL vary.

So immediately on uploading the video, I had an e-mail from a BMW i3 driver noting that the EPA had this ALL entirely wrong and he got entirely different results and had the PROOF POSITIVE right there in his hand and freshly minted JUST THIS VERY AFTERNOON. Now how am I to respond to that?

The EPA uses, or more properly requires the automakers to use, a very defined “driving cycle” that is to be performed rather automagically on a dynomometer. It includes accelerations, decelerations, coasting, and carrying on, in a vain attempt to formulaically reduce a mix of city and freeway driving into one specific performable procedure. It is not so much intended to be accurate as it is to be relatively accurate. That is, if we run one car through this and compare it to another car, the results will be valid for comparing the cars, not as they are particularly valid with regards to any particular driving experience – ergo YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. But if it does, it will likely not vary between these two cars any differently from anyone else. It is a relative comparison of the CARS THEMSELVES and their fuel efficiency. We are intentionally trying to factor the driver and all the OTHER variables OUT of the measurement.

Back to our budding Henry Ford and his attempt to convert a car – if the answer is there isn’t any answer, that kind of stymies the inventive juices. It is a curiously poor and unsatisfying answer. And so we came up with a rule of thumb. And that rule, based on just our own outcomes, was that for every 10 lbs of car, it will require 1 Watt hour of energy to cover 1 mile of travel. I think I originally weasle worded it as 9 to 11 with 11 being good, and 9 being a not so good outcome, which is how we actually DO measure these things in our own builds.

It is simple. Straightforward. And easy to calculate. And note that we can ourselves move it around at will on any given drive. It is based on the observation, that AFTER we did all our test drives, and just began driving the car NORMALLY as a daily driver, that if we logged the kWh consumed and the miles driven OVER THE COURSE OF A MONTH, that it always seemed to come out at 10:1. And in applying it as a PREDICTOR, we were remarkably successful in predicting the ultimate driving range of our build vehicles using this rule of thumb.

So a couple of things strike me about the EPA study of electric cars. If we average them ALL TOGETHER, it comes out to 9.97 pounds per Watt hour per mile. I find that enormously gratifying in validating our rule of thumb. And in the obverse, I find it enormously confirming that the EPA drive cycle is probably a pretty accurate rendition of how we roll around here at least. It appears to be a very real world and valid drive cycle design.

Would you believe that Tesla Model S did VERY well on this at 12.22:1? While the SmartforTwoED, which we have found their corporate management none to Smart, is predictably enough down around 6.5. That the BMW i3, with their use of advanced carbon fiber reinforced plastic and aluminum had the BEST show at 270 Wh/m?

I guess on a broader front, I find that John Metric can easily out accelerate the very best Tesla Model S with a homebuilt car. And I find that we and any of our viewers can routinely achieve efficiencies precisely on par with what the average OEM can. And so despite the overwhelming advantage VW has with a $13 BILLION DOLLAR research and development budget why is it that Robert Kerns invented the intermittent windshield wiper?

Kearns won one of the best known patent infringement cases against Ford Motor Company (1978–1990) and a case against Chrysler Corporation (1982–1992). Having invented and patented the intermittent windshield wiper mechanism in 1964, which was useful in light rain or mist, he tried to interest the “Big Three” auto makers in licensing the technology. They all rejected his proposal, yet began to install intermittent wipers in their cars, beginning in 1969. They of course lawyered him into old age, but eventually he DID win lawsuits against both Ford and Chrysler. Ford settled and paid him but Chrysler did not. Some 28 years after filing his patent, Chrysler paid him over $30 million in fees and interest.

Kevin Smith of Illuminati was down this past weekend showing me his linear permanent magnet motor. About the size of a shock absorber, it puts out a varying AC voltage of 72 volts. He intends to install it on Illuminati and use a small transformer to kick that value up to pack voltage and a small bridge rectifier to punch it into his battery pack. Hopefully converting potholes into usable Watt hours or at least Watt minutes.

I actually prefer the Escalade to the Model S. I know you will assume this derives from my pride of ownership in that I built it. I’ll admit I enjoyed the process, but I’m not really keen on such vanities. It is more a matter of fighting my way DOWN to 294 lbs from 311 and my ability to get in and sit down in the vehicle, and what the seats and ride and view looks like. I climb UP to sit DOWN in a great big padded recliner, sitting up HIGH with great visibility in the Escalade. And I actually have physical contortion to get DOWN INTO the Model S, get straightened out, in seats that really don’t fit me, while looking UP at other people’s hubcaps. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a GREAT car. But why don’t I drive the Escalade today, and let the wife drive the ModelS, and we’ll all be happy. That way I get a nice warm glow knowing my dear wife is all dressed up in a very fancy electric car that everyone comments on. And my back and ass doesn’t hurt. In fact, the Escalade blows cold air through pores in the seat right up my ass.

In truth, ALL great American fortunes have been based on technological innovation. With the result that ALL adult American males really fancy themselves some sort of inventor or another. With the result that a huge number of people are trying to come up with the intermittent wiper. And HUGE corporations which every year get their pick of the litter from the TOP engineering schools in the WORLD, with the resources to spend $13 billion dollars JUST on research and development, actually gain very little, if any, advantage over Robert Kerns or Kevin Smith. In fact it is astounding how LITTLE advantage they have.

At a General Motors meeting CEO Daniel Akers asked the group how many patents it had filed in the past year. The beaming answer as OVER 800 PATENTS. He then asked them, How many of those will be used in a car this year?” The implication was none. But the truth was, nobody really knew.

We are working on the Lear chargers right now, with no documentation, no product support of course, trying to make them charge – and I’m pleased to report with good success. They have a pantent on getting two of the chargers to charge at the same time through some not very interesting to me master/slave folderall. The reason it isn’t very interesting, is that it is trivial to have two of them charge the same battery pack anyway. No magic required. They are both isolated. Set one to charge to the maximum level, and the other to charge to a little less. So I would offer that the annual tonnage in patent applications, and the emergence of useful technical innovation, do not express a linear function.

To my knowledge, Kerns had ONE patent. But it was sufficiently useful, that within five years of filing it, all three of the major automakers of the day had it in their cars.

Do not misunderstand my point here. I started this blog noting the evolutionary incremental improvement of the automobile over the past 41 years as virtually MAGIC and much if not most of that was just the sort of incremental improvement/development that large corporations do VERY WELL. But disruptive innovations that change things dramatically tend to come, in almost 100% of the cases, from individuals working out of their garage.

And more to my liking, it would appear that by several measures, the handwork coming out of individual garages has no need to tip their hat to General Motors or Volkswagen or BMW. My personal belief is that the transition from fossile fuel vehicles to magnetic drive will REQUIRE a re-evaluation of the cost and performance metrics of every single solitary item of the car right down to the design and weight of the hubcaps. The ENTIRE vehicle has to be done over. And this will result in a parallel movement of both incremental revisit and Darwinism among the large corporations, and series of break-throughs and sudden disruptive inventions from thousands of individuals, many entirely OUTSIDE the normal automotive millieu. If Stanford’s Yi Qui succeeds with a lithium anode battery, it is a TOTAL gamechanger. But his connection with Detroit would be limited to the fact that I assume he at least DRIVES a car.

I have a privileged vantage point. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s I was able to observe first hand the development of technology to suppport a network of networks – finally termed “the inter-net.” In every case I can think of, a guy, maybe two – a basement – or sometimes a shed – and NO COGNIZANCE AT ALL that anything they were doing was really earth shattering, or really very useful beyond the particular and peculiar problem they were facing at the moment. Of the 4.7 billion now on the Internet, I was usually the only one in the room even asking about it. It always looked weeny. It rarely worked right at the moment. And the only times I ever heard that this was going to change the world, was from a couple of blowhard self-promoters who were never heard from again and I can’t for the life of me put a name to the faces I still see contorted with a twisted and often bizarre view of the future.

But I do remember literally HUNDREDS, nay THOUSANDS of press releases from large corporate telephone companies denouncing the entire concept, and noting that any way if anything like that ever NEEDED to be done they were the ones to do it anyway. In a strange way, ultimately they were right. But the problem was they couldn’t INVENT it and they couldn’t get it there, they could only profit by scaling it up once it was well underway.

So I think many changes are in the future, and the weight of history would indicate that it will come from someone we’ve never heard of yet. That’s just the way it happens. The ultimate electric personal mobility car or device has yet to be invented. I would mark Tesla as the AppleII/Visicalc moment. But it’s not the terminus of technology in cars.

The cars our viewers are building, appear to be on par with the best Detroit and Wolfsburg can produce. As we adopt some of the OEM’s own supplier channels for components such as chargers, motors, and controllers, I sternly believe our cars will get better, as will theirs.

There is one curious disconnect here. And it has to do with the kind of battery cells we use, and the kind they use. They are using lithium manganese and lithium cobalt ionic cells that normally provide higher energy density than our LiFePo4 cells do. They kind of have to which I think is unfortunate because the LiFePo4 cells are enormously safer and more durable over time. But after selecting these high density cells, they “package” them in hundreds of pounds of armor to protect them – typically soft pouch cells, though Tesla uses consumer camera battery cells. The Renault Fluenze battery packs we sold last March were just extreme. HUNDREDS of pounds of metal that had NOTHING to do with storing energy.

We do it a bit differently and I will be surprised if they don’t arrive at this in Detroit before it is all over. We have individually armored cells – with JUST ENOUGH shell casing to keep them from harm. And they interconnect kind of like lego blocks. So we can use actually very light and inexpensive aluminum boxes to house them. The net result is that our energy density to weight is actually BETTER than theirs and most likely our energy density to volume as well.

I can hear the response now – OEM cars have to be engineered for safety while you home garage guys drive bombs. Hey OUR cars aren’t the ones burning to the ground – generally speaking. In fact, lets hook em up. We’ll T-bone your car and you T-bone ours, and let’s see how they fare in a demolition derby. I’ll take that bet all day.

So one of the reasons our cars compare favorably with the OEMs for efficiency, is that we just deal with battery armor and mounting very differently. We use individually armored and contained cells, in very lightweight aluminum boxes. They build a bank safe and put lots of smaller softer cells in them. But the bank safe is heavy and inefficient.

And I’m thoroughly struck by the EPA numbers and our rule of thumb. This week we receive our FIRST signficant batch of CAM80FI cells – an initial stock of some 300. For any given capacity, these cells feature 60% of the volume and 80% of the weight of the previous CA series LiFePo4 cell. Part of this is just thinner armor and a metal instead of plastic shell. But they hold the potential to somewhat dramatically improve our numbers.

I would like nothing better than for you to take these and DISPROVE our rule of thumb – that the appropriate “rule of thumb” should be the Tesla mark: 12:1 instead of our extant 10:1 working number.

One of our main themes for the end of 2014 and going into 2015 is to access the same supply chain as the OEMs. Using the motors, controllers, chargers, DC-DC converters, etc that they use. But frankly I much prefer our battery strategy to theirs. I think if you look at the two little battery boxes that offer to power the Green Thing to a 96 mile range, you’ll see why. It’s all about power, energy, and weight. And to a lesser degree, drag. And we are going to a very good place there with these new cells.

So you are FINALLY able to get lithium cells at a relative bargain. We have the good old SE series cells in the store NOW at 95cents per AH – a price level that has simply not been routinely seen in the EV market. But if you are working on the next great car, and want it to truly compete with anything Japan or Detroit or Germany can produce, you can – with these new smaller cells.

Jack Rickard