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rickard

All things for a reason.

I know many have anxiously awaited the return of the brain. Recalling that he disappeared for a year earlier, and then popped back up, I suppose the hope is that he will return again.

It is not to be. Brain has worked for me 7 times over 20 years. He’s a bit of a leaky vessle in that any wind can blow him. But I felt a certain indebtedness over some very good work he did at Boardwatch Magazine. And while he was paid very well there, I did rather hit the jackpot when I sold the company.

He’s not only worked for me, but I’ve actually financed attempts he’s made at having his own company. I’ve never figured out exactly what part he’s missing, but he doesn’t do well “with his own company.”

In any event, the departures are always sudden and inconvenient. Whatever the future brings to Mr. Noto, I have always been half the agreement. And I don’t see an eighth trip to the plate for him around here.

And while the timing appeared awkward, it has forced me to reevaluate EVTV and where we are going with it. In the past few months you may have noticed a rather tightened focus and a more technical direction I feel necessary going into the future. Brian’s technical accumen was a little mysterious. I believe I showed him how to work a printer at least 700 times. The whole electrical thing remained a mystery until the end. Very particular about mechanical things, he found the whole concept of 100 cells a little overwhelming.

This week we welcome a new addition to EVTV, Mr. Bob Wilson of San Jose, California. Bob is a long time IT guy from the “Valley” as well as an auto enthusiast. I cannot fathom why he would want to leave the center of the technology universe to relocate to Cape Girardeau to play with some old cars, but he has a bit of an advantage in that he’s watched a lot of EVTV, while my knowledge of him is necessarily limited. In any event, he wanted a shot at the chair, and so he has it. But he is no stranger to circuit boards, the basics of programming, wiring, electronics, and most importantly again, automobiles.

It is a recurring admission that everyone assumes is false modesty, but I really don’t know anything about automobiles. I have kind of figured out that they make excellent transport for BATTERIES. I have with curiosity examined the OEM car business and in doing so apparently come to some further knowledge than is apparently common. It certainly doesn’t work the way most people assume it does. But it is entirely rational and if anything quite Darwinian.

As you may know from last week’s blog, I see dark days ahead for the entire concept of an electric car, based on a plunging perception of their retained value that will be very nearly fatal to the concept. I do believe it will survive it of course. But it will be a close call.

It is NOT precisely a bottom feeder phenomenon to want value for your hard earned ducats. And as the average new car now costs about what two houses did when I first drove a car, it is one of the more major expenditures the average person encounters in life. The idea that it can be worth 23% of what you paid three years later just doesn’t work economically for anybody. But that is where all data points indicate at the moment.

So it will be a bumpy road over the next few years.

Here’s why it won’t be fatal. I’ll not trot out the economic advantages, nor the environmental pressures. Or even the socio political issues surrounding electric vehicles. It will survive because they just feel so damn good. Building your own in the garage is undoubtedly one of the most personally satisfying activities an adult male can engage in. But I never actually get over the feel of driving an electric car. And I never quite get over that I’m driving at all with no gasoline. None. No gas stations. None. I fuel in my own garage. And I can do so from sunshine. I’m just never going to get over it.

EVTV’s role is going to move toward harvesting parts from all the wrecks and off lease bargains coming into play. ANd it may well be that we inherit some responsibility for repairing OEM cars, which their own dealers are very poorly prepared to do at all, and always at an eggregious cost. You just can’t pay $4000 or $7000 to repair a used car you bought for $7500. That’s a serious PART of the whole depreciation/perceived value death spiral.

And so on the one hand we have the realities of maintenance and the perceived residual value specific to an electric vehicle, and on the other hand we have the realities of maintenance and the PASSION of an enthused subset of society countering that.

Wait a minute, did I screw up the equation. Ah, yes… I have the realities of maintenance on BOTH sides of the equation. Dumb error eh?

Well not exactly. You see, maintenance at the dealer can be heroically expensive. And repairing electric vehicles is devilishly difficult if you don’t have access to the proprietary software and diagnostics the dealer has.

But the actual failures and the repairs are trivial. We have a world of electric cars out there with “failed battery packs” that are essentially worthless. Except the packs aren’t failed. They need the terminals cleaned ($6 in supplies and some elbow grease). Or a wake on charge module ($299 and two screws). Or an electric heater unplugged and a fuse replaced. Or…

You see the “shot engine” or the shot transmission or the other major repair items thus far aren’t showing up. We have total failures, always traceable to trivial fixes, if you know how to troubleshoot them.

I hope I’m not over minimizing the troubleshooting. It is non-trivial and not everyone can do it. But the fixes are trivial once you’ve done it. During his first week, Bob has gotten at least three cars on their feet with truly minor problems with them – after we took a look at them. Earlier, Byron and Mark spent several hours looking at my Azure Dynamics eTransit connect and several MINUTES repairing it once they had despite the TOTAL UNAVAILABILITY at the time of a replacement part. I later had a totally unschooled raw “deck hand heavy lifter” here at the shop successfully replace the part by disconnecting the connector, removing two screws, and reversing the procedure. I didn’t even watch him while he did it. An eight year-old girl could do it.

I can see these modern electric motors going 500,000 miles before rebuild. Which would consist of blowing them out, and replacing two $12 bearings.

I recall distinctly when capacitive discharge ignitions first appeared. The old “condensor/points” crowd just went ape over all these new-fangled COMPUTERS in cars that basically made it where they could never be worked on again. But within months, JC Whitney had replacements for any car, and it turns out they actually made it EASIER to maintain a car.

Fuel injection is actually much simpler than a carburetor. And so it goes.

So maintenance of electric cars IS going to be a problem in one way. In another, it just isn’t. They are easier to work on. Cleaner to work on. And the ultimate repair is going to require LESS expenditure for parts as a rule. Most of the failures will be traced to fuses and of course my lifelong nemesis, the connector.

The perception of the batteries is incurable. But the evidence is already coming in. They are a lot BETTER than predicted. It is everything around them, (notably BMS and instrumentation related) that poses problems.

I have this fond hope that Tesla is going to just phone and offer their CAN .dbc files. And analyzing Teslas from thence forward would be child’s play. But I guess that would mean the end of EVTV. (Motivation for Tesla perhaps). Our future is all about developing information and solutions for these mysteries that are ONLY mysteries because the OEMs kling so desperately to their “intellectual property” and so fear misuse of the knowledge to “hack” their cars into doing something nefarious.

It is TRULY absurd. And in the future we will view it charitably much as we look back on the devastation of capacitive discharge ignition. In the meantime, lots of work.

This week we WILL have an EVTV show but it will probably be about three days late. This is because we are hosting a meeting of at least a few of the EVTV Hack Team here at EVTV starting on Friday and going through Sunday sometime I would imagine. Just a quick meeting to compare notes and maybe play with the Tesla Drive Train bench. For me, it will be more of a celebration of our CAN analysis tools and most notably SavvyCAN. In order to successfully analyze CAN traffic, we were rather forced to invent our own CAN tools. And we have. We have a two channel CAN shield now that can do up to 7500 messages per second. We have a variant of THAT that can do SingleWire CAN in addition to two differential CAN channels. Damien is actually working on a version that does LIN as well – an even lower speed 19,200 bps single wire protocol. We have now working prototypes of our own Arduino Due board that has an EEPROM, a more robust USB port, and a single CAN channel transciever onboard. This will let us reduce our controllers we use for Chargers and DC-DC converters and other pieces to a single Arduino style board.

And in this episode, Collin Kidder walks you through SavvyCAN. I can assure you, that in the four days since that video was released, SavvyCAn has taken further enormous leaps forward and every time we add a new feature, it allows us to see what would REALLY be neat if we only added…..X. If this kind of development is pursued, and we begin to usefully decode ALL the CAN messages in vehicles such as Leaf, Volt, and Tesla Model S, I see no reason why these wouldn’t morph into full blown diagnostics kits for each car. PLug them in and it will tell you what’s wrong and where to look for failures.

Indeed this week we have introduced a basically new product – A CAN analyzer specifically for the TEsla Model S. It’s not really that specialized. Just our CANDue and SavvyCAN in reality. But it’s in a box with a harness that has a connector that just plugs in to the Tesla diagnostics port. This seems little enough. But for a Tesla Model S owner who wants to experiment, it just got a lot easier. Plug it in. Plug in your laptop to the USB port. And party like a rock star. For your average Model S owner, we just bridged the gap between reading about technical whiz kids examining their TEslas, and being able to do it yourself in five minutes.

So tool development is a huge task before us. And then of course adoption of OEM components for our classic and heirloom vehicles is a big deal as well – made much easier with the tools.

And so the technical end of it and the “hack team” kind of become central to our strategy to survive a bit of a retrenchemente in EVland. For most of OUR viewers, it will be raining cheap cars and parts for the next year or so. That has the potential to spawn an enormous amount of innovation leading to some fascinating who-knows-whats.

And so rather than demoralized, I’m personally invigorated. But our future becomes more computer like, and less mechanical. That’s actually moving in my direction. And Bob Wilsons as well. And most of the hack team.

Tesla had their Annual Sharholder’s meeting yesterday. I have to say I expected a yawner. But it wasn’t. I would say it was the best shareholder meeting they’ve ever held.

Probably the reason was Elon Musk of course. I’ve never SEEN him look so relaxed, comfortable, and indeed pleased with all things Tesla. He can be a bit bristly when he detects the meerest slight from the press or outside world. But he simply wasn’t this week. Very relaxed and looking extremely pleased with himself. By the end of the call, I was starting to understand why.

First the comically bad. Two shareholder proposals and half the questions at the end from a very organized group of VEGANS who resembled more the crowd of Zombies in Zombie Apocolypse. They were on full metal jacket attack over Tesla’s use of LEATHER in their sedan. They made themselves look utterly ridiculous by staking claim that over half the green house gasses come from farm animals, not to mention, although they spent much time mentioning, the heroic cruelty visited upon these poor animals – all in the name of leather seats.
vegan

I generally avoid interjecting any sort of reality into the global warming discussion because it upsets the natives so. Actually, over half of green house gasses actually come from insects, if green house gasses are truly at issue. The naivete of the environmentally devout is generally only exceeded by their rather impressively thorough mastery of really really bad misinformation and misinterpreted real information. It winds up being such a confused ball of string that I daren’t attempt a fix. I don’t need to. It’s not my calling. And I don’t want to deal with it anyway. So let them all believe anything and everything their hearts desire. Of course, usually with NO investment of their own, they are generally shrilly calling for ME and others to swallow their nonsense by force. Which is irritating, but not truly damaging until they start legislating things.

In any event, they very capably organized the event into a full blown protest of Tesla’s mindless slaughter of innocent animals to decorate the posteriors of Tesla owners when many VEGAN alternatives are readily available. Indeed some of them sell those. Would you believe…

But the entire TEsla contingent endured this total nonsense without even cracking a smile (well a little one) and moving on. They were very courteous to them and allowed them their moment in the limelight which as entitled generation people they so fervently believed they deserved. I was very impressed with their suffrance of this nonsense at such an event.

I expected that to be the highlight of the show. But it really was not.

Mr. Musk was no doubt pleased to announce that Tesla was now the top selling luxury sedan in the country, edging out the Mercedes Benz S class and crushing BMW, Porsche and Audi.

But the meeting from there turned from one impressive surprise to another. I was just CHARMED that Musk fell on his sword immediately and with no equivocation over the much discussed battery swap issue at Harris Ranch. It’s real simple. They ultimately invited over 200 California Tesla owners to come in and try the battery swap. Five of them did. And none of them ever came back. Battery swap is DOA not because of anything at Tesla or California’s CAFE standards. Tesla owners, with the Supercharger option onboard the vehicle even prior to Tesla’s announcement of SuperChargers, DON’T CARE ABOUT BATTERY SWAP. It’s cool. It’s technically impressive. And indeed it is a marvelous solution to something that just isn’t a problem. So they intend to spend NOTHING on it further unless something somehow somewhere changes. Nobody wants it. And nobody needs it. And so while it makes good video, they aren’t going to spend any money on it.

I’m just not accustomed to this level of direct and frank discourse from an automaker. They tried it. It failed And they are moving on. It was always considered a long shot, but no doubt an interesting technical problem. Wow. What do you say to that? Kewelle. You go girlfriend. Me too.

Exciting technical announcements? Actually yes. A liquid cooled charging cord that is going to change the entire game. It looks ridiculously thin, but can carry MORE power than they are doing now. Why didn’t I tink of dat Damien/SportsFans?

He did wax poetic over the Supercharger network and while he has alluded to this in the past regarding SOME Supercharger locations, he said plainly that once it is built out, they do intend to go back and put solar and battery banks on ALL supercharger stations. And he actually coined as term for what was intended from the beginning – free long distance. This is a vague allusion to the Internet – which was originally mostly a bypass of the heavy long distance charges levied by the telcos. You can now take off from anywhere in the country and drive TO anywhere in the country, in theory without ten cents in your pocket. Free travel. For life and he did reiterate that.

More to the point, they have upgraded their map for 2016 and guess what? Cape Girardeau is on it. If a guy DID dare to reverse engineer the supercharger network, he’d need one kind of close to experiment with.

I don’t think the auto industry in general comprehends yet the dominance of the Supercharger network. As Tesla goes forward with solar, battery, liquid cooled cables, and so forth, the rest of the automakers are left with cars that can NOT go cross country, and certainly can’t do it for free. The gap isn’t closing. It’s growing wider. And while it might seem a bit of an investment for Tesla – it is pure equity – money in the bank. In a pay me now or pay me later scenario, the rule is – later is always more expensive. GM, BMW, VW, should have taken the knee when and as I predicted they would be sufficiently sentient to do so. I was wrong. And getting well is going to be costly.

CHAdeMO will be for us poor people with DIY cars and Nissans. GM and BMW and VW are going to be hopelessly out of it. But the gold standard will be Tesla. I basically detected a strong protest response to my announcement of CHAdeMO as the default. And the response is frankly persuasive.

Musk casually assured us, and seemed inordinately comfortable in doing so, that the TEsla Model X would be shipping in three months or maybe four months. It was VERY oddly stated and not really evasive. And he seemed very comfortable with it.

I have to tell you that in driving the Model S more the last week or two to capture some data and get more familiar with the “moding” we will have to deal with in adopting the drive train, I have truly come to love the car. It is an acquired taste even for me. But it just keeps getting better. I also have to admit I am not much of a Sedan guy. I don’t think I’ve ever OWNED a four door sedan in my life before the Model S. They are basically for “old people” and at 59, I’m just not there yet.

The Model X is more my style and the Falcon doors, while I look askance at the concept, are sexy. As doors and latches have been Tesla’s weak point, I don’t really see how they are going to pull off clamshell doors as they are basically unworkable conceptually. But if they did….instant classic car.

He also worked to convey the advantages of All Wheel Drive and readily admitted that their entire concept of presenting it as DUAL MOTOR was a marketing mistake. The technical heart of this melon is that it allows millisecond adjustments to forward/aft traction delivering a kind of traction control you just cannot have possibly felt ever before because it hasn’t been possible ever before.

Coupled with the floor pan battery, which makes it essentially impossible to roll this SUV, in a world where SUV’s are notorious for being top heavy and rolling easily, kind of points up the possibility that the Model X will be the best car ever produced on planet.

Regretfully, I didn’t consider a Model X in the budget and so didn’t quite get in line in time. I would be at the end of a 20,000 long waiting list.

Or maybe not. One of our very generous EVTV viewers has suffered some temporary reverses and is gifting me with a Porsche with the understanding that I update it and sell it back to him later for whatever the upgrade costs. Oh, and he’s throwing in his position as number 375 on the Model X waiting list. I really cannot afford this car at this time. But I’ll find it somewhere. I just can’t turn down a 375 slot in that list. I’m guessing I cannot be 5 months out from today. Novemberish. Too bad we will miss EVCCON with it. Or maybe not??

He announced as serious investment in a new paint shop. Big enough to paint Model S, Model X, and Gen 3 simultaneously and described as the largest and most advanced paint shop in the world.

They have received THOUSANDS of expressions of interest in their power wall. And some suggestions. I thought it a measure of his comfort when he annnounced they had listed to some of the criticism and he had made a command level decision to DOUBLE the capacity of what was announced while holding the PRICE THE SAME.

Finally, he addressed autonomous driving in a very peculiar way. It seemed again I detected almost a direct response to our reservations about assuming legal responsibility for accidents. It was very carefully worded that the DRIVER remains responsible for the operation of the car and the autonomous driving modes are AIDS to the driver – tools like an AUTOPILOT for a pilot. I find that to be a very interesting analogy.

Mechanical failures in cars being the direct result of crashes is so rare as to be almost unheard of. If you can prove it, well and good enough. But it just doesn’t come up.

Aviation actually has its own crash investigation entity, the National Transportation Safety Board or NTSB that is ENTIRELY SEPARATE from the FAA to determine the cause of crashes. This is because while it is USUALLY the pilot of the aircraft, mechanical failures indeed DO cause aviation crashes and related deaths. And so there is a long standing governmental entity that has no other role than to investigate accidents and issue recommendations on avoiding them. VERY OFTEN these result in Airworthiness Directives or AD’s from the FAA that are mandatory repairs/revisions to ALL aircraft. And the autopilot is notoriously part of every examination. To get an autopilot device approved in an aircraft is just heroically expensive and time consuming.

This actually validates my position that in presenting autonomous driving functionality, Tesla and Google et al are really opening the door to responsibility for some portion of the accidents their cars are involved in. I can hear the appeal from the 22 year old blond now: “I swear your honor, I thought the car was driving. It said so on their web site?”

Me? I’d love it. Browse the internet and check up on the e-mail while going down the road cross-country. Maybe catch a nap.

I am just very very surprised that companies that constantly tout “liability” as the cover-all catch-all excuse to do anything they want, would so glibly go into autonomous driving. But the curious rewording in this shareholders meeting presentation indicates that the topic has at least come up in discussion.

My hotpoints? Liquid cooled charging cable. Solar Superchargers. Cape Girardeau site in 2016. And my new found position on the Model X waiting list.

It was the best press event Tesla has ever had. And Elon Musk never looked this relaxed, comfortable, and pleased.

If you are short Tesla get out. If you’re bare, get in. Big ride on the stock ahead.

Jack Rickard