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rickard

They say it is an ancient Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times….” And so it seems.

We were remiss in our video publishing efforts last week. Truth is, I got up last Saturday and went to the computer, sat down in the chair and promptly nodded off. Indeed I slept most of the day.

This week I turned 60. In all truth, probably not as young and pretty as I once was. The defection of Brain in January was jarring. I tried a new guy (BOB) for a month, but it just doesn’t work. Everyone that wants to work here who is sufficiently grizzled to have useful knowledge, is also pretty much set on doing things their way and “showing me” how it should properly be done. I may not be a control freak, but I am certainly a control enthusiast. warrantytape
And dealing with the condescension they almost universally adopt while teaching me, and at the same time so far removed from where they are actually at with their “know and don’t know they don’t know” is just a huge energy drain. The learning curve they face, coupled with the intense desire to be an authority on SOMETHING at that age, is just beyond my level of patience to deal with. I don’t have it to give.

I actually have faced this in the past from the other end. On sale of Boardwatch Magazine, I purposely sought a field where I would be the student instead of the teacher – aviation. Five years of full time all day every day effort, and I did indeed pick up single engine, multiengine, instrument, Lear, helicopter, and DC-3 type ratings and a hangar full of toys.

Along the way I truly had to humble myself and NOt hold forth on all that I knew. My initial flight instructor was 22 years old at the time. It was frustrating for both of us. But by the time it was over, I had more dual instruction as a student than anyone flying for any commercial airline. And it was widely known that any flight instructor with a light schedule book could show up and get paid for a few lessons from Jack if they knew anything interesting about aviation or at least have some good hangar stories.

So I am familiar with the challenges, I just don’t have the patience or energy to deal with them anymore. We have some young people in shipping and receiving that are sufficiently in awe they think I can make lightning from aluminum foil and salt, and they are getting pretty good at shipping the right stuff in the right box to the right place. If we could get UPS to do the same, we might be able to operate for awhile. But I give up on gaining any useful help in the shop or the show. It’s kind of me and actually I rather like working more or less alone.

In any event, we are moving more into microcontroller work than we are motor mounting issues these days. Christopher Fisher has worked with us for several years now from Sweden on our Amazon sight and blog and web store etc. That works pretty well since he doesnt’ actually have to endure my foibles first hand and in real time. Collin Kidder now works with me on coding issues very nicely as we rarely meet. And we have a good bit of volunteer help from the EVTV hack team at this point. Byron and Mark have dropped support for UNITED WAY and have adopted EVTV as their favorite charity now.

So we’ll just go with the new model and work it.

The WEEKLY nature of EVTV may be under review however. Whatever we shoot, it comes out to two hours and this week of course is more like two and a half. We originally WENT weekly at the sole behest of Brian Noto, who insisted that frequency was just a requirement if he was to sell any advertising. Subsequent to that, I sold a couple of ads but Brian never sold any anyway. Subsequently we have rather inverted the advertising supported video model. We buy product from our “advertisers” and sell it to our viewers, which puts us in a very different position with our advertisers and I actually enjoy the severe limitation on advertiser whining this rather naturally imposes. Indeed, I haven’t had a single solitary supplier threaten to pull their ad in years now…

I regularly hear from viewers that are a “show or two behind”. And so I’m seriously considering changing our frequency to every two weeks rather than weekly. I also thought about going daily but decided against it. I know our closest mimic, EVWest, was working monthly and now apparently with summers off, so maybe they are on to something…

In any event, like Rick Moranis, I kind of feel like we have gone PLAID, need to stop, and then take a five minute break – smoke if you got em.

So what was signficant this week?

Well I am of the school that you should never ascribe to conspiracy what can be marked up to incompetence. But it is a competitive world and apparently they reward people in large corporations for coming up with stupid and evil ideas. The ever present oil industry is no news. They constantly bleat that gasoline prices are simply a function of supply and demand but the $4 per gallon gasoline prices of 2008 seemed strangely disconnected from supply or demand and the profits they posted later were just unbelievable – a joy to shareoweners world wide. This past month of June saw an INCREASE in gasoline usage of 9.6% over June of 2014 but gasoline prices were a full dollar lower. I smell fear and blood in the water. That less than 300,000 cars could inspire this kind of fear tells you what they think of our electric car ideas. We really only have two kinds of followers, the ardent in support of electric cars and the oil companies. Both groups are devout believers.

But talk about a BUMBLING conspiracy? How artless was Chrysler’s? In the month when the copyright office is expected to issue a waiver of the Digital Millineum Copyright Act for those seeking to learn about and repair their own automobiles, would you believe that two notorious “hackers” have successfully hacked into a Jeep Cherokee in St. Louis and posed a grave threat to life and limb of the driver by completely taking over control of the vehicle. And two congressmen, also supported by Chrysler, are introducing legislation to address this severe threat to the cyber security of our nation of people hacking into cars? The article appeared in Wired Magazine and they didn’t even bother to hide the fact that the genius hackers had direct access to the vehicle for months and indeed had installed different firmware in the vehicle? Or that they were paid by Chrysler? And that Chrysler had issued a recall just hours before the event assuring all owners they could be secured from the security breach at no cost? There is so much wrong with this story that I scarce know where to begin, but due to the George Carlin effect no doubt a sufficient number of innocents will buy into this manufactured pap as to pose a real problem.

Chrysler, and indeed virtually ALL automotive manufacturers want you to buy a car from them, have it serviced EXCLUSIVELY by their dealers, and that the car be scrapped the moment the warranty expires and you buy a NEW one.

Here’s the problem with that: The average price of a new car is now nearly $33,000 and the median income fo the average family necessary to afford that exists in precisely ONE county in the United States. That was Alexandria County Virginia but now know as Alexandria County D.C. Yes, our politicians and lobbyists, the new royalty of America, are the only ones that can afford a new car every three years.

So making them disposable, after the fashion of big screen televisions, is bad public policy. And it woudl be a notorious screw job for the average American, who buys used cars and maintains them themselves or with the assistance of the much less expensive corner independent garage/repair facility.

I’m fairly confident of the deep seated culture of automobile ownership in America and the long standing traditions of modification and repair to eventually squash this evil. It is with deep irony that the particular vehicle used in this stupidly conceived stunt was a Jeep. The Jeep history and culture almost personified the ideal – it could be entirely maintained by ANYBODY with a crescent wrench and screw driver. Indeed, there is a parade military demonstration where they march down the street, stop, TOTALLY disassemble a military jeep, then totally REASSEMBLE it in the street, and continue marching alongside it.

But there is another sea change that could complicate things. I’ve been looking for this for several years and it is finally happening. Oh, there have been any number of electric car startups. But most ill concieved and poorly funded. Tesla has defied all odds and actually brought a car to market. And it has done so so successfully, that it has outsold EVERY luxury car in its price class, and won every award available in the automobile industry. It as at this point accepted as the BEST AUTOMOBILE EVERY BUILT.

And it was done in Silicon Valley. Despite all the angst over dealership issues in various states, by far the majority of Teslas are sold via their online web site. They are individually delivered. Individually serviced. You never SEE a big lot with hundreds of cars and plaid jackets, free coke for the kids or a SINGLE balloon animal. Their “recalls” are done discretely in the night over GSM. They don’t have dealers. They are designed and built using quite the latest available processes. It is not just the car, but every aspect of the purchase and ownership of the car that has been redesigned. I actually predicted this in 1995 in Boardwatch Magazine. A total flattening of distribution networks and the end of geographic dealerships. I actually described specifying colors and fabrics and engine and trim level via website, and having the car delivered to your door a few weeks later. It has come to pass.

Now you would think with a 20 year notice, the existing automobile manufacturers would have plenty of time to adjust. But you have to work IN one of these large corporations to really comprehend the level of corporate HUBRIS. They exist, therefore they AM. Any dissenting voice from the corporate party line is asked to cast their gaze skyward at the dramatically lit corporate logo – symbol of long running success. History. Tradition. Success. And you think you have a better idea… than FORD?????? It’s humbling. You quickly stifle any further comments about changing anything, and learn to go along with the party.

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry features a display of the Pioneer Zephyr. All Aboard the Silver Streak invites you to go back in time—to May 26, 1934—as a passenger on the Pioneer Zephyr. You won’t want to miss this record-breaking “ride” from Denver to Chicago. On your 20-minute guided tour, you will explore the baggage, smoking, passenger and observation compartments of the Pioneer Zephyr. You can also view the engineer’s cab, supplemented by a computer interactive that allows you to “drive” the Pioneer Zephyr. The exhibit also features newsreel footage that will take you back to 1934.

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This was a sleek, aluminum, futuristic looking train that ran much faster than the trains fo its day with diesel generators and electric motors. It caused such a sensation that it birthed the Art Deco design movement and you could scarce buy a toaster or vacuum cleaner or clock for a dozen years that didn’t look a lot like the Zehphyr.

Donald Douglas introduced the DC-2 in 1934 followed by the DC-3 in 1936. It too was sleek and futuristic and all of aluminum. It didn’t use any better, worse, or larger engines than the Zephyr.

Indeed, there is absolutely no reason that Burlington could not have invented and built the DC-3 and they certainly had much more resources in the way of design engineers and money to do so than Donald Douglas. Obviously, the aircraft could make it from Chicago to San Francisco faster than the train. So why didn’t they?

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They were real busy that day being a railroad. And at the top of the railroad game, why would they want to build an airplane that would never carry much or amount to much in the grand scheme of things?

But we are about to move into a new phase I’ve been looking for for some time. Google currently has about $70 billion in cash and short term investments laying about. Apple reports some 201 billion of the same. This is not total valuation of the company or “assetts”. We’re talking about CASH ON HAND. General Motors was BAILED OUT of bankruptcy by the government just a few years ago. They are relative paupers by comparison. Offering to clean your windshield for $5.

The world is not going to let Elon Musk be the sole Silicon Valley “new” style car company for very long. If he doesn’t break out in hives, develop pancreatic cancer, and die a horrible death on tv from this process, there are others who would like to duplicate the feat.

In this episode we describe an early arrival – Faraday Futures. They have money. They’ve hired people. They have a concept for a car. How is this going to come out?

What we didn’t talk about this episode was sent to me by viewer Bill Hoopes. I only mention him because he sends me little tidbits on a regular basis which I rarely acknowledge but do appreciate. This is the Youxia. A Chinese knockoff of the Tesla Model S that is really pretty eggregious in its lifting of design features. It looks like a dead ringer, offers similar range, 17 inch screen – it’s a CHinese Tesla. And they plan on introducing it in 2016 at $48,000.

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THere will be more. The sales numbers will be small in the context of the global market. But the number of players will increase. Their fortunes of course depend on their ability to win well-heeled early adopters into the fold in greater numbers.

And that brings us to our tale of two bicycles. Bill Bayer picked up a new bike on an Indigogo crowd funder for $500 that will be widely available for $700. That crowd funder raised over $5 million and not a one of them were concerned about range or batteries. Bill Moore of EVWorld, a long time advocate of electric bicyles, nearly enough peed his trousers and immediately put up his own – at $1975 per bike. With 16 days to go he sports $5,575 of his $275,000 goal and the number hasn’t moved in 10 days.

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And that gets us down to the value proposition. Bill Bayer couldn’t be happier with his purchase.

I found it so surprising I didn’t see any way they could deliver it in those numbers by their May 1 date. Actually they didn’t. But under the circumstances I’m going to take mid-July as a very near miss and fall on my sword anyway on this one.

The point is – price is variable – graven in Jello. But the value proposition at whatever price DOES matter. The commonly held belief is that the American Consumer has REJECTED electric cars because of range anxiety and battery issues. I’ve said all along that neither would be the case. Might I SUGGEST, that the issue is actually value proposition. And selling a $14,750 Nissan Versa as a dolled up $38,500 Nissan Leaf or a $21,000 Chevy Cruz as a dolled up electric Chevy VOLT at $45,000 is probably NOT GOING TO WORK OUT FOR YOU.

But a $90,000 Tesla Model S might. So the price doesn’t really matter, but the VALUE PROPOSITION DOES. By the way, we had previously reported that there was a glut of used Nissan Leaf’s, Chevy Volts, and Tesla Model S’s headed your way. The Leaf’s and the Volts, it is now apparent to everyone and appearing universally in all the interested press, is real. The Tesla Certified PreOwned (CPO) program, on the other hand has cleared a LOT of the used Teslas to eager buyers – leading to much higher resale values comparitively.

So it’s ok to sell a Mclaren F1 Supercar match at $110,000 – much LESS than the McLaren, but it probably is not going to do to sell a $23,000 Ford Transit Connect for $58,750? Who knew? I’m glad I was here for THIS mind opening revelation.

I guess you CAN fool some of the people some of the time. But the future acculturation of the buying public and the adoption of electric vehicles is going to go right to the heart of answering the value proposition question – we all love the eTransit Connect at $6500. Those that answer it convincingly will prosper. Those who don’t, won’t. And it has little to do with range anxiety, fast charge, infrastructure, or batteries. Those are builder problems. NOT buyer problems.

And speaking of builders. The Mercedes SL190 drive is impressive. They took our UQM Powerphase 100 and GEVCU and did 108 miles an hour the first day on a direct drive to a 3.91 differential. They’re so wowed by the drive they are now talking about replacing the entire battery pack with more modern cells and a truly excellent car is in the offing.

And we continue to slog ahead with the Tesla Drive Unit CAN puzzle. We have actually been working on tools more than anything else – SavvyCAN and GVRET and EVTVDue and CAN Due Teodora and JLD505. Both hardware and software and captures.

And frankly the task is non-trivial. We have found signed 13bit numbers, and very specifically clocked modal signals with bizarre security strings that had to be decoded. But we have it down to about seven or perhaps eight messageIDs that actually control the inverter, and 23 inverter responses probably 10 of which simply don’t contain any data at any time that we can detect. At this point the outcome is clear to me. We will be able to control the mode and operation of the Tesla Drive unit using simple hardware and software. I’m kind of making it hard on myself starting with the EVIC ADM-MILKY hardware to serve as the core of our controller and quite a learning curve to master there. But the outcome is kind of moving out of the risk zone and into the “work to do” area.

Not certain just what kind of TV that is going to make as this goes more technical. And at least for the moment, the deluge of Tesla Drive Trains isn’t quite happening. I scored two in as many weeks and thought they would be falling from the skies. I suspect a lot of people ARE picking them up and ratholing them waiting for us to work out how to use them. But the number of crashes keeps climbing and as Elon keeps dropping the 0-60 time, it continues to cause fear and trembling, shock and awe, among trees and guard rails everywhere.

I was pleased to note that Mr. Musk appears to be paying more careful attention to EVTV than I would have thought and has taken great care to modify his talking points on autonomous vehicles to be more in line with “autopilot driver assist” now – hoping to avoid the somewhat inevitable confusion over what caused the wreck – the driver or the car.

But I must confess I’m quite pleased with their recent and ongoing improvements to the car and more to the availability and cost of repair parts. I’m still hopeful their excellent maintenance support web site will be made more widely available to everyone – even those of us who do NOT reside in Massachusettes. I actually AM quite sympathetic to the ongoing deluge of just utter nonsense he has to endure on a continous, daily, and very in your face basis.

My advice? Relax. Open it up so it is the MOST maintainable and extensible car platform available. And just keep on incrementally improving what is already the greatest car ever built. If you improve just two things a month on that car for a certain serial number of months – you win. Everything else winds up being noise and not particularly interesting noise in the blowsey past. And why would you car whether that number of months is 6, 60, or 200. It would be remarkable to have the same model in production for 200 months.

Everybody on the Internet is now an expert and desperate to offer the benefit of their wisdom to anyone who will listen, even if and often particuarly if they have no idea about how much they don’t know, about what they don’t know about.

Myself excepted, but of course……

Jack Rickard