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At last, a video without the Tesla Drive Train in it. Actually, that’s because it is mostly about Tesla. We should probably rename ourselves TeslaEVtv. But I love the car AND the soap opera.

There was a Christmas Eve some years ago when Elon Musk was dead broke, unable to pay the rent, his Tesla Roadster undeliverable, and payroll in arrears. He got some funding literally at the 11th hour and survived.

His SpaceX adventure was funded and designed to make 3 initial launches. If they didn’t make it, they would fold the company and call it a good effort. Understand that all three flights were miserable ignominious disasters. Total blowups with no encouraging elements at all.

At the center of every successful entreprenurial activity is an over controlling detail obsessed authoritarian asshole. If you don’t know who it is in your organization – you’re it. I must confess an automatic admiration of intelligent persistence in total violation of reality. And that is Elon Musk to a T.

I’m told by a birdie that recent successes have made him even more insufferable than he already famously was.

But deservedly so. This week he illustrates the validation of all that that is and why it is so absolutely required for success.

We start with the March 31 unveil of Tesla’s much discussed Model 3. And while I have early, often, and repeatedly admonished our viewers of the crucial nature of the value proposition in the adoption of electric vehicles, I was indeed stunned by the immediate reaction to this car. Ok, it was a LITTLE cheesey that in an obvious move toward manipulation, he allowed people to put down a $1000 deposit on a Model 3 IF they showed up at a Tesla sales/service center BEFORE taking orders online. It was obviously meant to cause a bit of a stir as the whackos camped overnight to be “first in line”. Too predictable.

That they were plunking down $1000 on a car they had never SEEN even in concept drawing form, and had NO specifications for, makes the numbers even more surprising. But in all fairness, Tesla Motors had laid the groundwork with a strong history of 50,000 cars that in every case and every direction EXCEEDED expectations nearly universally.

I predicted over 100,000 registrations the first month.

But by the time of the unveil at about 8:30 PM Pacific time, he was able to announce 115,000 registrations. He also let slip that they expect the average “price” of a normally equipped $35,000 base model to actually be $42,000. That implies a one day product launch total of $4,830,000,000 which is undoubtedly the largest dollar sale of a any product, anywhere in history.

One week later registrations had slowed – to a first week total of 325,000 or $13,650,000,000.00 in implied sales. I say implied as the $1000 deposit is refundable. As you may recall, Nissan had over 100,000 early registrations for the Leaf – at a refundable $99.

But I find $1000 much more persuasive. And for a car you can’t possibly buy within two years?

I do have to confess that my early 2013 Tesla Model S P85, which has no autopilot features or hopes of any, is absolutely and in all ways the best car I’ve ever planted the Rickard tailgate in. It just is. The more I drive it the better I like it. That’s with sun visors flipping everywhere, door handles flashing in and out madly, tires shredding in all directions and a homelink autodoor opener that could star in its own sitcom. I have to do Yoga to get in it. And I don’t actually know HOW I get out of it. But I love it. I’ve only floored it twice and that was for a CAN capture. I don’t need that speed. I don’t need that acceleration. If I want to go fast and make a lot of noise I own a Lear 24D and I have the type rating to drive it. It will actually climb 7500 feet per minute. But I love the car.

I guess I expected a car for the rest of us at $35,000 that looked a little bit like a Chevy Bolt/BMWi3/Nissan Leaf. You know, the little hatchback with the teeny weeny wheels.

Instead, they rolled out the Model S again. Actually, they rolled out the Jack Rickard version of the Model S. 170kW rear drive. Plenty of acceleration for any rational human being 0-60 in 6 seconds. That IS as fast as we have made any car do at EVTV. And it is plenty quick. 210 miles EPA range. Supercharger equipped.

Yes, it is a LITTLE smaller. But they rearranged the interior, forfeiting the four foot deep dash that didn’t make much sense in the S anyway, and sliding the driver forward into the Frunk. Leaving the rear to seat three adults comfortably. Ok, I’ll miss the hatch. But not much. A normal trunk is fine for groceries. He claims it will carry a 7-foot surfboard. I could sell tickets to see me on a surf board at the beach. Actually I hate the beach. Just when I get a good nap going, a bunch of whale lovers always shows up and try to help me back out into the ocean, assuming I’ve grounded myself there.

Anyway, an upscale optioned model will feature 170kW rear AND 170kW front for all-wheel-drive and of course much quicker than 6 seconds 0-60 mph.

On April 8th, Musk scored AGAIN with a fabulous launch of the Dragon 9 SpaceX rocket on mission CRS-9. This is a capsule full of supplies sent up to the International Space Station.

The launch went perfectly. They had been trying to recover stage one on several flights to land on a drone ship out in the ocean. This borders on the absurd. A postage stamp sized ship about 1/10th the size of an aircraft carrier, pitching and rolling in the sea, with the wind blowing. They had blown the last two of these up and indeed lost video on both so we could only partly see it. Here’s a 4k resolution video of them STICKING CRS-9 like a lawn jart.

On April 10, Dragon capsule “berthed” with the capture arm on the ISS about 18 minutes ahead of schedule. It was full of Mousetronauts I understand. That must be some menu on the ISS these days.

As many of you may know, I have an odd affinity for the Smart ED electric car. We actually converted a Smart ForTwo to electric drive during EVCCON a couple of years ago and we have since acquired two of the later ED builds from Daimler. This was not the version with the Tesla components in it but a second generation with a different battery and drive train. Unlike the Tesla, the car is 2/3 door. I just walk up, open the door, and sit down. It’s actually very comfortable. And it buzzes around as an electric chariot. It’s not a GREAT electric car. And it does not pass the sniff test at $28,750. But if you can pick one up for $10k or so they are handy. No great range. No great acceleration. Just a little electric car that’s easy to hop in.

Daimler has never done any good with this car after spending nearly $3 billion on this project that was originally started by the Swatch Watch people. They put this horrible little Mitsubishi 3 cylinder engine in it that had a life span of about 40,000 miles, and coupled it with a manual transmission they converted to automatic (badly) with solenoids. Great little car design, with the worst power train ever sold deliberately. But as an electric, it kind of works.

They had 300 of these in a program in San Diego called Charge2Go. Charge2Go was kind of a car rental by the minute thing at 41 cents per minute, and they grew it to some 40,000 registered users. Last year, they retired the 300 original Tesla powered units with 400 of the new ones.

This May, they are pulling ALL of the 400 units and replacing them with the gasoline model. ??????

The program started in partnership with a company called Ecotality. They were supposed to install 1000 charge points in the San Diego area. They actually installed 400 before going bankrupt in 2013. And therein lies a tale that kind of explains a problem Tesla faces.

At any one time, 20% of the fleet of 400 is sitting either charging or needing to charge. There just aren’t enough places to charge.

Tesla of course sports an amazing 3600 (charge points) in 631 locations. But they just signed up 325,000 new cars. Now if 400 charge points is insufficient to service 400 Smart EDs, how many would it take to charge 325,000 Model 3’s, plus let’s say 100,000 assorted X’s and S’s? The answer is, I don’t know. And it’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison. The Smart gets maybe 75 miles per charge, the Model 3 gets 210. The Tesla Superstations are mostly for intercity travel. The Ecotality are all for local use. So there really isn’t a good analogy except that we DON’T KNOW how much infrastructure is necessary for 325,000 electric cars. We only sold 116,000 electric cars of ALL MODELS WORLDWIDE in 2015.

In any event, Elon has vowed to DOUBLE the number of charge points between now and when they ship the Model 3.

I STILL don’t quite get why GM and BMW in particular did not jump on Elon’s offer to “share” the Supercharger network. If he offered to share it with them, and asked EACH of them to pay 100% of the cost of construction AND operation of the entire network, it would have made PERFECT sense for them to do so. But they did not. Which makes ZERO business sense. Here I have a perfectly good electric car from Tesla that I can drive anywhere in the country quite conveniently and at ZERO fuel cost – that’s right, drive it coast to coast for nothing. Here’s a Chevy Bolt and a BMW i3 whose MOST NOTABLE FEATURE IS, that you CANNOT. That is THE MOST notable feature of the VW Golf, the BMW i3, the Chevy Bolt, and the Nissan Leaf. You CAN”T do what a Tesla can do.

The competitive disadvantage is INSURMOUNTABLE. I never leave town and I would still rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Curiously, all three companies are solid backers of an entirely different standard – the J1772 Rev B Combined Charging Standard – CCS. This is the UGLIEST plug in all of electronics, and beyond that it is WEENY – unable to even do the 125 amps of CHAdeMO.

It’s only merit is that carmakers have one chargeport on the vehicle, instead of two. I have to point out that Tesla has one, not two. And it is gorgeous.

Instead of the ubiquitous CAN protocol, it uses the HomePlug Alliance GreenPHY protocol. HomePlug is the family name for various power line communications specifications under the HomePlug moniker, with each offering unique performance capabilities and coexistence or compatibility with other HomePlug specifications.

Some HomePlug specifications target broadband applications such as in-home distribution of low data rate IPTV, gaming, and Internet content, while others focus on low-power, low throughput, and extended operating temperatures for applications such as smart power meters and in-home communications between electric systems and appliances. All of the HomePlug specifications were developed by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which also owns the HomePlug trademark. The whole concept of Internet over powerline just never made the trip, dying a quick and almost silently painless death shortly after announcement.

The HomePlug Green PHY specification is a subset of HomePlug AV that is intended for use in the smart grid. It has peak rates of 10 Mbit/s and is designed to go into smart meters and smaller appliances such as HVAC thermostats, home appliances and plug-in electric vehicles so that data can be shared over a home network and with the power utility. High capacity broadband is not needed for such applications; the most important requirements are low power and cost, reliable communication, and compact size. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance worked with utilities and meter manufacturers to develop this 690-page specification.

In practice, it offers nothing over CAN that I can detect without serious test equipment. The Vehicle to Grid advantage is all the utilities. They want to use your batteries for storage, rapidly aging them while paying you nothing for the privilege. Ideally reducing your cost to charge from what it WILL be when they figure out they own you. Kind of a “payment in theory.”.

And it is needlessly complex.

So CCS appears to also be dead on arrival. But there is a NEWer consortium in Germany termed CharIN now that purports to promote CCS. It’s REAL agenda is to update it to 150kw and ultimately 300kW charging. Tesla actually paid the membership fee and joined as a full core member February 24th.

Why?

Well basically if we DID get to a 500 mile per charge car it’s going to have 150kw or more in battery capacity. This is inescapable. And so a 30 minute fast charge is going to require 300kW of power – also inescapable. And at 400volts, that’s 750 amperes. And unfortunately it is not 750 amperes for 4.2 seconds. It’s 750 amperes for 30 minutes. Just inescapable. And currently impossible.

There is no such thing at this point.

I’ve said many times that I’ve never met a connector I liked. I just can’t WAIT to see what this one looks like. Liquid nitrogen cooled 7/0 cable with pins the size of tomato cans? Wireless charging that absolutely ensures your entire family can only give live birth to girls for the next 12 generations? Elon’s obscene robotic snake in the rear end charger? Perhaps a plug-in bumper?

In any event, I view Tesla’s “core membership” to simply be money well spent to be part of the design and selection process for future (kind of far future) charging technologies. I do NOT see them actually supporting CCS anytime soon. It just isn’t happening. Indeed, more likely to offer to share their technology with ChargIN.

On the other hand, they do need to keep tabs on these things. Tesla has a different charge port in Europe than the one they have in China which is different than the one they use in the U.S. So ultimately they have to deal with everything.

We had a visitor this week from Moscow. He sent me an e-mail, and asked if he could drop by the shop for a chat. From Moscow? Sure. And he did, last Thursday.

It seems they have set up a maintenance and repair facility for the Tesla Model S in Moscow, with absolutely zero support from Tesla, and that indeed there are about 300 Tesla Model S automobiles that have somehow migrated/leaked into Russia. And they do their best to repair them and have had some success. And they want to build their own car, based on the Tesla Model S drive train. So he just wanted to “stop by” and chat and see what we were doing with the drive trains.

We’re actually getting a couple of pretty serious inquiries per day now on the drive train thing.

But we had another curious visitor this week. Kind of an angel.

You might recall that when we first acquired the Azure Dynamics DMOC645 inverters and Siemens motors that we were looking for ways to make it run. One of our EVCCON attendees is Phil Becker and his son is pretty good with electronics. Indeed, he built controller to control the DMOC645. But it was all hardware and kind of specific. So we developed the GEVCU as a more generalized device that could control it from minimal hardware and mostly software. The idea being that it was object oriented and we could make it easy to add additional drive trains as simple software add-ons. This all worked out.

Becker’s son is quite secretive but goes by WOLFTRONIX. And he has a neat series on YouTube right now where he does like a 15 part thing on building a DC-DC converter – kind of high power to charge or discharge etc. Like charge his car from a 48v Solar pack.

Recall that I had actually sent about $5000 worth of the latest Cree SiC power switches and gate drivers to our friend Paulo Alameida in LIsbon. He had a graduate there at the Institute of Engineering who did his masters on designing the inductor. Unfortunately, he apparently dropped the project then as it was never completed.

The inductor is the “passive” component at the heart of a buck/boost converter that stores and then transfers energy from one segment of the circuit to the other, either stepping UP the voltage or stepping it DOWN. For high power, it has to be able to handle a lot of current and of course it has to have quite a bit of inductance as well.

It is really quite related to electric motors. When you pass current through ANY conductive material, it emits a magnetic flux field. Conversely, if you pass a conductor through a magnetic field, THAT induces a current in the conductor. If you coil the conductor, you kind of fold this field back on itself so that any current through the conductor causes a counterforce of current induced by the magnetic field. We call this counter force REACTANCE. BUt it is only active when the conductor is moving through the field. If we hold the coil steady, the ONLY time it is moving through the field is if the FIELD is moving – either expanding or contracting based on the applied current. When we are applying current and it is expanding, this takes energy and so it RESISTS this current. Once the current has reached maximum, so has the field. So no motion. And no reactance. If we remove the current (by removing the voltage of course) the field collapses and THAT induces a current in the coil.

Net net is that a coil resists ANY change in current. If you apply a voltage and cause a current, it will resist or REACT to that. And if you remove the current, the collapsing field will try to CONTINUE the current by inducing a current in the same direction.

And so for historical/hysterical reasons, along with terming this an “inductor” or a “coil” we also term it a REACTOR. Actually more likely to call it a REACTOR if it is a big brawny piece used in high current applications.

So I’ve been watching Wolftronix and he is trying to do a couple hundred amps with a DC-DC converter. Me too. But he’s come up with a cunning strategy. Large high current reactors can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. But the Reactor in a Toyota Prius is kind of widely available. They’ve made and wrecked a LOT of TOyota Prius (Priiii???) es. So you can get an inverter for a hundred dollars on eBay.

The CURIOUS thing about the Toyota Prius is that it uses a 200v battery and a 500v motor. To drive it, they actually step up or BOOST the voltage to 500v using a DC-DC converter. And so the Reactor is actually quite a piece of work and perfect for Wolftronix purpose. Readily available. Inexpensive. ANd probably overkill.

So I’m literally sitting at the shop watching Wolfie on about episode six, when Nick Kirkby stops by. An MIT grad, he and a friend were traveling from California ot New Jersey and just wanted to stop by. He and a small group of hackers had used a Freescale STM to drive the gate drivers on the Toyoto Prius inverter. And he was curious what we were doing with the Tesla stuff. He had asked if he could drop by on a Saturday.

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I told him sure, but call as he got near and I’d go down to the shop and join him (450 yards from my house – range isn’t much of an issue on my commute). And so it happened that I was at the shop when he arrived.

We had a fascinating conversation on any manner of things. I showed him our Tesla stuff and we talked a bit about Chevy Volt batteries which he knows some about. He kind of described what they were doing with the Toyota inverters and I happened to mention that I was watching this video and kind of wanted to hunt down one of the reactors. He looked at me and asked me to follow him out to his car. The car WAS a Toyota Prius. But he had this trailer dragging along behind it that looked like he was hauling rope. Actually the rope was just there to hold on the tarp. And when he pulled back the tarp, it was loaded with JUNK. He reached over, popped the lid off one piece, lifted out a big blocky component, and handed it to me. I think that’s the reactor you were wanting.

Huh??? Yes. Thank you.

Huh?

I would be willing to bet, that if I held a convention for ALL the Toyota Automotive Dealer Technicians in the U.S.A. and had 5000 of them lined up in my parking lot, and asked how many knew what a Prius inverter reactor was or could identify it by sight, I would NOT GET A SINGLE ONE who had any idea what I was talking about. If I gave them a hint that it was a coil, that would only make it worse. The component does NOT look like a coil. It’s just a potted block.

And I would further bet there are about 15 guys in the whole country, because I think that’s about how many viewers Wolftronix has, who would know at all.

But a guy randomly driving across the country, who stops in to see me, actually had TWO of them on the back of his trailer he was pulling across country?

Thanks Nick. I think.

The problem is, this is a little spooky. I’m working on other things. I was just watching wolfie to take my mind down for a few minutes R&R. I don’t REALLY need a reactor. I’m not REALLY going to do a DC-DC converter. I kind of whine and hope somebody is going to do it FOR me. Now that the universe has hand delivered one, it’s kind of incumbent on me to USE it for something. Apparently something pretty important. Apparently a couple of people have had to relocate across country just so I could have one.

Jack Rickard

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