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The adjective FREE commonly appears with either of two meanings: “at zero price” (gratis) and “with little or no restriction” (libre). This ambiguity of free is both entertaining and generally on point in a whole lot of situations.

Richard Stallman, referring to free and open software summarised the difference in a slogan: “Think free as in free speech, not free beer.”

I am most interested in two areas of “free”. One is the benefits derived from a freely open and capitalistic society. The other is as in free and open rights to liberty and having a minimum of governmental interference in our personal liberties.

Despite a very promising initial start as a nation under the articles of confederation and later under the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, we have wandered woefully from either at the hands of the ever well-intentioned but intellectually differently abled Hillerary Clinton types in the intervening years. Their incessant meddling with the model in an attempt to steer us toward dystopian nightmares such as socialism have seriously damaged our economy and future.

I was mesmerized by a recent video documentary by Wired Magazine on Shenzen China, where we get many of our EVTV products.

This documentary rather artfully confuses TWO very important experiments offering pointed lessons for all.

First, the concept of freeing technology and product development from the purported benefits of intellectual property protection. And second, the astounding admission by Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaopeng that at some point you have to come to terms with the fact that economic failure is not a result of inefficient government operation – but is actually a failure of the basic policy. You might read that as an aging octogenarian announcing – “Hey, on second thought, this communism thing just isn’t working out.”

And it wasn’t. China, a vast country of unbelievable natural resource and an able and large population, had achieved levels of poverty just not obtainable by merely not working or hanging out doing drugs. They had actually managed to institutionalize starvation.

And so Shenzhen, an almost implausibly backward fishing village mired in poverty almost within sight of a booming Hong Kong, was zoned off as an experiment in what were at first very modest moves toward capitalism. Like you could bake bread, sell it, and keep the money yourself.

In 35 years of this laissez-faire from the heretofore mindlessly communist Chinese government, Shenzhen has grown to 25 MILLION people in a single city. No other city on earth has EVER experienced such growth. At the time of the documentary there were 287 buildings of OVER 70 stories each under construction simultaneously. Picture three hundred Donald Trumps all at it at the same time. Skyways at 25 stories linking eight, ten, or twelve towers with arial parkways complete with streets and trees. It boggles the mind. Never mind the technology that the documentary is actually about.

Or better, DO mind it. Because it spells out an economic future disaster in the United States that is already 20 years underway, and we not only don’t know how to stop it, but probably 3% of our population is even aware that we have a problem. Let me put a point on it. Take a look at documentary number two:

At the beginning of this documentary, I’m feeling broadly superior to this hive of poor wage slaves working away for $90 to $320 per month in this enormous factory. But in fact, that wage is over TWICE what they can make outside the gates, and the employees love the place. They have to PAY for a three year training program to GET IN!

By the end of the documentary I’m thinking how I could fit in and what I would have to do to be at the upper end of the wage scale – say $275 per month. And I probably should be riding a bicycle more. But hanging out in a dorm with a bunch of young Chinese chicks….well I might could endure that…$6 per month. Ok.

Contrast this with the work ethic, education, and ambition of the American workforce, and you start to get this sinking feeling. There may BE no solution to this, other than to learn Mandarin.

And our leadership? Trump is vaguely aware that there’s a problem, and has some ideas how he would address it. Barely. Restricting trade is not precisely the answer that will solve this.

Hillerary is worse – totally oblivious. She wants to tax corporations more, raise the minimum wage to $15, and give all women the power to sue their employer with the federal government paying their legal bills, while the employer pays their own. Oh, and the RIGHT to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave – it’s for the mothers you know. Eventually, we should all be working for the government, in true Maoist fashion.

This is the future. And this is us in it. Some 26% of ALL high tech products in the United States, are manufactured NOW in ONE city, Shenzhen. And the Euba factory isn’t even IN Shenzhen. Xeng’s experiment has now spread over all of China. There is no communism left. They may still restrict political dissent, but they are far more capitalist than the U.S. by any measure at this point.

EVTV began in anger against large corporations – Oil companies. I really DON’T have a problem with oil companies. I have NO problem with them doing anything they like, and I don’t mind in the least that they make a profit. At some point, like when the profits of any ONE of the top five oil companies in the world, actually exceeds the gross domestic product of over half the nations on the earth, I get to wondering why the price “I” pay is still going up. They view my dependence on their product as an opportunity to squeeze me. And I am offended.

At that point, I start to look at alternatives. Like an electric car circa 2008. Ergo EVTV.

But by early 2010 I was explicit on video in warning that we were to trade one devil for another. And that as soon as we got the oil companies defeated, we would have to fight the electricity companies.

ANd it is coming to pass. Now I don’t have anything against electric companies. And I don’t mind them making a profit…. same story. At some point, THEY force ME to look for an alternative…simply to avoid becoming a victim of their unapologetic greed.

Now here is where I run off the rails. When we put solar on our roof, we were absolutely required to hook it up to the grid, and in the event of loss of grid power, we lose our solar as well. It is legislated to be that way. Currently we are going to install some outlaw solar on my roof, that doesn’t comply with that. We will use it with batteries to charge our Tesla. And eventually of course to provide electricity if the grid goes out. From either the battery box or the Tesla or both.

But when they seek to restrict MY freedom to develop alternatives to their product, that’s where a little bit of rage sets in.

Our adventures in electric cars never did make economic sense. And spending $100k putting solar on your roof doesn’t either. But if sufficiently offended, you do it anyway. And as the offended make these choices, which do not make economic sense, the cost of making them goes down and it becomes more viable for others to do so as well.

My first solar array was 15 kW and cost $270,000. My most recent was 25kW and was $63,000, of which the utility company reimbursed $48,000, and not at all willingly I might add. None of it was their idea.

Solar adoption has gone viral in the last two years and the utility companies are now terrified of it. They actively are lobbying for a variety of fees to make it more uneconomic to put solar on your roof and they are doing so in every single state in the land. In Arizona, somewhat more successfully. In California? Probably good luck. I don’t think they are going to make much headway there but they might.

In this week’s episode of EVTV, we are homing in on our 18-month-old project to adapt the TEsla Model S drive train for use in custom electric cars. This should be easy, but it is not. There have been several other attempts at this, and indeed we show one in this episode that touts itself as very successful. I think it falls quite short. An 11.5 second quarter mile in a 2500 lb vehicle is somewhat less impressive if you consider that a P90LD, at 4900 lbs can do the same thing.

Aside from EVTV, the one place where solar electricity and electric cars do come together is Elon Musk. He is in the midst of merging Solar City and Tesla Motors in a stock swap merger that I think holds immense difference in potential, so to speak. But he is an enigma to me.

On the one hand, when questioned about his position on “open patents” he uses a very able analogy of a ship with numerous holes that is slowly sinking. And he says that if one team develops a new technology, say a bucket, to bail out the water, it ill behooves them to declare it a secret as if they don’t bail out from ALL the leaks, the ship is going to sink. I loved the analogy. And refer back to the documentary on Shenzhen.

Yet at the same time, Tesla has to be the most secretive car company in the world. It is the ONLY car I know of that you cannot take the engine out of a wrecked one and use it pretty easily in another car. This has opened up an opportunity for us if we can iron out the wrinkles by reverse engineering all of it. But this opportunity shouldn’t by rights exist.

If he agrees the bucket should be shared, why is it so hard to get repair information and parts from Tesla? We actually have a HIGHLY respected Limo fitter who had done Escalades and Lincolns and Mercedes and Hummers and on and on simply UNABLE to complete a Tesla Model S project for Intel. Tesla has actually actively been working against him in what can only be described as a coldly evil manner.

Similarly I’ve simply never seen an automotive manufacture flatly REFUSE to sell repair parts to the public.

Our first conversations regarding differentials were courtesy of Doug Yip of British Columbia. He is preparing a vehicle for competition and very much wanted a limited slip differential. I suggested Quaife and we received our first units 10 days ago. Jan 5 – Aug 9. Seven months. Of course, Euba probably could have done it in 7 days. But in any event, we now have them.

It is my belief this is kind of a big deal for using Tesla Drive Units outside of the Tesla Model S. As I’ve said several times, the Tesla is so tightly integrated – I’ve just never seen anything like it. Bill Bayer was marveling at the same thing while taking the entire car apart. You can kind of tell it’s a scratch design that was done on a computer-based design system. Things are simply fitted together in ways that would not be possible without that kind of visibility and ability to edit shapes essentially for free before they are ever manufactured.

Similarly, the Tesla Drive Unit is not designed as a generalized drive unit. It is designed to be used in a Tesla and they do generalize it sufficiently to put it in other Tesla models – that all feature basically the same controls.

In 1971, Buick introduced MaxTrac, which used an early computer system to detect rear wheel spin and modulate engine power to those wheels to provide the most traction. A Buick exclusive item at the time, it was an option on all full-size models, including the Riviera, Estate Wagon, Electra 225, Centurion, and LeSabre.

Cadillac introduced the Traction Monitoring System (TMS) in 1979 on the redesigned Eldorado.

When the traction control computer (often incorporated into another control unit, such as the ABS module) detects one or more driven wheels spinning significantly faster than another, it invokes the ABS electronic control unit to apply brake friction to wheels spinning with lessened traction. Braking action on slipping wheels will cause power transfer to wheels with traction due to the mechanical action within the differential.

This often occurs in conjunction with the powertrain computer reducing available engine torque by electronically limiting throttle application and/or fuel delivery, retarding ignition spark, completely shutting down engine cylinders, and a number of other methods, depending on the vehicle and how much technology is used to control the engine and transmission. In the case of the Tesla, the inverter is simply commanded to reduce power.

Since Tesla has an excellent ABS braking system and everything is done by multicontrollers over CAN, electronic traction control kind of shows up automatically. So there was not much impetus to add complexity to the gearbox with a limited slip differential.

But all that requires speed sensors on all wheels, independemtly actuated electronic brakes via ABS, and more that is IN a Tesla but not necessarily in a 1968 Camaro or a 1990 VW Doppelkabine truck. So we are almost certain that the vehicle the drive train will wind up in won’t have electronic traction control, and it would be an enormous undertaking to try to provide one.

In 1984, Rod Quaife received a patent for a “torque biasing” limited slip differential. This used some helical worm gears to progressively transfer torque smoothly from one side of the vehicle to the other when traction was lost on the first side – up to 90%. It had no friction plates, clutches or other high wear parts and was an immense improvement over the earlier limited slip differentials of the time. There are no “lockups” or sudden reactions or clunky noises at all with a very smooth function that basically apportions torque continuously based on available traction surface.

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So much so, that today, with the patent expired, Eaton and virtually everyone else building differentials uses some variant of the original Quaife design. But no one has really been able to materially improve on it. It’s been used in F1 Formula Racing vehicles for years. Their current product line features ATB differentials for Audi, BMW, Porsche and dozens of others. It is OEM equipment on a 500 HP Ford Focus RS production car.

But they remain a fairly small 70 person firm in the UK and we found them remarkably responsive to deal with. So we have high hopes that testing will show this an effective replacement for electronic traction for safety.

For performance, it should be a singular improvement. The idea in competition is NOT to put on the brakes and NOT to decrease power but rather increase power and do less braking. So we believe the Tesla itself, used for competition, would benefit handsomely from torque biasing.

To me, the thing every automobile manufacturer the world over should aspire to in designing cars, is to become as iconic as the 1968 VW Beetle. And one of the things that made it so beloved was the ability to get information about it, work on it, and yes adapt it to all sorts of alternate uses.

If Elon Musk is sincere in his quest to advance the adoption of electric cars, I fail to understand the competitive advantage, particularly after TOUTING the open source concept, of making everything about the vehicle a state secret. I do not think it enhances their competitive position at all, and ONLY serves to alienate their base group of supporters. Indeed, he has publicly CRITICIZED the extant auto industry for seeing repair as a profit center. Worse, he actually endangers the insurability of his own product with this position. The insurance industry is TOTALLING Teslas with truly minor damage. All that gets paid for by someone somewhere eventually. And while you may indeed be able to afford $100K for a car, you ARE going to choke to death over paying $5000 a year to insure it.

So once again I would call on Tesla to put us out of business entirely and wipe out 18 months of my effort by just allowing anyone who wanted to BUY a brand new Tesla drive unit, and publish how to use it. Since they seem reluctant, we will continue our efforts pending their epiphany with the hope they get religion soon.

We are not looking for free beer from the oil companies, the utility companies, or Tesla. But sufficiently offended, people will find alternatives. We have the freedom to do so, and in the event we don’t, we will do so anyway under the theory that we have the right to the freedom to do so. Libre, not gratis.

In the meantime, we will continue our efforts to advance electric cars, use solar photovoltaics to charge them, and dig Tesla drive units out of trash piles. Like the Terminator, it is what we do. It is ALL we do. We do it all day. And we do it into the night. And there are many who help us and believe likewise on all three counts.

My personal thanks to all those who have so generously aided and abetted us along the way, from the smallest tidbit of information to the biggest breakthroughs in the reverse engineering process. And a special thanks to Doug Yip for bird dogging a very important issue with the Tesla Drive Units. I view it as a critical safety issue in the application of these very high power drive systems.

Jack Rickard