Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Of Sprites and Cobras and Meetings in the Fall

Pretty good show this week. Fred Behning of Austin sent us a nice video walkaround of his still in progress conversion of a 1960 Bug-Eye Sprite in all it's blazing yellow glory. This is the kind of upscale quality build of a much loved classic that I am so fond of. For my money, he has enough motor, controller, and batteries in this thing for about 2 1/2 Sprites. But I think it will go Spritely once completed.

It is coming to light that my prediction of a blood bath for General Motors and for Nissan was prescient. Neither are selling in anywhere near the numbers they had hoped. Both companies are spinning this heroically by the day as the truth becomes apparent to all. General Motors particularly simply readjusts reality in print - it has reached the level of absurd.

My take is that the value proposition on economical electric cars cannot be made, and so we should focus on high end cars that appeal to early adopters. But I've been aware all along that there is a latent desire/demand from those already in the green and electric camp for a viable option. My predication is based on the fact that once that demand is met, THEN who do you sell them to. And just how large a group is this vocal but probably small band.

What I didn't count on was the fact that our viewers are actually the band. Fred Behning awaits delivery of his Leaf. Peter McWade already has his. And a dozen other viewers are in some form or fashion awaiting one of these cars. More so the Leaf than the Volt. Though recall the recent fire of a Volt in a garage - fixing blame was complicated by the fact that he also had a converted Suzuki in the garage at the time.

WE may be the market for these cars. Unfortunately, there is probably not enough WE in WE. But again, gradually as you demonstrate the advantages of electric cars, this will take hold beyond what you realize. You have an impact daily.

Meanwhile, we are in the throes of a fistfight with a Cobra replica. I was initially amazed at how much room I had for batteries. I'm now a little bewildered by how little. The choice of the 11HV leads us to higher voltages, but we still want to be able to make very high currents as well. We've run smack up against the very old and oft quoted EV maxim: You can have range, speed, or price. Pick any two.

In this case, we want range and speed. And the restrictions of gravity and force and inertia are wreaking havoc on my ambitions. But in a way, this project kind of "lets the dog out" in me. We're going to find where it goes. But as usual, battery layout and placement are 90% of the project. Drive train being another 90% and of course wiring and instrumentation represent the final 90%. Due to rounding errors, this may not add up to exactly 100%.

We've decided on Thundersky 90Ah cells for our project. And therein lies a tale. We have the THundersky's in hand but there have been some developments that are a bit soap opera-ish. Winston Chung Hing Ka of course founded Thundersky and developed the originally battery himself. I relocated my battery lab this weekend and am doing some testing now that reminds me how much I admire this cell chemistry. It is just incredible in so many ways.

Apparently there was at some point an IPO at Thundersky because it is traded on the Hong Kong Exchange HKG:0729. This of course leads to disclosure, like the US. The company posted a loss of HK$1.06 billion on sales of HK$69.43 million for the six months ended September 30, 2010. When you factor out the exchange rates, one of the interesting things about the company is a total of less than $10 million USD sales for that period This was up dramatically from $1 million in the same period of 2009. And that brings us to a startling revelation. We are the entire market for these batteries. At $10 million, that's about enough batteries for 1000 very basic car conversions. At $1 million a year earlier, about a 100. I've suspected this for some time. YOU are the market for these cells. All allusions to big projects and OEMs is pure grade B refined bullshit.

Prior to February 22nd, Chung held 79.25% of the stock - an exceptionally high amount of equity in a publicly traded company here in the U.S. He sold about 30 million shares on February 22 and 23rd, 50 million shares on April 29, and 910 million shares on May 3, dropping his ownership to 43%. The majority investors subsequently fired him and have filed a lawsuit over 15 patents it claims it holds through a subsidiary purchased the previous May in 2010.

Meanwhile, Chung used the proceeds to launch Winston Battery Company Ltd., and acquired 48% of Balqon.

Thundersky is facing huge losses in 2011, as Chung apparently took most of the sales with him as well. Thundersky has renamed itself the Sinopoly Battery Company.

Now one of the interesting things about THAT is that one of the factories retained by Sinopoly makes the 200Ah Thundersky cell - not the new Yttrium cell apparently but the earlier LiFePo4 cell. And one of the interesting things about THAT is it is in the 71mm format that previously had been 160Ah cells - and at the same weight of 5.6kg. So in this one specific size and weight, we have the TS-160Ah, the CALB 180Ah, and the TS-200Ah cell.

We had tested these cells last year and they performed very well. So well that we PURCHASED 40 of them from James Morrison/David Kois. They kept the money, and never sent the cells. So we've never really been able to use them. After a year of wrangling, the lawsuit was settled and some recovery of inventory was made from Morrison - estimated at 59% of what the group had purchased. The 200Ah cells were among them, but not a sufficient number for the guys who ordered cells to actually receive them.

Now Sinopoly is apparently offering them - Meanwhile, we're assured by Winston that they do NOT offer this cell.

In any event, that's not the cell we've selected for the Cobra. We're using the 90Ah cell which has been reduced somewhat in physical size. And we've decided that we need 180Ah in order to do 1000 amps and beyond. So we're doing something I've wanted to do for some time = pairing smaller cells to get larger Ah capacities.

Recall that cells vary somewhat in capacity and you would have an easier time with your pack if all cells were the same capacity. In truth, there is no such thing as "cell drift" with these cells because they do not have any internal discharge. But they do vary in capacity. And you are only as long as your shortest cell.

By pairing cells, we could balance all this out. We would naturally want to pair the largest cell (say 94 AH) with the smallest cell (say 89AH), for a total of 183Ah. We would then match the NEXT largest cell with the NEXT smallest cell, and so forth. In this way, the variance between cells is drastically reduced.

That would require us to know the capacity of each individual cell. I wish they came marked. To actually test each cell would require months of effort. But we get some of the effect by just randomly pairing them.

For future reference, this technique works with two cells, works better with three cells, works better yet with four cells, etc. After about 10 cells, it is really subject to the law of diminishing returns. It doesn't improve much after that. We have plans for this bit of knowledge.

But for now, we are going to pair the cells to get what amelioration we can from the capacity difference problem. The problem then becomes, to get 240v, which is what I would like to have for the 11HV, requires 144 cells. 72x 3.35 = 241.2v. This would give us a pack of 43,416 watt-Hours. At about 280 watts per mile, this would give us a max range of 155 miles. But even in this smaller and therefore more granular form factor, 144 cells is a LOT of cells. The most we've done has been the Mini Cooper with 112.

In the video, we also introduce the concept of watts per pound. We have Speedster Redux to thank there. We know we sagged about 22% to 147 volts at 1000 amps using 180 Ah cells. This works out to an input power of 66 watts per pound of the 2385 lbs of Speester weight resulting. The Cobra is going to be a heavier car, perhaps 2800 lbs. And so we would need a 215 volt pack to maintain the same power to weight ratio and so the same 6.5 second 0-60 time. And so I view 215 volts as the minimum and 240 volts the maximum we could get into the car.

As to performance, we do have a couple of kickers in the foot locker to put into play. First, our transmission is FIVE speeds instead of four. We're going to go to a 4.11 limited slip differential on this beauty which should bring it clawing and scratching up out of the hole in fairly persuasive fashion.

And one of the reasons we can do this is that I think the 11HV at the higher voltage will let us move our peak power point out from 3200 rpm - perhaps out as much as 4000 rpm.

Finally, we are looking at controllers that do signficantly MORE than 1000 amperes for a top end.

When we put all that together, I'm starting to get enthusiastic about this car. Brain says the mission with Cobra's is pretty simple: the cars you see in the rear view mirror should always be shrinking in size at an impressive rate. I think we can do that. But it will be interesting to see what we blow up along the way.

Jack Rickard

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Netgain Warp 11HV. Not precisely what I thought.

As we approach the summer solstice, I'm inspired to explore new and untapped areas of the realm of long boring technical videos. I think we've reached some sort of zenith this particular week.

The immediate object of this week's video is another contest finalist, Alex Viera, who arrived to plead his case before EVTV viewers. Alex lives in Colorado Springs and is a musician with the U.S. Air Force - an oboe player no less. And he has a vision of populating the state with 4WD electric Suburus. He hopes to develop a conversion business by his retirement date in about 7 years. He seeks your vote in the "Build Your Dream" EV contest which is turning into quite a horserace. You can see the latest and vote here: http://www.projectooc.com/evtv/finalists.php

Mike Picard had jumped out to an early lead, but Brandon Hollinger has overtaken him. Brandon is another musician who did a superlative job of converting a Saab 96 to electric drive. He's actually got quite a knack for garnering press attention to the concept of vehicle conversion. Time Video recently did a very interesting video piece on him which I thought was particularly well done.

I actually would have liked to include this in our next episode, but TIme being big ugly and stupid is of course impossible to even talk to about these things.

Back to big, ugly and stupid. The rest of our video this week is me attempting an explanation of the Netgain Warp 11 HV.

Aside from the pernicious Alzheimer's problem and my smoker's cough, my onscreen personnae has another little problem that I simply deal with better in writing. That is a wide scope of audience. Some of our viewers DESIGN electric motors. Some of our viewers REALLY design electric motors at the highest and most modern levels. And some of our viewers still don't quite get the Ohm's law thing.

And we have everything in between. You don't really need to be an electronics design engineer to VERY successfully build an excellent running and beautiful electric car. Ultimately, a motor is a motor is a motor and they have three or four connections with plenty of sample connection diagrams available. The basics are pretty simple = hook it up to a controller, press throttle pedal, and magically they convert battery capacity into forward motion. They are what makes you "go".

But not all motors are created equal. And selecting the right type for any particular car is of course a design choice that has consequences and results in the final car. A greater understanding is always a good thing.

But I'm a little trapped between my vague understanding of how some of these things work, the unfortunate terminology engineers inevitable choose and generally choose poorly, and the understanding of a broader audience. In real time, I'm constantly groping for words that would avoid criticism from the learned for misuse or wrong use of terms, while actually communicating the concept to humanoids not of the priesthood.

Pity poor me - no. Actually that's been the central issue of most of my adult life and I do it well enough, but more easily in writing with the luxury of review and revision than standing there actually doing it in front of a camera. It's been good to me in many ways. The pathological inability of engineers to read, write, or speak in English has provided me a pretty nice career. I shouldn't complain.

In selecting a motor for our Aptima Motors eCobra design, George Hamstra naturally enough thought one of his motors would serve admirably for the project. I demurred somewhat noting that we were doing his motor to death in the Cadillac Elescalade, and the Speedster Redux this year, and that I was looking for something a bit exotic and new to talk about. Of course, the exotic and new also seems to be actually unavailable most of the time, so I was spending a lot of time chasing down interesting things that had 16 week delivery times and huge price tags (EVO) or were really just web fantasies a long ways from any fruition as a product (Remy and a host of others). The web has so many pretty pictures of so many beautiful things, and such a thinly grained reality component as to hardware you can actually make show up in your driveway.

His main suggestion was the Netgain Warp 11HV. Now Netgain is most known for the very popular Warp 9 which we've used successfully twice. Dismissed by the cogniscetti as a "fork lift motor" these motors are actually quite durable, and capable of 200kw power levels for a tiny fraction of the cost of a more modern BLDC IPM motor. The Warp 9 is undoubtedly the most popular mount for electric vehicle conversions.

The Warp 11 is the same only bigger. So the 11HV has some magic dust to make it do voltages higher than the 170v limit we normally recommend on one of these horses. With the Hellwig brushes rather raising that to 200v, I guess I don't get it.

The main advantage of the 11 inch, is a longer torque arm. For the same voltage and current, you'll get more torque from an 11 inch than a 9 inch simply because the force of interaction of the fields happens an inch further from the shaft - more leverage so to speak.

I had heard that the 11HV actually used the rotor out of a Warp 9 - giving up that advantage rather. So I was underwhelmed. A Warp11 without the advantage of the Warp 11, but could do a few volts higher?

Not precisely. And therein lies a tale. This Warp 11HV has about as much to do with a Warp 9 or Warp 11 as it does with a cake mixer motor. George's preoccupation with the "Warp brand" has led him down a path where I think most of the universe misses the part about this being a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MOTOR in all respects. Naming it a Warp 11HV confuses the issue. Painting it red doesn't help.

And in truth, George is kind of careful about his product reputation. He notes a 0.004 return rate on his products and he's justifiably proud of that. The 11HV is kind of a new and somewhat avante guarde design in his line. And he's watching the few installations out there kind of carefully before promoting the motor widely. So it's kind of not been precisely a SECRET, but not exactly pushed on the marketing front either until they see how it does.

And subsequent to his suggestion and after talking with several who have actually used them, in the words of EVBlue's Wayne Alexander, it seems this motor causes a car to "go like a scalded dog." Not intimate with deep Kansas vernacular, I'm assuming this means "with all due haste appropriate."

The motor actually harkens back to an older General Electric design using interpoles to ameliorate the armature reaction and thus reduce arcing at higher voltages - in turn allowing the use of higher voltages at load and so higher power without damage. To study up on that, I returned to the Hawkins Electrical Guide.

Nehemia Hawkins was something of an icon to technical writers. He established a publishing empire on the basic premise of explaining the principles of electricity and its applications. Most know of him through the Audel's series of guidebooks such as the Audel's Radiomen's Guide of 1934. But he did do a 10 volume opus under his own name in 1917. Today, you can look far and wide for a description of inductors, motors, alternators, and so forth before you find one with an illustration that does not look a little archaic. They were all stolen from this heavily illustrated encyclopedia. No one has really ever bothered to do better graphics on these mature topics. And so you see the same black ink sketch of a dynamo over and over.

Hawkins Electrical Guide - Volume I - Electricity and Its Applications is available for download from Google books and of course has been in the public domain for many years. Google has made a copy of this available in PDF format and in an utterly BIZARRE take on copyright law, claims some sort of vague right from the expense of scanning it and has made the incredible leap that they can then deny you any commercial use of it. The Internet just gets curioser and curioser. So don't use it for anything useful, and for God's sake don't change the watermark or Google will do something....they were a little vague as to what....

In any event, I highly recommend the tome for those seeking a deeper understanding.

To describe what the 11HV REALLY does, I had to start with the Universe and all things electric and work my way down to the basic question of what causes brush arcing and why Netgain has an "advance" of 12 degrees on the brushes as shipped from the factory.

The short answer is that the 11HV can do up to 288v because of its' Interpoles. The bearings have a 14,000 rpm limitation and the commutator about 9000. And so in theory you can put 2000 amps into a motor at 288volts and make useful power up to 9000 rpm using existing off the shelf components. That's about 576kw or 772HP input.

Now if you do that, you're going to blow this motor up into several hundred very high velocity pieces. So do it at least 100 yards away from me. But it does mean you can do considerably higher power at higher rpms than you can with a Warp 11 or any other Warp motor from Netgain. You do lose about 10% torque at the very bottom, but gain all the way up. We're hoping to peak in the 4000's somewhere with this motor at 240v.

We were looking at Zilla controllers for this project. Rich Rudman of Manzanita Micro, being his usual charming self and still raging over the damage we've done to his BMS business, managed to talk me out of it. Ostensibly they are going to produce the Zilla. As there are still victims of the James Morrison fiasco who have paid for the LAST great Zilla partnership in Otmar's ongoing search for a date to the prom, still without receiving their Zilla's, I guess I'm a little gun shy. We're just not going to deal with this controller. It just doesn't exist. I've got two on the shelf but we're just never going to use them because I cannot in good faith recommend you try to buy one. And frankly, the technology has marched on anyway with newer and better semiconductor components. By the time they get all that sorted out, it will largely be irrelevant with newer and stronger products readily available and at a fraction of the price.

Irony of ALL ironies, George Hamstra actually had done a deal with Otmar several years ago to produce the Zilla controller. He didn't even know the deal was dead until Otmar posted a bizarre notice on his web site that it had "fallen through". He never even bothered to call George and tell him it had fallen through and nobody knows yet why or how it had "fallen through." The Zilla could have been in production for years...

Anyway, we're still looking at controllers for the eCobra. Meanwhile, we received kind of a transmission template with our Tremec TKO-600 and the hole in the middle is an exact match for the bezel on the Netgain Warp 11HV. What an omen. The adapter becomes trivial. We just hand the template to our machinist along with the magic number - distance to the flywheel face, and we should have an adapter and coupler.

It will be interesting to see viewer reaction to my hour long treatise on this topic. I've cringed a few times in the past over our "watching paint dry" battery episodes and they have had more views than any other. Perhaps my sense of what makes good video is not as sharp as I think.

Or maybe they're not watching for just my jokes and taste in exotic alcohols....Our thanks to Alex Viera for the excellent bottle of Stranahan's Colorado Whisky.


Jack Rickard

Friday, June 17, 2011

Feast and Famine in the land of the Electric Car.

It IS Friday, and I'm just now blogging LAST Friday's show, which I have to do in a hurry so I can film THIS Friday's show, so it isn't so late that it becomes NEXT Friday. Brain started this Friday thing.

We have gone from standing around summarizing things with no parts to work with to having four projects in the air at the same time.

This week, we received our motor for the Cobra (no wait, that's THIS Friday's show which I haven't filmed yet).

We also received our 400Ah Winston batteries from China after a loooonnnnggggg wait. We actually have a good bit of the Cadillac done , it's just strewn about the shop and none of it is in the car.

Arnulf Larrsgard deposited two vehicles with us in shutting down his efforts to convert cars for Norway. It would appear that since the fire on the Pearl of Scandinavia ferry, Norway has BANNED all conversions. The only electric cars allowed to come IN to the country are OEM electrics. No idea how this effects personal conversions IN Norway yet. But Arnulf's plans to make them in Davenport Iowa and import them to Norway have been legislated out of existence.

We consequently have inhereited a Ford Edge and a Chrysler Town and Country. The Chrysler doesn't even have a motor and controller since apparently Arnulf was scammed out of a small fortune by Richard Hartfield of Altantic EV or some such. It does have some Thundersky batteries that have never been hooked up to a motor.

The Ford Edge runs. But it is atrocious. Originally converted by Paul LIddle in West Palm Beach, it didn't get any better in Iowa either. The batteries are not in boxes, but rather lead acid style racks that lip over the battery edge. Oh, they're secure. But the rack is about 1/8 inch from the terminals. The DC-DC converter was actually resting touching one of the terminal straps. A box underneath was faced FORWARD with the terminals open to the elements - beneath the car. The TBS Expert Pro was disconnected and they had lost 10 cells already trying to power that.

The vehicle is massively heavy at 4600 lbs. It uses a Soliton1 and Netgain Warp 11 to drive a Ford automatic. Apparently no effort to change the shift points on the transmission so it hunts and slams at random. The Soliton was one of the early beta models - red annodize in fact and the software was last updated in 2009.

The cutoff switch is a loop of 1/0 in an Anderson plug under the hood. And the thing uses about 575 wH to move a mile. A 300 v battery pack the width of a single Thundersky 90Ah. It doesn't quite fit our design scheme if you know what I mean.

We're adding a second string of 90's, lowering the voltage to 250, losing one of the undercarriage racks, repositioning some things. I don't know what we'll do about the transmission.

But it seats four. Has plenty of cargo. The Soliton idles the motor well and it has great air conditioning and heat. And the radio works. But the cell voltages were everywhere and balancing the now 144 cells has been a little bit distracting.

We are actively working on the Cobra battery boxes at the same time. We had a local fabricator make us up three for hte Cobra and one for the Ford Edge and he missed by exactly 1/4 inch all around - very consistently in EVERY dimension. So those had to be redone.

Most frustrating of all is the Mini Cooper Clubman Electric. We are using the Rinehart Motion Systems controller. We are trying to get a hydraulic pressure transducer to work with this controller to control regenerative braking. Actually it works pretty well. But anytime we have it connected, it causes the controller to fault out. Doesn't matter if we are in the proper brake mode or not, just CONNECTING the transducer causes a random fault of various types at 3500-5000 rpm. Below 3500 rpm it works and indeed the brakes modulate regen very well and it is most pleasant to stop the car now.

But the controller shuts down randomly at anything above 3500 rpm. I THOUGHT I had it fixed with some aluminum foil on a noise issue. Apparently not.

We had used a wire braid shield on this, but ot put it on, we had to disconnect the phase cables from the controller. In doing so, we shorted one of the outputs so that when we fired it up, we fried the controller with a loud pop.

But unlike the TIMS600, we do have a bit of support. I can e-mail Rinehart at any time and usually get a response pretty quickly - and they are in Oregon. So we sent the controller back for repair and they had it back to us in LESS than a week. Having a support function is a big deal for us after our ordeal with European component suppliers who are simply useless.

But we got the controller back and wired it up with the shielded cable. We STILL have the IDENTICAL problem we started with.

But I did put the controller in and out three times - which has gotten to be a pretty arduous task. I read their HV connection document thoroughly and it appeared to imply that the steel gland nuts should have a proper ground and that this somehow grounded the shield on the cables. I took the thing apart and examined it carefully and came to the conclusion that there was NO WAY that shield would ever contact the case or make ground. There was a plastic capsule from the gland nut shrouding the copper foil taped ends of the braid, and they jammed into a phenolic stop that cannot conduct anything.

When I mentioned it to them, they responded that my controller has the EARLY gland nut design, and that they have NEW gland nuts that ground the shield. Clearly this is an ongoing and developing problem. IT has been about six months since we've had the controller, and already we are an EARLY model.

Why they did not replace the gland nuts when they rebuilt the whole power section AND replaced the controller board rather escapes me. But they did overnight me the new gland nuts, and if I get a day sometime in the next six months, I guess we'll go through this whole thing again.

Meanwhile, we drive the car using the brake light switch to control the regen.

Worse, I DID ground the OTHER end of the braid and it didn't appear to have any effect on the problem. I now again do not believe noise is the cause of the problem. But I don't know what is. And they cannot reproduce it at their facility. Impasse.

We did add a season switch to our cooling/heating system so that the controller and motor provide heat in winter, and in summer use the radiator and fan for cooling. It's manual. And it's not daughter friendlly. But it works.

Anne Kloppenborg and company visited this week from Amsterdam and brought some Dutch Gin with them. We had a famous time talking EV's and drinking gin.

We also did an interesting experiment where we compared the voltage of the newly received Winston 400AH cells to some cells I had still in the original unopened box that were manufactured October 11, 2008. The voltages were within three THOUSANDTHS of a volt between all of them. I have said it many times, there IS no "self discharge" shuttle mechanism in this cell chemistry. IT's not just that it doesn't perform this lead acid feat of legerdemain, it CANNOT because it has no such internal shuttle mechanism to support it. Without self discharge, you cannot have cell drift. And that is the final peg that the BMS guys all scurried off to to hang the BMS hat on. I think we've finally found a way to debunk that. But I have no doubt we'll continue to hear it chanted and quoted on into the night forever.

In any event, you have seen it with your own eyes. There is no "proper care" for these batteries in storage. These have seen temperatures well over 100F and down to 0F through three seasons with no humidity control. The boxes were covered in dust and looked as if insects had been at them. They have been in no particular orientation. All I can say is they were never rained on or flooded. And they come out of the box within a couple THOUSANDS of a volt of each other and a brand new battery.

ANd so all of the THEORIES about all that are no longer interesting to me. We've done this with CALB cells and now THundersky's - both aged in the barrel room of your local illicit distiller for years of careful aging. They should taste great. But in fact, they are just batteries. They do not apparently self discharge at all.


Jack Rickard

Sunday, June 5, 2011

This week we received a visit from one of our Masterflux contest nominees - Team Illuminati and their vehicle SEVEN.

As contests go, this is not their first rodeo. Kevin Smith got involved with various University advanced auto technology build contests when he was in college for a degree in Chemical Engineering.

And SEVEN was an entry in the Progressive Insurance X-Prize competition. The X-Prize was one of the most fascinating public fiasco's I've ever seen assembled. I was fascinated with this contest for the vehicle with the greatest energy efficiency. The rules were byzantine and bizarre. And they changed daily.

The Aptera was one of the entries. They simply couldn't perform the slalom and at one point one of their doors flew open.

One of our favorites, the Future Vehicle Technologies FVT had been entered as a hybrid. By the time of the actual contest, they had sufficient range on battery only to easily complete, but because they had been entered as a hybrid, they had to fire up their engine and submit to an emissions test - which they failed.

Team Illuminati burned out their clutch during the acceleration tests and were unable to complete this segment.

The car is actually a bit remarkable - the team DROVE it here to Cape Girardeau Missouri some 214 miles on a single charge - achieving an energy usage of 155 wH per mile. We tick off about 220 on the Speedsters and Spyder at about 2000 lbs. That they got a 2900 lb car to roll with that efficiency was remarkable.

What was most remarkable was that with no particular qualifications to build anything, in a shed in the cornfields outside of Divernon Illinois, these brash, brazen people drew a diagram of a car on the floor and built one to enter for the $10 million X-Prize contest from scratch. It almost defies common sense.

Save for poor choice in a weeny transmission and clutch, they very well might have won it. We've burned out two clutches ourselves here at EVTV and indeed, I view clutches as a good thing. i much prefer to smoke one of those as a transmission or motor. I almost view them as a mechanical fuse in an electric car.

If something "has to give" that's the thing - the clutch. It's admirably designed for it. They're relatively inexpensive and not terribly difficult to replace.

Their electrical engineer never attended college. The head of the team is an EPA paper pusher with a Chemical Engineering degree. No particular automotive expertise. Just a bunch of people in a small town in Illinois with a big dream and a can do attitude. This is the very best of America. It's the thing that keeps us going. It's what EVTV is about - let's just go to the garage and build one and to hell with a bunch of Arabs, Oil Companies, and GM executives. These guys live it. They have no resources, no knowledge, no expertise, but they DO have a Butler building in a cornfield and a dream. Gotta love it.

The result is a little ugly. Ok, it's FRIGHTFULLY ugly. But it is quite effective to its mission, and we found some interesting innovations and really a pretty clean build. That it had WIPER scrawled on the dashboard next to a toggle switch in one inch hand drawn letters almost brought me to tears. Reminded me of building "forts" at age seven - NO GURLZ.

They are one of the 10 finalists in our EVTV "Build Your Dream" electric vehicle components contest. We have now opened the voting at http://www.projectooc.com/evtv/finalists.php

Each entry is listed and if you click on the names, it takes you to their "page" where they have text, photos, and video of their proposal.

At the bottom of the main page is a bar graph "horse race" diagram showing the percentages of total volts received. As of this morning after a week online we are seeing 730 total votes with Mike Picard showing a commanding lead with 35% of the votes.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, this ballot will be more of an endurance contest than a sprint. We're running the voting from the end of May until the end of August. Mr. Picard jumped out campaigning with his friends in the military community and with friends he'd made online in the EV community and has garnered a lot of support - all perfectly acceptable. But in this case, I call that the "mother vote." Anybody can get their mother to vote for them. Wives can be tricky. They'll TELL you they voted for you and then vote for someone else so they don't have to put up with the resulting EV project. After that it gets harder.

And so in the early days, that campaign on the web site and among the already loyal is pretty effective. As the dog days of summer goes along, those votes will slow to a trickle, and ultimately you have to garner votes on the substance of your text, photos, and videos to a public that doesn't know any of you. Welcome to my world. In truth, my mother doesn't even watch EVTV. Nor my wife. The brutality of an Internet with 4 billion people on it is they ALL have web pages and nobody has time to look at anything. It's not like we had a shortage of things to read before their WAS a world wide web.

And so I would look for the race to close up a might as the dog days of summer grind on. We will black out the horserace during the final two weeks of August and announce the winner at EVCCON in September. Yes, you DO have to be present to win. And yes, we still pay shipping to your home. If I'm going to run a contest for a year and give away $20,000 of stuff, you can at least show up for the award. If it's not that important, then it's not that important is it?

In truth, part of that decision was driven by the fact that almost all of them are already signed up for EVCCON.

EVCCON is taking on some strange aspects. Recall Brain's joy at the Autocross in Carlisle. The problem was, we've done events before. And we have a strange sensitivity to what I call "weeny thinking." You'll see a group, usually volunteers, who go to a LOT of trouble to put some event type thing on, and then drop the ball entirely on simple, usually expensive, stuff. The Autocross at Carlisle was a BEAUTIFUL track in a BEAUTIFUL setting with an elevated area for spectators. T hey had a signup tent and it was all very well organized.

Of course, no one announced who the car was, who the driver was, or why they were there. They just rolled out on the track and began.

They did three laps. They were timed of course. But there was no clock for the spectators to see what the times were. In fact, there was no clock for the DRIVER to see what the times were.

There were of course results, with some cars faster than others. You could go inquire at the tent. But effectively no one ever knew what the results were. There was no "leaderboard" listing the top 10 for example like in golf.

Most of EVCCON will be at our local airport. That's where my hangar is. The local Convention and Visitors Bureau has gotten quite behind the idea of an annual gathering of EV enthusiasts coming from New Zealand and the Netherlands and everywhere else. So we'll have to clear it with the airport and so forth, but I think it is all doable. Probably late Friday afternoon and early evening. We've contacted a group in St. Louis that puts on Autcross events all the time - seeking adult supervision.

So yes, I enjoyed the Autocross well enough. I am NOT a drag racing enthusiast. Vandemeer Raceway is abaout a half mile from my home in Denver. I've never been, though I've heard them many, many Friday evenings in summer.

But we were recently contacted by Ron Adamowicz of ECEDRA ECEDRA is the East Coast Electric Drag Racing Association. ECEDRA is a chapter of the International Drag Racing Association Corp.(IEDRA). Their goal is to bring sanctioned events to east coast tracks while maintaining classification and safety rules for EV Drag Racers.

In any event, Ron wanted to know if we would hold an 1/8 mile event at EVCCON. I responded that I didn't see why we couldn't do a quarter mile as that was typically more traditional. It might take some doing. We have some commercial flights into the airport. We have to get FAA approval for a runway closure. I have to get the airport manager and board onboard. But it all sounds pretty doable from the comfort of the first week in June. If they will man it and run it, I think we can have it. He thinks he can get Dennis Berube and some of the other drag racers to come. Might be very additive.

And so the event continues to evolve. I've done this before. We'll fall short on some of our grand schemes, and others will pop up that we hadn't thought of. It will wind up a strange mix of what we pulled off and what we didn't, kind of like a publication.

We had another strange turn this week that I'll not likely do much video on. Arnulf Laarsgard of Norway came through a few months ago with a grand scheme to convert cars in Davenport Iowa and export them to Norway. Norway it seemed has a $100,000 registration fee on new cars, but they were waving it for electric cars - quite a subsidy there. So Arnulf was going to build a Chrysler Town and Country and a Ford Edge models and export them to Norway.

Recall that there was a fire on the Ferry Princess of Scandinavia out of Oslo Norway caused by an electric vehicle converted by AFuture. We hosted the team driving one of these cars "around the world and indeed they have completed their trip and are home in Denmark. But the Afuture fire on the ferry has already had a couple of effects. They have discontinued allowing electric cars to charge on the ferries. And Norway is going to BAN OUTRIGHT ALL converted electric vehicles. The only electric vehicles allowed into the country will be OEM designed electric cars.

That kind of put Arnulf out of business. So this week he dropped off his Chrysler Town and Country and Ford Edge at EVTV - we bought them from him for essentilaly the component costs.

The Ford Edge runs. This conversion started in West Palm Beach and was further modified in Davenport. IT uses a Netgain 11 motor and an early version of the EVNetics Soliton1. But it kept the automatic transmission. The car drives, but the transmission shifting is a horror. And the car has a range of about 40 miles. The air conditioner and heater and power steering and brakes work very well. It just doesn't drive very well. It's causing me sleepless nights thinking about the Cadillac Elescalade. I had no idea how BADLY an automatic transmission could shift - hunting back and forth, very hard almost violent shifts - it's a horror.

The workmanship was very poor. Everything is jammed together with no access to anything. The DC-DC converter was mounted with a 3 mm gap between it's case and one of the TERMINALS on the battery pack. The batteries are not in boxes, but rather steel racks with most of the battery and all of the terminals exposed. There are two racks beneath the car open this way and with very tiny clearances between terminals and the rack itself. This car is a mess.

The Chrysler Town and Country is almost a shell. No motor, no controller, no charger, no nothing really. He had bought an AC system from Richard Hatfield and claims he was cheated out of it outright.

In any event, we really didn't need any more junk to park, but it was an eye opener. Not all conversions are created equal.

Jack Rickard