Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EVCCON 2011 Day 1

The morning arrived and Fred gave me a lift in his Sprite over to the airport hanger for the start of the convention. Yes, you read that right.  The convention was held in Jack's airplane hanger where he normally stores his two DC-3s.  Yes, he's got two DC-3s.  The Prowler is not electric, but the Tesla next to it is!


The hanger was set up brilliantly, with a food area, eating tables, a row of vendor booths and the main session area with a stage, a dais, a huge projection screen, and seating for about 200 people.

After a great breakfast and time to explore the hanger and get our first glimpses of the vendor booths, Jack kicked off the convention with his keynote speech.


Here are my hastily scribbled notes, any errors or omissions for anything during the convention are mine alone.

We're in the middle of a financial crisis, where people have to choose where to spend their limited money, from mortgage payments to the gas tank.   We want to help them with that decision.

It took 100 years to get 500 million cars on the roads in 1986.  By 2010 it doubled to 1 billion cars.  These are eating up limited resources and the world needs to have a better idea.

One problem with the rollout of electric cars in dense urban areas like China and India, is that there are no garages.  This means getting a charging cord to your car is going to be difficult.  We have to think globally about issues, not just suburban American families.

He told us about the National Public Radio story that was done.  I actually heard it at home the day before at about 4AM as I was getting ready to head to the airport.  Apparently the local area public radio station did a story and it was picked up by national NPR.  Local TV showed up during the event too.

Jack says there's no worry about running out of oil.  The laws of supply and demand will kick in and the price will go up as the supplies start getting harder and harder to get at.  Look for $10 gas in the not-to-distant future.

Jack believes there is a pent-up demand for electric cars that will be fulfilled by the first few thousand Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt buyers.  After that, the car makers will have to work hard to make sales, and it will be based on price and features.  As a personal note, I've seen this same pattern roll out in the solar electricity market.  The pioneers and super-greenies were the first buyers, and created demand to launch the industry.  Keeping the industry going were residential, commercial, government and utility customers who wanted to save money on their energy bills every month, hopefully with a little bit of environmentalism mixed in.

Cheaper vehicles with great mileage exist and customers will naturally go for those, even with tax incentives.  The Chevy Cruze shares the same platform as the Volt, but for $20K less.

Jack was involved in the early days of local ISPs and Internet access via dialup modem.  He sees the same kind of enthusiasm, and even some of the same people, in the nacent electric car industry.

Jack has mentioned in his videos that he doesn't really like cars very much, but he does like advanced battery technology like Lithium Ion (LiFePO4) and cars are a great showcase of what can be done with the batteries.  One of the attendees from the Netherlands wants to make an electric boat.

Lithium batteries can give a 30 to 80 mile range in a normal car, the upper end being a magic number for people to feel comfortable about getting where they need to go.  This is the "threshold of viability", and most people have incorrect opinions about electric cars, like "I need to drive farther than an electric car will take me".  The best way to teach someone is to take them for a ride.  There is nothing like driving in the car to really understand what it's all about.  The Government and the auto industry cannot change people's opinions, so it's up to us - people building, buying and driving electric cars to do grass-roots teaching.  Give people a ride, answer their questions truthfully (the good and the bad), correct their misinformation.  Every day.  Every stop sign.  Every parking lot.  Every gas station - no, don't fill up, just go inside and buy a soda or use the bathroom.  Even Chevy has two ads with this theme now.

After a break was George Hamstra.  George is the founder of NetGain Motors, maker of one of the most popular electric motor family in the electric conversion world - the WarP 9", 11" and several sub-models.

George's session title was "A Brief History of Time".  He went back to the start of computers - counting devices, transistors, computers, smartphones, etc. are bringing us a big bang of technology.  What we are seeing is comparable to the PC development era - standards rise up, get used, then get supplanted when something better is needed.  The evolutionary path is guided but has its own life.  He disussed fractals and the Butterfly Effect - we are the butterflies in the EV world.

The DC motor controller evolution has gone from primitive to very sophisticated, and we can see incremental improvements in current capacity, cooling and programmability in the future.  Controllers must be safe because there are lives at risk, potential fires, etc.

The attendees at the conference are designer and builders, but we don't have to do every little thing ourselves.  Buy products from companies you trust and drive them to improve and add new features.

DC motors have been around for hundreds of years, and in electric cars for about 100 years.  Small incremental improvements have been made, and George is keeping the innovation coming.  He's just released an improved WarP 9 with over 20 new features, and is working on a 9HV high voltage model.  He's also working on a "HyPErdrive 9" - a pair of motors with 3 brushes and dual commutators.  Also a WarP 11HV which will be sold for racing only.  He has a unit that's designed to bolt directly onto a Mercury outboard motor transmission, and one that will drop into a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Lithium batteries can exceed the 1 hour continuous maximum rating of the motor, so improved air cooling or liquid cooling is on the horizon.

He'll be introducing an updated WarP 9 in December with a shaft diameter increased to 1.125" to handle more power.

Adding these improvements is surprisingly expensive - even making the cable posts thicker involved new tooling, new drawings, different case drilling, new hardware, longer studs, etc.

Beyond 2011, George is looking at integrated battery charger and controller, J1772 charging expansion, CANBUS data linking, liquid cooling, transmission options including automatic, constant velocity and planetary, and new DC and AC motor designs.


After another break we heard from Eric Kriss.  Eric is a very interesting guy, who is teaching economics at University of Miami, co-founded Bain Capital with Mitt Romney, and was in charge of the $27 billion budget of Massachusetts while Romney was Governor.  He's a Grammy-nominated guitar and piano player, and of course in his spare time he built electric cars from an AC Cobra replica and a Porsche 356 replica.

Eric's session focused on evolution.  Everything evolves.  Transport = Product + Infrastructure (parking, roads, energy, etc).  We evolved from canals to rail to roads to air.  Once an infrastructure is in place, it can be re-used for that purpose or leveraged for other purposes.

Some evolution is allowed to jump forward due to disruptive technology.  Hydraulic cement led to canals.  Steel led to trains.  Oil rigs and gasoline engine lead to cars, trucks and planes.

Penetration curves: it took 80 years for the auto to hit 90% of its possible market.  The cell phone only took 20 years.

Economic downturns can greatly affect growth.

Lithium batteries were really the first viable stored energy alternative.

The oil shock in the early 70s drove consumers to cheap, high mileage Japanese cars.  Oil was $90/barrel then, adjusted for inflation.  Not too different from what we're seeing today.  The oil shock in the late 2000s, is driving consumers to hybrids and electric cars.

Energy density: size vs. weight vs. how much energy it can store.  The GM EV1 in 1996 had 1300lbs of batteries.  In 15 years, battery energy density will equal gasoline.

He described the concept of a "mouse hole", and other speakers picked up on this too.  This means the small guy can penetrate barriers.  Big organizations find the problem too small to bother, or too costly to stop what they're currently doing.

NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, protects existing large domestic auto manufacturers.  We need to "mouse hole" this group by calling ourselves "conversion services" rather than manufacturers.  Tesla has run into problems, including where they were fined by the government for not filing a form showing what its car's emissions would be.  Tesla felt as a zero-emission car they didn't have to bother, but not so.

The engine + exhaust + cooling + circuitry makes up 1/3 of a car's total cost.  If we can reduce or remove some of these costs, the car will end up cheaper.


Lithium battery fixed costs are the cathode and anode material and the factory overhead.  This represents half of the unit cost, not the selling price.  The other half of the price is profit for all of the middlemen between the factory and you.


Lithium cost drop: 1990 = $4/Wh, 2000 = 40c/Wh, 2010 = 16c/Wh, 2015 trend 8c/Wh.


All factors dropping in cost over time gets us to parity with ICE-engined cars.

After a great lunch it was Sebastien Bourgeois' turn, talking about his companies evnetics and Rebirth Auto.  Evnetics makes the Soliton line of motor controller, while Rebirth Auto offers low-volume, high end conversion services.


Sebastien did a VW conversion but was disappointed with component quality and capabilities.  So he founded his two companies.  He says if you find a product niche, amortize your R&D costs in the first unit you sell as the second sale may never come.    He's working on a Soliton controller that will handle 1,000,000 watts of power, strictly for racing, built on a new controller architecture.  If your car is running 200V of batteries, that means it will pump 5000A!  He says vertical integration is the key for his companies, where they can do rapid prototyping on any part they need, giving them the freedom to try any new idea they come up with.  He will be releasing a charger in 2012, based on an all-new design and it will be separate from the controller.  His company is now approved for importing his conversions into the EU.

Next up was Wayne Alexander.  Wayne is a real character who has probably done more electric conversions that anyone else on the planet.  He started with parts from an electric forklift that he installed into a Morris Minor.  He runs his conversion business on a simple slogan: $12,500 converts any car.  His normal turnaround time is about 3 days, as he's honed his parts and processes where he is now able to pull this off.  He says yes to any conversion project.  He believes that the electric car industry hasn't even started yet, and statistically he's right given the number of gasoline cars on the road.

Since we ran long on every session, Tom Bunka's talk on carbon motor brushes was pushed to Friday morning.  Everyone poured outside to check out the collection of cars.  We were supposed to have a BBQ and bonfire over at Jack's house, but the rain rolled in so we stayed in the hanger, talking, drinking and meeting with the vendors.  First up are the cars.  This was the parking lot outside, with a mixture of electric and gas cars.  You can see the stretch pure-electric Prius conversion on the left.


 Here is Richard Rodriguez' car, a 914 like mine but painted to grab your attention.




Here is David Hrivak's Tesla.  He bought is second-hand on Yahoo Motors, low mileage and a great price.  It took him 3 days to drive to the convention from his home in Tennessee, staying and charging at two hotels on the way.  I got a ride in this car later in the weekend!


Now we go over to the vendor area.  There were booths all along one side of the hanger.


Special Editions brought a "roller" - a chassis prepped and waiting for a motor of some kind.  With a transmission adapter plate, a motor, a controller and a bunch of batteries, you can build and drive this car.  Jack has based several of his conversions on rollers from this company.


Here is the  motor compartment, with the transmission opening protected by a plastic sheet.


And finally is the EVnetics Soliton 1 motor controller.  Beautifully engineered and highly respected by the builders at the show.


After we had dinner and a few beverages, Chris Paine took the stage.



Chris is the creator of the "Who Killed The Electric Car" movie.  In full disclosure, my company REC Solar installed solar power on his house in Los Angeles, and I designed the solar monitoring system.  Chris told us he had called his producer (the money guy) to see if it would be OK for him to give us an advanced screening of his new film "Revenge Of The Electric Car", as the world premier isn't scheduled until mid-October.  He didn't hear back one way or the other, so he made a decision on the spot to go ahead and show it.  Tremendous applause then broke out!  Chris made a few remarks before the screening.  He told us that we were doing work, one car at a time, that is literally changing people. 

He then showed us the trailer for another of his films called "Charged!" about the Isle of Man TT electric motorcycle races.  He said he had 20 DVDs for sale and there was a rush of humanity towards the stage, and luckily I was able to get one.

Chris said electric vehicles have been used on Earth, on the Moon and on Mars.  Gasoline vehicles only run on Earth, so we're ahead in that respect.  He went through a list of A - Z explaining why electric cars are better.  He told us something I didn't know, that oil companies are one of the biggest users of electricity!  It takes 4 - 7 KWH of electricity to refine one gallon of gasoline.  Chris sold his Prius and shipped it to New Zealand as he got the best selling price there, then bought a Chevy Volt and only had to pay $8K out of pocket.  He also bought a Tesla and was pulled over by the cops the first day he owned it because they wanted to check it out.

He then went on with the screening.  If you don't know, it focuses on 4 people involved in the world of electric cars - Elon Musk from Tesla, Carlos Ghosn from Nissan, Bob Lutz from GM, and Greg Abbot, aka "Gadget", a garage conversion guy.  Overall the movie was upbeat about the future of electric cars but showed what a difficult path it's been even for companies pouring billions of dollars into research and development.  I highly recommend you watch the film, both for the subject matter and to support Chris for his efforts for us in the electric vehicle community.

After the movie there was more drinking, then back to the hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day.