Monday, June 24, 2013

Retiring from the workforce, Retiring the 914, Retiring the Blog

Life rarely turns out the way you expect.  After battling her Huntington's Disease for 15 years, my wife passed away last September.  This made me rethink my life and what I was going to do with myself now.  With 35 years of work and 17 years of school under my belt, I started thinking about retirement.  After years of careful planning, I'm in the position to call it quits in the working world and move somewhere cheap and exotic.  I've been to 46 countries around the world, so I have experience to draw from as to where I would go.

In the end, I chose Thailand.  Specifically, Hua Hin.  Hua Hin is a small city about 2 hours south-west of Bangkok by train.  It's right on the ocean, has a long white sand beach, mountains, golfing and all of the infrastructure I'll need to survive.  I'm learning Thai and intend to blend in as best I can.  If I get tired of Hua Hin, I'll pack my one suitcase, grab my guitar and laptop and drive my scooter to another town, or even farther away to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam or somewhere else exciting.

It's super cheap to live there, the food is great, the ocean is right there, the people are friendly, and did I mention it's super cheap?  I looked into the Retirement Visa process and luckily I meet all the criteria: Over 50 (14 days over as I type), enough money to sustain myself, and I don't have leprosy or syphilis   Bingo!  I'm putting the house on the market next week and have sold off or given away everything I own.  Except the 914.

The 914 is the big question in all of this.  I have a few choices:

- Ship it.  Shipping costs are actually reasonable; from my house to the dock in Bangkok for about $2000.  The problem is paying taxes and duties on arrival.  I've read that they can charge 3X the value of the car, and they get to pick whatever value they want.  So that is out.

- Sell it.  It's in great condition, but the range with the golf cart batteries is poor so nobody is going to pay me anywhere near the parts cost of the project, much less my time and blood and sweat.

- Store it.  This is my only realistic choice, but it just kicks the can down the road.  I will sell the batteries, likely to a golf cart shop in town, and then put the car in storage.  I don't want to pay the huge monthly fee at a mini-storage place, so I'm looking for someone who will let me put it in their locked garage for a small payment, potentially for years until I decide what to do next.  My classic car insurance requires it to be in a locked garage, so that's important.

So, this is likely the last blog entry, until something big happens in the world of the 914.  If I end up in an import-friendly country I can bring it in and fill it full of cheap lithium batteries.

I had a blast doing the conversion, driving the car, saving the world and spreading the word about electric vehicles.  I hope those who have found this blog have learned something that helped them with their own project.

I will trickle posts on my rarely-used Facebook account to let people know where I am in the world.  The welcome mat is always out for anyone who wants to come and visit.

Update: Everything is sold and I'm under 2 weeks left in California.  I haven't found an affordable place to store the 914 yet, so I'm working on solidifying the remaining leads.

Update #2: I have found a home for the 914 while I'm overseas, tucked under the wing of an airplane in a hanger at the Paso Robles airport.  Sleep well, Frau Geliebte.  I will try to bring you to me later, or collect you if I return to the US.

A Toyota RAV4 EV in the Wild

I was going to the post office in San Luis Obispo and noticed an SUV parked in the J1772 charging parking space.  I went over to check it out and found that it was one of the new Toyota RAV4 EVs!  The web site is full of information.  It's rated for 103 miles, which is a great jump over the Leaf and Volt.

They're still in limited distribution so this is still a rare car.  The cool thing is it has a Tesla battery pack and drive train.  This is the fruit of the Tesla / Toyota partnership.  Enjoy.

Atascadero Tesla Supercharger Station

I was driving down the main street of Atascadero last weekend and glanced over at the J1772 charging station at the RaboBank, as I always do, to see if anybody is charging up.  This time there was a beautiful green Tesla Model S parked there.  I pulled a U-turn and pulled in.  I talked with the owner Rita for a while.  She uses the car for work and does a lot of long-distance driving.

I then realized that the construction going on to the right of the charging station wasn't just a parking lot repair, it was a new Tesla Supercharger station!  I talked with the construction crew for a while.  They are the roving crew that installs the Supercharger stations and also worked on the electrical systems in the factory in Fremont.  Atascadero will be the only station between join the Hawthorne, Buellton and Gilroy stations as you go up the 101, so it will be a popular stopover for Model S owners.  The owner of the Subway shop across the street is going to see an upswing in business!'

This station will have 7 8 chargers, which is a good idea for what will be a very busy location.

Update:  I stopped by the location a week later and found that construction is almost complete, just the two at the end still need to be finished off.

These large enclosures hold the chargers that convert AC power from the grid to DC power to the cars.  Notice the numbering, this should tell us how many supercharger plugs are deployed so far, at 3 2 plugs per enclosure that's a maximum of 279 186 plugs but the last unit is not always fully populated.  The black plastic panel in the upper left corner I believe is to allow a radio signal to get in/out of the enclosure, allowing Tesla to talk with the chargers for remote diagnostics, software updates, etc.

This is the specification sticker on each enclosure.  It shows the unit can take almost every kind of AC grid power and convert it into lovely DC juice for the cars.  410 Volts DC at 210 Amps is 86,100 watts of power delivered directly to the battery pack.

And it goes in through this plug.  It's small, simple and elegant, not designed by committee like the original J1772 or its new big brother the J1772 Combo.

They've left stub-ups on the pad for two more enclosures or 6 4 outlets, good to spend a bit of money up front and plan for the future.

And finally this is the switchgear that connects the charger enclosures to the power grid.

Tesla Newport Beach Showroom

I had to go down to Los Angeles to pick up my Retirement Visa from the Thai embassy, and I stayed with a childhood friend in Newport Beach.  I looked up the Tesla showrooms in the area and found there was one just a few miles down the road, at the Fashion Island.

They had this gorgeous blue Model S in prominent display.  I walked around for a while when a salesman came up and we started talking about everything Tesla.  Turns out he had been in the job for 3 days!

They also had the rolling chassis, and a factory-perfect Roadster.

Dark metallic grey is my favourite color...

Tesla Supercharger at Harris Ranch

I was coming back from Sacramento on the I-5 and decided to stop in at the Harris Ranch exit to check out the new Tesla Supercharger station.  It looks like it's running, but awaiting the solar canopy.  Enjoy.

It gets stinking hot in this area in the summer, so they're smart to put a shade structure over the electrical gear.

And here is a Model S sucking up the free juice.

Here are the specs on the side of the charger enclosure.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Earth Day 2013

After racing the 914 with the gas-guzzlers on Satuday, I took her to the Earth Day event on Sunday at El Chorro Park in San Luis Obispo.  The previous two years I took the Beetle and told people about the wonders of biodiesel.  Amber from my biodiesel group brought her biodiesel VW down this year, so it was my opportunity to show the 914.  I figured there would be some interest, but I was happily surprised to have a crowd around the car the whole day.

Most people liked the electric conversion, the quality of the restoration or talked about their memories of the 914 back in the day.  The crowd was pretty knowledgeable about electric vehicles, but I did get to dispel some urban legends about electric cars, battery technology, charging time, Tesla, the Leaf and the Volt.  I fact I was parked between a Leaf and a Volt.

Kari from the local Coast Nissan dealership was there, showing folks the features of the Leaf.  She's a great advocate of electric vehicles in general and the Leaf specifically.  Be sure to contact her if you're in the market for an affordable pure-electric vehicle!

Porsche Club Autocross #3

After attending the first two Porsche club autocross events as a course worker, this time I took the 914 down on a trailer, 80 miles each way, not going to make it!

When I got there I realized I left my GoPro at home, so no footage of me running the course.  I did take a few pictures while lined up in the starting blocks with my group.

We each got 4 runs in the morning and 3 runs in the afternoon.  On my first two runs, I went off course.  Remember that the track course is outlined with little orange cones and the organizers made a crossover point right in the middle, so it was shaped a bit like an infinity symbol.  The crossover was, in my opinion, badly marked with the cones too close - my brain was screaming that it was the wrong place to go, just the gap between two neighbouring cones.  On run 3, I managed to get all the way through and set my first time of 99.398 seconds.  Each run from there got faster as I learned the course and pushed the car harder.  My last lap time was 85.2 seconds.  To me, it felt pretty fast but remember I'm going up against performance street cars and several dedicated race cars.

My best time was dead last, but I was only 7 seconds behind a beautiful Porsche 930 Turbo with the big whale tail.  Obviously the car wasn't being pushed at its limits, but I'll take that statistic any day.

I can't post the full results file since Blogger can't insert a PDF file...  The best lap of the day was a 57.053 from a Corvette Z06, followed closely by an awesome 2004 Volkswagen R32 with all-wheel drive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More Teslas In The Wild

It's been a long time since my last update because I haven't really worked on the 914 much, as there's little left to do on it.  I take it out on the weekends for drives into town and around the back roads to my favorite winery.  The next post will probably be from the Porsche club autocross in late April, and I've got the 914 entered so we'll see how she does against the gas boys.

I did feel the need to make a new post though, because I'm seeing Tesla Model S cars everywhere I go now.  Maybe it's because I live in California but my little town of San Luis Obispo has at least 4 of them.  Here's one that followed me into a restaurant parking lot a few weeks ago.  The owner had just had it delivered the day before in Los Angeles and he was on his way north to visit family.  That's 190 miles and he said he had about 75 miles of charge left, and it was all highway speed!

A few weeks ago I was working on the solar power monitoring system at three Costco stores in the Denver area when I realized the Tesla showroom was in a mall directly across the street from one of the Costcos.  Ironically, it's located right across from the Apple Store, which was also designed by George Blankenship.

I spent a couple of hours hanging out with the staff there.  This was the next day after the now-debunked New York Times article came out, but before Tesla had released their analysis of the trip.

We talked about the article, the design of the Model S, the Roadster, the state of the company, how my shares were doing (up 30% thank you), my 914 and the electric-car-knowledge of the average person walking into the store.  The guys were great with the people who came in, answering every question clearly and without bias, and dispelling every myth.  They let everyone sit in it, and frankly I wouldn't have let some of them, but you never know who is going to grow up and be in the market in 10 years.  When they were busy, folks would come over to me and start asking questions... I was quick to tell them that I wasn't an employee, but I did know a lot about the cars.  Maybe I should consider applying for a job?

Most people who didn't know what a Tesla was were impressed with the body, the 17" display and the pure-electric design.  Those who had a deeper understanding looked like they just walked into a candy store with an all-you-can-eat gift card.  That's definitely how I felt, just being in the room.  A few were dead-set against electric cars and it became quickly clear that no amount of fact could battle the brainwashing they'd been subject to.  They just got in their 4x4 trucks and went to the gas station on the way home I guess.

As you can see, they had a production-line Model S, a trade-in Roadster with 4,000 miles on it for $70-$80K, and a rolling chassis with battery pack, transmission and motor.  The chassis really helps people visualize the simplicity of the design - take this, add seats and a metal shell and you've pretty much got the car.

The staff said Tesla was a great company to work for, and I'm glad to hear that.  One of the guys was an economics & marketing student who was very knowledgeable about the pros and cons of electric transportation.

After work the next day I went downtown, and saw this one on the top floor of a parking garage.  They're everywhere!

Now we come to the Holy Grail of Teslas.  What is a group of Teslas called?  An Amp of Teslas?  An Elon of Teslas?  A Torque of Teslas?  How about a car-hauler of Teslas!  I was driving through the next town over of Atascadero California last Sunday, and I approached a car-hauler trailer parked on the side of the road.  From a distance the tails of the cars look familiar.  As I got closer I couldn't believe it.  I pulled to the front and parked.  There are 7 Tesla Model Ss on there!

There were two different models represented, designated by the badging on the rear.  Here's a P85, meaning Performance model, 85 KWH battery pack.

Here's an 85, meaning standard performance, 85 KWH battery pack.  That is a great-looking metallic silver, but alert readers will know I'm partial to that color...

 Here they are from the front, a great selection of colors.

This was also my best opportunity yet to see the undercarriage of a real Model S, to see how they engineered the floorpan to minimize drag and maybe even increase downforce a la Formula 1.  This is a shot from the rear of the car.  You can see the black plastic undertray parts, which fit together to give a nearly seamless fit, then the silver bottom of the structural-member battery pack begins, running forward.

This is from the front, looking back.  You can see the open areas around the lower parts of the front suspension, providing clearance for the up/down motion and tire pivoting.

Here's a closeup of the passenger side front wheel area.  I wonder what those two access holes are for, and why they didn't bother to put a cover over them.  Maybe they're drip holes for the air conditioning system?

Here's another angle of this area:

And here they are from the side.  3/4 of a million dollars worth of electric sex.  The hauler was still there when I drove back down the street at 4 PM, so the driver must have spent the day in the area, then headed off to his deliveries on Monday morning.  Ah, that really made my day.