It is true we are having a ball in the hinterlands of the Midwest, axing away at how to take any ordinary car and hack it into an entirely silent electric beast and make it do our bidding. While the rest of the world waits with baited breath and hopeful attention for developments from the global OEMsd, we are living and driving the dream and I have to tell you it IS fun and it IS worth it.
I'm doubly excited because it goes a little beyond whacking away in the garage on a hobby. I see a vibrant burgeoning new industry in custom electric cars that stretches out for decades and encompasses things the original hot rod custom car scene cannot even contemplate.
But like any frontier mining camp, it also attracts charlatans and mountebanks along with the adventurers and pioneers.
We were defrauded of some $9800 on a battery purchase from David Kois in April of 2010, along with at least 23 other people. Roy Mann led a group to take legal action and so we pitched in ANOTHER couple thousand ducats for legal expenses. They finally reached a settlement receiving some inventory they insisted represented 59 cents on the dollar, including MY 40 Thundersky 200Ah cells. Despite the irony of having to buy the cells, fund the legal attick, and then pay the rest of the group AGAIN for my cells, I agreed to do that anyway.
Didn't happen. In a behind the scenes maneuver AFTER the settlement, and after reaching an agreement with me on the disposition of the cells, Mann and Baker reached an agreement with David Kois, the ORIGINAL vendor who defrauded us, to have HIM sell the cells and tender cash. They handed over the goods, and Kois has INDEED started selling the stuff AGAIN. But he's keeping the money and refused for nearly a month to even communicate with the principals in the lawsuit.
We confirmed this past week that he had sold our cells AGAIN, and pocketed the proceeds. He insists he'll work it all out AT THE END OF THE YEAR. (Or whenever he gets some money from defrauding someone ELSE sufficient to both live on and pay off the current group).
I'm so disgusted I may never order from an American parts retailer again. Roy Mann is so disillusioned he has abandoned his gorgeous 1976 VW beetle.
Kois currrently operates a web site called CurrentEVTech.
We would urge caution in dealing with him however. He's very charming and got us twice, insisting on BOTH occasions that he's really a VICTIM.... The same claim made by James Morrison....
Meanwhile, we continue work on the Swallow and the Elescalade. We heard from Bill Bishoprick of Salem Oregon, applauding our work to update the Swallow. Bill originally engineered this attractive little notion of an EV. And we're a bit taken with it.
By far the biggest development involves batteries. Sinopoly has emerged as one of the most attractive vendors who never were. They have quoted $1 per AH to anyone who will listen for their cells, but we can find no one who has actually received the cells. Per Ecklund claims he knows a guy who has but we haven't stumbled on anyone directly.
Thundersky is really where all this started. Our first cells were some truly horrible SEIDEN cells. But very early we bought Thunderskies from Elite Power Solutions out in Arizona. Today they sell the GBS cells. But after receiving 70 400 Ah cells from Thundersky for the Elescalade Project, Winston Battery has informed us they no longer offer cells in the United States and their exclusive agent for North America is Balqon. We can't even get them to return a telephone call - or tell us what they want us to do with this commercial we keep running with a dead e-mail address on it.
This leaves China Aviation Lithium Battery Company as the only viable vendor we can find actually shipping prismatic cells - and they are kind of stuck on the idea of $1.25 per AH.
And so we are going to begin looking at alternatives. Headway has some new large scale cylindrical cells. Sebastion Bourgois did an interesting pack in his Porsche 911 from Headway cells and claims he likes them.
Most ironically, it appears that the American manufacturers who have so abusively dismissed us as little and ugly and dressing funny, and insisting that they ONLY sell to "OEMs" with such a hugely comical combination of arrogance and naiveté, seem to be mostly going out of business (Enerdel) or losing control of their product (A123).
A123 is very interesting to me personally. They had previously made some very twitchy little cylindrical cells that were probably truly dangerous in any application. We played with them and I could see no real use for them. We did make a little aux battery out of 4S4P arrangement and it went up in flames a month later.
They developed what they call a prismatic cells, we call them pouch cells. This is a little foil pouch 7.5 mm thick and about the size of our 100Ah prismatics. It has two tabs for positive and negative of course.
They entered these in a competition to power the Chevy Volt and Chevrolet chose LGChem's Lithium Manganese Oxide Spinel cells instead. The Lithium Manganese cells offer a little better energy density than the A123's and at the time, LGChem represented a much larger company more likely to reach full production in time. But Chevrolet may have chosen the wrong cell.
We certainly favor the LiFePo4 cell chemistry of the A123 20 Ah pouch as a safer chemistry. They have continued to work on these cells and have reduced manufacturing costs while increasing density and power performance as they went under a DOE program. Chevrolet has now selected them for the Chevy Spark program. Unfortunately, they don't need any batteries for that car until 2013.
Meanwhile, A123 had invested $30 million in Fisker stock. In return, Fisker selected A123 as their cell vendor. And they had told A123 that they needed cell modules for 7000 cars before the end of 2011.
Brain actually had a conversation a year ago with the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at A123. He was told then that the Prius fire and Davide Andrea was the direct reason they would not sell battery cells to hobbyists and custom car builders. But he also said they would be working day and night just to ramp up production for the Fisker contract.
As ti turns out, apparently Fisker did not build 7000 cars in 2011. They built maybe 1500. It's a little unclear what of THOSE were delivered to actual customers.
But its certainly thrown A123 into a tizzy. Despite an apparently firm contract finally with an OEM - General Motors, A123's stock has plunged. Their Initial Public Offering (IPO) of September 24, 2009 valued the stock at $17. It reached a high just a few days later of $26.74 per share. It opened this morning at around $2.07 - not the performance clean green investor dreams are made of.
And after receiving hundreds of millions in Croney Crapitalism government ducats to bring 5000 new manufacturing jobs to Michigan, the company reached about 900 total jobs before they laid off 125 last week.
That the company maintains their policy of NOT selling their cells and modules should be of intense interest to their board of directors and shareholders. But it gets more interesting. Suddenly, several Chinese traders including OSN Power Technology and Shenzen VictPower Technology are offering A123 MD1 HD 20 Ah cells. These showed up at $50-$60 each a month or so ago and really are not very attractive at that price.
We just ordered 300 at $20 each. They seem to average about 18.6 Ah per cell, not 20. But that's still about $1.08 per AH which seems to be the going rate of the Chinese prismatics.
They ARE possibly attractive at that price. They put a very high amount of POWER for their size - up to 600 Amps momentarily from a 20Ah cell. If you put six of them together, you get about 110 Ah that will pump 3600 amps if you have the packaging hardware to do that without melting or blowing up.
And therein lies a tale of course.
But what has really happened here with this "grey market" A123 cell? Are these simply "seconds" disposed of in a grey market? Perhaps.
More likely, and certainly it makes a more interesting story, let's imagine A123 contracting with Korean and Chinese factories to make their cells. Then they don't need quite as many cells as they thought they did because Fisker doesn't make quite as many cars as they said they would. What is the Chinese factory to do with all the cells piling up in the aisles?
A123 would not be the first U.S. company to lose control of its own Chinese supplier. One of the dangers here in getting the Chinese to build your DeltaQ chargers, for example, is that they might just improve it and sell it against you as an Elcon. We actually busted a guy in EVDL whining heroically about this very matter and pointing to the loss of "American" jobs (Canadian company) as the result. Actually the problem was not American jobs, as they had contracted with China to build their chargers, which they are claiming are "made in Canada."
As American companies have learned to play these games - hey we put a label on it and the instruction book and it is actually American made then - so have the Chinese. Hey we replace this cable with that and up the voltage and its a new charger.
Don't fall for the media demonization of the Chinese. It's the American companies that have brought this directly to our shores.
However it is happening, suddenly we can get some VERY power cells at very reasonable prices. As the volumetric density and density by weight do not actually increase at ALL the advantage is pretty slim. But you do wind up with a very granular device that can be combined in new ways to new shapes. And it does open the door to smaller packs of less range while also featuring less weight, less volume, and still sufficient POWER output to drive the controller and motor to their max.
And so it is incumbent on us to cover this development. More, we need to develop a modularization technique our viewers could use.
Again, if you have any ideas how to structure a process to truly vette a BETTER mousetrap/module, it's a pregnant time. I'm struggling to see how to do this. But I'm attracted to the notion of doing a better/simpler/less expensive/BMSless version of the A123 module.
It is an infant industry on the frontier of a new world of electric cars. IT's all graven in Jello. Yes, there are dangers. But opportunities as well. That's what a frontier is.
I'll make you the same deal I did the Internauts. I'll hang around till it's built. When the townies show up, I"m outta here.
That should give me a little work to do over the next 12 or 14 years I guess.