Monday, April 30, 2012

Escalade Motor Implant - Finally.

So a long show this week.  Some say long and boring.  I would be wounded to think this is so.  Is not the entire world hanging breath abated for the next few minutes of every episode?  That is of course my fantasy.  Were reality to intrude I might be crushed.

This week, we flew into a flurry of work.  Some battery stuff, reassembled the pieces of Netgain Warp 9 we had been using as a visual aid.  It turns.

But of course, the lion's share of this weeks work revolved around finally installing the Siamese 11 inch motors in the Escalade and connected to the 6L80E transmission and torque converter.

In the end, I'm just terribly pleased with how this all came out.

The two motors are of course painted gloss black and have shiny aluminum end bells - perfectly color coordinated with the vehicle.  But even better, the overall LENGTH worked out so well it looks like it was all done on purpose.  We have about 1.5 inches between the reluctor ring and the front crossmember of the vehicle.

By shaving the stock engine mounts about a 1/4 inch each, the motor and mounting plates drop right in place.  And our adapter plate mounts perfectly to the transmission.

We DID have to add a spacer to the mounting plate to pull the torque converter out of the recess for it enough to not bind.  And actually when we did finally put it all in place, it DID bind.  We loosened the bolts around the transmission, jacked the motor UP and then jacked it back down, and heard a distinct "thunk".  Retightened the transmission bolts and the shaft turned like a dream.

We then went to our tiny access hole to insert our torque converter bolts.  We could see both the flex plate and torque converter easily and line up the holes in seconds.  But we could NOT get a bolt to start.

Brain wheeled out his air driven burr grinder and "expanded" the access hole a bit.  And finally we were able to bolt it together.

This week we'll add tranny fluid to the thing, and idle it with a 12v battery.  We'll let it sit for awhile and then add more tranny fluid.  It takes a bit to get it pumped into the new empty torque converter.

We had ordered a 6L80E torque converter from Professional Torque Converters with a lowered 1400 rpm stall speed.  This should more closely match the torque curve of our electric motors, and make our system more efficient at lower speeds. It will also reduce the heat (and thus losses) generated by the drive train.

The concept of  using a torque converter at all is largely to provide a hydraulic buffer between the
electric motor and the AWD drive train.  Torque "lockup" apparently occurs in 2nd gear above 22 mph.  By having the "stall" speed - at which basically the two turbines are turning at the same speed anyway, somewhat below that, we hope to get a smoother transition to lockup whether we are accelerating briskly, or slowly.

The replacement torque converter arrived Friday morning - just in time.  We actually worked most of the day and shot the intro sequences quite late - finishing at 6:30PM.  Yes, I was late for the ballet.

In the end, the motor is very securely mounted in the truck.  Looks like it was born to be there.  We've got a good line along the transmission and drive shaft.  The rubber mounts should minimize vibration.  It's almost the perfect length.  And of course it looks gorgeous in the vehicle.

With the motor mounted and the battery box in, balanced, and charged, we are actually moving into the area I like the most.  Wiring up the controllers and the instrumentation.

We also have to do the environmentals - largely our water heater - along with a cooling system for the controllers.  So we will have two separate glycol systems - a bit complicated with two separate pumps of course.

So while much work remains, our past projects would indicate that we are actually 2/3 done with this project.  We should be rolling rather shortly.

No matter how many of these we do, I never quite get over it.  That this will be the largest passenger car I've ever seen done is no help there.  But truly, I always loved this vehicle anyway.  For me, at 280 lbs with knees and hips that aren't as young and pretty as they once were, it is very comfortable to enter and exit.  Onboard, I sit up quite high with superb visibility in all directions.  The seats are very wide and plush with air conditioning vented up through tiny holes in the leather and resistive electric heat available as well.

The GPS and entertainment are actually a bit sorry.  The GM GPS is actually good for a laugh, we used to enter a destination and howl over the route it provided.  There is no USB or iPhone connection.  So we may do some work on the console and replace the existing unit with a more advanced one - perhaps with a carputer interface and iPhone connections.  But this will all happen AFTER we have it fully functional with electric drive.

In the end, we should have reasonably comfortable seating for four adults, five in a pinch.  I think we'll have the usual 80-100 mile range in town.  But there is potential for some blue sky on the highway.

We noted on the Ford Edge a staggering 4.5 Amp hours at 250 volts or 1125 wH per mile.  The transmission has never been right on this car and so with 200Ah at 250 volts we hardly had a 45 mile range.

Incredibly, at 70 mph on the freeway this drops to 2.0 Ah or 500wH per mile - less than half.  The vehicle weighs 5000 lbs.  This is the REVERSE of our experience with the Speedsters and Spyder and Cobra.  How can this be?

A couple of things come to mind.  Mass is intractable.  It just is.  And it takes a definitive amount of energy to accelerate a mass - more mass, more energy.  The edge has 2.5 x the mass of the Speedsters.  But it is UNLIKELY that it has 2.5 x the frontal area.

And so while air resistance is a square function, the energy use profile does indeed invert - not because the vehicle is particularly good at rolling down the freeway at 70 mph - 500wH and 5000 lbs is almost exactly the 10:1 rule of thumb we use to estimate energy usage.

No, the issue is how very BAD it is at accelerating 5000 lbs from dead still to 35 mph.

I'm hopeful that the six speed 6L80E with a kind of extreme overdrive 6th gear coupled with our two 11 inch motors will give us an even better profile at highway speeds.  And so I would look for something like 70-80 miles per charge in town, but potentially 120 or even 130 mile range on the freeway.  This puts us in range of St. Louis - 110 miles away, with this truck.

We'll see.

Jack Rickard

Monday, April 23, 2012

Short show this week guys.  I've had more to do this past week than I can quite say grace over.

Brain has been studiously trying to trial fit the motor in the Escalade and mate to the transmission.  Turns out the shaft cap of the 6L80E torque converter protrudes 0.945 inches while the 4L80E is about a half an inch.  This caused the motor to bind on the torque converter.

The easiest solution appears to be to use the 6L80E flex plate off the engine.  Instead of flat, it is slightly dished and adds a half inch to the game more or less.  But it also means we need to pad our adapter plate by .37 inches.    We are having a spacer ring of that thickness made at Cape Machine Shop.

As long as we are doing that, I'm thinking to order a 1400 rpm torque converter.  I inadvertently did the verbal switcher and referred to this as lockup.  Lockup is actually an ECM commanded event that physically locks the torque converter.  The 1400 rpm is more correctly the STALL speed.

In theory, if you locked up your breaks and put full power to the engine, this is the rpm  where the motor would stall.  The hydraulic coupling between the motor and transmission becomes so great that this event occurs.

Typically OEM torque converters are at about 2000 rpm.  The racing guys will use 2500 or 3000 or even 3500 rpm torque converters to get higher on the torque curve of their peaked up engines at stall speed.

Diesel applications actually require lower stall speeds as they run at much lower RPMS - typically 1800.

And so we have contacted Performance Automotive Torque Converters (PATC) about a 6L80E 1400 rpm torque converter while we're fooling around with it.

This would allow us to reach stall at a lower RPM more in line with the torque curve on an electric motor.  I do not know what effect this will have on our shift points and automatic shifting. It probably will do more harm than good I fear.

Tom Alvarey brings up the point that we may need to remove the power from the engine during the brief period when shifting via the ECU.  As always, this is a marvelous observation, but his history has not been at all influenced by facts or any knowledge of the subject.  So I'm not sure.  This one certainly makes sense.  If it does this with the throttle plate, we are good to go.  But if it does it with ignition or fuel injectors somehow, we are hosed.  But it would seem shifting with the motor in full power is not wise, so this makes sense to me.  Not sure what the cure is.

And I'm not quite sure it is a problem.  How quickly can you remove power from an ICE engine? There is a certain momentum and mass at play here - actually much more than an electric motor.  I know the shift changes on this transmission are so quick you can hardly feel them.

Brandon Hollinger brought us an entertaining as always update on his Austin FX.  It almost got me thrown off YouTube as he used some copyrighted music, and the ever changing and ever resourceful YouTube now has a way from preventing to mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad in that event.  My initial use of Amazon is justified over and over.  I really detest YouTube.  We post it there as a convenience to a very few viewers and have less than a 1000 views per month on it.  They had added us as a "partner" but I haven't used their ad function to generate income anyway and really really detest this service and all aspects of it.   It does make it easier for some who watch on their Internet connected TV sets.  And for the past few weeks I've used their embed function on this blog.  But I am seriously considering going YouTube free again.

In any event, it appears Brandon has become ensnared in one of the achilles heels of this industry - nonperforming vendors.  We were over 7 months with Jim Husted on what he promised was a 45 day deal.  Brandon is now 2.5 months on an adapter from California.

He is also converting from automatic transmission to manual.  Plenty of punishment there.

Fred Behning has a new project also in this video.  And so with these two guys I was able to cobble together a little bitty bit of a show this week.  Recall that Fred had the delightful little bug eye sprite.  He's now obtained a VW based REPLICA of an MG TD.  Problem is, he's going to cannibalize the Sprite for components to use on the TD.  I understand. But I still hate to see a gorgeous car like the Sprite dismantled after all that work.

My mother passed away Wednesday of this week.  It was after a long illness with fibrosis and the last few months have not been good.  So it was a blessing all around.   Still, I'll miss her.  We had developed a habit of watching the St. Louis Cardinals with her of an evening.  She never missed an inning all season last year.  My wife is also a rabid baseball fan.  I confess I think the sport is like watching batteries charge it moves so slowly.   But I could sit with them and read or whatever and gradually kind of followed the game last year as the Cardinals did well in the end.

My four brothers and sisters arrived and we were all around her bed when she passed on a beautiful spring afternoon.   We saw so many dear friends on the occasion of the visitation and many we had not seen for some time, so that was good.  And a lovely Mass on Saturday morning capped it off with our choir providing the music in the Old St. Vincents church.  Bullt in 1835, this brick Gothic monstrosity is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world.   I was baptized there as an infant, as was she.  So history and tradition here in the heartland runs a bit deeper and older than most places.  Many of her friends were on hand and typically spanned a 50 to 60 year period, if you can imagine that.

Cape Girardeau is a slice out of time in America.  I often enter stores or businesses in this town where I distinctly recall the proprietor's father manning the same counter 50 years ago.  It is a very unusual place and one of the best kept secrets in the country.  IN many ways, it is as America was four decades or more ago.  And very possibly that shapes my unusual views.  Things may seem better to you in earlier times.  I don't have to seem.  They ARE better in earlier times.  And in Cape, in many ways you can recapture that.  A strange brew blend of the old and the new.  But relationships are long term affairs here.  And family history runs deep.

My father pased in 2005.  And it was time for Ben to go too.  I'll lose not a wink over that.  But it will take some adjusting to become accustomed to being an orphan waif.  A new role.  A new week.

My deep appreciation for all the e-mails of condolence we've received.  Apparently many are of the age of funerals also.  While this one was better than most, it is what it is...


Jack Rickard

Monday, April 16, 2012

Throttle Bodies and Bottom Balancing

This week we do some final testing on our dual Soliton1's and dual 11 inch motors before breaking down the test bench to install the motors into the Cadillac Escalade EXT.

One of the issues with this vehicle is where to get the signal to serve as the "throttle" input to the Soliton1's.

Of course, we have two such signals routed from the accelerator itself to the Engine Control Unit or ECU.  We could simply steal one and use that.

But the Cadillac is complicated by a lot of systems.  The ECU is the heart of the beast and it takes a lot of factors into consideration before finally sending a drive signal to the throttle body. The engine of course has fuel injection for the gasoline, but the actual engine speed and power is regulated by controlling the flow of oxygen containing air into the intake manifold.  This is done with a throttle body - a round hole with a round plate we used to call the butterfly valve in the carburetor days of the 1960's.

As it runs out, the throttle body has two potentiometers each provided with 5v from the ECU.  They move with the throttle plate.  They actually operate in different directions and at different scales.  And so one varies from about 3.8v down to something less than a volt, while the other ranges from 1.2 to up over 4volts.  The ECU uses these two signals with a function in software to determine throttle position, so if either one is "off" by any appreciable amount, the mathematical relationship between the two signals fails and the ECU will shut down the system.

So we have to be careful not to "load" one signal down by feeding it into the Soliton. I'll probably build a little opamp buffer for the signal.  Something else to fail.  But it will avoid throwing the ECU into a data storm.

We've had some interest in our little cobble up to bottom balance cells.  Understand that this was cobbled together in an hour out of stuff laying in the pile on my bench.  And it was mostly a test case for the little voltmeters we found.  It actually works pretty well.  Sufficiently so that we had some viewer interest in purchasing them or at least a parts list so they could make their own and indeed two have made their own.

The problem with this is that in many ways, your mission and mine are forever different.  The bottom balancer I built has large components that are easy to identify, and it makes it easy for me to describe on camera what they do and why we want to do that.

To ACTUALLY do that, there are some better choices.  They don't show particularly well on camera, and they don't illustrate the principles quite as well.  But they are less expensive, do more and are easier to operate once you get past the small learning curve.

I've reviewed four or five of these, and I think the winner hands down is the Revolectric 1344 watt device.  It both charges and discharges and will even do "cycles" of charge and discharge. You can interface it to a Windoze PC and at that point, the sky is the limit on cell testing, bottom balancing, cycle life testing, cell matching, and more.

Economically, by the time you buy a power supply, a meter, a $55 bleed resistor, and a contactor, you're talking the same money with far more capability in the Revo device.

This week we also add to our online store with David Kerzel's J1772 kit for DIY conversions.
David sells these things on eBay.  He has a web site that isn't very well done frankly, so he sells on eBay quite successfully.  But the plastic inlet ports from China are now down to about $51.  He can mark those up and sell them on eBay all day long and MOST EV builders prefer this.

I don't.  He started out making his own J1772 ports with a work of art in 6061 billet aluminum.  The problem is, the aluminum billet costs more than the finished Chinese port BEFORE he machines it.  So he had dropped the product from his eBay store.

The problem is, I have fallen in love with it.  Yes, thrift is always a virtue.  But we build nice electric cars and do so for the PURPOSE of attracting attention so we can demonstrate the cars and hopefully convert a few more PEOPLE than we do cars.  And I've noticed they are ALWAYS curious about the charge port.

We used to use a Marinco NEMA 5-15 recessed male plug.  This allowed us to use any ordinary extension cord and plug into any ordinary 120v outlet.  In practice, we almost never charge on 120v.  We always charge on 240v at home.  But the problem was that the NEMA 5-15's are just not meant for daily use.  The act of plugging in and unplugging wears them out over the course of a few months or a year.

I've fallen in love with the J1772 standard not for the safety features, but for the heavy pistol like plug and sturdy inlet connector that it is.  This is designed for 50,000 insertions.  It is just a much more physically substantial system.

On the eCobra, we actually put David's billet aluminum device inside a billet aluminum flip over gas cap.  David liked it so well he's working on a version of this on his own.  But we also used it on the Swallow and we had one mounted behind the normal fuel door on the Escalade.  The door and interior are of course glossy black and the shiny aluminum billet just looks like a piece of jewelry there.  As one of the first things anyone is going to want to see is the charge port, we've got a nice one to view.

So I asked David to make me up 10 so I would have them.  We added them to the store, and the first three were sold out within four hours of the release of this weeks video.  Should have seven more next week.  As he makes these by hand, I'm not sure we can keep up.  Even though they are QUITE a bit more expensive than the plastic ones.

He's also updated his little circuit board that actually properly does the copilot signal AND the proximity switch.  This is what actually lets you use J1772 in your car and triggers the available J1772 EVSE, such as the GE Wattstation, to put out power.

It is a very small device and quite inexpensive.  His update includes packaging it in a plastic case that can be easily mounted.  The terminal strip is still readily exposed and clearly marked.

So with these two components, it is very EASY to add J1772 functionality to your build.  You can STILL have a NEMA 5-15 in parallel for opportunity charging at the Walmart parking lot light pole if necessary.  But with this kit, you can also make use of the many public charge stations going up, and install a proper J1772 EVSE in your garage.

In any event, we've gone from one thing to another in the EVTV store. First it was braided straps, then the JLD 404 meter.  This J1772 inlet is a welcome addition.  I don't know where all this leads.  I hadn't really pictured EVTV as a component retailer.  But we have received eight Soliton 1's and two Soliton Jr's in stock as well and I'll be adding those to the store this week.  We kind of intend to pursue it to see where this all leads.

This takes me back to the early days of the BBS.  We originally thought BBS would advertise in our little newsletter.  Instead they became readers and we wound up running an eight line BBS ourselves. Our advertisers turned out to be Cisco and Sun, and US Robotics and the companies making tools for online communications.

Similarly, I thought all these little dealers of EV components would be a market for advertising on EVTV.  They are all VIEWERS of EVTV, but not a single online retailer showed up to advertise. Just like the BBS/Internet thing, we'll wind up with the component manufacturers, but the guys just running online shops are simply not sufficiently sophisticated in the art of selling and running a buiness to be a market for advertising.

I would predict these SAME guys will grouse that we have an unfair advantage with the EVTV show.  And they will never put two and two together there or pick up on the irony of it all.

Nature of the beast is that we aren't much of a threat.  The average EV builder is if nothing else, thrifty.  And our focus is entirely going to be on the very best components we can find.  My belief is that if you build a rocket entirely of components provided by the lowest bidder, always include the cost of hiring a test pilot to fly it.  You don't want to actually be IN the rocket yourself at any given time.

If I'm building a car, I want to make careful choices, but generally go for the better device.  These choices are cumulative, and will result in a car that is either the sum of the cheapest things I could find, or the sum of some  inspired, but sometimes pricey choices.

Our entire mission is to build ATTRACTIVE and DESIRABLE cars people will WANT.  And of course I like fine rolling stock myself.  So it's all part of God's plan.

If you just want some crate to creak you along the four miles to work and back without buying gasoline, let me strongly note that that's an ENTIRELY VALID MISSION.  I  don't share it.  But it is entirely valid.

And our A123 work is a nod in that direction.  I think you'll STILL find a small lithium pack more durable and more practical than Pb chemistry battery cells. And SOMEONE is going to figure out a way to package them in a small 60Ah or 80Ah pack that will do 30-40 miles at a competitive price without 200 hours of labor.

But let me reiterate, in building a car for ME, these cells would never make the cut.  The CALB prismatics are just better in all respects and make a better, more trouble free car to last a lifetime.  I like having 100 mile range even if I'm never going to use it.

The ongoing soap opera with the company A123 is just beyond belief.  I am at this point actually embarrassed for them and about the entire topic.  I cannot conceive of a product this good manhandled so badly and on such a grand global scale involving hundreds of millions of dollars and at least three continents.  Along with taxpayer investment in an effort to make us a world "leader" in battery development.  It has reached the point of public obscenity and defies the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to follow the story.

But did I mention the 3p28S module we have in shipment from China as we speak?

Jack Rickard

Monday, April 9, 2012

International Battery Setbacks

The news this week was sobering. Despite my caterwauling about American battery companies that arrogantly refused to sell us battery cells, and the obvious karmic infractions thereof demanding their recompense and appropriately so, there is simply no joy in Mudville over the incumbent funeral expenses incurred in the current debacle of battery companies.

First to blow was of course Enerdel/Ener1. They put $89 million into Think, proving the wisdom of BUYING a customer instead of selling cells to us. Think tanked. And took Enerdel with it.

Little known is that Ener1 DID survive bankruptcy - thanks to an $81 million cash infusion (less than their investment in THINK poetically, The prince to rescue them was none other than Boris Zingarevich, a Russian businessman with ties to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

And so after $118 million in Federal tax funds, and $80 million in investment from state and local governments, the technology developed with the Argonne National Lab in Illinois at another untold brazillian dollars, is now wholly owned by the Russians for a measly $81 million.

Last week, we discussed the dark cloud over A123 regarding their recall of the same 20 Ah prismatic cells we have been struggling to develop a use for and a package for. Again, this company abusively declined to sell these cells not only to us, but to anyone daring to do a custom or one-off vehicle conversion as they were solely dedicated to selling to OEMs. Again, they invested $30 million in Fisker to BUY a more desirable customer than we represented. Fisker too is in the process of failing most horribly, despite hundreds of millions of dollars of US Depertment of ENergy direct loans and of course A123 received a $249 million GRANT to build their factory in Livonia Michigan.

Fisker did not produce the 15000 cars in 2011 that A123 was so hugely counting on. They suffered a recall of a couple hundred for a coolant leak in the battery pack. And now recall about 600 Fiskers for this battery cell fiasco at a cost estimated by company CEO David Vieau at $55 million.

In case that doesn't strike you as sufficiently funereal, last week SEVEN major law firms filed shareholder class action lawsuits. This morning that count is now up to EIGHT and the companies shares are trading at $1.05, somewhat down from the $25 peak reached shortly after their Initial Public Offering in 2010.

The company is essentially mortally wounded, but the technology will remain attractive and someone will undoubtedly scarf this up for a bargain at the bankruptcy - which has not been announced but we predict will be momentarily.

Does any pattern suggest itself? Lithium batteries are proving quite expensive to us as taxpayers as well as to builders. That $249 million federal investment now running a total of 600 Fiskers works out to about $415,000 per car just for the cells. That makes $106,000 for the car look like a REAL value proposition. We'll buy one two years from now on ebay for $30,000, yank that little piston popper, and TRY to get it running again.

And the irony of ourselves being forced to buy these cells and have them imported from China instead of 300 miles up the road?

The cells are no panacea. Our flat pack continues to swell in cost and weight and complexity for what will most likely be a 6000wH little bundle of energy at 120v. That's 30 miles range in the very best possible scenario. And I've probably got 60-80 hours in the pack so far.

The good news is it will have a fuse, a contactor, and a shunt built in. And the cells are proving very efficient in the charging roundtrip and bottom balance very well. We DID lose a cell to a short that was simply unprovoked. Just sitting overnight after bottom balancing did the trick. I'm fearful we may have gotten our own allotment of cells from tab welding machine number four. It could also possibly explain our failures with the earlier 40v resin modules. We did run them up and down a couple of times before pouring, but it is possible.

Motor mounts for the Escalade prove a bit more reluctant than we had planned. One of the issues is access to the bolts that connect our flex plate to the torque converter. We lack the largish starter motor hole of the original engine. Mr. Husted provided us a very tiny hole just large enough for a socket - but oriented to the wrong way. As we had provided him a dummy used transmission, and paid him a stupid amount of money to marry these two motors, I'm a little butt sore over this. We'll have to hog out a bit of the motor end plate to accommodate this and we'll probably enlarge the access hole in the bottom of the transmission as a backup.

We have reverted to the stock motor mounts and Brain has devised a clever mounting system I think that will just work by about a 32nd of an inch. I hope....

In this week's episode, John Allen updates us on his Toyota build with a frightening foray into battery box warming techniques. And Royce Wood shows how to use an automatic transmission and NOT idle the transmission to maintain hydraulic pressure, employing an external hydraulic pump instead. A very thrifty conversion of a Mercury Cougar underway there using a $300 GE forklift motor.

We've also heard from Rich Rudman, of Manzanita Micro who will be presenting at the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention. We did not mention, and have NO knowledge of ANY three phase AC inverter announcement from this company. WE know NOTHING about this. Nor has Otmar been pledged to appear at the convention as yet. And we of course deny any knowledge of a new control board for the PFC series giving it programmability. Though we fervently wish we did.

But Rich does have a 12 cell version of his Rudman Regulator and will be bringing his electric Mustang which is purported to be quite a build. It must have a daughter mode as he is bringing his daughter. Actually I think she runs the company and I suspect she's the one who forced the visit to EVCCON. Bidness being bidness.

Alsno not unveiled until NEXT week's show is the decision by George Hamstra to offer a drawing for a Netgain Warp 9 motor at the closing dinner - must be present to win. You'll be able to sign up for the drawing at the Netgain booth in our about to be unveiled vendor area and the motor will be on display at the dinner. We can probably help you hoist it out to your car afterwards.

Keegan Han of China Aviation Lithim Battery Copmany will also be speaking at the event and participating in the Vendor area. I'm squeezing him for some sort of show discount at the event. But he's thrifty. You might send him a note of thanks for supporting the event at

The Brain is working with the Show Me Center staff this week to work out the layout, but we're hopeful to have a map soon of a large session area, a very nice vendor display area, and an indoor car display area all in 32,000 sf. They claim to have limitless 240vac and are working on a grant for J1772 charge stations as well.

I don't think they actually have a concept of what limitless means, or how much electricity 80 or 90 thirsty cars can drink. But of course we'll also have charging at the shop and at the airport and perhaps at the car show in the park.

Registrations are lagging, while the number of e-mails of people claiming to not only attend, but bring cars are climbing dramatically. I don't know what this means. Perhaps the June 1 deadline on the discount was too generous. So my mailbox looks like 800 and 100 cars, and our registrations look like a disaster. Please sign up soon so we know we have a show to go to that week.

And know, I have no idea where Brain and I went during three minutes of today's video. Probably to take a pee.

Jack Rickard

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A ONE, and a TWO and a THREE.

This week, we were contacted by Tom Brunka of Hellwig notifying us that we had the WRONG brushes in our Jim Husted build of the twin Netgain WarP11 motors.

Recall that Mr. Brunka BROUGHT DOWN THE HOUSE at EVCCON during what was supposed to be a Saturday norming dozer/sleeper session at the Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention. A session on the most boring
topic we could conceive - BRUSHES. Brunka went over 30 minutes as we sat enthralled. Fascinating session and a LOT we didn't know.

He contacted us to alert us that we had H49 drag racing brushes and he would be much more comfortable if we changed the brushes to his H60 model. These are stronger, harder brushes with a much longer life and that put down a better film while working better for light current loads.

That may be counterintuitive on a motor pair that will likely suffer the indignities of 1000 amps EACH during acceleration.

Apparently the H60's are well able to handle that 1000 amps, but also carry light loads of 20 or 30 amps when idling/coasting. In truth, that's what the Escalade will be doing 99% of the time.

And so he actually supplied us with 16 new brushes at no charge to ensure success with the Cadillac build. Thank you Mr. Brunka.

In every bit of good news, there is a downside. First, we had already done three days of running the motor with the brushes we had. But about that time we received an e-mail from a viewer who had a catastrophic brush failure of the H49 brushes after a total of 120 miles on his car.

Because of the torque converter and mounting, installing the motor on this vehicle will be non-trivial. Worse, our usual technique of putting the motor and other components in where we can easily "drop" a motor on this build is simply not feasible. Once it is in, it would be DAYS of work to paw it back out.

And so we did the change.

I also have a disassembled Netgain WarP9 laying around that we used to discuss motor dynamics and the inter poles of the 11HV. We wanted to put this motor back together with some of the newer Helwig Split red top split brushes that Netgain is now equipping new Netgain WarP9's with now.

So we did a demonstration on the disassembled motor.

As usual, I have a lot of groundless opinions on motors and brushes in my own version of armchair quarterbacking. The reason everyone does this is that it is irresistible. I rankle when our viewers do it, but in truth, I am subject to it myself.

One of the issues is the reversibility of the Netgain motors. If the brushes are offset from center, and if they are radiuses to a round commutator, how could you possibly simply wire the motor backwards to reverse rotation for vehicles such as the Honda, which normally use a clockwise from drive end CWDE rotation when the Netgain is built for a CCWDE rotation?

In any event, a couple of interesting reactions to the show. First an e-mail from Brunka:

Hello Jack and Brian

Very nice presentation on brushes, thank you.

I also liked the way you emphasized that the direction of rotation during brush seating is very important that it matches the direction of rotation when driving the vehicle forward.

Another important point that you made is that it is very important that the brush angle is in the proper direction for your direction of rotation. Yes you are correct we do not want the comm surface rotating into the long side of the brush, instead it should be rotating away from the long side of the brush.

Yes, I did change the brush terminal from a fork lug to a ring lug, we had a couple of reasons for this. Typically an EV application will have the highest value and the most number of overloads per hour.

So in an effort to improve the connection (More contact area and to prevent the spread of the fork when tightened) and to make an easily identifiable difference between the NetGain brushes that are intended for EV applications and those that intended for other applications, we have made the EV brush a ring and kept the fork for the other brushes.

Yes, you have also sold me on the Nord Locks.

Thanks for your help and continued support


Annoyingly, the new brushes had a full hole connection electrically. The earlier brushes had a forked terminal and you could simply loosen the screw a turn or two and slip ti out. The full hole terminals required you to completely remove the screw, put it through the terminal, and reinstall the screw - kind of significantly complicating the procedure if you are trying to do it on an installed motor and of course at the risk of dropping a screw into the motor.

This has been done to improve the surface area of the connection. Well, ok. Who can be against that at 1000 amps.

I DID notice that they added a mylar sheath insulation to the connecting wires. Gotta love that. And the wires themselves seemed of better material and more flexible. More strands, finer wire. Maybe my imagination.

In any event, we suffered the change on the twin 11's on the bench. Brain was even able to do the bottom ones without dismounting the motors.

George Hamstra of Netgain also followed up with the information that they were absolutely going to the H60 brushes for all new motor builds, though it would take some months to work through current stock which have the H49's. It might be pointed out that there have been THREE total failures noted out of many hundreds of motors sold over the past few years. But in any event, they are going to standardize on the H60's and you will be able to special order the H49's for drag racing purposes.

He also alluded to looking at a neutral bias on the brush mountings. And both he and Brunka thought our idea of putting a nord-lock on the terminal screws was uptown. He alluded that he might get a fight from Warfield but he was going to carry the torch.

We also heard from a little bird in Azure Dynamics commenting on our coverage of their bankruptcy. No leak of company private information actually. They are trying to dispose of their stock of Siemens motors and the controllers they built for them. I won't quote the prices but they are VERY attractive. Downside, 300v of course and the controllers are CANbus controlled. ANd it was unclear if there was any documentation, and probably no support of any kind. Also Brusa chargers at VERY attractive prices, but 300-520v models which we cannot use.

The most significant notice in this weeks show is the news of A123's actually horrifying boo boo with regards to their 20Ah pouch cell. According to CEO David Vieau, in a letter to everyone, one of four tab welding machines in Livonia was miscalibrated, resulting in a hard to detect defect in the cells that could cause premature failure. The wording of this seemed to allude to a failure of the packs they assemble there, which do indeed use "tab welders" to assemble them. But it has been commonly accepted that he was alluding to the cells themselves.

One of the problems we have with the cells from China is that our sources are not very transparent with regards to the source of the cells. Ours are marked MADE IN USA and Vieau's letter would seem to imply that indeed cells are manufactured in Livonia. We had also heard that cells made in Korea were often labelled MADE IN USA. So we just don't know at this point. And we don't know if our MADE IN USA cells are subject to the recall or are even part of the bad cell output.

The problem does seem to arise from the "compression" of the cells together in their packs. We don't compress cells ourselves. Some weight of cells on top of others in Flatten-em series but we only stack them three high. So I don't expect it to be an issue. If it is, at this price I can live with it.

But A123 may not be able to. After suffering the indignity of Fisker's failure to produce cars after gearing up for batteries for 15000 cars a year - what HAS to be 7 million cells, Fisker has sold a TOTAL of 600 cars we're gold. To pile on, A123 had already done a recall on packs to fix a liquid coolant leak. NOW they will have to recall all 600 Fiskers, along with some other vehicle installations, and extend the warranty on the car from 50 months and 50K miles to 60 months and 60k miles. Vieau's probably worst case projection - $55 million. It's a blow that would take many companies to the mat. ANd possibly this one. It will certainly cause any potential OEM buyers to look askance of a company that had TWO recalls on their batteries in the only significant OEM automobile build they had landed. Never mind that A123 had made a $30 million dollar investment in Fisker stock.

BMW, purportedly an A123 customer, announced this same week that they were going to work closely with Toyota on battery technology.

Virtually all the other battery companies selling cells to OEM's are using Lithium Manganese Spinel or the new Lithium Manganese Cobalt Nickel hybrid cathodes. As you know, I think the LiFePo4 are much better with regards to cycle life and safety. A123 was really the only American battery company sporting LiFePo4.

Hopefully the WAS in my was wasn't really a literal WAS. We're kind of warming up to the concept of the A123 cells now that we can obtain them at a competitive price.

With all these failures, Tesla continues on the march to an on-time July delivery date. One stock analyst, after a visit to the factory and seeing the aluminum stamping forms and presses already mostly in operation, reversed their call on the stock and raised their rating to $49. Tesla's stock, TSLA on the Nasdaq, remains at a 45% of float short sale. That means that 45% of the total available trading stock in this company has been sold short, and with every increase in price, the pressure to bail on this trade increases. Noting that his stock is now the third most shorted stock on the NASDAQ, Musk has vowed to "make it sting - a lot."

As we have a deposit down on an S model, we wish him every good fortune and hope he makes that stick. Our position in Tesla stock pretty much assures us at this point of a FREE Tesla Model S, but we would graciously accept a bonus for loyalty and long term prediction. eBay once bought me NINE collectible MG automobiles when I was just testing if you WOULD actually receive a good car bought on eBay back in 2000. ONE of the nine was outright fraud. Most EXCEEDED my expectations from photos and descriptions.

So we will be delighted to take delivery of our Tesla Model S, paid for by Tesla stock. If it moves a little higher, I may upgrade to the Signature series.

Currently at around $37. We've actually piled on some September CALLS at $40. We'll see how THAT turns out - very risky actually. I still don't like their battery program.

Jack Rickard