TESLA MODEL S – OR JOHN DEERE ZERO TURN? IT’S ABOUT A TOSSUP.

Kind of a lite week here at EVTV as we are spending a bit of time trying to get some future projects together and work the EVCCON details and administrivia off. I’ve got a pretty good team put together this year. And a new shop rat – Jesse Hale who is just tearing up a patch. I can hardly keep up with him.

His uncle and I started the first grade together. That’s how Cape Girardeau is. And his dad is Larry’s older brother and has done my electrical work on some kind of run down rental properties for years. It’s a small town and the same people live here for centuries apparently. The guy who makes my battery boxes, Dan Todt, was also in my first grade class. His dad, Cletus, always did the sheet metal for my dad, going back to when they were quite young as well. George Davis does all my glass. Same first grade class. His father, Joe, just passed away a few months ago. Always did the glass for my father as well.

We must look strange to most of America. I know most of America looks strange to us.

I returned to Cape after 28 years away, and stopped into a local meat shop where a guy who used to date my sister worked. “Hey, Jack. Have you been out of town?” Had I been out of town? Yeah, for like 28 years. He made it sound like two weeks. I must have left quite a hole when I left Cape at age 18.

Recently toured the largest freezer between Cape and Memphis. It’s owned by a guy I used to be on a swimming team with at age 13-15. We had a marvelous afternoon catching up.

We did get the John Deere lawnmower working. But while it’s always better to be lucky than good, even when you’re good you’re not always lucky. Little miscalculation. I was picturing this very quiet lawn mower. The hydrauilc motors are so loud and the blades are so loud that I don’t think the motor is really any quieter than when it had a gasoline engine. Starts more reliably. But no quieter. My picture of an idyllic Sunday morning mow in near silence was destroyed. Indeed, we’ve probably created the world’s loudest electric vehicle.

But we kind of nailed a guess on the RPM with 13 cells. The electric motor is almost a dead match for the gasoline motor rpm. It is not of infinite power at that. We don’t even use a controller. Just switch on a contactor and connect 43 volts to the motor. It works surprisingly well and the vehicle remains quite maneuverable. IT’s not really heavy. And it mows.

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We also kept it simply by omitting a charger. I did put in a little voltmeter so I can tell how I’m doing charge wise. And it has relays in it that can be configured. So we also installed a charge contactor. I can hook up any voltage source DC above 50v and charge the cells to 46 volts at which point the voltmeter disables the contactor, removing charge from the cells. This works surprisingly well and brings up the concept of a watchdog for any car and its charger. You could use a contactor and this voltmeter, set the voltage a volt or two higher than your normal charge termination, and have it disconnect the charger if something fails and it continues to charge. We’ll put these little voltmeters up in the store as soon as I can do a book on how to configure them.

I’ve been working for months with a group in China on yet another meter. It is a little more expensive than the very nicely selling JLD404. But it displays kWh, volts, and amperes all simultaneously on one display. It also has an RS-232 output. I was very excited about this meter after going back and forth with the manufacturer for some six months. The things you DON’T think of are the ones that get you. It measures current and power great while you are driving. But it won’t measure current AT ALL in the reverse direction. I’m not sure how to engineer such a thing if you wanted to it is so bizarre. But not only will it measure only in one direction, they have no idea how to fix it. We are just stopped. A dead end. Hard to believe. But you run into things like that with the Chinese. I’m sure the sales guy is just terrified to notify the design engineer that he screwed up. It’s much easier to tell me that it can’t be done and give up the sale. And so we are stopped. It’s another one of those cultural things.

Jesse meanwhile took apart the Ford Edge which had a shot transmission in it. The shot transmission is a bit frightening, even from an Esclalade perspective. Basically we received this very bad build to start with and it had a miserable range of about 20 miles. We doubled the number of batteries, but also the weight. ANd the little transaxle front wheel drive transmission has now given up the ghost. Probably my own fault for doubling the battery weight. Fixing other people’s bad builds is not a path to success. You almost have to start over with a different car.

But we’ve bought another transmission on eBay for $800. And Jesse completely unassembled the front of the vehicle, which was buried in batteries. We found an original RED Soliton1 inside and a motor that had clearly spewed a LOT of black stuff. Taking IT apart we found a handful of gravel and a couple of pounds of black carbon. The brushes were worn, but not terribly so and no massive chunks missing, implying they had been changed in situ before. We cleaned up the motor, bead blasted the end pieces, painted the case, and put it all back together with a new set of Helwig H60 brushes. I’m kind of hoping this motor situation was where the very poor range came from in the first place. Although 74 100Ah cells is not the way to power a 4500 lb vehicle in the first place.

So we will need to find a place for the engine compartment cells. Hopefully underneath the car. Bringing us back to the problem that killed the transmission in the first place – too much weight.

The Escalade too is very heavy. The 6L80E is a bit better transmission. But we are carrying a lot of weight. However, if I had to, there are some very heavy duty buildups of 6L80E’s out there. There really aren’t for the Ford Edge.

We ran into another little deal. The transmission we received from eBay of course has seals where the axles insert and also one where the power shaft is. It would be goofy to install this thing without new seals. So we went to NAPA to get one. As a 2008 vehicle, they don’t have them. They sent us to Ford. Ford, incredibly, wanted a VIN number to even look them up in the computer. And then of course they didn’t stock them and had to order them in.

The increasing efforts of the OEM’s to make their vehicle maintenance “proprietary” has just reached comical levels. You need a VIN number to buy a filter from Ford – or a seal. This is preposterous. And it will lead to no end of difficulties for the OEM’s in the future, never mind their near death experience of a year or two ago. Cars have become very expensive. And this concept of disposable cars starts to fail at $50,000 for a car.

I bought my wife a brand new Lexus LS400 for her birthday – in 1998. This vehicle is now 14 years old. It has 60,000 miles on it and runs perfectly. She’s taken care of it and the interior is perfect. But the shiny black clear coat paint, designed to look absolutely wet on the showroom floor, is also actually designed to look like shit after the first 100 miles as the soft clear coat takes on a haze from the very dust in the air scouring it at 70 mph. In 14 years the chrome on the hubcaps has started to flake off the plastic. And the front bumper, also plastic, has started flaking paint as well. For her birthday this year, I’m going to have it painted. It will undoubtedly be $6000. That’s about the sales tax and the first year’s property tax on a new one.

In fact when I start looking at that way, what would an entirely new interior actually cost? Or a new drive train? Engine and transmission both? They’re not in the range of the taxes on a new car. We are rapidly approaching a state where the purchase of a new car brands you as a sucker in public. The government, the insurance companies, and the dealers all jump in.

Meanwhile, here in Missouri, to register a vehicle over 25 years old is $25 and you only have to do it ONCE – it is good for life. So we may be onto something here quite beyond even electric conversions. Just renovating old cars, adding modern iPhone electronics and GPS is not hard to do, new interiors and paint can be had, and the total investment doesn’t amount to the taxes and depreciation on a new car. This electric conversion thing may well be the most economical way to an electric car in many more ways than one.

If I continue my purchase of the Tesla Model S, I’ll owe the state of Missouri another $7500 in sales taxes and no doubt a couple of grand the first year in property taxes. As they cannot deliver it for EVCCON, this is looking increasingly dubious. I’m sure it’s the best car ever built, but how badly do I need that, particularly now that I can wheel around on my own electrically powered John Deere Zero turn?

Jack Rickard

38 thoughts on “TESLA MODEL S – OR JOHN DEERE ZERO TURN? IT’S ABOUT A TOSSUP.”

  1. You’re a little late. A US manufacturer already makes the device you’re describing. It works very well and you have used his products in the past. Bruce Sherry makes a device called the BatMan for Batter Manger specifically for EV’s. He currently has a version 3 on the market. I’ve used it in the past. It has a built in DC/DC converter and is powered by the vehicle 12volt system. It lacks the protective relays of the JLD404 but a module could be designed the plugs into the BatMan data port to provide relays that trip on/off in response to any number of conditions.

    http://www.brucesherrydesigns.com

  2. Hi jack. Love the show. I found your site about 1 year ago and have worked my way through almost all of the episodes. I have to agree with you about the state of the auto makers. They make it so difficult and expensive to buy a new car and maintain it there are definitely their own enemy in generating new sales. Granted Gov’t mandates have a lot to do with why a new car is so ridiculously expensive. I have a friend who is a ford technician, don’t even get me started on how much he makes simply being an auto mechanic and what a dealerships shop rate is, who makes a good bit of money on the side simply buying broken cars off of craigslist, fixing them, and reselling them. There’s really a gold mine there. Buy a car that’s only a few years old with a blown engine or transmission for a pittance, fix it for a few thousand, resell it for BlueBook value. I don’t see why it couldn’t work just as well to convert them and resell them with a good markup.

  3. Got VIN? Last week I had to order the engine splash shield and belly pan for our 2006 Dodge Magnum from the local dealer. These are about 10# of plastic that fit behind the front bumper and protect the engine from sucking up water from the road. They would not sell me the $140 worth of parts without the VIN. And all along I thought that was to assure they got the correct part — silly me. Follow the money — my money this time.

  4. After 3 years of watching grass grow on the battery videos, we finally get to see the grass get cut. Awesome, great stuff. Congratulations on completing your latest project. Not what you expected, but still great none the less. Keep up the good work.

    Sorry I won’t get to make it to EVCCON again. Wedding last year and this year we have a baby on the way. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to go.

  5. Hi Jack,

    Great to see that you got your JD ZTR up and running and sorry to hear that it is so loud…

    When I was trying to sell the Electric Ox I did a local demo and the guy driving the tractor while mowing, was able to answer and carry a conversation on his cell phone!

    Not trying to make you feel bad, I’m just trying to let you know that it is possible to have a quiet electric ride-on mower…

    Keep up the great work!

    Cheerio,

    John

  6. Jack,
    I am contemplating a new conversion using an AC50 system. I know that AC motors run at higher RPMs than DC motors. If the sweet spot for a DC motor is 3000-5000 RPM, what is the sweet spot for an AC50?
    In the Speedster, what gear ratios did you put into the transmission to get the necessary wheel RPMs?

    Regards,
    Larry

    1. The sweet spot on DC motors is about 2200-3200 rpm. On the AC-50, we run it at 3500 to 4500. The important aspect to the speedster was the use of a 3.44 R&P instead of 3.88. That moves first gear from useless to useful.

  7. That was one loud mower… Pretty cool however. It cut the tall grass very well.

    It looks like you have an excellent shop rat in Jesse. Something tells me he has a bright future ahead of him…

    I love the little speedster on the water idea. I do think a direct shaft drive would work best on that little boat. It will save about 150lb of weight. I hould actually lean tword an AC35 over the AC50.. I think the trick will be a hull with a large planning surface. You will sacrifice top speed, but it will stay on plane with much less amp draw. I love the look of old wooden boats. However the new epoxy resins have made their strength to weight ratio close to that of carbon fiber….

    Of course a solar powered pontoon boat would be interesting as well. You could get a 2kw array on a standard 8′ x 20′ pontoon boat. These boats carry weight so well you could easly use CALB 180’s. Kind of like an RV on the water with almost unlimited range.

    1. I have pondered the pontoon boat for some time. The interesting thing there is to build a motor INTO the pontoon with the stator INSIDE the pontoon and the rotor OUTSIDE the pontoon in the water. Picture the rotor fitting inside the blunt end of the pontoon. And a prop connected directly to the shaft. Permanent magnet rotor. Water keeps it always cool. No demagnetization. Batteries and controller inside pontoon as well.

      1. Very nice ideia, the RC brushless motors , have 2 kinds of motores , the “inrunner” , typical motor with the rotor inside the motor , and the “outrunner” , the rotos is outside the motor.
        Outrunner´s are mostly used in airplanes , as outrunner´s can provide more torque for same size motor (? I think?) and are easy to cool

        1. The outrunner style motors have only two advantages but a lot of disadvnatages. The two advantages are they can be machine wound making them cheap and generally they have a lower Kv (rpm per volt constant). They have lower efficiency, they weigh more for their power output. They have mounting issues since the outside case rotates. We would not be using them to fly RC planes except for the advent of the LiPo batteries. When we started using lithium batteries which have about 4 times more energy than the NiCd none of the other stuff was hard anymore and people tended to buy the cheapest motors to offset the cost of the batteries. I don’t use the outrunners style. They are just not very good motors. Now back to EV’s!

          Doug

    2. I can hardly keep up with Jesse. He’s a shop tornado.

      So how do I do this direct drive? I really don’t know much about boat drives. We’re talking to a jet drive guy at the moment. But I LOVE the look of this little boat and the concept of a an electric speedster on the water is very appealing to me.

      I have several friends with large boats, mostly sailing boats but the beer and brats and sitting around is what I’m all about. But it would be kewell to zip around with a little mosquito that would silently let me zip around to get stuff and so forth in the harbor. A tender if you will.

      I have piquied the interest of Aristocraft and the jet drive guys.

      Jack Rickard

      1. Jack

        The reduction ratios used on outboard motors are pretty low (not too far either direction from 2:1) and I think because of this you could take advantage of the much better low RPM torque of electrics and go direct drive. You would want to experiment with different diameter and pitches of props to find what works best. I expect the efficiency of a prop driven boat would be quite a bit better than the jet drive. This would be a good topic to discuss at EVCCon.

        Doug

      2. Jack,
        My 64 Correct Craft uses a 1:1 to 1 Velvet Drive. Forward, Neutral, and Reverse. It is coupled to a Universal Saber Buick V6 Marine engine that produces 155 HP stock. The rpm of the Buick is more akin to the Series DC Motor so I am planning on using a fat 11″ or if I can find one a nice 13″ GE motor with this boat. I just put in a new fuel tank and now I am contemplating removing the engine and tank. Plenty of room for batteries and plenty of space to keep things dry. It’s light weight and I have one.

        Pete 🙂

  8. Hustler makes a production zero-turn 42″ mower that is electric. The Zeon. Unfortunately, it uses Trojan flooded lead acid cells; but it is a good heavy duty mower. They used to retail for $6,999; but recently have dropped to $4,999. I am on the lookout for a used one to put a lithium pack into. That would be a great mower!

    JACK

    1. “Made” a production zero-turn… Model is discontinued now. I picked up a brand new one earlier this year for less than 1/2 the MSRP w/ 4 fresh new lead acids (unfortunately). And yeah, the thing is great! 2 BLDC cut motors, 2 independently controlled AC sync drive motors for total amp draw of less than 40 amps @ 48 volts. Thinking of installing 13 CA40FI cells in the future and maybe a JLD404 before that.

  9. I think the only way to make that mower quiet, would be to get rid of the hydraulic pump/motors, and replace each one with a PM motor and controller. The problem with that, would be, you’d basically be adding a lot of complexity and at least another 1K in parts cost and I’m sure also a bunch of little custom fabricated brackets and such to mount them. Suddenly your cheap simple mower conversion; becomes neither cheap nor simple. Doesn’t seem worth it to me; since as soon as you flip on the blades it’s a noisy beast again. My parents have the commercial version of that mower. No matter how quite you could make it, as soon as those blades come on, it sounds like a prop driven aircraft taking off.

    1. I’ve got an electric push mower and it’s fairly quiet. I think part of the answer is in having a milder blade profile and sacrificing some of the “lift” for quietness. The other thing might be to re-examine the RPM to make sure the blade tips are not approaching supersonic speed as that is when things really start getting loud.

  10. Hi Jack,
    I can’t tell you how excited I am to here your going after a boat in the future. I currently have a 41′ Sailing Catamaran with a Solomons Tech. setup at 144V. Still have the AGM’s going strong but plan on LiPo’s in the future. Direct drive, nothing to get in the way of the prop other than a coupler. Rengen is while sailing, not a lot but it’s free as well as a 16KW genset for those no wind day’s to recharge during motoring. Electra Glide is a true pleasure.

  11. Hi Jack,

    Once again it’s an awesome show this week

    It is so uncanny for me looking back from past episodes how you’ve always said that the Nissan Leaf is far better off if the Internal Combustion Engine is taken out and if they would be available on lease arrangements.

    In this case you’ve managed to get it 2 for 2 and you were right on the money with it

    I sure hope Toyota and GM will follow suit so the Prius and the Volt would become pure electric vehicles too

    Marl

    1. Marlou,

      The Leaf never had an engine. The Prius and Volt come with engines. Love my Leaf. Drive it daily. The Volt should be just that, A VOLT. No engine. Volt brings to mind ALL ELECTRIC but its not. 🙁

      The Leaf is. 🙂

      Pete 🙂

  12. I’m not sure that we should be too critical of hybrids that can be driven most of the time as straight EVs. That piston engine is like flotation aids for a new swimmer. Plug in hybrids are inelegant engineering and wouldn’t be my choice, but they do give some folk the opportunity to learn that they don’t need a piston engine. Also they might suit some lifestyles that wouldn’t fit a straight EV: like the guy who drives 200 miles to work on a Monday morning, commutes locally during the week and drives 200 miles home on a Friday night.

    I’d double sales tax on cars with electric transmissions posing as green-mobiles (like the Prius) though. They give EVs a bad name

    1. Thanks John, I live in Jacksonville, Fl, a city with a very large area. I am a self employed general contractor and travel all over town in a truck. My wife works only 6 miles from the house, we recently bought a 07 Prius, that she drives to work. When we go out with anyone we cannot take the truck (no room) so we have the Prius. She averages 46+ mpg, recently I drove it to Lake City and Back, on the way at 61mph I averaged 51 mpg, and on the way back I went 66mph and got 56 mpg???? Strange car, I do wish an electric would work for us, but for no this is as close as we can get. PS I am 57 yo and have followed electric cars, dreaming, since the early 70’s. Love the site and all that it is doing for the cause.

  13. Jack, once again a great show. Next time you are looking for automatic trans parts call 877-634-5699 and ask for Joey Peters and tell him David Clark sent you(or order on-line). This is “What ever it takes Trans Parts”, https://www.wittrans.com/ They sell parts primarily to transmission rebuilders but they also sell the public. They ship nation wide. They are here in Florence, Al. Good people. On the subject of the boat, your idea of a stern drive seems like a very good one to me. A buddy of mine has a boat shop downtown by the river and over the years I have learned a few things about boats between helping him and owning one. A Mercruiser Alpha out drive from behind a 120 or 140 horse power 4 cylinder engine would be idea for what you want and the size boat you are looking at and you can generally find a used boat with the engine froze and busted engine with a good out drive for cheap. People tend to forget to winterize their boats and find out the next year that it was left full of water and froze and busted the block. Best way to get used out drives and parts. Looks like it would be a great project. If anyone is going to be riding the Trail of Tears this weekend stop and say “Hi”. I will be down at Jerry’s boat repair shop out front in the lawn chair watching the bikes go by.

  14. Jack,

    I can echo your pains with the faulty original conversion. No seriously, I think it was done by the same Paul.

    We are doing a complete overhaul. Everything is coming out but the motor itself. Will inspect the brushes though 😉

    Frankly, I’m not sure the best venue to offer a public service announcement about the bad techniques. It all would border on libel, but this thing seriously had several serious safety issues that need to be publicly admonished against repeating.

  15. Hey Jack great show!

    You may be interested in this post I found on EVDL:

    Hello List,

    I’m executive producing a TV show based on EV conversions. If you have a shop which is dedicated to EV’s and or are a TV Personality type with EV experience and knowledge feel free to contact me off list. Provide information regarding your bio and experience, your shop, and your contact information.

    Best regards,

    M2
    http://www.evdl.org/archive/index.html#nabble%2Bmailing_list%2FSubscribeDefaults.jtp%3Fforum%3D413529%26k%3D5vpsjevw

        1. “I’m executive producing a TV show based on EV conversions.”.
          This is an opportunity and precisely that!
          Not only could this increase viewer-ship for the unfortunate who need to find their way but not found it yet.
          It will also provide a voice for products as items/manufacturers might get interviewed.
          The professionals will compile users video’s into something more for the general audience.
          Revenues will offset costs.
          Professional editing.
          Jacks hands might be less tied with a publisher taking the strain who will bow out eventually because no TV series goes on forever. The internet only got big because the public caught on. Big money followed.

          Maybe he is thinking of OCC Choppers and car chop shops. All ego’s fighting it out?
          Maybe “The Garage” (TV series) – Wikipedia. A brit garage based in Spain.
          Or “Bangla Bangers” – Wikipedia An Indian garage based in London.
          EVTV, Small electric cars in big truck country…

  16. Hi, this is my first post on this blog: I’m in Bar Harbor Maine and and just about done with the rebuild (with lithium) of my electric SAAB 96. But I wanted to comment on the boats! I actually have built several boats although none are electric, I’ve been in several electric boats and seen how they work. For the small runabout I would recommend a regular shaft and propeller rather than a stern drive, mostly because of the size. the prop and rudder would be small enough so that getting the boat on a trailer or close to shore would not be enough of an issue to justify trying to find a tiny stern drive unit. One boat I built years ago had direct drive, with no clutch or reverse: the engine was an old “make and break” gas marine engine and could be made to run backwards by carefully timed opening and closing of the low voltage ignition switch. That was fun! It would be easy to maneuver with an electric motor that could go ahead or astern. I’d say the goal with that pretty little boat is to keep ‘er light!

    1. John, if you have watched Jack on some of his test drives you will find it quite a surreal experience arriving in Cape. Although you have never been there before you will be able to find your way around as if you were psychic – I know i did last year.
      Will you be bringing any copies of your book with you? I have cash, not that you will need it at EVCCON. The event was so well catered that I spent nothing during the convention and actually had to lose a couple of kilos when i got home.

      1. Hi facebook_….. Yes I noticed that the city was er,.. highly rectilinear compared with most British cities. We have a saying that the “Rolling English drunkard built the rolling English Road”.

        And yes- thank you for asking – there should have been some sale copies of ICE Free delivered to Cape already

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