Visions of Sugar Plums….and Apple Rockets.

The concept of a an adoption curve is credited to Everett Rogers in his 1962 paper on the Diffusion of Innovations. It described the adoption curve and introduced the concept of tinkerers and innovators, early adopters, early consumers, etc. Rogers had a PhD in Sociology but was originally an Agriculture student at the University of Iowa and the technological innovation he was describing in 1962 was the use of more modern seedcorn variants that offered increased yields and disease resistance.

Despite the obvious benefits of increase yields and disease resistance, farmers tend to be a conservative group and their adoption of such new fangled ideas was a little slow on the uptake in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

The adoption curve was actually more evident later with the introduction of NEW technology based product introductions such as cell phones, flat screen televisions, the personal computer, the Internet, personal printers, spreadsheets, and word processors.

[jwplayer streamer=”rtmp://” provider=”rtmp” file=”news050313-iPhone.m4v” hd.file=”” image=””  width=”950″ height=”584″ html5_file=””]

We claim no great mystical prescience in predicting several years ago that the adoption of Lithium powered magnetic drive in automobiles would follow this standard adoption curve. Starting with near zero participants, and assuming that it might eventually reach a mass market, that is the only route really to get there.

But we’ve seen a LOT of obvious mistakes lead to an extraordinary number of bankrupties and product failures that would appear to be committed by those apparently totally OBLIVIOUS to this by now pretty much accepted hypothesis.

I read recently on DIYelectric that one of our more socially graceless but talented component designers didn’t think the adoption curve applied to electric automobiles. It does, but it brings up the point, the adoption curve only describes products that are eventually adopted. Actually it applies to those who don’t as well but some products just don’t make the cut. They reach a certain point post early adopter where they hit the vein of consumers – a pragmatic consumer. And the entire marketing message has to change to appeal to these more pragmatic “show me” consumers. If a company fails to make this message transition, they pretty much fail.

Geoffrey Moore describes this most ably in his 1991 book Crossing the Chasm – Marketing and Selling High-tech Products to Mainstream Customers In this book Moore describes this pragmatic market: “The chasm is a drastic lull in market development that occurs after the visionary market is saturated and pragmatists will not buy into a discontinuous technology unless they can reference other pragmatists, thus the catch-22. Pragmatists dependent exclusively on references from others in their own industry and are highly support oriented.”

I have to say that I’m strongly affected by adoption curve theory AND Moore’s proviso noting a chasm where products FAIL to reach full adoption. If you pay careful attention, this pretty much explains the EXISTENCE of EVtv.

Pragmatists require validation and evidence from OTHER pragmatists who have actually adopted the product before they will likewise adopt it. This is the chasm. How do you get ANY of the pragmatists to adopt the product at all. It’s a glitch in the adoption curve. A point of inflection where if you do not bridge this, the product fails.

As to the adoption curve itself, it starts with tinkerers and innovators. These guys will play with ANYTHING if it catches their interest. That is YOU technically. You’ll ride a lawn mower if it is electric drive.
And of course you want to upgrade it to Lithium batteries so it will mow longer.

That group is followed by the early adopters. These are people who don’t likely alter the products or even technically understand them completely, but have the resources and interest to be the first in their neighborhood with a PC, or a cell phone, or an Internet connection. Gadget guys. They like the position of being able to show their products to others and gain status by having the neat new toy that nobody else in their area is sufficiently knowledgable about or can afford.

To go past the tinkerer and innovator stage, you have to appeal to the early adopter. They provide revenues through early sales to fund the continued development and refinement of the product, and eventually launch you into the volume numbers to either bring costs down organically, or convince you to invest in that refinement yourself with some assurance that there will BE a mass market for the product. Failure at the early adopter market is rather total failure. You have to succeed in the early adopter market to even get TO the CHASM.

Fisker. Brightspeed. Phoenix. Aptera. Azure Dynamics. THINK. Coda. The list of failed automotive startups in the electric vehicles space is already almost universal. The perception is that the automotive industry is very competitive and it is very HARD to succeed in this mature industry.

Actually, while it is non trivial to build an automotive manufactory, it is not particularly hard to succeed there. An extraordinary percentage of humankind’s resource is spent on cars and personal transportation. And the players extant have become very inefficient and encumbered by regulation to the point that the U.S. Federal Government spewed $80 BILLION dollars to prop up a totally bankrupt General Motors Corporation. This industry is BEGGING to be knocked off by innovative disruptive technology. And unlike the 1980’s, our cultural and political environment is almost nurturing to anything that can get us off of oil and exhaust emissions.

The problem with all these companies is not that they failed because the auto industry is so hard They failed by not identifying and appealing to this early adopter segment. And while they haven’t failed yet, I would throw the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt right in on top of the evident failures. They are being held in the air in an act of gravity defiance supported by massive investments from the large corporations who have introduced them. If they depended on government grants and investment funds, they would be gone as well at this point. Unfortunately for them, simply spewing BILLIONS at the problem has never actually been a success technique in dealing with the adoption curve. It’s just a quick way to burn off billions of dollars.

Coda, with total sales of 78 cars, can be a poster child for this. The car is actually pretty well designed. The drive train uses the UQM AC drive system that is comically overpriced for individuals at about $34,000. But UQM received $43 million or so to build a volume plant to produce these and sold them to CODA for much less than that. They used a substantial LiFePo4 pack to achieve a range in the 120-130 mile area actually. But they basically built all this into a Chinese roller that looked like a very inexpensive 2000 era Toyota economy car.

The early adopter market for electric cars looks a little bit like me. Late career. Age 40-60. Male. And with personal resources to drive any car they might want to.

If you are already enamored with the concept of electric vehicles as a solution, it is still hard for me, at age 58, to picture myself in a $19,000 economy hatchback targeted at a 24 year-old working on his first job out of college and with a new baby. That’s just not where I am in life. Nor where ANY of the early adopters that might fuel the uptake of electric cars is. A 10 year out of date Toyota economy car really doesn’t scratch the itch either. A small delivery van designed for flower shops doesn’t quite do it either. No kudos for a $59,000 price tag on a commonly available $23,000 vehicle. I don’t mind being an early adopter, but you can’t make me look stupid in public while I’m doing it. If I can pick one up for $6,100 at the liquidation auction, ok. But I’ll make the shop rats drive it. I won’t actually drive it much myself.

The Leaf is an electric version of the $19,000 Versa. And the Volt is a range extended electric version of the $17,000 Chevy Cruze. And so you have the kind of wierd scenario of selling 25,000 Chevy Cruze’s per month to 24 year olds, and 2000 Volts per month at $42,000 into the latent demand of the remnants of the tinkerers and innovators.

Tesla has had the dubious distinction of being the most shorted stock in NASDAQ history for essentially the entire period since it’s Initial Public Offering – IPO. Currently 42% of the 74.8 million tradeable shares (the float) are sold short. That is they are sold by people who don’t own them, by being borrowed from people who do. The expectation of course, is that since ALL the electric car introductions have failed thus far, that when this one does and is trading at $0.20 per share, you can buy them back and cover your loan of the shares, which you sold at $27.00. You get to pocket the difference. At one point, the short was more like 46%. Technically, you can’t quite go over 50% because you would have to have the same shares borrowed TWICE to pull this off and it just isn’t allowed.

The whole concept of Tesla is a bit different from the other players. Originally they were a conversion shop converting Lotus Elise rollers to electric drive and selling them purportedly for $109K and more often $130K. The initial units cost them about $146K to build, which was somewhat problematical. But they survived it and basically sold all the rollers they had contracted for and in the interim, Lotus simply stopped the Elise production line. So there are no more Tesla Roadsters. But it strongly appealed to the early adopters I describe.

The Model S was designed from a clean sheet of paper. The original car body “designer” was ironically Henrik Fisker of FIsker Kharma – soon to announce their bankruptcy. But he had been a designer for the Aston Martin marque in the UK. A very high end, very European sedan. The Rapide starts at $197,500 and we may have been the first to line up a photo of the MOdel S and a photo of the Rapide side by side. You can’t really pick one from another without a pretty high zoom setting on your Photoshop.

Fisker and Tesla fell out of bed rather quickly and actually lawsuits resulted. Tesla sued Fisker and lost. They actually had to pay Fiskers legal costs of over a million dollars. Apparently that didn’t help the Karma.

Fisker was a coach designer. Not an engineer. And the Karma was just an engineering mess. One problem after another. Pretty on the outside. Rotten right down to the overengineered battery packs from A123, now ALSO bankrupt. I’d like to get one of these very pretty car bodies, and gut it to build a BEV out of it. That would be kind of a first for us. Converting an electric car to electric drive.

Meanwhile the Tesla was supposed to be a $55,000 European look sedan with a 300 mile range. I am confident that car would have absolutely busted the game wide open and early adopters would flock to it. But even then I found that an ambitious target and predicted a fully equipped price of $77,500 and even put down a deposit. Alas, the “fully equipped” price is more like $110,000. And in many ways I associate it now with Steve Jobs NeXTCube computer. Impossibly sexy and simply not obtainable at the price of $10,000 when introduced in the early 1990’s.

Apparently not. Tesla appears to have sold 6000-7000 of the units. There IS something odd going on with Elon Musk apparently nearing some sort of melt-down as he makes one impossibly trivial and bizarre announcement after another, usually signaled by a TWEET and followed by a conference call. In any event, it has brought up the stock price to $56 and those who had shorted at $27 are a little grim around the mouth this morning. There are so MANY of them, that if they head for the exits, it will drive this stock price higher yet and quickly. That increases the pressure on the remaining shorts, and some will even start to get automatic sales and margin calls. That could lead to a stampede. At that point it’s a scramble to cover and NOT be the last one out the door and the resulting stock price will be entirely out of proportion to the value of the company. I’ve been predicting THAT for over a year and a half now as well.

But despite missing the $55,000 price point, the Model S is already ESTABLISHED as the status symbol in Silicon Valley. They are everywhere there. And spreading across the country. So the NeXTcube analogy did not pan out and it would appear Tesla is going to thoroughly appeal to the early adopter market. If they reach their 20,000 vehicle goal for 2013, it will absolutely set the automotive industry on its head – changing it forever.

The trick is, there IS no economy ICE version of the car available at $30,000 to bring the value proposition to a point. And the car IS sexy. Lots of gadgets, including a 17 inch display, wireless connectivity, and stunning handling qualities coupled with a REAL range well over 200 miles and with careful driving, potentially the promised 300 miles. It has already gained the panache and status of gadget du jour. And so if you are wealthy, environmentally conscious, and a technocrat, and don’t drive a Tesla this year, you are actually a bit out of position. This could set off a stamped to “cover” coinciding with the short sellers.

The potential is there for TSUNAMI.

I’m picturing CODA’s alternate universe if they had targeted smaller numbers of Aston Martin Rapide conversions instead of cheap Chinese Toyota knockoffs.

I will openly PREDICT that GM’s introduction of a much higher priced Cadillac ELR will end in the embarassing result that it will have higher UNIT sales than the Volt month by month for the entire period both are on sale.

And Apple computer is about to miss their moment of opportunity.

I was bemused to view this week an Apple Shareholder on BLOOMBERG WEST proposing as his own brilliantly original idea that Apple should acquire Tesla Motors. The logic was pretty good, though he didn’t quite get the need to take out Solar City and SpaceX as well as we did in JULY of 2012. Without those two companies, Elon would not likely serve as CEO, nor really perhaps even condoning the merger.

Tesla has a bit of a problem of course with development funds and has actually pushed out the Model X for a year or so. Model X is more the kind of vehicle that would appeal to ME, not being much of a sedan driver.

But much more to the point, Apple is staggering under the weight of about $150 billion in cash – held overseas. It is too large to keep here and pay taxes on. Oddly, they recently sold $17 billion in BONDS to raise capital to do what? Apparently htey plan on propping their stock up with dividends. Good idea. But in technology, dividends imply that you haven’t a clue how to deploy the capital in product development more ably than your shareholders. That’s kind of a weird admission coming from Steve Jobs.

Of course, it isn’t coming from Steve Jobs. It’s coming from Tim Cooke. Mr. Cooke may be an able administrator. But he is decidedly NOT Steve Jobs. And he faces a daunting challenge. A company that has always commanded a premium as a technology GROWTH play, with rapidly accelerating revenues and profits, they are hard pressed where to find a place to increase revenues on the scale necessary. They have almost no culture of acquisition or competent acquisition team at work. Their acquisitions have been so trivial that you hardly hear of them. Small technology companies with scraps and pieces of technology they might find useful at the moment.

And anywhere in their space where they might fancy a significant acquisition, almost certainly lands them in anti-trust or at least anti-competitive scrutiny. Ask Bill Gates how debilitating THAT can be.

But Tesla, Solar CIty, and SpaceX offer entre into THREE potentially HUGE industries with almost unlimited potential.

SpaceX, to INFINITY AND BEYOND with Buzz Lightyear, actually is cash flow positive with outstanding contracts including a $1.6 billion 12-flight NASA cargo delivery contract to the International Space Station and as of December 2012, has broken into the military launch business previously totally owned by Boeing and Lockheed with several hundred millions in Air Force contracts. They are emerging as the low cost provider in the orbital lift space and already have a backlog of over 20 OTHER contracts totaling nearly $4 billion in pending launches. Started with an investment of $100 million by Elon Musk in 2006, this may be the most promising egg in the basket.

Solar City. Musk’s participation is not so widely known. SolarCity was founded in July 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive, based on a suggestion for a solar company concept from Elon Musk. As of 2011, it was the largest Solar installation company in the world. Musk has a large investment in the company and serves as Chairman of the Board. In 2008 SolarCity introduced a new solar lease option for homeowners that significantly reduces or eliminates the upfront cost of installing solar power. SolarCity’s solar lease can allow some homeowners to pay less each month by adopting solar power than they previously paid for electricity from the utility company.

What you may also not know, SolarCity entered the electric car charging business by buying the SolSource Energy business of Clean Fuel Connections, Inc., which was reported to be finalized in 2009 and has also announced a partnership with Rabobank to make electric car charging available for free to owners of Tesla Motors’ vehicles traveling on U.S. Route 101 in California between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2011, the company announced it would install electric car chargers that could charge a wide range of EVs in all of its service territories.

And so you see my Tesla Supercharger/Solar City link that I think is a little pregnant. A national grid of Solar City solar/battery fast charging stations could be fairly easily financed using the convenience store model of the existing gasoline stations. I would upscale that concept a bit to a more California style vitamin water bar with Starbucks coffee and the obligatory alfalfa sprout pita pocket, but it might also work with Ho’Ho’s and Ding Dongs and the world famous 192 ounce Bloomberg NYC Big Gulp Cola Slurpee sugar coma.

For maybe $20-$22 billion, Apple could acquire the whole shooting match. They would gain entre to the $80 billion automotive market, pickup the largest and most successful Solar installation company, the whole nationwide convenience store charging network, and a heavy lift Space company that owns $4 billion in contracts and is currently the low-cost go to for orbital lift, actually shaming giants such as Boeing and Lockheed.
In ALL of these UNLMITED markets, they get the current prince of the field, where the deployment of cash only accelerates market share and dominance. Best of all, Apple is UNASSAILABLE on the anti-competitive front. No blathering idiot, even in the Obama administration, can possibly emit the THOUGHT that Apple would be dominant in automobiles, convenience stores, Solar power, or Space Exploration. It is laughable.

Better, they could probably pull it off WITHOUT paying a cent. This thing begs for a stock swap. I’m picturing the guy who sold his Tesla shares short at $27, and suddenly has to cover an Apple share at $452 for each Tesla share he sold. Or a 5 Tesla share for 1 Apple share valuing Tesla at a preposterous $80 per share. Either way you would have short investors jumping off of long buildings in a rain of terror.

This leaves Elon Musk as CEO of Apple Solar Exploration Electric Car Company and Convenience Store. iEverything iCar. iPhone. iRoof. iTv. iComputer. iPad. iRocket. iBigGulp. iPower. And $150 billion or so to make it all happen. Along with all the existing Apple engineers and employees who wander the halls wondering what it would have been like if Jobs hadn’t passed untimely.

Tim Cooke, once again COO OR Chairman, is the brilliant guy who actually DID figure out how to replace Steve Jobs.

And Buzz Musk goes to Infinity and Beyond. Albeit stuttering and stammering his way to Mars. I love it.

Oh. EVtv. Well not quite so glorious. But recall the chasm. After the early adopters, there are the pragmatists. They need reference from other pragmatists who have already adopted. Which of course don’t exist. Can 100,000 tinkers and innovators take 500,000 pragmatists for a ride? And if a homebuilt electric car rides THAT well and causes all that grinning, what would a shiny new Tesla Model X be like? Or maybe a 1967 VW microbus….in Teal and Lime Green….

They might just reject the concept of the electric car. But they likely will NOT be able to resist the allure that the American car can be fun again. Some will build. Some will buy. Some will do both.

Jack Rickard

46 thoughts on “Visions of Sugar Plums….and Apple Rockets.”

  1. John Albergo

    Jack I’ve seen you frequently espouse the many virtues of electric drive and it’s quite a list.

    So I’m wondering about your observation of the LEAF being an ‘electric Versa’, as if this is a bad thing.

    Do you personally believe the car is worth a premium over the Versa, despite the advantages of electric drive?

    And if so, at what relative price differential do you think the pragmatists would see that worth?

    1. Jack Rickard

      Rather misses the point John. Instead of doing an electric Versa and calling ti a Leaf, why didn’t they do the top of hte line and call THAT the Leaf.

      The comparison to the Versa ICE vehicle by price will haunt them forever.

      Basically, if you bury a $15,000 battery in a $70,000 car, it is then an $85,000 car.

      But if you bury it in a $19,000 car, you have basically doubled its price.


  2. Mark Roberts

    In that shareholder interview you referred to, he also suggested that “if Apple doesn’t buy Tesla Google should”. In many ways I actually think this would be a better fit. Granted Google doesn’t need new leadership where Apple clearly does, but Google does have a much more innovative focus, with things like glass and the self drive car in the wings.

    Imagine an electric car, which drives itself, while you sit back and clear your emails on the HUD, on the way to your favorite winery, until you get bored and tell the car “Computer give me manual control, It’s time to waste some Joules”. And if you get pulled over on the way home, imagine all the fun you could have with the legal system – Your Honor, sure I was liqueured up, playing with high voltage, and going for a drive, but the cars was driving itself, and it doesn’t use a drop of ethanol, methanol or any-other-anol, it’s electric.


    1. Tony, how? Let’s say I want to sell you a car. The car I’m selling uses gasoline and costs $50,000. You look over my shoulder and see that I’m also selling a diesel powered car. It’s $30,000 but otherwise the same car. Which one do you pick? The problem that companies like GM have is that they sell both versions. They want to sell cars. So, what do they do? They still want to be able to sell their gas powered cars so they can’t just hide them all under a tarp. What Jack said is the only way to fix the problem: don’t build EV versions of existing (and cheap) gas cars. Nobody wants that. It’s too easy to compare the two on price and notice that the EV version is way more money. They’re so much more money that you will probably never make your money back on the savings in gas and tune ups. So, the solution is to break the comparison by making the EV cars something special. People like fancy and/or unique things. The car companies need to make a car that people want to buy that they can’t compare to anything else.

      1. The maths varies quite a bit depending on your fuel cost and mileage. I do > 20k miles/year. At UK petrol prices that works out at about £250/month or £3000 a year on petrol even in a small hatchback, Over 5 years that is £15k. Comparing 5 year costs between EV and ICE is probably fairer, as with an EV you are in effect paying some of your propulsion costs up front.

        1. Oh, that’s a simple answer Tony.
          The poor people who cannot stump the “up front” cost of an electric car are duty bound to pay more and have their kids sent to forcefully secure the Worlds oil reserves.
          Or something like that.

      2. That’s pretty good Colin but if they sold both versions for $40,000 as Tony suggested there would be no comparison. However, they would compare the $40,000 ICE version to other car makers similar vehicles and in the long run probably sell less of them negating the effort. Jake put it best it would be easier to sell the Nissan 370Z Roadster at $60,000 than the leaf at $35,000.

  3. Between the Versa(US) and the Leaf.
    All I can say, drive them. Make your own mind up.
    My neighbour has a Z4 BMW with the big engine block. Took him for a spin in mine. He is considering getting rid of his now………… and buying a Leaf!
    Tim who comes on here has pulled apart a perfectly good Z3. Nice car now!
    An old fella came over when we were loading up the car with food. “I’ve a Nissan, not seen this before, what is it? I told him and got him to sit in the car and took him for a spin. He was mightily impressed indeed!
    Girlfriend and her youngest daughter totally love this car. They coo when I take off at the lights. The acceleration feels like a jet passenger plane pulling off on the runway.
    My nieces husband who took me over to the garage to pick up the Leaf. He saw the big red Jag with the new plate and reckoned it was the managers car… The guy came out for a chat and a handshake before we were off. I said to him, get a good weekend in and you’ll be able to p/x the Jag for a Leaf.. He said “It’s not my Jag, I have a Leaf. It’s a fantastic car, best I’ve ever owned”.. OOPS!
    Took Ste for a spin in it afterwards. He has driven many, many cars and quoted how spookily quiet and effortless it drives.
    Not one face is unsmiling after being in it. Perchance some lithium leakage into the cabin?
    Would it be the same if I bought “a car”?
    Oddly, I agree with all who speak against modding any old pram as pointless ……but I also like 5 seats and an attractive price point and it certainly does not impede my EV impetus to create the special I’m working on.

  4. Ford Prefect

    Hello Jack and Brian,

    Jack has explained that wheel motors do not last because the chew out the bearings pdq.

    Found that BYD has a hub motor (is that the same as a wheel motor) for its buses.

    “BYD’s self-developed wheel-hub motor is adopted in the BYD ebus. It is installed in the rear drive axle together with regenerative braking technologies. Compared with a normal motor, the rear drive axle system in the BYD ebus has no gear box, no transmission shaft, and no differential mechanism. The power from the motor is directly transmitted to the wheels, so that significant improvements are achieved in transmission efficiency and reductions in noise and vibration. In addition, the bus weight can be cut by 300kg, and interior space is greatly saved.”

    Which may be all the more interesting if they start manufacturing buses in the desert nearer to youse guys than me in Aus.

    ” BYD and the City of Lancaster Announce Lancaster Energy Module and Electric Bus Manufacturing Facilities

    LANCASTER, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today, BYD and the City of Lancaster joined together to announce the arrival of two BYD manufacturing facilities in Lancaster. BYD, a leading international firm specializing in rechargeable batteries, vehicle manufacturing and green energy technologies, will begin operating an electric bus manufacturing facility and an Iron-Phosphate energy module (large-scale battery) manufacturing facility in the coming months. These mark the first manufacturing facilities in the United States for BYD Motors Inc, a Los Angeles-based subsidiary of the Chinese firm BYD Company Ltd (1211.HKE).

    China-based BYD, short for “Build Your Dreams,” boasts more than 160,000 employees around the world, with operations in China, the US, Europe, Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other regions. BYD’s US corporate headquarters is located in Los Angeles, while the Lancaster facilities mark the firm’s first manufacturing facilities in North America.”

    Seems BYD are using iron phosphate battery technology.


  5. Jack,
    Since Tesla seems to always be a topic, I’d like to propose the next Tesla vehicle. The Tesla Westfalia, a model S with the body of a Eurovan Camper on top of the Tesla S pan / drivetrain. Range perfect for traveling, all the power you need for camping purposes, charge it up overnight at RV parks, low center of gravity, and internet/wifi for keeping in touch with the outside world. These types of vehicles go for a premium price.
    What do you Think?

  6. Love the idea of an Apple purchase of Tesla…. Makes too much sense to actually happen….

    I also love the idea of a 196x VW micro bus with the new AC75 or one of your Siemens motors. If honestly think that might be the best possible DYI EV right now. It was actually my first choice over the VW Thing, but they are expensive if they are not a complete rust bucket…

    By the way, the EVThing is more or less ready for it’s first test drive. I have almost everything working. However, I am having trouble with the main contactor. For some reason it is putting out a significant amount of EMI and Audible noise. I am going to try to re-rout the wiring to be more EMI friendly, check for lose pins/connections, add ferrite cores, etc…

    The motor works great and the noise does not appear to affect it’s proper operation. It does, however, make my +-50mv input from my 800A shunt go crazy when I pull in the main contractor. It suddenly reads 16-18amps but FLUKE shows less than 1A on the shunt. The PLC Input works perfect until you pull in the main contactor. I can accurately read down to 0.02 amps. It also works when the charger is powered up.

    My 0-150VDC to 0-10V pack voltage transducer works extremely well. It is very accurate ( 0.001V) and is not affected by the noise. It allows the PLC to know the true pack voltage. It also provides 3000V electrical isolation between the PLC and pack. It is a 15bit signed analog input so it is accurate down to about 0.02 volts. This will let me truly measure KWhrs. (Assuming I get the Shunt sorted out)….

    If anyone has any ideas about what might be causing the noise, please let me know….

    1. Jeff,

      If you think the Thing is expensive just wait till you price out a rust free Micro Bus. 🙂 I am slowly working on a 67 VW Panel Bus right now. Still needs work but its pretty much rust free. I agree that an AC-75 or 76 would be a wonderful motor/controller setup for the Bus. Got that in the works right now.

      Put a pile of lithium in this beastie and you have a hauler without a doubt. It is a good build. Just needs lithium to round it out and make it a usable viable transporter like it was meant to be.


      Between the Versa and Leaf? I agree, there is no comparison. None what so ever. I have driven both and the Versa just plain sucks, even for an ICE vehicle. Its a cheap piece of garbage. I think the problem is that the Versa was the test mule for the Leaf drive train and for the Cruz was used for the Volt and people automatically think they are just electric versions of the mules. They really have little to do with either. I do think the price point is a bit high but as for putting the two side by side and saying one is an electric version of the other is totally not true.

    2. Hi Jeff,
      I had the same problem with annoying buzzing from the contactor. At first I even moved the contactor to a different location it bothered me so much. Try adjusting down the “Pull in Voltage and holding voltage for the contactor.” You will need to use the Curtis Controller programmer or the Programming software to do this. For the programmer, go to “program” then “drivers” then Main Contactor(I think) then “Pull in voltage” or “Holding Voltage”. I was able to hear the difference as I made the adjustment.
      If you go too low, I was told by Bill Riche from HPEV the contactor might open if you hit a big bump while driving. Hope this helps. Also thanks for your post on how you installed your Hall effect throttle. I will be copying your technique. Beautiful job on your conversion by the way.

      1. Thanks… I lowered the voltages and you were right it helped, but still putting out EMI and audio noise. I think the routing of the wires is setting up a resonance frequency with the PWM. i’ll try a few things before replacing the Contactor…..

    3. Noise from a contactor should be pretty impossible, except …

      There is a contact in the first place where two metal electrodes meet. A drop of water in the wrong place, corrosion, heat, …

      Cleaning the two contacts might help. If it is a sealed thing then better replace it and if the trouble goes away with the contactor you have found the culprit.

      Silver plated contacts with the silver turned black are semiconductors. They can turn noise from the brushes into radio noise if it was not already radio noise in the first place.

      It happens rarely but when you have found the one bad contactor then you are the winner.

    4. I did a lot of testing today. I re-routed the wires and put on some ferrite cores on the power lines and the I/O lines. It had zero effect….

      I am beginning to think that the contactor may simply be bad…. I powered it with a straight 24vdc and it still buzzed. It was not quite as loud and at a lower frequency. I think I am going to buy another contactor to test with. It would be good to have a spare anyway….

      I am not quite sure how to deal with the EMI interference on the +-50mv shunt reading on the PLC. My Fluke meter reads the mv ( or amps ) accurately with the main contactor pulled in. I guess I’ll have to find some type of signal isolator.

      1. Aluminium kitchen foil can do wonders.

        Beware, it is a conductor and it can burn like hell. Normally you wont get it to burn in the first place because it conducts heat even better than electricity. Simply keep it out of the way of either 12V/24V and High Tension in particular.

        The shunt is hot. Keeping about 2 inches away from it might be a good idea.

        Wrapping a blank length of wire together with your sensor cables inside the same foil and connecting one end to instrument frame or car frame or experiment, … is another good idea. Keep that connection short or better clamp the foil directly to the frame at “the right place”. It is guesswork but it can help and after taping the shield and cables to the chassis it does not look that bad and it does not move.

        Why not try a shielded cable in the first place. Cheap microphone cable might be good for the signal and bad for EMI at the same time.

      2. I have just not seen this and we’ve done probably five of these installs now. I don’t think wiring and EMI is going to be very productive. Either the controller or the contactor more likely.

        I think the controller is making the PWM from pack voltage to close the contactor. If your connections from controller to contactor are good, the contactor is the easier of the two to swap out. If adjusting the pull in and hold values change it but don’t cure it, that’s what I’d look at I guess.

        Here’s another test. Drop your pack voltage a bit by skipping a couple of cells and see if it makes any difference. How many cells do you have now?

        Jack Rickard

        1. You are probably right Jack. I work with noise issue all of the time, but the floating ground system of the pack in a car makes this a little more difficult to diagnose. I also have to deal with both a 24vdc and 12vdc bus.

          Unfortunately, someone stoled my Fluke Scopemeter. I usually study these things with a dual trace Scope to actually see what is going on. I feel a little blind without it….

          The EMI is probably coming from the controller and the audible noise is coming from the coil in the contactor. They may well be two completely unrelated issues…

          However, the actual motor control is working perfectly. It is very smooth and quite operation…

          I think I’ll swap out the coil and put a isolated signal conditioner between the shunt and the PLC’s analog input. These often solve a lot of issues….

          P.S. First Drive is scheduled for later today…..

          1. Jeff, in regard to the EMI issue, you might check to see if there is any “RFI” or other filters that you are using to try to clean up some noise. Installing an FRI filter can sometimes be the CAUSE of the noise. For example, an AC RFI filter has capacitors from phase to phase and phase to ground. Having capacitors from phase to chassis ground is a real bad thing if your battery pack is isolated from chassis ground. Now any HV noise on your HV bus is now on your chassis. I just fixed this exact issue on a hybrid locomotive I’m working on. 700Vdc battery pack isolated from chassis. A 3 phase inverter is used to make 208V 3 phase to run air conditioners, lights, etc. The system consisted of : 3 phase inverter connected to output reactor connected to RFI filter connected to step down transformer (208/120V). The RFI filter referenced the HF PWM (only several 3KHz but several KW) to chassis. When it powered up, every CAN bus, serial port and analog IO point crashed, including the USB communications to my laptop. Removed RFI filter and everything works fine. My Fluke scopemeter came in real handy that day, no I don’t have yours.
            Also, maybe your contactor has leakage to it’s body, which is then connected to your vehicle chassis? Have you tried electrically isolating the contactor mounting from your chassis?

          2. If your relay is being switched on with a switching power source (PWM) as Jack said then put an RC filter on it.

    5. I have 36 cells and I plan on trying the RC filter… The contactor is isolated from the chassis because the case in completely non-conductive…..

      I am reasonably sure now that the audible noise and electrical noise are un-related….

      I really think a signal conditioner between the shunt and the analog input will solve the issue. I know this is an issue that I can solve because my Fluke meter is reading the mv across the shunt correctly when the contactor is energized. That means that the noise in no a real voltage across the shunt, but more likely some type of capacitive coupling or ground loop.

      I do have some great news though. I went on my first test drive today. I was thrilled and very happy with the perfomance…. You can see the drive at…..

      Thanks for all of the help. It is appreciated….

  7. Speaking of Plums…It seems someone is “crapping their shorts”…Tesla is trading at over $70 in after hours trading at this moment.
    The shorts aren’t even close to being fulfilled. Someone is gonna have a “Christmas in July”!

  8. Speaking of Volvo’s: I’m in the early phase of converting an S80 2008 model (see As I went along with your recommendation Jack, to go for the car one desires and not with a cheap rust-bucket, I chose this one. And as you said and get quoted so many times: “It’s better to be lucky than good”, I met Mr. Brusa in person on a convention and we found an agreement for a sponsorship. Probably I was able to convey the message that his components could be used not just in the smallest Volvo model but also in their sedan – and we might need to give them a showcase for persuasion. I just hope a 100kW motor is powerful enough to move this tank of 3600lbs.
    BTW: Going with a Brusa controller and motor left me no choice other than to join in on GEVCU and contribute. A webserver for status display and adjusting the configuration is nearly ready. Next thing would be a CAN based throttle (request the ECU for nominal throttle position and convert the response for the DMOC or Brusa controller). Might also be a bit safer than using a single pot as throttle input (if coded and tested well 🙂 )
    Jack: On the blog you see some pictures of my “garage”. I spent several weekends making enough room, thinking of your “army” and having your words linger in my mind about “just go ahead and clean that spot in your garage”. It was a hell of a swiping 🙂 But I’m happy with it.

    1. I’ve contacted Michael privately about this as well. But you guys HAVE to take a look at his blog. Not only is it a gorgeous car, but he has the most beautiful garage/shed I’ve ever seen. For you guys that like prefab buildings in California with white epoxy floors, this may not be your cup of tea. But I WANT one. Just too precious to be believed.

      Where is this located?

      jack Rickard

      1. Jack, thanks a lot! It’s located in “Maschwanden” in the south-western part of canton Zurich in Switzerland. It’s a 600 souls town on the country-side ( Unfortunately as cute as the shed is, as old it is – with cracks in the supporting walls. So I’m not entierly sure if I really want to place 2.5 Tons on 200 year old walls and wood floor over a cellar – and then work under the car. I might have to look for an alternative in a farmer’s barn with concrete floor just to survive it all 🙂
        BTW: By coincidence I had to visit the Volvo garage with my other car (V50) today and asked about the E30. I was told by the sales man that it was only available through leasing and is discontinued by now. They only offer V60s as a plugin-hybrid now. I took one for a quick test drive and although it’s around 3800lbs and it only has a 70HP electric motor it was FUN! My wife and I both had a broad EV-grin on our faces. So I’m really keen on getting things moving.
        (The funniest thing about the V60 was how they show regen activity. In the meter left to the speedometer there’s a battery level meter [see ] . If the car is doing regen, you see bubbles going up on the meter. Reminded me of the electrolysis in lead acid batteries or soda water – not very appropriate for Li-Ion 🙂 )

    2. Wow Michael,

      This looks like one nice build in progress….!!!

      I love barns too….

      I think you are on the right track using a small Micro processor to talk to the car’s ECU. You might want to see if there are any people who do Hotrod type programing of the ICE engine on these cars in your area. They are a wealth of knowledge on the ECU’s inner workings… Some wont give you the time of day, but other will tell you anything they can to help…

      Congrats on the Brusa system, it looks very nice…

  9. I saw Michael’s link last week at his Github profile and took a look then.
    One good thing…it is well ventilated!
    I had a garage like Michael’s…It was in the ’70’s and I rebuilt my VW engine there one winter.
    It was surprising how much wind it kept out and that made a huge difference in how long I could work each day.

    It is great to see the worldwide embrace of EV conversion fever.
    I’m looking forward to watching the progress of the Volvo and the continued work on the GEVCU.

    1. Thanks a lot for your warm words folks! I really appreciate it 🙂 Sorry for not responding earlier, I was busy getting the webserver for the GEVCU up and running (just uploaded it to my fork, we now can check status and configure the device – only via ethernet, someone else will have to do the Wifi wrapper).

      John: I’ll sure do! Also if anybody should ever make it close to Switzerland, you’re warmly invited. Unfortunately I can’t make it to the EVCCON. Would have loved to but the flight is just so horrendously expensive (about 12 CALB CA100Ah).
      Michal: Maybe they still sell the E30 in other countries. I just know what a sales-man told me.
      Jeff: Thanks! Yes, the Arduino platform is just so easy to understand and Collin created a great base to work on (based on Jack’s specs). If there’s enough CPU cycles left, one might even think about simulating the output of a crankshaft sensor with a PWM output or a DAC output of the Due (play-back of square-wave signals at various speeds).
      Mark: Indeed it is well ventilated! 🙂 And there’s also a lot of material that burns quite well. But your experience with such sheds is giving me hope as currently it looks like I have to go with this option. I just organized a date with the Volvo shop to measure the engine compression (might be good for selling it) and getting the AC drained. Around 27th of May, the days of the ICE are counted ! 🙂
      onegreenev: Yup, I know what you mean. My stickers stay 2 years (or maybe even a bit more if I’m happy with the components). To me it’s a question of honor to live up to a deal. Either go with the stickers or pay the money back.. it’s as simple as that.

      1. Thanks a lot for the positive report Jack. Just a small addendum from the gingerbread-garage: The lady with the black hair is not me ! 🙂 It’s a friend who created and mounted the stickers. I’m the one showing only my back on the forklift (pics on my blog) 🙂
        Now let me find some swiss folk music to play in the background for my future videos…

  10. Guys,

    I have done more work on the noise issue in my car. For reference, I have the shunt on the negative side of the pack as I think this is a safer configuration (although more susceptible to electrical noise). It is a 800A 50mv shunt. I set the polarity so that it reads negative when the AMPS are flowing out of the pack and positive when flowing into the pack. Here is what I found.

    1) The audible noise from the contactor is completely urelated to the electrical noise I was seeing on the analog input on my PLC from the shunt (+- 50mv). I altered the programming temporarily in the Curtis controller so that I could power the contractor from the 24vdc DC-DC converter I have in the car and turn the PWM signal off. The Audible noise was almost gone, but the electrical noise was still present.

    2) The Noise on the analog input was ONLY affecting the reading when the throttle was at the idle point ( or 0%) with the main contactor pulled in. Without the contactor pulled in, it read approx -0.25 amps. The moment you pull in the contactor, it reads -17.8 amps (or a little over 1mv on the shunt) The fluke meter, however, reads the mV’s across the shunt correctly wether the contactor is pulled in or not. The moment you applied any throttle the reading across the shunt with my Fluke meter and the analog input more or less sync up and read correctly. I added a software patch to the program to add in 17.55 amps (reducing the amp draw) to the reading if the contactor is pulled in and the amps are in the -1 to -18 amp range. This put the amps at idle back to where they should be. Since you rarely actually move the car at less than 18 amps this seems to work ok. I did a test where I fully charged the pack and reset my amp-hr totalizer to 180 AHr and drove the car about 15 miles and then fully charged the car. It read 179.8Ahr after the charger cut off so I think the software patch will work until I get a chance to better isolate the signal….

    I just thought some of you might want to know what I found. I’ll post the final solution once I get it all worked out….

  11. Robert Turner

    Jack. I can’t get enough of your writing. I just love it.

    Incidentally, years ago, when I bought my first Powerbook, I answered a questionnaire from Apple, I answered that I thought the best thing apple could do in the future was build the worlds best Electric Car!

    I thought you may be interested to learn that the UK government has dropped the annual Ministry of Transport road-worthiness test we call “The MOT” for cars built pre 1960.

    In our Austin drivers club gossip and speculation abounds as to why they would do this, and some truly naive theories abound! I think I have the most feasible explanation and I got the clue from the braking system on my Dad’s 1933 Austin Ten!

    The brakes on this car are arranged in the most obscure and inelegant way, contemplation of the design leads me to conclude a sort of perverted evolution! You can almost see a point in time when they did something odd to a previously simple design.

    There is a part which takes the push of the pedal and converts it into rotation of a transverse bar which in turns pulls cables to each wheel hub backplate. For no apparent reason at all, the the bar is split and bolted back together in the middle. You have to see it dis-assembled to really understand what I am talking about. But suffice it to say , what they have done is decidedly odd from an engineering point of view.

    Discussions and theories flew around our little workshop (only three of us, usually). But, being as interested as I am, in legislation; I hatched the theory that It must be due to some sort of directive, handed down to disgruntled engineers who had no choice but to hack up their design and compromise in such a clumsy way that, here we are 70 years later, perplexed at what could make them do such a thing.

    A cursory scan of “the Road Vehicles (construction and use) Regulations” born out of “The Road Traffic Act 1930”, reveals a bewildering number of amendments and statutory instruments, but standing out like a sore thumb, was an amendment which stipulated the splitting of braking system into two separate systems which will work independently in the event of the failure of either one of them. A later amendment, altered the way a handbrake should act etc etc.

    All of a sudden, these strange alterations to an engineering solution which the original design is obvious and elegant, make perfect sense!

    Yesterday I asked my friend Henry, who is very old and renowned for his trivia retention, when the “MOT” came into being. I wasn’t surprised when he told me it came in around 1960. It used to be called the “Ten Year Test” and was designed to ensure older vehicles were still as “safe” as they were when they were built.

    My initial hunch morphed into a pretty safe bet, The Government cannot legally expect a Vehicle, deigned and built before the test existed, to pass a retrospective test. I suspect they have been challenged in the court, lost the case, and to protect themselves from litigation they have dropped the test for vehicles which are older then the MOT.

    I thought you might find this interesting because this is good for UK EV converters on two levels.

    1. Pre 1960 cars are, to a greater or lesser extent, all rare and valuable. They have a nostalgia appeal and also frankly design appeal. (if it is still here 50 years later, It probably is not a hideous munter)!

    2. You never have to take it to the ministry garage, So they cant criticise it and tell you “you cant do that” about this or that trivial aspect of your conversion.

    The MOT serves as a constant and expensive deterrent to owning an old car. There is a similar situation with a thing called the SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) for kit cars and specials.

    You are at the mercy of the testers, who vary greatly in their intelligence and integrity. Despite most peoples assumption, it is absolutely NO guarantee that a car is safe for the road! We have to test any car over 3 years old and without the Pass Certificate you cant even BUY you vehicle tax AND your insurance is void.

    In the UK EV’s and vintage cars get their Tax Disc (to display in the windscreen) for free, but you still needed the MOT to get it.

    I think your policy of converting classic’s is very sound. People love them even without any idea of how they are propelled! With pre 1959 vehicles they frequently never did go or stop or corner very well, never had air con or even heating or a radio as standard and nobody expects to thrash them down the motorway (freeway) for hundreds of miles maintaining a hundred miles an hour. When they fall in love with the aesthetic and THEN find that electric conversion has actually improved these aspects then the “Value proposition” becomes a done deal.

    In London, There are two zones, LEZ and CCZ. As you get close to the city you enter the LEZ, there are no barriers or tollbooths within the Low Emission Zone. Instead, cameras read your number plate as you drive and check it against a database of registered vehicles. This database is compiled using information from The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA), generic vehicle weight data typical of the make and model, and drivers and operators who have registered with it. The Daily charge is: £100 or £200 depending on the size of your vehicle. The fine fine for entering without paying is £500 to £1000. Not all Vehicles pay this LEZ charge, private cars etc are currently exempt, but I bet it wont be long!

    Closer to the centre you enter the Congestion Charge Zone. This charge does apply to private cars. You can pay in a variety of modern ways, your presence within the zone is proved by cameras and it cost £9, £10 or £12 per day depending how you elect to make your payment. Obviously the cheapest way is to let them take the money directly from your bank account! The penalty is up to £195.

    BUT GUESS WHAT … EV’s DON’T PAY ! So there are already thousands of EV’s registered on the Transport for London database.

    I predict a swarm of converted Morris Minors and Austin Sevens and Tens descending on the city of Westminster any time now!

    Personally I can’t wait to take my little FrankenAustien Seven “up to Town” (English for: going to London) even if it is powered by a Dead G-Wiz!

    I hope you are enjoying this work you are doing, it must be taking up your whole life! I for one appreciate that, and thank you, humbly and sincerely. RT

    Petrol (gas) price in UK: – £1.50 per litre.

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