The John Deere Hybrid Electric Program for VW Things

We had a lot of fun this week.  Basically we think a huge win for the EV community all around.

In this episode, we introduce a new acquisition, a 1974 VW Thing.  Well, yes, we already had a very bright yellow VW THING.  And we’ve been doing a conversion to full electric drive on it for six months.  But there was an olive green 1974 VW Thing on eBay about six different times.  I bid up to $12,500 on it twice, an absurd valuation for a 39-year-old VW Thing, and failed to meet the reserve.  But finally the dealer who offered it agreed to sell it for that as it had been around so long without any takers above that price.

It’s a Safari version in kind of an olive drab – but with spotless chrome bumpers and wheels and a cream colored hard top.  It is true we’ve all kind of fallen in love with these “bucket trucks” and they make a great conversion.  Everything is very accessible.  Plenty of room.  Easy to work on.  And kind of fun to drive in a quirky whimsical way.

So this week we announce the plan.  We’re not going to convert the gasoline powered green thing just yet. We put the green THING in the shop with the YELLOW thing and turn the lights down low.  Leave them to themselves for some private time.  And hope for an announcement.

Perhaps a LITTER of little green and yellow John Deere Gasoline Electric Hybrids.  This will be EVTV’s first foray into hybrid vehicles.  We’ve been a 100% battery electric shop from the beginning, and moving into hybrids is just not a thing I ever thought we would entertain under any condition.  But this could be just too good to pass on.  A self breeding hybrid electric in JOhn Deere colors.   I can only hope the offspring witll be viable and fertile.   My luck all we’ll get is sterile mules.

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The big deal was the electric THING first drive of course.  This goes quite beyond another successful conversion.  Last November, Richard Fluentge led the charge in a raid on Livonia Michigan to purchase a large lot of spare parts left over from the Azure Dynamics bankruptcy.

Azure Dynamics was kind of an interesting company and a bit of a sad loss to the EV community.  In 1991, they were known as Solectria and were based in Wilburn Massachussetts.  They had introduced an electric car, the FORCE – basically a converted Geo Metro with thirteen lead acid batteries and a range of about 40 miles.


They actually made about 400 of them and a handful still rattle around.  THey also had a pickup truck, the E-10 they talked about a bit and a prototype called the SUNRISE which was very lite and aerodynamic – quite looking like a 2000 Honda Fit.  At 1433 lbs plus batteries it actually drove 375 miles in the 1996 Tour de Sol, and a trip was made in traffic from Boston to New York CIty – 217 miles.  Remember this was in the days when lead was NOT dead.



Lee Hart purchased the molds and the prototype in 2005 and threatens to launch it as an open source kit any minute, and has for several years.  He goes ballistic every time I refer to it as moribund but then another year goes by without much happening.

In any event, Solectria sold  two AC inductive motors and controllers to the EV community, the AC24 and the AC90.  They were a handful to configure and run and the product support tended toward the surly and resentful and so I never did warm up to these units.

Reinvigorated with other peoples money, the company set out to convert Ford’s Romanian built Transit Connect small commercial van to electric drive.  Along the way, they decided to use the Siemens 1PV5135 motor and update their DMOC (Digital MOtor Controller) to  what they called GEN-II.  They also tried to brand it as the FORCE DRIVE heralding back to the original vehicle the FORCE.

The result was a snappy little vehicle with an 80 mile range thanks to the 28kWh Johnson Controls/Saft battery pack.  But the purchase price of $58,750 was a little problematical. New Transit Connects were $23,000.  You could buy two gasoline versions and have nearly $13,000 left over to buy gas.  Aimed solely at the commercial local delivery market, the company sold perhaps 286 of them.  Or so we believe.

THis is because on the Raid on Livonia we picked up vehicle number 286 which was listed as UNCOMPLETED.  What was uncompleted was the paperwork and we found the vehicle delightfully and fully operational at the more reasonable liquidation price of $6500.

We also picked up 48 Brusa Chargers which we have since sold out.  And a couple of dozen eGearDrives, which we’ve also since sold and restocked from Borg Warner – unfortunately at a much higher price.  But the big haul was 65 Seimens 1PV5135 motors and matching DMOC645 inverter/controllers.  All brand new in the box.  We’ve since sold about HALF of them, but they have not heretofore been very useful devices.

THis is partly because the DMOC645 comes with no software flashed into it’s control board.  We’ve largely solved that by acquiring the service software for Ford dealers AZD provided.

But in the eTransit Connect, the normal control software wasn’t used in the DMOC645.  Instead, it received its operating instructions over the CANbus from a Vehicle Control Unit that sported control software for the entire vehicle, air conditioner, battery management system, instrumentation, everything.  ANd the VCU was hard coded.  You couldnt’ configure it and it wouldn’t run the beast without communications from the other vehicle devices like the battery system.

There were no shortage of employees to assist, and in fact the VCU came from a company called New Eagle.  But while we spoke with many, the same culture that had quested fro $58,750 had permeated the entire base.   In a couple of instances, we actually agreed to pay their asking price for a solution – considerably over $10,000.  So they simply raised the price and reneged on the deal.  Once you board the greed bus, there’s really no place to get off until it crashes and you’re left with nothing.  THis played out for AZD but also for New Eagle and the AZD software engineers.  In the end we just walked away, kind of amazed, and took another direction.

The direction was to just do it ourselves.  Originally I was going to use the RechargeCar Macchina because it was indeed programmable, an Arduino derivative with CANbus connections.  But Arduino introduced a much stronger ARM Cortex baseed Arduino Due and a couple of guys worked out how to activate the CAN bus functionality built into the chip.  So we declared an open source software project to build what we called the Generalized Electric Vehicle Control Unit – GEVCU.

This project is more than a little bit ambitious.  In the OEM world, the VCU as master control model has been quite strongly accepted and implemented.  Now MANY devices on a car are CAN capable.  But increasingly, so are the power electronics in the electric cars.  Like the DMOC645, the UQM inverter and the Rinehart Motions Systems inverter, the BRUSA inverter  and the Seimens inverters are all CAN controlled.  And so what we referred to as CONTROLLERS are no longer controllers at all, the VCU is the interface to the throttle and the brake and the rest of the vehicle.  What we had termed CONTROLLER is simply the power electronics switching to convert DC to 3-phase AC for these motors.  Inverters.

And they all do about the same thing approximately the same way.

So if we could develop an open source device that allowed you to deal with the things in your car that are vehicle specific, like the throttle, brake, precharge resistor, contactor, gear selector, etc, and develop an easy to configure interface that allowed you to flexibly configure for YOUR car, then the actual motor and inverter function are separated and begin to take on some aspects of commodity equipment.  You can swap out a BRUSA drive train and use a Seimens.  Or lose the MES-DEA and plug in a new Rinehart.

Better, the support function for these companies making these devices diminishes smartly. All the issues YOU care about move to the GEVCU.  The only support you’ll get there is maybe from us, but increasingly from the community of other uses that know how to use them.  And if you want to add a feature, it’s all open source software.

And it’s pretty easy.  We have a general DISABLE function already in the GEVCU, so yesterday we ran 12v to Dave Kertzels AVC2 J1772 module and a wire from the normally open contacts of the relay he provided to this DISABLE inptu on the GEVCU.  Nearly 20 minutes desperate effort.  Now, if I connect to a J1772 charge station, there’s nothing I can do from the cockpit to get that car to drive.  It’s disabled by the EVSE.  This is kind of important on THIS vehicle.   On our Speedsters we’e either got the hood up to charge or it’s right by the drivers door.  There’s really not a plausible scenario for you to get in the car and drive away while it is plugged in, yanking the EVSE off the wall by its roots.  The 1974 VW THING had the fuel filler on the RIGHT side of the vehicle and forward.  I can’t even see it.  It’s just a matter of time – like a week or 10 days, before I try to drive this thing away without unplugging it first.  Bet on it.

It is my hope that as the support load drops, some of these vendors will make inverters available at lower prices.  That’s kind of a function of how well you do supporting each other.

In starting the project, I kind of assumed that like many volunteer efforts I’d be the lonely volunteer.  I love to code, particularly in C++ although I’m a little rusty, but the truth is EVTV has put my air force in disarray.  It eats a lot of time.  And I really don’t HAVE time to spend on such a project, no matter how crucial it is.  We can’t do a video of me sitting in front of a computer picking my nose and wondering how I’m going to get the next thing to work.

Fortunately, the thing has been almost entirely taken away by others and I barely even know how it works.  Collin Kidder established a GITHUB location for it  Git is of course the software version control system developed for Linux.  Michael Neuweiler and Charles Galpin jumped in to help him.  Ed Clausen did a design of the hardware to add CAN and wireless and at this point an Ampseal35 pin connector we can use for gazintas and gazoutas in proper automotive fashion.  Paulo ALmeida has jumped in with an alternate hardware design that actually collapses the boards, including the Arduino Due, down to a single board.  Mark Weisheimer has tracked down all sorts of software and hardware bits and pieces for the process.

And the 1974 VW THING is the end result.  And after some false starts and glitches, this week I just could not be happier with the result.  With four gears, instead of the single speed gearbox in the eTransit Connect, the Seimens motor turns out to be a stallion.  And the shudders and vibrations of the test bench have been replaced with EXTREMELY smooth operation all around with it under load and sporting a clutch and pressure plate.  We have excellent power and acceleration, smooth operation, very capable regenerative braking, and if I can get the latest version compiled and on the box, Collin has already added a PRECHARGE control output and a CONTACTOR control output that actually calculates the time constant for any given pack voltage, resistance, and capacitance and performs the precharge function.  This totally eliminates the 30 ma drain on the pack from keeping pack voltage on the DMOC645.

Michael Neuweiler is actually working on things like simulating manifold pressure sensors, mass air flow sensors, rpm pickups, etc needed to interface with a modern automatic’s Engine Control Unit or ECU to truly make EV conversions capable.

RIGHT NOW it is doing more and better than I had ever dreamed, and we don’t actually have anything but prototype hardware yet.  When we do have something stable on the hardware side in some quantity, we’ll make it avaialble to those who have already purchased DMOC645’s and Seimens motors from us, and will just include it with all future DMOC645s.  Schematics are available, so the other auction buyers can make their own and the software is of course open sourced for anyone to download now.

So I see a terribly bright future for the GEVCU and I actually view it as a key to unlock a Pandoras box of components in the future.  This week, I purchased 20 CODA Automobiles.  My intention is to part them out and sell the very capable UQM (originally Unique Mobility Inc) PowerPhase 100 drive train as well.  This was used on the Coda with a very similiar Borg Warner eGearDrive at 6.5:1 ratio instead of the Azure Dynamics 8.28:1 ratio we currently offer.  UQM still sells this package at a very handsome $15,000, without the eGearDrive of course.  But in order to appeal to OEM’s the PowerPhase 100 is of course CANbus operated.

And so it will go.  Wrecked Leaf’s will begin to appear on the market – if you can get the motor and controller out of one, and manage to decode the CAN command digest, you can run it with a GEVCU.  Someone will code a LEAF object of motorcontroller class and away you go.  GEVCU promises to be the key to a treasure chest of OEM components at liquidation prices.

Hot Rodders and custom car builders don’t simply repurpose John Deere tractor motors because that is what is available to them.  They tap an aftermarket of Ford 429 ci big block crate engines that come by UPS.   I see this model repeated for electric vehicles in the future.

Sunday we attended the River City Rodders show here in Cape Girardeau.  They had 285 classic cars and hot rods at the event.  Guess who the star of the show was?  Our electric beasts.  And this is being repeated across the land.  ALl our builders from EVCCON that go to local car shows find themselves absolutely the center of attention with people walking past beautiful restored 1940 Fords just to look at an electric car.  It IS going to be the next great new thing for hobbyists and car collectors.  And my sense is they have kind of BEEN looking for a great new thing for some time.  I would expect some purist resentment.  IT ISN”T THERE.   I just don’t hear it.  I don’t hear ANY of it.

And while the hot rod scene seems dominated by guys in their sixties and even seventies, the e-car thing attracts the young.  They get it already.  And they want to be part of it.

So I’m kind of bouncing up and down in the seat of the VW THING.  We’re moving from the fringe to our day in the sun.  Seimens has apparently taken to watching the show.  They called to note that they still had 100 motors they were hung with by Azure Dynamics.   Flush with enthusiasm from an afternoon drive, I bought all of them.  No I have no idea what I’m doing when the DMOC645s run out.


In this episode I also made another announcement.  A contest.  Let’s try something different.  After panning the destructive, wasteful, needlessly expensive, and often incendiary Battery Management Systems for five years now, I would now like to build one.  This should be hilarious to our long time viewers, but here me out.

1. We’re going to need most of one to DO fast charge.  The vehicle has to be aware of current and voltage and temperature and be able to speak to the EVSE in CAN if we are to fast charge.

2. I get calls all the time from people who are ENTIRELY aware that the BMS thing has been just pure-d high test bullshit from the beginning.  It doesn’t matter, somebody put a check mark on a list somewhere, and they have to indicate TYPE OF BMS to get funding, or insurance, or approval of Joe, or something.  They don’t want to put down JLD404 and let it go at that.

3.  Given the battery shipping restrictions we now face, utterly deployed globally and mindlessly by humanoids who have NO deep knowledge of these batteries or indeed ANy batteries at all, we may at some point be REQUIRED to have a BMS to have batteries.

Fortunately, these same people and indeed the industry itself has never done a very good job of defining what a BMS is or what a BMS does.  So we could have kind of a modern updated JLD404 that does a few more things, like measure temperature (no harm) and perhaps backstops the shutting off of the charger, (some already DO this with the JLD404)  etc.  We could have it do what Dave Kerzel’s AVC2 does and actually control the charging EVSE.  We could certainly improve the current measuring capability of the JLD404, and we could tack on some communications functions, like via CAN and bluetooth allowing integration with other items such as GEVCUs and Apple iPhones.

So I’ve offered a prize of 100 CA60FI battery cells with straps, Nordlocks,e tc – basically a complete high voltage battery pack of 333v, an $8900 value, to anyone who can design the hardware and software to implement my dream BMS.

This went very badly for me in the PulsaR.  So to prevent indians wandering off the reservation this time, it is all about ME.  We will have an open competition for the batteries. And I get to choose the winner BEFORE paying for the batteries this time.  To win:

1. First, to HOLD the contest we have to receive THREE valid completed designs to pick from or NO batteries will be awarded.  I’m not going to fork over $9000 in batteries to somebody because he was the only one who entered and drew me a picture of a motor driving a generator and the generator powering the motor and called that a design.

2. Send us a letter or e-mail with complete contact information and a paragraph bio on your qualifications to design a BMS to register for the contest. We’ll then know who you are and will try to spend any time necessary answering questions or brainstorming your ideas with you.

3.  Read the attached specification – its a spec wish list to give you a little guidance as to our hot buttons – it is not a religious scripture or papal decree.  You may have some better ideas.

4. Submit a working prototype, source code file, and EAGLE format for the board designs and schematics, along with Bill of Materials and detailed production cost estimate by December 31, 2013.  All submissions become the sole property of EVTV.

But get an estimate on how much your Rube Goldberg BMS costs to produce and what you’d like to get out of it.  We are not a production house and we would have the intent to simply contract with you to produce the device so that we can make it available to our viewers and component customers.

Teams.  Individuals.  We dont care. Work it out.

We will pick the winner and subsequently award the battery prize.  And hopefully our viewers will then have access to a reasonably priced device that will do a bit more than we currently do, without burning your car to the ground.


Jack RIckard





























17 thoughts on “The John Deere Hybrid Electric Program for VW Things”

  1. Very excited to hear of the BMS design competition. The prize is somewhat irrelevant in my view – the EVTV kudos is probably prize enough, but if you want to give me a bunch of cells, who am I to argue.
    Unfortunately I am neither a software programmer or a hardware designer in any way, shape, or form, especially when compared to the guys working on the GEVCU already. I should likely direct my efforts elsewhere but it doesn’t stop me from being interested in the project at all, BUT it will be cheaper and less trouble to just buy one once Kidder/Clausen/Neuweiler/Galpin have won the design competition.

    I was searching the internet in vain for information on the SENSDYNE SPF100 chip but mostly got results for sunblock cream and toothpaste. I note the chip is actually made by SENDYNE who can be found at

  2. Jack,

    I enjoyed the show as usual. I think the competition is inspired… I doubt many people will have a working prototype by December, but who knows…

    I am going to build one my way and send it to you. I am not going to officially enter the contest as I know it is not exactly what you want, but it will work and do exactly what you want and it will not burn a car down and it will be under $1000 without an display and $1400 with a 4″ color touch screen.

    It will basically be an updated version of the controller in my car using off the shelf parts. I will be very interested to see how it compares to the other ones that people might build….

    I am only going to do a 1/2 pack voltage batt bridge however. At 15 bit resolution I will easly be able to see down to a 0.01 volt difference between the to pack halves…

    It will take me a couple of week to get it together and programmed…. I’ll do a video so people can see how it is done…

    Basically it will have:

    14 digital inputs 10-24vdc. 10 relay outputs. 4 analog 16 bit signed inputs and 4 thermistor 16 bit analog inputs and the option to add a cellular text module for $200.00 that works with a standard SIM card from AT&T or TModble. You will be able to receive text messages from your car and send text messages to it to perform basic operations…..

    So it will accurately measure the over pack voltage to 350vdc down to 0.02 volts accurately. It will measure both halves down to 0.01 volts. It will measure any 50mv, 75mv or 100mv (dip switch selectable) shunt down to 0.02 amps with up to a 1000amp shunt. I believe that this will be as accurate as the chip you found. It will accurately measure two battery terminals and two ambiant temps to 0.01 degrees F. It will also provide 2000 Vdc electrical isolation between the pack and the controller….

    I am going to do this in case anyone want one for their car sooner rather than later….

    I did, however, get permission to sell them (got passed distributor red tape) to anyone who might want one….

    1. So Jeff:

      So let’s call that the first entry. The spec is a guide but all designs are pretty much qualified. I’m picturing a device we can sell at $500 or $600, but it is kind of a discovery process. We may find that won’t do. One of the things I have really been amazed at the GEVCU thing was how very well everyone gets on, and how it kind of takes on a life of its own. I mostly just stand in the middle and let people piss down my pants leg. I’ve almost been left out of it.

      So this is a bit different twist/experiment in the same thing.

      CAN is a little important looking towards FAST charge. Bluetooth Low ENergy is now available via the Apple IOS SDK.


      1. I can add Canbus, but not Bluetooth…. As you said, mine is more of an experiment than a marketable product.

        It does have some advantages in that I already know it works…

        I tried to work on the input circuit. I guess I am just a little too rusty. I could not even get the latest version of Eagle working properly. It might take me until December to figure out the new interface. The last board I did was a dual PIC processor that simulated a quadrature out put of a servo motion profile. That was almost 15 years ago.

        I guess I am just feeling old but still wanted to offer something useful…..

        I would really rather the others be in line for the prize… I just want to help… If nothing else, I can re-program my system to verify the results of the other systems…

  3. I’m in the same boat as Nick, (whats an M.E. to do?) but I do have some interest in programming and have dived head first into Arduino lately. Fortunately I live a stones throw from Apple HQ and beer can buy lots of iOS code… That checks one box. Now where did I put that CAN shield from EVCCON…

  4. It looks like step 1 is figuring out how to even purchase the unobtainium SFP100 chips. Nobody seems to stock them. I emailed the company directly to see how it is possible to purchase some. I’m kind of sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if three people/teams materialize. If not I’m sure I could cook something up by December.

  5. Hey Jack,
    Interesting competition, I hope some great ideas come out of it. I’m not qualified in any way to enter this one, so I’m just going to watch those of you who know what you’re doing.

    I did want to point out some potential help to the amateurs in the room though, and that is Autodesk’s new freebie circuit design/Arduino programming tool from their 123D series, called 123D Circuits (
    I use some of their other 123D apps for modeling, 3D printing, and laser cutting when I don’t want to go full-blown Inventor or Revit, and they are all very simple to use.

    Anyway, it looks like it could be potentially helpful in the context of this competition – You can design your circuits/breadboards, hook it all up, program your Arduino, test it, and even order up your design and it will be shipped to your door. It will even import Eagle files and such (I claim ignorance about Eagle, I don’t know how it compares.) There’s a short video at the link I placed above that describes the basics. It’s easy to use, but I don’t know how it fares if you get too far beyond basics.

    Looks like it could be useful for lots of EV-related product design,. It’s just something I found interesting and wanted to share.

  6. I’ve been grubbing around the insides the workings of the Leafs “BMS”.
    Apparently it has no resistor banks. Might check the “super capacitor” bank for charge swapping.
    It does not top balance.
    It does not bottom balance,
    It just sort of (seems to) blindly balance across a few cells at a time no matter what the state of charge is over each batch.
    I guess this way the weakest cell can be disregarded on both ends against the total AH of every cell in the pack. It helps the lowest and the weakest cell that goes up in voltage first has charge removed and lowest on discharge be added to.
    The issue, as advice. The chemistry! Nissan cells are like those NMC, LiCo or Kokam cells where state of charge is almost linear to the output voltage.
    It would be nice to see the first (say, LiFePo4) cell hitting 3.4V, then end charging. And it would be lovely to compare overall Voltage/load against a cell about to hit 0V to turtle the car until some balance is restored as they all go down.
    That’s my mind mindlessly minding 😉

      1. Hi John, A true answer is hard partly from an argument about the actual cells being balanced!! The cells are in pairs yet from what I see its a single bunch all together that the Leaf Spy app claims is “balancing”. I forget, could be 8. Stupid to think the readings are playing with voltages so finely.
        Noticed a feature about the cars regen. We all know off youtube about the row of bubbles that light up between load and regen on the dash. There is an inner ring for every bubble. On the regen side more rings appear as the pack discharges, to show how far regen can go at that time.

      1. A week after my last holidays the camera walked. The forum for Nissan Leafs are always taking photos inside its private bits. Maybe there?
        Also check out Google Plays Leaf spy app/youtube for pictures of operation. I think with those cells they are onto something by charge swapping instead of creaming the top off, (top balancing) or bottom balancing and stopping the charge at a voltage when the weakest cell gets full.

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