“I spent a lot of it on fancy women, fast horses, bad cards, and old whiskey. The rest I just squandered. ” So goes the answer to the question “What did you do with your fortune?”
Probably a little too close to home for comfort. I’m pleased to report I’m about broke, and couldn’t be happier. A great deal of money is generally a great pain in the ass.
EVTV has been a great help in this regard. We started our show in May of 2009 and have worked hard at learning the vagaries of producing a weekly video instead of the more familiar monthly print magazine. I’m becoming fairly comfortable with the tools as they become more transparent. It’s been all outgo for the four years we’ve been doing it, although for the past year, we’ve had a little bit of ingo as well as many of viewers have turned to us as a source of components for their builds.
I confess, not my original idea. Sebastien Bourgois gets credit for that. In kind of a side bet, which I won, I demonstrated that I could sell more of his controllers than the adverting contract we were seeking was worth. I won. But along the way, we became a dealer for his controllers and after demonstrating it empirically, he was still kind of bent toward our continuing THAT model. This week we’re working furiously to get our web store updated with the very nice and shiny motor/transmission adapters he offers through ReBirth Auto. I talk about them all the time, so we decided to carry the whole line.
It was never a fair fight on the component end. Many of the webstore operators out there, and some of them with valid claims to decades of service, would get a little behind in their vendor payments, and wind up in a wierd rob Peter to pay Paul circle where they had to get NEW business in order to pay for equipment to send to people who had ordered earlier. This was a serious disservice to both the equipment vendors and end users as they would normally blame companies such as Netgain and EVnetics for inability to ship product timely. In truth, if you were a vendor who could PAY the invoice, they went out the next morning.
That was the GOOD end of it. The bad end was vendors who declared bankruptcy, kept the money, and any stock, and simply never filled the orders at all. That’s hard to swallow if you’ve just written a check for $16,000 worth of batteries and after waiting three months for them, learning they aren’t coming AT ALL — EVER.
We looked at a number of ways of addressing this, including an EVTV Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, a registry for logging complaints, and more. The problem is, the very WORST example of this, the James Morrison case, was a company I had ordered large from FOUR TIMES BEFORE and had excellent service and support from. In the end, they flat cheated 43 customers out of over $300,000 worth of components. So I realized early on we had no magic wand to determine the good from the evil. And the trust issue was actually having a chilling effect on build activity. No one wants to be the object of online fraud, but particularly in $10,000 and $15,000 increments.
The problem has a number of facets to it, but it tends to center on two main issues, irrecoverable funds and extremely long lead times from ordering to delivery – as long as 12 weeks sometimes in the case of batteries. Even companies that DO offer some protection, such as PayPal for example, have a 45 day limit on claims.
The obvious solution is to accept credit cards and Amazon payments and Paypal, and actually stock the stuff and ship it timely. The many problem companies out there in all fields would have you believe its just a part of the game, but it’s not at Amazon.com. It’s not at Summit Racing. It’s not at McMaster Carr. You enter an order there it is usually on your porch by the time you get up from the computer to check. So if those companies can do it, it CAN be DONE.
There are several problems inherent there. The stuff is expensive to stock, the margins are thin, and they are heavy and take up a lot of room. Worse, it’s kind of hard to tell what will sell quickly and what won’t sell at all. I’ve finally given away the last of my chrome fire extinguisher big idea. I had stocked a dozen of them I think because they were just gorgeous, refillable, came with a bracket, and of course I had actually stood helplessly by the eCobra on the freeway while the flames rose around me. We never sold a single one.
So it’s kind of a tough business. We’ve gradually expanded our line. In truth, we don’t stock everything. Netgain and HPEVS are so quick to ship, and of course the shipping being substantial to do it twice, that we mostly drop ship these days. By paying promptly, we are not having any difficulty getting these things out quite quickly. Batteries remain of course the issue. I’m STILL waiting on my shipment of the first 200 cells of the Liyuan NMC cells. An order of chargers is typically six weeks. Etc. etc.
But despite a kind of huge investment in inventory that makes profitability a remote possibility in about twelve years, the monthly sales have grown dramatically. The community has indeed responded with almost a sigh of relief that they can actually order things and have them delivered timely. We’re still working on the part about getting the right things in the right box the first time. All too often, we send your order out very quickly, the problem being its just someone else’s order.
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And our little pile here has grown to about a million dollars worth of parts and batteries on the floor. I guess that represents the part of the fortune I just squandered.
But along the way, another side of effect of all this came about. We have kind of formed the first nexus or point of sale where an equipment developer can find a corner to get a handle on the small guys who buy such equipment. We’re moving enough of it to at least matter. Our relationship with our battery suppliers has grown firmer, though they remain resistant to cutting our prices. They just don’t have the margin to work with in the first place. But people are now coming to us with products and opportunities seeking a wedge into this market of small players.
Siemens kind of watched with interest as we disposed of a handful of their motors, and finally came around that we were probably the best opportunity to dispose of the remaining 100 motors with the odd Azure Dynamics shaft configuration. That kind of came to a head in the past week.
I am VERY pleased with the feel and performance and power and acceleration and cooling on the VW THING. Really my first opportunity to use this motor in anger that wasn’t actually IN the AZD van – which has a single gear drive train. It works well there, and I’m pleased to report it works even BETTER with four gears to pick from. SO I was inclined toward picking up the remaining 100 motors. It’s a lot of inventory. But it’s a lot of motor. And it’s not like peanut butter with a “sell-by” date. As we come across better inverters to drive them, they should improve with age soemwhat like whiskey.
The experiment in group grope development with the Generalized Electric Vehicle Control Unit has been enormously successful. With NO help from Siemens or from any of the people who could easily have helped us with this little control problem, we can now drive the vehicle in very pleasant fashion. There is lots of software yet to write, and we are still a month or two away from finalizing the hardware and getting even a small quantity of it on the street, but I can tell you how it all shakes out.
And so last week we launched a slightly different approach to developing an EVTV BMS/Instrumentation system. We’ll see how that goes but I would expect it to be very well received. We have several members of the original GEVCU team checking out the spec and measuring and gaging at the moment and so I expect several entries.
And we are kind of shaping up as junkyard to the EV stars as numerous OEMs that these companies were so desperately courting have gone bankrupt. We did a deal this week for 20 CODA automobiles. These are brand new, fully functional cars that lack batteries. The liquidator has tested each car with one about six battery packs they have, and then moved the pack to the next car to test it.
What captured our attention was the UQM (Unique Motors) PowerPhase 100 motor and inverter in each of the beasts. They also havea 6.5:1 ratio eGearDrive, an electric air conditioning compressor, two Lear 3.3kw chargers, a PTC heater system, a DC-DC converter, LED lights, and so forth. It will be kind of a saddening task to line up 19 cars and a pile of new cardboard boxes and intentionally disassemble them into boxed components for resale. But if we put batteries in them we’d have over $20K in a nice little electric car, with no warranty, no service, no parts source …. sell it for what?$24K???? Leaf’s are available for that nearly enough with hundreds of dealers, long warranties, endless repair facilities. It’s impossible. This thing can’t be a car.
But it CAN be a motor and inverter. At 100kw it’s hardly even a match for the Siemens and DMOC645. But it’s shiny. It’s small. It’s permanent magnet. And they’re cool. UQM is still asking $15,000 for one -despite the fact that they LOST/WROTE DOWN $3.8 million selling them to Coda for less than $5K each.
My hope is to write an object in GEVCU to operate the UQM inverter just like the DMOC645. Would you believe UQM actually requires a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) from their CUSTOMERS to sell them a motor? We don’t do NDA’s if anyone wonders. We’re a publication. But we’ll put ONE of the Codas together and sniff the CAN bus for motor control messages from the VCU. I’ve already purchased a kit of software and connectors from one of the once “dealers” for the car. Wanna bet I can work all this out? And then we’ll OUT UQM essentially.
Between the two, it’s been an ugly week of writing checks much larger than I like to into a market that has thus far not ever offered a profitable day. But I can kind of envision a day when individual builders have access to equipment of the same quality as Tesla or GM or anyone else to build electric cars. And while the finances are grim now, Summit Racing or Jeggs either one are $100 million operations catering to a fairly narrow group of custom car and racing enthusiasts. We intend to be the same for the electric version of all that.
If you watch today’s show, maybe a little past the closing credits, we have some of Richard’s Blair Witch project of EVTV at the River City Rodders show from last weekend. About 285 custom hot rods and collector restorations at this year’s event. And guess where the center of attention was focused all day? You got it. The future of all of this IS electric cars. It’s the new, and exciting thing on the horizon for those people. And the questions we received were ENTIRELY different. All about how to do the conversion and component costs. I never heard SQUAT about range or recharge times all day. We’ve crossed the mark there.
Other EV builders have reported the same thing. Odd man curiosity at auto shows six months ago. Today – star of the show. Center of attention. We’ve crossed some sort of threshold here.
Just as I was moving money around to cover these two largish purchases, Ed Miller showed up to pick up 24 CA60FI cells for his electric motorcyle project. Ed has retired to a farm in Arkansas and has installed solar and lives entirely off grid down there. But along the way, he has hooked up with a significant Oklahoma based Solar Installation company. As it so happens, I have JUST recently completed a new white membrane rubber roof on our facility here in Cape Girardeau. AND the very generous AmerenUE rebate program, of $2 per installed DC watt, is being phased out and decreases to $1.50 on 1 January 2014. Ed showed up at just the right moment, to try to pitch his very first SALE for the company. He did such a good job, he walked away with about half of a 24,400 watt photovoltaic installation check. I have sekert plans once this is up and running on doing a number of shows on how to tap home solar, charge batteries with it, in some cases very quickly, and also explore how to use a vehicle to power your house in case of outage. It’s all a little more complicated than it should be. And it should make good video of us screwing it up several times on the way to making it work over the coming year.
Back to component sales and instant gratification. I can tell you the exact sale that caused it. We had a call from Switzerland some months ago from someone who needed an eGearDrive RIGHT NOW. I think we had it priced at $2995 but he wanted a shipping quote to get it in three days. It was nearly $2500. I ruefully reported it. He still wanted to make the purchase. THEN he got to pay 20% VAT on it. I was enraged. Actually I didn’t even want to sell it to him. It was a ridiculous situation.
Anne Kloopenborg decided he wanted to be EVTV in Amsterdam. The only way that would work would be for somebody to pay to put down about $100 grand in parts and battery inventory, otherwise there was no way to deliver timely in EVTV fashion and I was loathe to have it otherwise. Remarkably, for once it wasn’t ME that had to pay that. He ponied up. And is currently delivering battery cells, motors, controllers, and oddities from Ireland to Russia and all points in between and usually getting them there within a few days.
This week Michael Schooley of the UK paid us a visit and made the same case that the UK is a different currency, and that battery shipping restrictions are going in all over Europe as well. And that we really should have an EVTV.uk. We’re listening, and if this young man decodes that we listen more carefully in decimal, I think this may work out as well. it’s the same hot button, you have to kind of BECOME part of EVTV, stock a LOT of stuff so you can fix people quickly, and service the sale.
This kind of works in a lot of directions. As we develop product, Anne and Michael have access to it. But I don’t see anything particularly peculiar about demand for a boat motor adapter in Amsterdam. We would be inclined to stock a couple here in Missouri. And so our EVTV affiliates, not only get the brand, but also the sales channel to the other EVTV affiliates.
I had predicted the COLLAPSE of distribution networks in the 1990’s as a result of the Internet. And here I am building one? Well here’s what I had not foreseen. EXTREMELY variable and complicated shipping geography, and a new geography based on taxes, custom duties, and currencies. Many European shoppers buy components in the U.S. and batteries from China. By learning the ins and outs of this new geography, we should be able to deliver components LESS expensively in Europe than they can by importing themselves direct from the manufacturer. We already have the largest stock of CALB batteries IN Europe. Much more in fact, than CALB itself.
And one of EVTV.eu’s boat conversions wound up LEADING the Solar Boat Parade in Amsterdam. I don’t think it sports a single photovoltaic cell. But it sure is pretty. The star of the show.
So rapidly emerging market, and rapidly changing as well. And for the end builder, the good news is you don’t HAVE to build your own electric car to have one. They sell them now. But I dont’ see any diminishment in activity. Now you can build one because you want to and you can – not because you have to. And hopefully with ever better components going forward. The only thing I see diminishing in teh custom car/hot rod/show car/racing scene is a rapidly diminishing market for Ford V8 crate engines.
Did you know the original Karmann Ghia sported a 46 HP motor and did a blazing 0-60 in 18 seconds? News to me. Let’s see how the Brain gets on with an HPEVS AC75.
Stay with us.