It was long, ugly, and expensive. But this past Saturday morning, March 1, 2014, the Renault Influenza Better Place battery packs we first sought in the first week of November finally arrived at EVTV in Cape Girardeau Missouri. In a devious plot, hatched between myself and Omer Bar Yohai, we liberated these battery packs and brought them OUT of the promised land and to the promised people to whom we had promised them.
Of course it had to rain frogs before we got it done. The waters between here and Israel have no doubt turned to blood. And we still await a second shipment due Wednesday. And there is a lesson in here somewhere if I can just figure out what it is.
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We had a heady day on Saturday with just myself and Brain at the shop, wrestling with these very heavy packs. They are 716 lbs in the sarcophagus they ship in. These sarcophogus are actually part of the success story. They are cargo packs designed specifically for these battery packs, and so do an excellent job of protecting them in their travels from the Automotive Energy Corporation location in Japan, to Israel, and thence to New York, hence to Cape Girardeau Missouri.
But the packs, with a bare patina of Israeli dust on them, are just gorgeous and obviously hardly touched. You will indeed face a bit of work disassembling them and of course they are very heavy until you do.
Not so much after you do. It is actually kind of remarkable and I AM warming to the chemistry after learning a bit more about them MECHANICALLY. The pack without the sarcophagus is 640 pounds, which most of you will find a bit daunting to wrestle into position so you CAN work on it. But the modules are 8.3775 lbs each and there are precisely 48 of them in three banks of 16.
Four function calculators being what they are, that leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the cells, mounted in their metal cans, total 402 lbs. And what that looks like to me is about 238 pounds of overengineered crap totally unnecessary to the operation of an electric car. These packs were built like an Abrams tank probably to withstand the rigours of mounting and unmounting many times over which was part of the Better Place Better Idea that was probably a bad idea in a bad place.
But 24 kWh in 402 lbs works out to about 128 kWh per kilogram. Our CA100FI cells work out to about 94 Watt-hours per kilogram and so you can expect about 36% more range for the same weight in cells. I knew these cells offered greater energy density but just how much was rather masked by all the other detritus of the battery “system” these very talented engineers have saddled these poor batteries with. A 50% weight penalty basically.
You can set them free.
We sold 15 packs in the first 24 hours of posting the device to our online store. I doubt I’ll ever get to collect a $3995 sale if this continues and we will just have to eat the additional storage charges. Never mind. We of course profit on every sale not to worry.
But therein lies the other mystery. Value proposition. As I explained to Omer, had we offered these packs at $10,000 each, which is absolutely a BARGAIN as I’m sure the vendor paid twice that to build them, I doubt I could have gotten a conversation started about these packs, much less sold any.
So how can an unsupported unwarrantied and indeed undocumented pack that NOBODY wants at $10,000 be so in demand at $3600. Our perception of the value proposition rather changes in that event does it not?
Now it is true that if we had unlimited packs at $3600, within just a few weeks, some would grouse that they are really only worth $3500. We need look no further than the Siemens motors for proof of that. In offering what HAD been a $9000 motor for $3500, we caused quite a splash a year and a half ago. But today, they move slowly as $3500 has become the price and really they should be available for less than $3000 shouldn’t they.
Veteran dumpster diver junkyard dog Peter McWade often offers me free lessons in the endless gyrations of the human mind in measuring the value proposition and instantly adjusting to new pricing with new value proposition rules almost in real time. He actually took me to task for RAISING the price to $3995 on a product we had never officially announced pricing on or indeed offered for sale, or indeed had possession of. Indeed, it will be a month before we know what they cost us. And he compared me to the common bait and switch advertising practices of the common OEM dealership with their come-on prices in the Sunday paper that you never can actually get if you go down to the dealership. I shouldnt be offended. But I was.
But I have often spoken of a “threshold of viability” with regards to function and range of electric cars. That is a change that moves a device out of the interesting examination category and into the usable and useful device category. And we may have crossed one of those chasms here. My hope of course is that in doing this we draw a signficant number of viewers that we have, indeed I have to say the overwhelming MAJORITY of our viewers are basically sitting on the fence, viewing vicariously with the idea that someday, somehow, they too will attempt a conversion. This entire effort has been an attempt to knock them off the fence and into the garage where they belong. And I’m rubbing my hands in excited anticipation of all teh gorgeous vintage/classic custom electric car conversions we will see resulting therefrom.
Other lessons. We have heard from the Influenza owners in Israel. They had been “negotiating” to buy these battery packs when we intervened. The problem of course is that the liquidators wanted to move ALL the batteries. No one among the owners was at all willing to step forward and write the check of course. So they wanted to negotiate, kind of as a group, for individual sales, with the liquidators doing all the work. And of course cherry pick the packs. And of course pay the least they possibly could. As the friction and irritation grew between the liquidators and the vehicle owners, we dropped in a bid much lower, but for the whole shebang. And being from out of town, so to speak, we hadn’t really angered anybody yet. Timing being everything, we got the whole lot.
Yes, there is power in numbers. But only if it is consolidated in a place where the rest of the world can deal with it. If you have 10,000 people, but have to individually negotiate with each one differently, it is just not manageable. If you can talk to one who represents them and he can do a deal and make it stick, then that can happen.
Subsequent to the AZD and Siemens deals, then more come to us, such as CODA and Better Place.
Not all are doable. No sooner had the video aired than we heard from an Italian gentleman in China, who sits on a pile of 300,000 of these cells. Sensing gold in them thar hills however, he would like us to pay him, the price you are paying us, but with a couple of changes. They are “B” reject cells from the Japanese manufacturer with no cans, no terminals, and no known capacity. He undoubtedly picked them up for 50 cents each and likes the whole idea of $75 for four of them. Yah. You go girlfriend.
A very interesting development you probably want to follow. There are some Nissan Leaf Owners forums, most notably MyNissanLeaf that have been investigating the Leaf CAN bus for sometime http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=4131 This effort started in September 2010. I would offer that it would appear that this CAN code decoding must be very very difficult given they have only partial success after three and a half years. But underlying this is something a bit darker. If you follow the message traffic and compare it to the other topics, you can see individuals contributing and getting smarter on parts of the CAN message digest. Then you’ll see them suddenly stop. But about the same time, another “product” appears in a parallel topic/forum. There are numbers of these and they are not precisely “open source”. So you can actually watch over a period of years, individuals investigate and participate in the open part, until they decode something interesting, at which point it becomes a means to do a proprietary device and offer it to the other Leaf owners. Interesting dynamic. So a number of the known codes never really make it back into the open spreadsheet.
We face a similar situation with the GEVCU. But I happen to know some things that are non-obvious. OUR GEVCU is more valuable open than closed. It is more useful. More extensible. More powerful. Now after months of tracking down assembly houses and wiring harness makers and enclosures, and on and on and on, I’m regularly hearing from opportunists who would like access to the hardware design to make these and sell them for less. Some have even offered to make them FOR us as long as they can then sell them against us. The NATURAL knee-jerk reaction is to protect your investment. You just can’t help those feelings. But it is exactly the WRONG reaction for success. We have thus far declined to actually pay them to do it. But here’s Paulo’s excellent design with boards and gerbers and Bill of Materials – all open source. Have a party. Rock On Wayne. Build em. Trade em with your friends.
So how does that work? Well, we think we have a pretty good package. It has documentation, which no one wants to do and no it is NOT open source though anyone can read it and write their own. They are generally looking for a quick way to make a quick buck and doing that sort of work really isn’t their thing. We do a wiring harness of some quality and attention to detail, which of course we screwed up the first three times. No magic there. Except you will screw it up the first three times and of course you have to write a big check each of the three. They’re not really into that sort of thing either. And so it goes. Actually productizing something like that is much more expensive and a lot more work than it looks like.
Our version will never achieve perfection, particularly with everything in both the hardware and the software design in constant motion. But it’s kind of like avoiding being eaten by the Cheetah. You don’t actually have to be able to run faster than the Cheetah to survive. You just have to be able to run faster than the other villagers when the Cheetah attacks. I’m convinced that more GEVCU software options and more GEVCU hardware only leads to a larger body of people tired of the hacks and finally ponying up for a real one from EVTV if they actually have a use for a GEVCU.
So despite the coy breaking off of the “good stuff” in the Nissan Leaf forums, the main body of common codes continues to grow and this can be USED with the GEVCU to open access to the Leaf hardware which inevitably will become ubiquitous. And I assure you that that same little 80kw drive system that makes the 3300 lb single gear Leaf barely perky, will drive a 2400 lb car with a four speed transmission for leverage quite well. Here’s one for $1000.00 Buy it now. Today.
It is a slower process than we would like. But gradually, the cost of superior OEM class components, including batteries, will come down. Knowledge of how to usefully employ them will go UP. I see a day when converting a car to electric drive will be something comparable to restoring a car now. WHich is admittedly non-trivial But picture something like six or eight thousand dollars for the whole KIT to do a Miata. Or a Mazda RX-8. Or a BMW. And the personal satisfaction of doing it yourself, and the quality of the result, will only increase. Today we may indeed be a ratty little band of nerdy ass clowns. But I expect it to grow phenomenally. And our current viewers are the ones who will pave the way and make it happen.
Good times. Exciting times. Catch the Vision.
As to General Motors, British Petroleum, Exxon, et al. LET MY PEOPLE GO. Or I will rain frogs on your ass like there is no tomorrow.