Building a battery warmer for a Wheego LiFe

We added a 2013 Wheego LiFe to our fleet. It didn’t come with a cold weather package and I was worried about charging the battery pack when the temperature was below freezing. Here is the DIY solution we created to protect the battery in winter.

Take one panel of Owens Corning closed sell rigid insulation foam board and cut it to the size of the bottom of the car’s battery box. Dig out any channels necessary for it to fit tight against the box, as well as a channel for an electric cord. Place an electric under-floor radiant heating mat in the center of the foam. Fiberglass the mat to the side with the channels. Fiberglass the opposite side as well (for strength). Add metal hooks to attach the heater to the underneath of the car. A brief video introduction of the project can be found on our Facebook page.

The resulting heater is light, though big. When the car is parked, the heater can be attached to the car. The insulation helps keep the battery box warm and the radiant heat helps keep it above freezing. The down side of this solution is that the heat mat does not quickly warm a cold battery box to above freezing. This is a solution that is good for when the car is to be stored in the garage over the course of a few days.

 

An excerpt from Jack Rickard’s blog

[ I’ve been remiss keeping you up to date about what’s going on at IMW HQ. We are long overdue for a blog post. In the meantime, I’d like to share some of what Jack Rickard of EVtv recently posted about IMW (full blog post here). –Jen, IMW slacker webmaster ]

“And what did they do with their failure? There isn’t going to BE another Xprize. But they still have the car. And they still work on it. And today, it is a four passenger vehicle, quite comfortable at highway speeds indeed featuring a top end of 130 mph. And it uses 147 watt hours to push 2900 lbs of mass (not counting Kevin and his never miss a meal companion) down the road at a weight to watt hour ratio somewhere over TWENTY TO ONE. They call it 200 mpgE. Or MPGe. Or something.

And here they are with two new possibilities. One is some new window tint film to cut down on the solar heat gain of the vehicle – passively reducing the air conditioning energy costs. The other is a permanent magnet linear motor/generator they think will generate 72 volts at some current implying 250 watts from the 3mm variation in road surface felt through the vehicle suspension.

What do I think about that? It’s hard to say. I struggle to think cogently through the tears…

I walk through a land of heroes and giants who have no idea who they are or what they look like to me. I feel like the one-eyed king in the land of the sightless. Do any have the vision to see what is before you? It is a miraculous time. With enormously powerful spirits doing amazing world changing things by whim.”

Thoughts on how we communicate vehicle efficiency

I’m often asked why MPG or MPGe is used when discussing the amount of energy used as fuel. Most recently I had a conversation with Craig Vetter about this and it seemed worth reproducing my thoughts here:

I think the way we measure energy use for vehicles is flawed. Why do we use the unit of a gallon, a unit of volume, to represent energy or its efficient or inefficient use. When, for example, building a power plant it is not designed, described or defined by the amount of train cars of coal it consumes….you never hear of a 40 car coal plant being built or of a plant rated at 40 coal cars per day. We use a power rating, generally megawatts, for a commercial power plant. So we end up with power plants rated, for example, at five or fifty megawatts.

So why do we use the equivalent coal car rating system, gallons of gas, when we speak of motorcycles and cars? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, just because something’s always been done that way, because we have long bought automotive fuel in gallon units, and the average person has a vague idea of how far a gallon of gas will take them is not a sufficient reason to continue the practice. From this flawed practice, to expand upon it in the hopes of making energy consumption comparisons easier, leading to the mile per gallon equivalency comparison being born. It’s a questionable undertaking at best: volumetric comparison to another common volumetric measurement that is used to represent a unit of energy, when the actual content and volume of that ‘gallon’ varies based on environmental conditions, time of year, manufacturer, and location on the globe.

That said, it seems whether the use of either MPG or MPGe as a measure of energy consumption seems reasonable or not, most people are able to easily see the difference in energy consumption between two vehicles when using the MPGe standard.

Should either of them continue to be used moving forward? Does their use actually hamper our adoption of more efficient means of transport? Do any of the current methods used, mpg, cost per mile, mpge, or parsecs adequately fill the need of an easily understandable unit of measure to aid us in making truly informed decisions when it comes to energy consumption? Do they take into consideration not only transport but environmental and social cost, sustainability, and infrastructure needs? Would any unit or simple combination thereof accomplish this goal? Maybe, but probably not in an easy, straight forward manner.

However, we still need some way of making these comparisons. Moving forward, I would propose a two unit method for measuring cost and energy consumption. The first would be a unit of currency and it would measure average cost per mile, and the second would be a unit of energy to measure average energy usage per mile. Since dollars are convenient and a well known and measured unit of currency, I propose, at least for the States, that we adopt the first unit of measure as dollars or cents/mile. And for energy, since one of the most common units of energy world wide is Watts or kilowatts, I propose for our energy measurement kilowatt hours/mile.

With those two units we can determine out of pocket cost and the actual energy consumption/environmental impact of the energy consumed for any fuel type or mix consumed.

So, to keep things as accurate and simple as possible:
$/Mile
KWhr/mile

Also a possible point of note: busses are only an efficient means of transport because they move multiple people at once, and the whole point of transportation is not moving the vehicle but the people and goods. So in addition to cost and energy consumption on a per mile basis, incorporating a per person or per unit of goods into the cost and energy use equations could give a more accurate representation of the overall unit costs associated with any trip or delivery.

Those are my basic thoughts for now, any feedback would be welcome. It’s not always easy to see all sides of any problem and come up with a simple solution. But if we all put our heads together and hash out some ideas back and forth; we are the builders and racers, the ones on the cusp of this problem after all, I’m sure we’ll come up with something that’ll be copied by other efficiency challenges and have people saying to themselves “why didn’t I think of that”

2014 Green Grand Prix

Antique Truck and HondaAt the end of February, Bob Gillespie invited us to participate in the Toyota Green Grand Prix, which is held every year in Watkins Glen, NY. Initially, Kevin was reluctant to go. It’s 800 miles from home, which is a long (and expensive) road trip when you’re hauling a heavy car on a trailer behind your truck.

I’m not interested in racing as a spectator sport and I had no interest in racing until participating in the Automotive X Prize. Being on the track at Michigan International Speedway changed something in me, and I wasn’t aware of it until Bob offered us a chance to get back on a track. All drivers needed a navigator, and I called shotgun. Nick agreed to go, too, so team IMW registered for the event even though Seven was in the midst of some upgrades and was overdue for ordinary maintenance.

Kevin worked long hours to get the maintenance done (new wheels, tires, brakes, cv joints, axles, alignment, etc.) but he ran out of time to do anything else before he and Nick had to load Seven onto the trailer and haul us all out to NY on April 10.

If you’re not familiar with the Green Grand Prix, I’ll give you a quick overview. Ten years ago Bob Gillespie, a former school teacher, began this high-efficiency competition. His goal was to get students involved and have an event that was educational and fun. Anyone with a street-legal vehicle can participate. There are two stages to the competition. This year Stage 1 was a 100 mile fuel economy event on the short track at Watkins Glen International. Stage 2 was a 60+ mile fuel economy road rally on public roads. Both stages are run at highway speeds.

We figured 100 miles on the slightly hilly track would be no problem for Seven. Kevin drove about half of the laps and I was his navigator (timing the laps, keeping an eye out for other cars, reminding him of the reduced speed at the turns). Then we pulled into the pit and switched drivers. Nick finished the final half of Stage 1 and Kevin was his navigator. This gave me a chance to wander the pit and talk to people on other teams, answer questions about Seven, ask questions of my own about other peoples’ cars, and watch the teams of students at work when their cars pulled into the pit.

By our odometer, we drove 104 miles on the track. How did we go over the 100 miles? I hit the wrong button on my iPhone’s stopwatch app when we made our mandatory pit stop and zeroed out the number of laps we had completed and we weren’t sure how accurate the odometer in Seven is. Nick and Kevin just kept driving until the rest of the cars were flagged in.

Seven’s battery pack holds the equivalent of just under 1 gallon of gas. To make it easier for the event coordinators, Kevin told them to just count our pack as a full gallon — we’d take the difference as a handicap against us. At the end of Stage 1 Bob inspected our gauge and odometer, used his calculator and wrote down 198 MPGe.

Next was the Stage 2 road rally. We knew it would be tight. The weather was cold (batteries like it a lot warmer), rainy (we had to use electricity to run headlights, wiper and defrost), and we’d be driving over 70 miles in traffic on winding, hilly roads. Just how hilly we didn’t realize until we started. To flat-landers like us, the hills in the Watkins Glen area seem like mountains. But we had come over 800 miles to do this and decided to give it a shot. At worst, we’d call Nick to come get us with the truck and trailer.

Neither of us had participated in a road rally before and had never seen a tulip diagram. We weren’t familiar with the area and the tulip diagram directions said things like “turn right (dirt section).” Which dirt road? Half of the roads we passed seemed like gravel or dirt roads to us! That’s the point at which things started to fall apart. I missed the turn and had to navigate us back onto our route. We found the next check point, got our slip, and got back onto the road.

At that point it was already obvious something wasn’t right with Seven’s batteries. Our state of charge was dropping more rapidly than it should have, even given the challenging driving conditions. Kevin looked at the data from the Victron gauge and didn’t like what he saw. There had been no time to balance the batteries before the competition and we had put a lot of miles on them since the last time that was done (early 2011). There was a chance we had a bad cell in the pack. If we kept driving, we might damage the pack.

We pulled onto a gravel road near Sugar Hill and CR21 and stopped. Seven was at 11% state of charge. We had driven approximately 47 miles on the road rally and had about 24 miles to go. It wasn’t worth damaging the battery pack. We called Nick and some helpful volunteers gave him a map and showed him where to find us.

The upside of this: we had a lot of fun and Seven didn’t break. I would have liked more time to get to know the other cars and their drivers. There was a wide variety of vehicles competing and a lot of people as passionate about fuel economy as we are.

1st placeThe downside: we left not knowing what Seven could really do on the road rally. Running quick numbers while we waiting for Nick to pick us up, Kevin estimated we were getting 140 MPGe before we had to stop.

In the end, we were awarded 1st in Class (Exhibition) and the judges declared we tied with the Urba Centurion for Most Fuel Efficient Vehicle.

Thank you to everyone involved in the Green Grand Prix, from event coordinators to participants and spectators. You’re a friendly bunch of passionate people and it’s great to see the many ways in which you’re working towards a more energy-efficient future for our transportation.

 

General Maintenance and the Green Grand Prix

With our upcoming appearance at the Green Grand Prix, we figured it’s time to go over Seven with an eye towards any general maintenance it may need.  After all, she has 8500 miles on her, and some of them are very hard miles thanks to all of the, er, scientific test driving we’ve done over the years.

Although she’s in fairly good shape, we noticed a vibration at high speeds and started digging into possible causes. This lead us to an inner CV joint that was worn and needed to be replaced. Next we noticed the tires needed to be balanced. While balancing the tires we found two bent rims and one tire that isn’t round anymore. So we took a look at the brake rotors, found one which was warped, and turned all four. Next to be addressed was a leaking brake caliper.

However, problems like this are expected when you start with used parts, which we did, as our original build involved a lot of recycled parts. The new replacement parts (new/remanufactured off the shelf) should fare better.

The good news is that inspection of the rear steering assembly showed none of the parts needed replacing. All’s good there.

Also working well is the new power steering unit we installed in Seven last month. It’s an electric module out of a Toyota Prius. The downside is the additional ~2 inches added to the steering column. The upside is the ease of turning the wheels at low speeds. It’s almost like driving a regular car. Since 7 doesn’t have a CAN to tell it to adjust the power steering at high speeds, we had to install a manual on/off switch. Otherwise at high speeds the steering was a little too exciting for comfort.

Back to the Green Grand Prix. This is the 10th annual Green Grand Prix, an SCCA-sanctioned efficiency event held at Watkins Glen International raceway in Watkins Glen, NY on April 11, 2014. This will be the first year for IMW to compete in this event. If you’re able to participate, or be a spectator, put it on your calendar. For more information on the event, see http://www.greengrandprix.com.

 

Ingenious East Coast Tour

Kevin, Nick and George will be bringing Seven out to the East Coast this December to help Jason Fagone promote his new book, Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America.

The book’s publisher, Crown, has been incredibly cool and supportive of the project, but one thing that wasn’t in the cards was a book tour. Jason thought it would be fun to travel a bit, so he organized some dates and locations, trying to maximize the opportunities for people on the East Coast to see the car within the small amount of time Kevin has available (he does have a day job). So while we can’t make it out to see everyone, we hope a lot of you can still come to meet us.

We’re excited for this opportunity to meet people, to answer questions, and hope to encourage the inner inventor inside of you. If anything, Ingenious is an inspiring tale, a call to the DIY culture to make the future they want to live in. Jason has a wonderful presentation about the Automotive XPRIZE and the people who dared to dream that a high milage car is possible. If you’re not already excited, his talk will make you want to build something. Anything. Even if you just start with Tinkertoys or toothpicks.

Check out the dates below and come meet the 207 MPGe DIY EV.

East Coast Tour Dates:

A biased review of Ingenious

Let me preface this review by stating that I approached Jason Fagone’s Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America with the bias that comes from being a lover of cars, a believer in electric vehicles, and an XPRIZE contender.

One of Fagone’s strengths as a non-fiction writer is his ability to take fact and tell it in a way that reads like a novel, full of characters, dramatic scenes, a pace with much forward momentum, and even subtle parallels one would find in a great work of fiction.

Only this is real. It happened, mostly under the radar of the mass media. Fagone was there and dutifully soaked in the details, taking endless notes and fact checking like crazy afterwards to make sure he produced not only an engaging, entertaining read, but one built upon journalistic integrity.

It is a compelling account of a largely overlooked historic event. It is the tale of ordinary people with audacious dreams who stepped up to do what the major automotive manufacturers have not. And it is written in such a way that one does not need a background in engineering to understand and appreciate. Fagone is that good at translating the technical jargon.

Even though I was there for parts of the competition, even though I knew how the story ends, while listening to this audio book I found myself cheering the teams, on the verge of tears during one scene at knockout because other “characters” were crying, and giddy at the “race” itself. I was experiencing it again and yet for the first time, as if maybe, just maybe, the ending would be different for some teams.

I’m a natural pessimist, and yet upon finishing this book I came away with the feeling of a rekindled excitement, a hope for the future, and much, much love. The book, as I read it, is a success, and one I hope you will enjoy.

Representing EVs at the Route 66 Mother Road Festival

Seven was on display September 28-29, 2013 at the 12th Annual Route 66 International Mother Road Festival. I’d like to take a moment and thank the organizers for putting on a fine car show and giving us a venue in which to engage the public. There was a constant crowd of people around Seven that weekend and Team IMW was busy fielding questions about the car in particular and about EVs in general. It was an educational outreach to hundreds of people, most of whom were eager to know about the present and future of EV technology.

I’d also like to thank the team for putting in long hours to answer questions. It wouldn’t have been a success without your one-on-one question and answer sessions.

I’m pleased at the overall response from the people who stopped to check out the car. Seven is still a work in progress and this was yet another big event where she appeared in primer. There’s a lot to be done to make her a show worthy car, but most people were more interested in how she worked than the “pardon our dust” interior or the lack of shiny paint. They were amazed that the technology to build a 207 MPGe sedan is available right now and some were frustrated that the auto manufacturers weren’t doing all they can to offer a truly high MGPe vehicle to the market.

To the man who respectfully asked “Why are EVs so ugly,” I say thank you for asking. You broached a subject many in the crowd were wondering themselves. That question gave Kevin an opportunity to talk about the change in aerodynamics from the antique cars parked around us to the present and how aerodynamics really matters to move a car efficiently down the road. Truly aerodynamic cars look weird to us because our automotive manufacturers have relied on cheap gas for so long. It allowed them to produce large cars (without regard to air drag) that remain familiar to our sense of what a car should look like. Gas isn’t cheap anymore, so we either have to spend more of our monthly budget to feed our gas tanks or accept new concepts of what makes a car and how it should be powered.

Large manufacturers won’t introduce bold new concepts to their show rooms unless they’re sure the public will respond by buying or signing leases. Somehow we need to let them know that we’re ready. Make it efficient, affordable, with a decent range and we’ll be there to sign on the dotted line.

When IMW started building Seven for the Automotive X Prize, there were no mass-produced 100 MPGe vehicles. Now there are some models available. I drive a 112MPGe i-MiEV, thanks to the drastic discounts available because the manufacturers are learning that the people who need fuel-efficient cars the most are the ones who can’t afford a $30,000 + car. A $69/month lease might be a loss for the manufacturer, but it sure helps those of us who took advantage of the deal spread the word about EVs. Strangers ask us questions. They consider the crazy idea of putting electricity into the car instead of gas. And it’s a little less scary when they see it in action on the streets of their town.

So what can we do? Stop buying the SUVs. Encourage manufacturers by buying the most fuel efficient cars (gas or electric) that meet our needs and our pocketbooks. Keep preaching the gospel of electric vehicles. Studies show that word of mouth is still the most trusted news source. You are the new media. Get the word out.

The Return of Seven

Re-designed Seven at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Re-designed Seven at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

The resurrection of Seven is upon us. The wait is over. As we breathe new life into the redesigned and re-engineered Seven it’s important to remember what hasn’t changed and why: its heart and soul, the spirit that first brought Seven into existence. We have been anxiously planning several public events to celebrate the completion of the project. The best way to celebrate, and the best way to educate the public, is to take her out for a spin and take as many of our friends and followers with for a ride. Come see what makes Seven tick, what we’ve changed, and what’s next for the Illuminati and Seven. Most importantly, come to get a ride and experience for yourself, if you haven’t before, what makes the EV revolution tick…zip…grin.

Seven, originally built to compete in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, a competition to build the world’s first consumer-viable 100+ MPGe vehicle, was capable of: 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, 130 mph top speed, an EPA tested 207.5 MPGe, and 216 mile range on a single charge. With everything Seven could do it still had rough spots that needed smoothing and weak links that needed replacing. So we cut, sanded, ground, bolted, imagined and created … with the help of a few talented individuals. And we finally came up with a fully composite body, custom single speed transmission and coupler, and someday maybe even a paint job.

Seven’s new body, to replace the old, and to our surprise unstable spray-foam core body, is constructed completely of high strength composites including carbon fiber, Kevlar, and honeycomb. Thanks to Reg Schmeiss of Motorvation Inc. for the help, guidance, education and his infinite patience. The new body is lighter, stronger, cleaner and has a more aggressive look. Other body design changes include reduced frontal area, raised hood angle to increase downforce at higher speeds, and a tapered back end incorporating tail fins to fit more with the original concept design and to help prevent the ill effects of undirected air-wash off the back of the car.

The custom gears for the transmission were designed and built by John Frana of Frana Vehicles (815-639-9183) and they are beautiful. At almost 4 inches wide, made from heat treated gear steel, this gear set has a ratio of 1.11 to 1, bringing our overall reduction, including the all new differential (also made by Frana Vehicles) to 4.1:1. Our transmission is no longer a weak link.

There are many other improvements in the planning stages for Seven, but more about that as they happen.

If you’d like a chance to see Seven in person, head out to EVCCON 2013 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri from August 6th thru the 11th. Seven, along with dozens of other electric vehicles, will be on display. Presenters from many of the top minds today in the EV conversion world will also be attending. Better yet, come to EVCCON to experience Seven for yourself (check the public day(s) schedule at EVTV.ME for details on times and locations).

I owe more than a few of you rides…since I have a habit of burning up clutches and breaking transmissions. And yes there is a difference: one costs you $5,000,000, yes that’s million, when it burns up. The other costs $5,000 for some custom gears when you break the old ones. I’ve done both if you haven’t guessed and breaking gears is a lot more fun, dramatic, and cost effective. So, back to the ride part, did I say ride??? Why yes I did! Everyone knows of my filibuster prowess, and yes even I know that no one wants to hear it, so let’s go for a ride and get the biggest EV grin of your life!

Ingenious BookThe big news for this year is the upcoming book by Jason Fagone: “Ingenious: A true story of invention, automotive daring, and the race to revive America.” Due out 11/5/2013 and available now for pre-order at Amazon.com. The story of a small group of tinkerers, garage hackers, racers, and entrepreneurs who tried to do something they were told was impossible: build the world’s first 100 MPGe car. This is more than the story of Seven, it is the story of American ingenuity. It is the story of all of us who have walked out into an empty garage, rolled up our sleeves and with no more than our imagination filled that empty space and drove out in something we created.

It’s your turn to start filling that empty space, so take advantage of this opportunity before it slips, like a clutch, through your fingers, and come to EVCCON in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on August 6th-11th and see Seven. Better yet, come to EVCCON and experience this car first hand by getting to ride in Seven! And let’s find out together what we’re now all capable of: high MPGe, 0-60, grins per mile, so we can create what is possible for the future.

Adler After Dark: Future Tech, July 18, 2013

Seven’s first big appearance is scheduled for July 18 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Their Adler After Dark series will be focusing on “Future Tech” that night, starting at 6:30.

“The future is now at Adler After Dark! Join us as we explore how our predecessors envisioned a fantastical future, and check out current world-changing technologies and ideas at our “Future Tech” marketplace. Exhibitors will be here demonstrating next-gen technology like 3D printing, green skyscrapers, and more. And don’t forget to grab a George Jetson cocktail and check out our “Inventing the Future” TED-style panel discussions where industry leaders will be discussing topics ranging from battery-powered vehicles to visualizing our amazing universe.”

Seven will be in primer for a while – we don’t want to have the paint job done until we’re sure we’re done with the improvements. So if you see Seven, she will be matte black.

Keeping in mind that the transmission is custom made, has very little miles on it, and absolutely no slop in the tolerances, there is a chance that history may repeat itself. Kevin is taking her for a drive up into the Chicago suburbs this weekend as a test run and we’re keeping fingers crossed.

That said, if you want to see Seven there, I caution against buying advance tickets and ask you to stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook pages for any updates.

For more info on the event, go to: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/adler-after-dark