Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this point?

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andys
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Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this point?

Been reading the various posts here for a while now, and can't help but notice how many issues people are having with trying to use EV"s as daily transport, especially ones with a bit of power. Battery packs go out of balance and don't hold a charge right, chargers go bad often, controllers freak out, motors overheat, throttles break in various ways, switches get fried, etc. The range and speed capabilities never seem to live up to the claims either.

Right now, I only own some small EV's, a bicycle and small electric scooters. I have been researching converting a small Fiat to electric, but am beginning to wonder if its worth the trouble. Even factory designed and built EV's don't seem to be reliable at all compared to their gas powered counterparts. Heck, Tesla, with millions of dollars in backing, still doesn't have cars ready to deliver yet, as one problem after the next seem to keep coming up. I wonder what's going to happen to those hundreds of Lithium Ion batteries if their BMS goes bad.

Doug Canfield of EV tech has worked on many factory backed EV's, including the GM EV-1. He has told me some stories of spectacular failures, like electric Chevy trucks that would tear their drive shafts off if full power was given at speed. All types of batteries have failed in just about every way imaginable, and even some no one had ever imagined. The amps seem to always find the weakest point in the electric current chain and burn it up. Doug told me he had a flyer from Vectrix with "coming next year" on it dated from the 1990's. Doesn't seem like that bike has that toyota reliability thing yet over 10 years later.

What chance does an amateur have, even with experienced help available, to build something that isn't breaking its key components on a regular basis, if factory designed and build stuff can't holdup very well to normal use? Is the concept of using battery stored electricity to be converted to propulsion just a bad idea? Is high voltage, high amp DC current inherently difficult to work with? Is the torque generated by electric motors just too hard on drive components unless they are full race quality? I wonder if that's the reason most of the converted cars listed at the EV Album.com site are not finished.

andrew
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable?

I have no doubt that they can be made extremely reliable. Much more reliable than any ICE vehicle conceivable. Unfortunately, they need resources for development to be made reliable. It's amazing how many billions of dollars go into ICE vehicle engineering and development each year for comparison. Here are some of Bob Brant's ideas in "Build your Own Electric Vehicle."

Lets go back to basics for now and make some comparisons. What powers an EV? An electric motor. They are the most convenient and efficient mechanical devices on the planet to produce motion. Electric motors are designed to run over 10 years 24/7 in industrial applications at full power without any maintenance except maybe greasing the bearings. That's just not possible with an ICE engine. That's 87,600 hours, and many run much longer. Motors have one moving part. There are a few working right now to keep your PC working. How often do maintenance on any of the motors around you that work to make life easier? There's probably 10s to 100s that the average person comes across in any given day that work flawlessly when needed.

What stores the energy for an EV? Batteries. How many moving parts are in batteries? Not one. Batteries are the most convenient and efficient energy storage devices on the planet. They don't require any maintenance (except flooded batteries), and work for years. Occasionally, they require replacement. How labor intensive it is to replace flashlight batteries? It is very easy to diagnose a problem with a starter battery. It requires a simple load test, and it is about the easiest thing under the hood of an ICE car to replace.

What controls the power? The controller. VFD controllers for industrial AC motors are reliable enough to work for at least 10 years at full power, or 87,600 hours. These can handle megawatts of power. Again, no moving parts here. There are at least a few tiny brushless motor controllers working to power your PC HDD drive, fan, and CD rom drive motors now. Now most cordless power tools include controllers. A light dimmer is a simple controller. How often do these fail and/or require maintenance?

What recharges the batteries? The charger. Usually, it needs one moving part---a fan to keep it cool. A charger is a kind of special power supply. We use power supplies for many common devices that run from AC power. Your phone, PC, laptop, TV, microwave, and any device that runs from battery power uses a power supply regularly. How often do you break a sweat trying to keep these working?

Electric vehicles can be made more reliable and easy to maintain than any ICE vehicle ever produced. The problem, is that the system needs to be designed well to work as a complete unit, and constructed with quality components. This will take money, resources, and time to do well, just like it would to produce anything like it does for an ICE vehicle or even an electric razor. Conversions are a means to throw a bunch of different components together doing all of the engineering and development on the spot. They are an alpha prototype, that sure, may require some improvement. And even then, they often work well. I would trust the simplicity of my electric motorcycle hands down over the mechanical complexity of my ICE motorcycle.

All of the components for an electric vehicle are in many household devices. Most portable powertools have all of the basic components of an EV. How much maintenance do these require? Even an electric razor, or toothbrush has most of the components. These work conveniently and flawlessly almost 100% of the time, and never require maintenance.

[url=/forum-topic/motorcycles-and-large-scooters/587-my-kz750-electric-motorcycle-project]KZ750 Motorcycle Conversion[/url]
[url=/forum-topic/motorcycles-and-large-scooters/588-fixing-my-chinese-scooter]900 watt scooter[/url]
Pic from http://www.electri

Mik
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable?

I think the vibrations and temperature fluctuations, rain, salt spray and varying loads that are needed for vehicles make a big difference to reliability.
Most of the supposedly reliable components mentioned in Andrews post would fail soon if subjected to just one of these added difficulties encountered by vehicles of all kinds.

But I agree in principle; I recently read through a repair manual for an ICE bike - oh boy, all those parts!
Thousands of things that can break, and do break.

And there are many examples of unreliable ICE vehicles, too.

One I know from my own experience is the Kawasaki KH250B - 3Cyl 2 stroke bike. I had one 20 years ago.
The middle cylinder overheated, mufflers filled with oil and soot, everything was prone to fall off at any moment due to rattling loose secondary to the vibrations....
And when riding in salted sleat sparks used to fly everywhere.
The battery was always prone to malfunction, which in turn caused the weirdest electrical effects, like only running on one or two cylinders except when high and low beam are both on and sometimes only when the indicator lights are on. That created a very interesting and dangerous hopping effect!

Mr. Mik

This information may be used entirely at your own risk.

There is always a way if there is no other way!

reikiman
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable?

I think all the points Andrew mentions are right on -- but it's amazing how quickly a controller or other electrical part can be zapped if used wrong. Let out the magic smoke and it don't work any more.

It seems to me there's a huge difference in the amount of R&D and debugging going into an EV design versus, say, an elevator. When you jump into an elevator do you think about it failing? A failed elevator would be bad, right, that sickening fall for floors until the thud and you splat against the floor and then that glowing tunnel of light opens in front of you. But does it ever happen? That's so rare it's national news when it happens. But a "car fire" is so common it barely gets noticed by the traffic report.

Elevators and other products get a lot more R&D investment .. I can say having built an EV motorcycle that I was just happy for it to run and I haven't done much debugging of the design since. But engineers designing a product, they don't just stop at the first working design, they think up failure scenarios, they test for failures, they work out fixes to prevent failures, etc.

It is puzzling why the Vectrix is having trouble -- as you pointed out they've had 10+ years R&D so you'd think that would mean something.

As for most vehicles on the EV album aren't finished.. ah.. I don't know, have you counted them up? On the other hand I don't describe my Lectra as 'finished', instead I describe it as being in an advanced state of incompletion. Somehow having crossed the threshold of "working" gives less priority to "finishing". I wonder if some of the others are doing the same...

andys
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

My electric scooter and bike have really wet my appetite for a more powerful, longer range EV. I love how quiet the motors are, and how responsive. It would be a lot of fun to have a small car capable of fast acceleration and a lot of torque to drive on 50 mile or less rides. Thunderstruck motors is willing to work with me on the conversion, and I know those folks have a lot of experience. I'll have to see how my fund raising goes this summer. These kinds of projects don't really make financial sense (unless gas ends up unavailable or more than $10 gallon), but I am fascinated with the technology enough to want to do it.

I just hate to put all that time and money into the project and have the thing constantly breaking down. I guess that's the risk you take. I am planning on using top quality components all the way through, and having Thunderstruck do the main wiring and connections, as well as programming the converter.

andrew
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

I just hate to put all that time and money into the project and have the thing constantly breaking down.

The important thing is to improve it after it breaks down. When it's first finished, it'll be an alpha prototype. It's only realistic to expect it to need some changes. It may be a challenge, but it can be a rewarding one. TBH, most of us are into EVs for the project aspect.

I'm scraping some components on my bike, and redoing some things, but I'm making it better. The new setup may just be one stepping stone to a better design in the future, but I'm learning. It's like a journey, and we are all pioneers taking that path. Maybe it is so much more engaging because of this. When I do work on my ICE bike, it's usually grudging boring maintenance. Electric vehicles just don't require the kind of maintenance that gas vehicles do. At the stage my electric motorcycle is at, it requires re-engineering. When I have it good enough, it'll work for years with little maintenance. I'm just trying to get to that point.

[url=/forum-topic/motorcycles-and-large-scooters/587-my-kz750-electric-motorcycle-project]KZ750 Motorcycle Conversion[/url]
[url=/forum-topic/motorcycles-and-large-scooters/588-fixing-my-chinese-scooter]900 watt scooter[/url]
Pic from http://www.electri

jdh2550_1
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this
I just hate to put all that time and money into the project and have the thing constantly breaking down.

The important thing is to improve it after it breaks down. When it's first finished, it'll be an alpha prototype. It's only realistic to expect it to need some changes. It may be a challenge, but it can be a rewarding one. TBH, most of us are into EVs for the project aspect.

I'm scraping some components on my bike, and redoing some things, but I'm making it better. The new setup may just be one stepping stone to a better design in the future, but I'm learning. It's like a journey, and we are all pioneers taking that path.

I agree entirely with what Andrew says with regard to building ones own conversion. I do it because it's fun, it's different and I'm learning a lot. If you want to see successful EVs go over and look at the EV Album - there are a lot of folks there who are successfully using their vehicles. A lot of us DIY'ers projects can end up suffering because we save money on the wrong items or the best items are simply out of reach for us right now (I really want AltairNano's 20,000 life cycle battery - but unless I change my last name to Ford they're not interested - perfectly understandable of course).

As far as buying a commercial completed product things are improving all the time. I'm hoping that the XM-3000 addresses many of the complaints of the XM-2000. The folks over at Nova Scooters have two models that they offer extensive support and warranty for a year. The current rash of problem incidents is mostly related to the new EVTA offerings - don't let that sour the whole class for you.

My own experience of the XM-2000 is largely positive. Although the batteries turned out to be it's weakest link thanks to folks like usatracy I believe the new set of Greensaver batteries will last a lot longer. Even folks like Brandt say "expect to kill your first set of batteries". I also think we're at a turning point with Lithium - I expect in 18 months all new models will have Lithium exclusively. Now, I don't think Lithium will necessarily be a silver bullet but it is more robust than SLA in certain respects. Add to that the fact that more manufacturers will start fitting battery management systems as standard and I think with two or three years these mopeds and motorcycles will really be able to go head to head with ICE motorcycles in everything but maximum range. And maximum range is less of an issue with a lot of riders (do you really want to ride a moped for 100+ miles?)

Things aren't great right now - but don't give up hope! I think you have one option today for a reliable scooter (Nova's offering) and I hope you will have another option in about a month (the XM-3000 which I sell). However, with both of these bikes you will at the very least have to invest another couple of hundred dollars in some form of balancing (bank charging or a dynamic balancer like the BattEQ). If you don't do that then I expect you will end up disappointed by failing batteries (oh how I wish the manufacturers would address this - maybe next years XM-n000? - however, maybe the game changes somewhat with Lithium and they'll wait until then)

For bigger bikes there's various folks selling the EFun-D under different names and the XM-3500 is supposed to be coming out mid May. I've not seen very much in the way of reviews (positive or negative) for the EFD. I plan to get an XM-3500 and will share what I find out.

Happy riding or driving or converting or buying...

And remember what Andrew said - the journey is the reward! :-)

John H. Founder of Current Motor Company - opinions on this site belong to me; not to my employer
Remember: " 'lectric for local. diesel for distance" - JTH, Amp Bros || "No Gas.

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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

Actually, regular gasoline scooters and motorcycles are HORRIBLY unreliable... if they're cheap Chinese crap! And right now all mass-market EVs are exactly that (except the Vectrix) because of price. The only way for EVs to be even remotely competitive right now is to use bottom-end Chinese stuff to compensate.

Electric motors are extremely reliable, especially brushless motors. It is highly likely that you would *never* need to replace or repair them. Motor overheating is not the fault of the motor; it means someone used way more power than what the motor is rated for, and they didn't compensate with additional cooling.

Controllers are like computers or any other electronics; they can be very reliable if they're designed well. But the market is flooded with Chinese controllers that use cheap components and are poorly made; a common problem with Crystalyte controllers, for example, is that the insulation around the FET screws is dangerously thin, and when people try using 72V or more with them, the controllers often eventually short out. But Crystalyte created a newer design which is supposed to be good.

Batteries are usually perfectly predictable; they behave however they're supposed to. I know some Chinese scooters try to draw far more power from their silicone batteries than the battery manufacturer says to, and as a result the batteries' range becomes permanently reduced very quickly, but that's a flaw with the scooter.

In short: buyer beware. But if you're building your own EV then all this becomes moot; you can ensure you use reliable components.

andys
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

Thanks for your take on this. The guys at Thunderstruck told me the same thing as what you just said -use quality stuff and the reliability goes way up. They have a 8.5 inch 30KW brushless AC motor made by Leeson in mind for my car (a 1050 pound Fiat 500) that won't have to work too hard to make it fly. They are running the 6.5 inch version of this same motor in tandem on their record setting drag bikes, and they told me they don't even get very hot after a hard run. The Curtis 1238 Converter they want to use is supposed to also be a really great piece. Both of these are industrial quality US made items. The 100AH LIFEPO4 batteries are Chinese made, but are supposed to have better quality control than most of them currently available.(I think the brand name is High Power?) They can take 3C continuous and 5C peaks on the output. I am beginning to think maybe I can do this, especially with the expert help I have available, and end up with a great little EV.

mf70
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

I haven't read every word, but I don't think this perspective has been represented:

EV's are _fundamentally_ different from ICE's. This means all your instincts about what to do for maintenance are probably 180 deg backwards. A pack voltage meter looks like a gas gage, but it doesn't act like it. A battery stores energy, but it isn't stored as molecules. An electric motor generates motion, but it generates the most force at a stall, etc.

In addition, the scooter end of the vehicle spectrum has two enemies. 1) They're small, and things vibrate loose. 2) Many of our scoots are experimental, and there are a lot of "gee, this should work" solutions hidden inside.

Mark

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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

Actually, regular gasoline scooters and motorcycles are HORRIBLY unreliable... if they're cheap Chinese crap! And right now all mass-market EVs are exactly that (except the Vectrix) because of price. The only way for EVs to be even remotely competitive right now is to use bottom-end Chinese stuff to compensate.

I don't disagree with the gist of what you're saying. However, how much of what you say is based on emotion and how much on data? With data one can address the root causes - the root cause isn't "China" - others have pointed to high quality products coming out of China. What makes a Honda or Yamaha scooter better than a Chinese equivalent? Specifically what? Where can money be saved and where must it absolutely not be saved? As far as price - Honda and Yamaha gas scooters sell for about what you'd pay for an electric scooter like the XM, Z or Nova models. The Chinese gas equivalents are even cheaper (say $700 for a 50cc 4-stroke).

The root cause in general is "building down to a budget" - so one needs to figure out what are the areas of false economy. However, there's no way that one has to jump from a $3000 product (XM-3500) to a $12000 product (Vectrix). The Vectrix is expensive because they designed a whole new bike from the ground up. Why did they do that rather than just starting with a proven frame? What's to stop Honda or Yamaha "doing an EV properly" starting with their proven high quality bikes?

One thing I do think you miss in your generalizations of the entire EV scene is folks like Electric Motorsport and others. Their new GPR-S looks very interesting and is $8000 (still a little too expensive in my mind but a heck of a lot closer than the Vectrix). These "small guys" might yet prove to be snapped up by a "big guy" and have the reliable product at an affordable price that is so nearly in our grasp!

John H. Founder of Current Motor Company - opinions on this site belong to me; not to my employer
Remember: " 'lectric for local. diesel for distance" - JTH, Amp Bros || "No Gas.

CGameProgrammer
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

My opinion is based on countless reports from others; technicians who repair motorcycles and report that the Chinese scooters they see are often very poorly designed or put together; people in China who report that the Japanese scooters and motorcycles basically never break down but the Chinese ones very often do; etc. The problem is largely due to cost-cutting, no quality control, or poor design. There are many products that are built in China but are designed elsewhere, and of course these are often fine. My A123 batteries fall into this category. Crystalyte does too as far as I understand.

PJD
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

It should be pointed out that the one full size electric car that was spared mandatory crushing - the Toyota Rav-4 EV has proven to be completely relaible and service-free.

Many of them have more than 100 k miles on their battery packs and are still running fine. I've even seen a couple here in Pittsburgh where they are subjected to about as much wet conditions, freezing conditions and road salt as anywhere.

So, Andrew's points about EV are very correct - but the motor companies have no motivation to invest in EVs - or even genuinely high fuel economy vehicles for that matter. But in European countries there is. The difference? Government policy, in the form of high gasoline taxes, fuel economy requirements, and congestion-fee areas in cities.

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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

My opinion is based on countless reports from others; technicians who repair motorcycles and report that the Chinese scooters they see are often very poorly designed or put together; people in China who report that the Japanese scooters and motorcycles basically never break down but the Chinese ones very often do; etc. The problem is largely due to cost-cutting, no quality control, or poor design. There are many products that are built in China but are designed elsewhere, and of course these are often fine. My A123 batteries fall into this category. Crystalyte does too as far as I understand.

Once again, I'll remind you that I agree with you (I'd have to be a fool not to). However, there's no specific data in what you state that can be used to improve the situation. Collect some specific data my friend and then we can build the better mousetrap!

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. (the baby being the advantage of low cost labor in China and the bathwater being their current focus of building down to a budget)

John H. Founder of Current Motor Company - opinions on this site belong to me; not to my employer
Remember: " 'lectric for local. diesel for distance" - JTH, Amp Bros || "No Gas.

andys
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Re: Are all higher powered electric vehicles unreliable at this

I was actually thinking about that Toyota Rav-4 EV, as I know someone who has one and charges it with solar panels! You know both Toyota and Honda would have amazing full EV's by now if they were required to make them.

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