EPIC (Phase 1) — Our Path to an All-Electric Future


(The following article contains potentially patented, patent pending, trademarked or copyrighted intellectual property of Richard Allen Rowe, or the Rowe Foundation. All rights reserved. Don’t take my stuff. )

Amazing, the power of a battery. From the dawn of the automobile, these portable energizers have been moving mankind from one place to the other cleanly, in speed and silence. Strange to think, the 21st century isn’t so different from 1901, when gas-engine, electric vehicles and even hybrids competed to dominate the auto market. But gasoline isn’t quite the useless industrial waste it was back then, and we see now the effects of a hundred years of pumping the stuff into our atmosphere.

Yes, our nation, economy and industry have in many ways gone backward over the last century. From clean skies to climate change, Carriage Industry to Corporatism; from opportunity for all to consumerism from above. Time to hit the Reset button; to re-forge America, and go back to the approaches that worked before we started screwing everything up. Electric vehicles are the future of transportation; but we’re going to need a roadmap to get there before our planet burns itself to cinder through climate change, war and consumerism.

For your consideration: Electric Phase-In Protocol. EPIC. Our road-map to an all-electric future.

And maybe, something a little better beyond it.

(Before reading, consider checking out background our materials on Industrial Reform (Part 1 and Part 2), Infracompetitive Cycles, and How to Save a Runaway Planet. Much of EPIC is based on the industrial and economic principles explored in those articles.)

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Section 1 — What Makes Cordless Tools Work?
Section 2 — De-Standardization of Batteries; Just Call it a Call-Out
Section 3 — Standardization of Modular Electric Vehicle Batteries
Section 4 — What Happens Next? Benefits of Phase 1
Section 5The Environmental Argument; Why Hot Rodders are the Ultimate Environmentalists
Section 6The Business Case; One Step Toward a Carriage Economy
Section 7 — Replaceable Batteries vs. Quick Charging
Summary



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Section 1 — What Makes Cordless Tools Work?

Electric vehicles are nothing if not giant, cordless power tools. And what do all modern power tools have in common? This:

The ability to run one battery while charging another, then quickly swap between them, is what makes modern cordless power tools possible and practical. Consider how useless a cordless drill would be with 15 minutes of run time and 30 minutes of recharge. Even if we cut that down to 5 minutes, doubtful Makita would be selling many cordless drills to contractors. The recharge time would make them a useless pain in the ass. However, if you have three interchangeable battery packs…well, now you only need to pause long enough to swap in a new one.

A few manufacturers including Tesla have experimented with quick-change packs before; and to Elon’s credit, they did get the basics down. Problem is, though, those batteries only fit Teslas, and they cost almost as much as the car itself. Which brings us to the primary way by which the electric car industry is destroying itself through pure greed.


Section 2 — De-Standardization of Batteries; Just Call it a Call-Out

If you’ve ever owned a mix-and-match set of used cordless tools, you quickly discover one major problem with not remaining brand loyal to any one of them: The cost of batteries.

Consider this scenario: You own a shop full of contractor quality Tealkita cordless tools. One day, you chance upon a good, used DeWalt for $30. Seems like a steal, right? Only thing is, the battery’s shot, and of course none of the Tealkita’s will fit. So, you hit Amazon for a new DeWalt lithium like the one pictured above. Which at $60, despite being twice what you paid for the drill itself, still gives you a good setup at $90. For about 15 minutes. So, you buy a second one to keep on charge. Now, you’re $150 in. Add $50 for a DeWalt charger, and your $30 used drill now costs more than a brand new one with batteries and charger included. Effectively, all you really bought was the previous owner’s depreciation.

This is fantastic scenario if you happen to be the one selling the tools. But it’s also a blatant example of forced consumerism, false economy and fairly infuriating if you happen to be on the buying end. Even more so once you know what’s inside that DeWalt battery pack.

Exactly the same cells as the Tealkita.

No, not just the same size. Not just the same capacity. Literally the exact same cells, from the same assembly line, from the same manufacturer. They’re even the same color. That’s right. Blue tool, yellow tool…the batteries are always green. Maybe red if they’re from Sanyo, brown from LG or purple from Samsung. But every one of them is interchangeable with every other.

This standardization allows for great competition among battery suppliers, and massively reduces cost for tool manufacturers. It does not, however, reduce cost for you. Because the toolmaker has de-standardized those same batteries, by putting them into packs which only fit their brand. They enjoy the benefits of battery standardization, while you’re stuck buying more overpriced, disposable garbage from a brand you hate, because you can’t afford to switch batteries.

Auto manufacturers do exactly the same.

Pull apart the battery pack of most electric cars, and you’ll find precisely the same situation. Standardized cells inside bespoke packs. Automakers deliberately DE-standardize their components, absorbing the profits and passing that cost along to you. This cost comes in two primary forms:

  • Battery Cost: Standardized stuff is cheap, bespoke parts are not. It all comes down to the basic economy of scale, and competition among manufacturers building interchangeable products. This production of interchangeable parts is where capitalism actually does what it’s supposed to; de-standardization winds the clock backward, reducing competition, the economy of scale and all the good things that come with them. Manufacturers get a double benefit from this when it comes time to replace the battery pack; since they’re the only ones selling packs that fit, they can charge whatever they want for them.
  • Taking Vehicles off the Secondary Market: I could go on a year-long rant about how the “Cash for Clunkers” program was nothing but a scheme by automakers to get good, used cars off the secondary market. Because America needs a certain amount of cars; the faster you get the old ones out of circulation, the faster you can sell new, overpriced garbage designed to fall apart five minutes after the warranty expires. See our materials on Infracompetition if you want a deeper dive into how this atrocity came to be. Suffice it to say here: the more expensive they can make replacement parts, the faster the car itself becomes disposable garbage. Of no more real value than a $30 drill with no battery.

Behold the wonders of consumerism.


Section 3 — Standardization of Modular Electric Vehicle Batteries

Imagine instead of feeding into the endless cycle of self-destructive consumerism, we were to apply the Standardization and Modularity precepts of Industrial Reform. Which is a lot shorter and simpler than it sounds. Phase 1 would consist of three basic steps.

  • Step 1 — Develop a removable battery module, perhaps something fairly similar to the DeWalt unit above. I envision basically that, but about two foot square and six inches tall. These modules would be designed to slot in quickly and easily, with minimal space wasted around the sides to fit as many as possible under the car, unto its belly pan battery tray. A vertical lock system would probably be better, but we can hash out the details later.
  • Step 2 — Standardize that design and mounting system through the ASE.
  • Step 3 — Mandate that all new electric and hybrid cars use these new standardized battery modules.

That’s it. Pretty straightforward, right? Seems like something we could do by Monday with a couple beers and some decent music. And, with enough political will behind it, that’s exactly the truth.

But like so many simple concepts, Phase 1’s effects will prove profound.


Section 4 — What Happens Next? Benefits of Phase 1

This would completely change the game and open up a whole new world of possibilities. Especially in business. The five primary effects:

  1. Range and recharge times are no longer a limitation for electric cars. Run low on juice, swap one or more battery modules and keep going. Tesla had it down to less than 30 seconds; so repowering an EPIC system electric would actually take less time than filling the tank on a gas car. And you don’t even necessarily have to get out of the car to do it.
  2. Since any electric car could use one or more batteries from any other, quick-change service stations now become a possibility. Any Citgo, Shell or Tesla station could carry batteries and offer changes for any car from any manufacturer. Infrastructure for EPIC equipped cars will simply follow the network of service stations already in place.
  3. The cost of batteries would drop. As outlined in Industrial Reform, Standardization and Modularity always increase industry participation and competition. More companies will compete to lower prices, because they’re all making essentially the same product for the same market.
  4. The cost of new electric vehicles would plummet. Almost immediately, electrics would become the cheapest vehicles on the market. Why? Because batteries not included. Following EPIC, we could establish either privately or publicly (though I prefer the latter) a lend-lease system for battery modules. Essentially, you’d be renting the batteries and paying for the electricity used by the service station to charge them. It would still be cheaper to charge the car yourself; but with a national exchange program, you’d have the option of paying some upcharge for service station quick changes. Better, you could add or remove batteries as needs dictate. Going across town and back for work? Swap out one module for the morning commute. Going on a road trip down Route 66? Add ten more modules for ten times the range. When you get home, simply turn them back into the service station for credit.
  5. Cars would stay on the road and hold their value far longer. Because EPIC standardization would drastically reduce the long-term costs of owning an electric vehicle, the value proposition for any one of them goes through the roof. Because they have almost no moving parts, electric cars could theoretically run millions of miles (with regular service) before maintenance cost exceeds vehicle value. In fact, that might never happen, depending on the car and your propensity for hitting things.

Section 5 — The Environmental Argument; Why Hot Rodders are the Ultimate Environmentalists

Moved this one over to a separate article. Read it here:


Section 6 — The Business Case; One Step Toward a Carriage Economy

If you’ve read any of my other materials on Industrial Reform or corporate taxation, you’re already familiar with my position on small business and Carriage Industry. This is a perfect application of those concepts. In some ways, EPIC embodies the totality of every economic principle I hold.

From our discussion on Carriage Industry, you know that standardization of anything creates business. Especially small business. Think of every small wheel manufacturer spinning aluminum today because of standardized valvestems and the 4.5 x 5 bolt pattern. How many companies are making payroll today on parts for small block Chevies and Fords? How many exhaust and tuner shops are in business right now because of the T3 turbo flange? Standardization creates small business. Puts them in the game with the big boys; and EPIC will certainly prove no exception.

The practical reality of EPIC implementation is that almost all cars will utilize one of a few identical belly pans to hold the battery packs. Once we standardize the batteries and mounting systems, emergent standardization of physically related components will happen. Since very likely these belly pans/battery holders will end up as load-bearing structural frames, they’ll be designed upward to support any body that will fit on them.

In the end, we’re going to wind up with perhaps five or ten major structural frame designs. Likely outsourced to specialty manufacturers, all utilizing the same bolt patterns and chassis/body mounting points.

The emergent standardization following EPIC implementation will create an absolute explosion in small business; primarily by shifting manufacturing, service and repair services from large corporations to smaller competitors. Not to be too tankie about it, but EPIC could herald the greatest redistribution of corporate wealth in the history of industry. Major corporations will still do what they do best (mass produce lots of identical bits), and small business will get to compete from the beginning to the end of each product cycle.

If you’re wondering…yes. This is absolutely the case I had in mind when conceptualizing Industrial Reform.

Which is exactly why it will work.


Section 7 — Replaceable Batteries vs. Quick Charging

To be honest, this section was a bit of an add-on. Made after talking to my childhood friend, smartest mechanic on Earth and nationwide Audi super-tech, Chip Boyer. Basically, Chip’s the guy Stuttgart sends in to diagnose problems every other mechanic on that side of the country couldn’t. Considering that, and VW group’s cutting edge investments into electric vehicle technology…who better to diagnose the shortcomings in my approach?

To wit: Why go with replaceable, modular battery packs when quick charging technology is so close to hand? My answer: Because it’s a dead-end, in terms of cost and proliferation. Consider the following:

  • It’s Not Available Everywhere, and Never Will be.

    Transportation technology follows the spread of infrastructure. Look no further than the rise of fossil fuels, made possible by the fact that fuel can be transported and sold practically anywhere. All it takes to open a fuel stop anywhere is a truck, a tank and some gravity. That’s why fossil fuel rules the world.

    It’s all fine and good to talk about fast-charge stations in major cities, with massive power grids and the ability to carry and administer that kind of current on a large scale. And this may apply pretty broadly in places like America, where the grid in most places is relatively modern, and power is plentiful. But what about the boonies? What about those ten thousand little towns in America where the grid isn’t up to this kind of strain? Are people in Boone’s Farm, West Virginia just out of luck because their power lines are older than coal?

    Or, how about Ecuador? Venezuela, Bosnia, Niger, most of China and former Soviet Bloc nations? How about Australia, half of Canada, or even most of the UK? Where the power grid is already overloaded? How do you plan to set up high-voltage quick-charge stations in those places? At least, enough to handle recharging every car, truck and train in the country.

    Ford didn’t become the largest auto manufacturer in the world by selling cars that only worked in America. Around urban areas and high voltage power grids. They did it by digging into the dirt, and going everywhere. If we’re going to get rid of fossil fuels, we’re going to have to get real about the infrastructure involved in fueling their replacements. We need an approach that works with the existing power and transportation infrastructure. Globally.
  • Replaceable Batteries Can Reduce Vehicle Costs by HALF

    A big part of Industrial Reform is reducing cost with standardization and modularity. Because at the end of the day, it’s cost (not benefit) that drives the proliferation of technology. The cheaper we can make it, the faster it will spread and replace older tech.

    My approach is far superior in this regard, because it means you never have to actually buy the batteries. If we set up a third-party lend-lease infrastructure for battery replacement (where you’re only ever “renting” batteries, instead of buying them), manufacturers can sell electrics “batteries not included.”

    Yes, there are some specifics to iron out in terms of how lend-lease battery programs would work. That’s for another article. But if we go by that model, replacement infrastructure can spread very quickly, allowing consumers to amortize the cost of the batteries over the lifetime of the car. Which may be a very, very long time.

    And considering that batteries account for more than half the cost of entry level electrics, that puts us at a massive marketplace advantage over gas. Nobody’s going to spend $30,000 on a gas car when its electric equivalent is $15,000, and costs a third as much to run. There isn’t a market on Earth where fossil fuel wins using this approach.
  • Long Term Value is Higher

    I’ve written quite a bit on getting out of the Cheap Crap Game of consumerism in Industrial Reform. And I could go on all day about it. But, in the macro sense, the most important thing we can do in terms of crafting a sustainable, stable global economy is increasing the value proposition on the things we buy. Money in vs. value out. That’s the entire game.

    This approach drastically increases long-term value proposition for several reasons. Because you can’t lose value on batteries you didn’t have to pay for. The cost of battery replacement for those that do wear out will spread over all vehicles equally. So, in terms of relative value for batteries, every vehicle on the road is equal.

    But, as Orwell Said…some are more equal than others.

    The largest share of net battery depreciation costs will be paid by the largest vehicles requiring the most frequent replacements. People who charge their own cars, or don’t require much power because the cars are small and cheap, will pay the lowest portion of this net depreciation.

In the end, then, in terms of spreading electric technology quicker, making it cheap, and replacing fossil fuels outright practically overnight…battery replacement wins hands-down over quick-charging strategies. It’s not even close. Replacement wins because it works everywhere, drastically reduces cost for both manufacturers and consumers, and because it’s one step forward on the path of Industrial Reform.

See? This is why it’s important to have smart friends.


Summary

At this point, I hope you’re fairly convinced as to the benefits and necessity of standardization and modularity of electric vehicle battery packs. Such a small thing, a technical thing; such a minor change to the way we build electrics…and such a massive effect on everything that follows.

Nevermind Phase 2…this initiative alone will completely reshape everything we understand today about how cars are built, who builds them and where they get their energy. This is the critical step between today’s economy and tomorrow’s; EPIC will create not just a cleaner planet, but a cleaner economy that benefits everyone. A return to the kind of Carriage Economy that made America great in the first place. We stand on the precipice of a new Industrial Revolution; a green revolution of new industry, small business and a sustainable economy of opportunity for all.

Isn’t it amazing…the power of a battery.


Second Part: EPIC (Phase 2)


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