(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.)
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.
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.
Phase 1 — 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Environmental Argument — Why Hot Rodders are the Ultimate Environmentalists
Obviously, for carbon reasons alone, getting rid of fossil fuel is an absolute necessity at some point. Though, personally, I’d argue that we’re well past the point that reducing carbon by any amount in any time span would be enough to save our climate. No, we’re already well into thermal runaway, and much more drastic and pro-active measures will need to be taken if we’re going to save life on Earth. Notably, our own. But, there’s another argument environmental here…from hot rodders.
I’ve caught a lot of flak over the years for driving big, stupid, old V-8 musclecars. We’re talking big-block, straight-pipe, spewing hate and tire smoke from rusty quarter panels muscle cars. Though my current daily driver is a matte black ’87 Toyota Supra that gets embarrassingly good gas mileage, I take some pleasure in knowing that at least I cut the catalytic converter off. Still a man’s car, as ricers go.
So, you’d be forgiven for calling me a fake environmentalist. Many have. Because could I have just bought a Prius? No. Because I built that junkyard car out of junkyard parts while homeless, in three days, to escape a hurricane. But could I buy a Prius now? Sure.
Consider this, though: How much more damage would I be doing to the environment buying that brand new Prius, than just driving my old 400-horsepower Supra? Or even the 500 c.i. Caddy-powered, 8 mpg Buick Grand National that was my ride in high school? New cars, hybrid or not, do an incredible amount of environmental damage, just in the course of being produced. I could drive even the Buick every single day for the next ten years before I began to approach the carbon footprint of producing that new Prius.
And the Supra? Never. Will never, ever happen.
Because hot rodders are the ultimate recyclers. We’re the ultimate environmental conservatives. We drive the same cars for decades, while “environmentalists” lease a new hybrid every two years. And every bit of energy, all the resources, every bit of pollution and destruction that goes into producing those new cars, has long been amortized by ours.
Is this where we go into the “Cash for Clunkers” rant? No. Another time.
Am I telling everyone to go out and build 900 horsepower big block Biucks and drive them on the street every day? Yes. It’s good for your character. But I’m also saying that if you choose to buy new cars, then they need to be cars with value proposition. That this endless consumerist cycle of building new overpriced garbage to replace the old is killing our planet far faster than any old gas-guzzling V-8.
EPIC almost by definition gives us longer-lasting cars; or at least, cars that we can afford to keep longer. Every year we can add to the length of vehicle ownership, every car that retains its value on the secondary market, is two tons less aluminum and iron we’ll have to dig up, melt down and make car-shaped later. That, in itself, may do more good than any reduction in carbon dioxide.
Thank a hot-rodder. You’re welcome.
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.
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.
Phase II – Building a Hydrogen Economy
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