Catching the Dream

Rick Proctor

©1993 Rick Proctor

For a hundred years electric vehicles have been the dream of eccentrics, futurists, and the backyard hobbyist. The mainstream auto industry, in spite of huge capital resources, has been repeatedly thwarted by foot dragging and the perception of unsolvable technical problems. The experimenters see it as a worthy challenge and, perhaps, that "big" chance to hit it rich. There are more electric automobiles on the road today built by amateurs than by the big three, and the number is growing rapidly.

Government, big business, educators, and experimenters normally do not mix well but this spring was an exception. The Department of Energy's Center for Transportation Research participated in four electric vehicle (EV) events: The Phoenix 500, the Atlanta Clean Air Gran Prix, the American Tour de Sol, and the Ford HEV challenge. There were two major goals in the competitions. First, to encourage and support high school and university teams to develop EV technology. Second, to gather performance data on a wide range of EVs. It is for this latter reason that George Ettenhiem, a private consultant in charge of the Ford HEV Challenge hotline, approached Cruising Equipment to provide battery instrumentation for the event.

The rules required an Amp-hour or kiloWatt-hour meter to be installed on each vehicle. Electrical power consumption was a major part of scoring the efficiency event. Ford, thus far, had been unable to locate a satisfactory and affordable meter.

Our experience with Ford-sized companies has not been great. Lots of questions, contracts, proposals, purchasing procedures, slow pay, and red tape is the best to be expected. We sent a proposal to the team leader for Technical Specifications, Bob Page, for a unit built on our production platform. Finally, we got word, "Yes, they wanted to use our meters." We were handed off to Bob Larsen and Nicole Hill at Argonne's Center for Transportation Research. They were responsible for the instrumentation in all of the aforementioned events. By the time everything was signed, we had six weeks to develop and deliver a new product for the first event.

Developing a new product is like a bungee jump for techie nerds. Shortening the time line is like raising the tower. You hitch up, jump in, work like hell, and pray everything works out at the end. Late nights, long hours, luck, and Andre's Pizza fueled the project. Thanks to the special effort of our staff, Rick Young, Dave Daniels-Lee, and Steve Kahle, we met the ship date.

The Phoenix 500 Race

The first event of the season was the third annual Phoenix 500 sponsored by the Solar and Electric Racing Association (SERA). Nearly 70 EVs were entered in eight classes. There were 25 vehicles in the student electric conversion class alone. Eleven of the vehicles had received $5,000 worth of equipment and grants from the Arizona Public Service Co. and General Electric. The rest of the teams were primarily self sponsored.

I arrived the day before the event started and began checking the installations of meters. Easily one third of the meters were installed wrong. However, only one unit had been rendered inoperable. Not bad considering these were experimental vehicles wired by high school students.

The Phoenix 500 is a bit of an odd venue for a student competition. The D.O.E. supports education and research, not racing. To ensure an exciting event, SERA and D.O.E. compromised. SERA and the general public got a 25 lap heat race and D.O.E. got its one hour paced event at 50 mph for data purposes (see table next page).

Analyzing this data is very difficult. Vehicles ranged from a 1965 Corvair to a 1988 Ford Tempo. Drive systems are difficult to compare because aerodynamics, rolling resistance, vehicle weights, and battery charging methods are not constants. Even starting position was a factor. Competitors were instructed to keep a five car length interval behind the vehicle in front of them at a 50 mph paced speed, and could not pass. This resulted in rubber banding. So, current consumption varied in relation to vehicle position in the line of cars as drivers slowed or accelerated to maintain the pace. Page High School car #22 won the event, squeezing 13.0 kW-hrs from their battery, 30% more than their nearest competitor.

Below: Wayne State at the Dearborn Proving Ground. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Below: Wayne State at the Dearborn Proving Ground. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Dearborn Test Proving Ground Ford

Another entry, Chapparral in car #18, a bright yellow 1965 Corvair, placed fifth. Following a disappointing 11 laps in the heat race the previous day, General Electric technicians found that the reverse winding on the motor was energized continuously. Once corrected, the Corvair achieved the highest energy economy with 4.82 mi/kWh and the highest Mass Energy Economy with a rating of 31.3. The Mass Energy Economy (M.E.E.) equals the mass of the vehicle times the distance traveled divided by the amount of energy required. This scalar indicator of performance requires that the batteries be fully charged before the test and then completely discharged under identical conditions for each vehicle. Calculating it for Chapparral:

distance x mass

Energy Consumption Data — Phoenix 500, March 5-7, 1993


(43 miles) 1609 meters (3273 pounds) 4.45 Newtons mile pound

(8.93 kW-hrs) 3600 sec hour

1000 Watts kW

Cruising Equipment had instrumentation in other cars at Phoenix, including several of the "pro" competitors. We also helped "crew" in the Hackleman/Schless pit, sharing their Open Lightweight win, and their Class A stock defeat. Their electric wheel-barrow, built by Bob Schneevies, should be sold in hardware stores world wide!

An unusual entry came with Ed Rannberg of Eyeball Engineering. His Silent Eagle was a very fast, modified gravity racer built in about 3 weeks, untested before the race. In the first heat race, a tire rubbing against the underbody blew out, and the car hit the wall. The driver's wife was more shaken than the driver, and the car was bent. A replacement driver was recruited. In the last lap of the race, the Silent Eagle was clocked at 65 mph. At Bonneville Salt Flats this summer, Ed will attempt to set the under-500-kg class world speed record. They hope to go over 125 mph!

The main event at Phoenix is the two-hour Class A Electric Stock Car race. It was a duel between the Salt River Project car #90 driven by Indy driver Tom Sneva and the Solectria Force car #93, using Nicad batteries and the Solectria ac drive, driven by James Worden. Worden stuck to Sneva's tail and waited until he ran out of battery. Fifteen minutes from the end of the

Energy Consumption Data — Phoenix 500, March 5-7, 1993


Year & Model


kWhr Used

milesI kWhr

Wt. lbs.

0 0

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