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Inside an emissions lab, the precipice of 100 mpg

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Pages of notes about Federal Test Procedure 75 are spread before me along with a graph about tailpipe emissions. Oxides of nitrogen, anyone?

The Edison2 Very Light Car has been in the lab throughout May and June. After the Shakedown stage of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, one of the four Very Light Cars was taken to Roush Enterprises in Livonia. It’s being tested to measure fuel economy and to ensure it will meet the Tier 2, Bin 10 limit required in the Knockout rounds. For the Finals in July, the standard is tightened to Bin 8, making the 10-rating seem like Bin Lotta.

Test driver Ron Cowie finalizes prepartions for the Very Light Car's test. | Baggy Paragraphs photo

My host during the visit was development engineer Burke Davis, who said Bin 8 compares to a new pickup’s output.

Davis led a tour and explained the general principles. The building with the test cell probably dates to the 1950s, like Livonia itself, and was rather dim and dingy. But Davis and the rest of the staff were enthusiastic about their work. After finishing engineering degrees at Youngstown State, he applied for his dream job at Roush and got it. This lab is the place for manufacturers to have one-off evaluations done on prototypes. When Edison2 leader Oliver Kuttner insists that the company has large capabilities, this is what he’s talking

Davis explains how the FTP 75 works.

“Basically, you put the car on the rolls and you drive a trace,” he said.

Patrick Filangi settles in. | Baggy Paragraphs photo

When I first saw the Very Light Car, it was in a room outside the test cell, and a big fan was pointed at the car’s back end. Davis said he’d started the engine earlier and wanted it cooled to ambient temperature before initiating the test with the all-important gathering of cold-start emissions. About three hours were needed to achieve the cooling.

The thermo-coupled exhaust system looked like a seriously ill patient, with probes and bypasses going every which way; the only thing missing was prayerful loved ones at the bedside. Among the most critically important data in the test would be the exhaust gas temperature before and after the catalytic converter. This is what the sensors measured.

Davis took me into the test cell. It can be chilled to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or heated to 120 degrees. The FTP 75 protocol calls for a temperature between 68 and 86 degrees; relative humidity was set at 50 percent. The cost for such a test is $1500, and $200 for modal analysis.

A major manufacturer’s preproduction prototype was driven out and parked. There wasn’t much to see: the dynamometer’s gleaming rollers obtrude slightly from the flat floor. Measuring the resistance against them determines the powertrain’s dynamics and enables the computation of fuel economy.

A homely computer monitor sits atop a stand that’s angled toward driver of the test vehicle.

The Very Light Car was pushed into the cell, rear drive wheels positioned over the rollers. The front of the car was strapped down.

Davis said that once the engine was started I would have seen just about everything there was to see. The cold-start portion of the test is most critical: the majority of engine emissions occur in the first 90 seconds or so before the catalyst “lights off,” achieving peak operating temperature. (Various catalysts are being used during testing, along with different maps for ignition. Exhaust-gas recirculation levels also vary until the most efficient combination of all factors can be achieved.)

Test engineer Patrick Filangi got in behind the wheel and put on ear protectors. He started the little engine and shoved the transmission into gear. (He had trouble getting first.) The rear drive wheels turned against the rollers as Filangi, working the gas pedal, tried to keep the target on the monitor between a pair of lines that bent and wiggled like a highway that leaps from one atlas page to the next.

After shooting a couple of pictures, I left the din of the cell and joined Davis and others in the control room. One screen showed live data about the exhaust gas constituents and the fuel economy. Another showed the target and the trace, which I presumed Filangi was seeing, too.

“Watch out for that hill!” Davis said under his breath.

The modes include not only simulated city and highway driving but also a hilly section that demands some aggressive use of the throttle. The exhaust gas sampling is captured in a large clear bag that hangs from a Horiba CVS-7200S console. (CVS stands for “constant volume sampler.”) The contents are analyzed using flame ionization, which couldn’t be anything you’d ever want for a pet or small child.

I stayed for about 90 minutes before bidding my hosts good-bye. Inside the building was the 100-mpg horizon.

The Edison2 team finds the Very Light Car ever so close.

Burke Davis talks to a technician before the test. Fully plumbed and restrained, the Very Light Car's sits with its rear wheels atop the dynamometer's rollers. | Baggy Paragraphs photo

Written by baggyparagraphs

June 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm

The Men of Edison2: Oliver Kuttner’s Little Red Book Explains the Very Light Car

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At regular intervals, like a jewelry mold, Oliver Kuttner expels another golden epigram. Ideas and insights boil from the founder of Edison2 and co-creator of the Very Light Car.

“The rectangle has run its course,” he says, referring to boxy automotive design that, unlike the Very Light Car, encloses the wheels within the body. The next step in aerodynamic efficiency, which the Very Light Car represents, requires the wheels to be freed, to be moved out and away.

Born in Munich in 1961, Kuttner came with his family to the United States during his teen years. Educated at Boston University in management and French, he has a remarkable knack for penetrating to the core of things. For instance, when he heard about Toyota’s $50-million stake in Tesla Motors, he scoffed at the official line on the deal, dutifully reported in the press, which held that the Japanese giant wanted to learn how to build electric vehicles from the tiny kiosk of a car company.

Instead, Kuttner sees Toyota wanted to unload its factory in Fremont, California; Tesla has nothing to teach Toyota, because the latter’s engineers know the numbers don’t add up on EVs. Tesla, backed by the government, can deal with the UAW.

Kuttner has the most beguiling way of leading into his statements. “I suspect it’s worth more than the X Prize,” he says of the Very Light Car’s patented in-wheel suspension. He prefaces his assertions with courtly admonitions. “You must understand that at 100 mpg equivalent the electric cars are putting out 200 g/mi [of CO2] against our 75,” he writes in a e-mail.

Oliver Kuttner takes a moment from guiding his Edison2 team during the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize 'Shakedown' run April 28 at Michigan International Speedway. 'We stumbled onto something big,' he says.

“Win or not, we feel the innovations we have—we have something to offer the automobile industry,” he says. “We like to think what we’re doing is very feasible.”

Later: “We have no business doing this, second-guessing the auto companies.”

And: “We may be a mouse, but we might as well roar.”

He explains, “We really have the capacity of a large car company.” A team of around 20 suppliers in several states has worked closely with Edison2 in the Very Light Car’s development. “Very quickly, the firm with 10 or so guys working away in the factory becomes a firm with the resources of over 60 of the world’s better specialists and the facilities to back this up.

“That fact puts this program on the same level as a high quality R&D program at a real quality manufacturer.”

He thinks the Very Light Car has a future beyond the X Prize and envisions some sort of flexible manufacturing operation.

During the conceptual stages, he and design chief Ron Mathis thought hard about the VW Beetle and the Citröen 2CV. “The way the world is shifting, we should be thinking of something like that.”

Kuttner says an 'early obstacle to the Very Light Car was how to make it safe without mass.'

Then he mentions Wall Street’s race to market electric cars.

“You cannot build the future on magic.”

He inveighs against miscalculations in energy accounting.

“The answer is to figure out how to use less, sooner.”  

What happens when the established manufacturers finally understand that electric cars won’t meet performance targets?

“We are the Plan B for how to deal with CAFE.”

To describe the Very Light Car, he develops a metaphor about chasing a carrot, namely, the $10 million purse in the X Prize. But instead, through the various innovations the Very Light Car incorporates, Edison2 found “nutrients in the soil.”

He says the modularity of the IKEA kitchen designs was an important source of inspiration. So was an entirely new calculation, one that must have derived from his and Mathis’s experience in sports car racing.

“Reimagining the way the forces travel in the car” was the breakthrough. “Once you grasp that, a whole new architecture [results].”

The Very Light Car could even be a useful EV platform. “I think, the way we’ve approached it, we might have a method that’ll actually stick.”

He believes Edison2 has “stumbled on something big.”

And he reiterates: “Edison2 is a team that has physics on its side.” 

It wasn’t a great time for a real estate developer like Kuttner to chase after an automotive breakthrough, he has told a Lynchburg business magazine. But he sees the X Prize as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Telling me that he likes to push things out to the edge, he confesses that on some days he has no money.

“There are days when we make decisions where we throw hundreds of thousands of dollars into the recycling bin. Those days are hard. It is the only way to reach the top of the mountain though. 

“You can not imagine how much an endorsement from an experienced and smart person like you means to me when often I am trying to reinvent myself and keep finding money.”

One of my colleagues, Robert Cumberford, has already commented after a previous entry:

“I love what they have done, and what I expect will happen in the end, unless there is some America’s Cup-type cheating to hobble them. They are on the Only True Path, the one I have tried to follow for about 60 years: Lightweight, low drag. It’s the only way.”

Kuttner says, “I’m doing the part that I luckily fell into, to do. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone. But I’m not afraid to step forward.”

Edison2 R&D director Brad Jaeger slaloms the Very Light Car during the April 28 'Shakedown' run.

Written by baggyparagraphs

June 10, 2010 at 2:18 am

The Men of Edison2: Bobby Mouzayck

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Bobby Mouzayck was showing me the system for cooling the Very Light Car’s passenger compartment. The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize rules require maintaining a reasonable inside temperature, so a cooler of the race-car type has been designed. It consists of a $3 foam chest that’s wrapped in cloth of carbon fiber; a plastic tube passes out of a hole and conveys the cool air that comes off a chunk of ice. The ice box sits in the car’s nose. This, he said, is a conductive cooler. It’s in keeping with the Edison2 philosophy of keeping everything light and simple. And “inexpensive” could be added, but every time I look at one of the four Very Light Cars I find myself thinking, “Wow, there’s a half a million dollars!”

Mouzayck is another veteran mechanic from sports car teams. A native of the Atlanta area, he spent time in Colorado at 3R Racing before winding up in Lynchburg. Unlike the other Edison2 teammates, he lives here, too, staying in a loft apartment in the same 300,000-square-foot building where the shop is.

He reported there are a few bars to go out to at night, but complained, “This town is full of virgins.”

Indeed, of the five colleges in the city (pop. 73,000), Jerry Falwell A&M, a.k.a. Liberty University—“the world’s largest Christian University”—easily exceeds the others put together, boasting enrollment, according to one source, of 12,000 of the best-behaved young men and women in the South. The next largest four-year institution is Lynchburg College, formerly Virginia Christian College, with about 2500 students. When Oliver Kuttner drove me over to Brown Machine Works to see where many custom parts are made for the Very Light Car, he pointed out a Starbucks in a shopping plaza that he said is owned by Liberty. Because the students aren’t supposed to go to bars, this coffee shop is one of the busiest anywhere on Friday and Saturday night.

Mouzayck has a “No Virgins” circle-and-slash sign affixed to the wall outside his work area.

Bobby Mouzayck was putting the finishing touches on the fourth Very Light Car to be made by Edison2. Mouzayck lives in a loft apartment in the 300,000-square-foot building where the team has its workshop.

He gave me an entertaining tour of the car. The Thermaltake unit that serves as a windshield defroster was “skanked” off a computer.

“It’s cheap and cheerful,” he said.

The car’s wiring harness, with beautiful, delicate white strands, like angel hair pasta dipped in yogurt, weighs only 5 pounds and perfectly represents the ethic of lightness and simplicity that drives the project.

He told about a buddy who works in a Porsche garage and had to replace the wiring in a Cayenne SUV. Altogether, its heft bettered 300 pounds and had to be hauled into the repair bay on a cart.

That’s 40 percent the weight of the Very Light Car, fully assembled.

Written by baggyparagraphs

June 4, 2010 at 5:55 pm

The Men of Edison2: Brown, Jaeger, White

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I first met Ron Mathis, the subject of yesterday’s blog, when he stopped at David Brown’s Charlottesville, Virginia, home for a bowl of lentil soup. Brown described himself as a passionate cook and Mathis as “the team vegetarian.” Mathis remarked that the late-evening meal reminded him of his student days. It was a Tuesday and the team had worked especially long at the Lynchburg shop before returning to Charlottesville.

We sat at the table chatting. When it was time for Mathis to go, I walked him out to his car, said good-bye till the morning, and then retired to the guest room in the home Brown shares with his wife Jean, who’s a graduate of Ann Arbor’s University High School. (Her father was a U-M engineering professor.) She teaches elementary school in the Albemarle County district.

Brown had told me that he’s a chiropractor and sees patients on Monday and Friday. He goes with the team to the Edison2 shop in Lynchburg on Tuesday and Thursday. He’s also a Charlottesville city council member and has served two terms as president pro-tem, or mayor.

I observed that it would be possible for someone to see him for an adjustment and an easement.

“Good,” Jean said, without evident mirth.

Foodie Brown and racer Jaeger at Edison2 HQ in Lynchburg. Brown learned his PR skills when he managed political campaigns. Jaeger does it all for Edison 2, from design to driving.

The next morning, Wednesday, Brown declared himself an avid reader of the New York Times and talked about his love of the food section, which is always something to look forward to. He ran his fingers over the cover shot and spoke of a favorite writer’s adventures in hamburgers.

Mathis, who stays in Kuttner’s guest house during the week, arrived in a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. Brown and I got in, and we soon collected Brad Jaeger. A team member since July of 2009, Jaeger was covered in carbon dust and aluminum shavings when Kuttner found him in Doran’s shop. Jaeger brings valuable skills, being a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate of Vanderbilt University as well as a veteran driver from Pacific Formula 2000 and Indy Lights. He has also driven in ALMS. He is one of two drivers for Edison2, along with Emanuele Pirro.

Jaeger sat in back with Brown and tried to read “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work,” by Matthew B. Crawford. We stopped at a Citgo station along U.S. 29 and tanked up on diesel. Mathis stuck to the speed limit during the one-hour drive. He guided us to the team’s shop near downtown Lynchburg. Kuttner, who was born in Munich, has hung a German oil company’s vintage sign above the door. The wooden floor inside the old textile factory seemed unique for a race shop. Fabricator Le Roy White agreed when I said it had to be easier on the back than a concrete floor.

He nodded toward the car, saying, “Like a little helicopter, isn’t it?”

White, a Southern Californian, goes way back to Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing and Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, among others. In midcareer he returned to school, studying photography and cinema at Art Center College of Design, after some misfortune during a race at Milwaukee.

“I had a pit stop that didn’t work out too good,” he said, a strange and almost playfully wistful note sounding in his voice. “They took me back to California.”

Indeed, later, when I was visiting Bobby Mouzayck, White passed through and I studied his gait for some sign of a limp or past injury without seeing anything definitive.

Le Roy White prepares the Very Light Car for the Automotive X Prize Knockout round, beginning June 20. This is the very first Very Light Car. The bodywork is executed in fiberglass. The 3 later versions adopt carbon fiber.

The Men of Edison2: Ron Mathis

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The Edison2 Very Light Car team gradually came together after founder Oliver Kuttner first heard about the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize in the spring of 2007. The $10-million purse for achieving 100 mpg or the equivalent got his attention. The prize is divided among three classes of entries; the Edison2 team is the only one to enter all three of them.

By August of 2007, financing the effort himself, Kuttner was brainstorming with design director Ron Mathis on what type of car to build. Chief of race operations Kevin Doran, a sports-prototype racer from Cincinnati, and Barnaby Wainfan, aerodynamics Fellow at Northrop Grumman, joined the project.

The rest of the team—which Mathis called “liberal-leaning”—is made up of die-hard racing guys, while the communications effort is in the capable hands of a chiropractor.

These are the men who, in Kuttner’s words, have “stumbled on something big.”

It’s Baggy Paragraphs’s privilege to present them in a series over the next several days.

Edison2 chow hounds, from the left: Le Roy White, Ron Mathis, and Julian Calvet, with David Brown in the daddy position. Continuing around: Oliver Kuttner, Brad Jaeger, Peter Kaymar, and Bobby Mouzayck.

Ron Mathis, Design Director  

“We’re basically a race team,” Mathis said. “The normal state of a race team is to have everything in pieces.” So in other words, I wouldn’t be driving or riding in one of the four cars created so far.

The native of southern England explained that, originally, he just needed a job.

Mathis is a 1985 graduate of Polytechnic of the South Bank, now London South Bank University, with an emphasis in engineering product design. While still a student he talked his way into being a fabricator and machinist on the ADA Engineering team that campaigned a Gebhardt-Ford in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Group C2 Sports Prototype class. He tasted success quickly, when the team placed eighth overall and won the C2 class at Le Mans in 1986. Because he was “the only bloke in the place that did any drawing,” the design work went through him. He picked up additional valuable experience when he worked on Emerson Fittipaldi’s F1 effort.

Kuttner, left, and Mathis brainstormed for months at the start of the X Prize.

Mathis came to the United States in 1993. He had found himself divorced, broke, and living at home with his mum when a phone call summoned him to work at TRP Racing, in Covington, Tennessee, preparing “customer cars” that wealthy sportsmen would enter in races. From this fresh start, he landed at Doran Racing, in Lebanon, Ohio, where he worked on projects for Audi, Jaguar, and Dodge. Not only did he contribute designs in the shop, but he also served as race engineer at the track. He led the design of the American Le Mans Series Ford GTR, a project Kuttner spearheaded.

Mathis has come to share Kuttner’s obsession with the challenge of winning the X Prize. Much of the concept for the Very Light Car’s innovative in-wheel suspension was Mathis’s. While there’s always room for a breakthrough, Mathis still says, “I think it’s important to respect what went before.”

He mentions that when a NASCAR Grand-Am Series official named Don Hayward looked at the Very Light Car, he discerned that “one strand of its heritage” was from Frank Lockhart’s Indianapolis-built 1928 Stutz Black Hawk land-speed record car.

Mathis’s wife and 14-year-old son are in Indianapolis. He usually flies his Beech Baron home on the weekends, a trip of around two and a half hours. He said he acquired the twin-engine plane last fall after a stormy passage over West Virginia in his single-engine Bonanza left him pondering his mortality.

I asked if the Baron does around 200 mph.

“And change,” he said.

Frank Lockhart in his 1928 Stutz Black Hawk land-speed record car.

Subversive Edison2 team operates from a nondescript Lynchburg, Virginia, workshop

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Oliver Kuttner believes his Edison2 team is working on 'a whole new architecture' for passenger vehicles.

The team of insurgents that is a serious threat to capture the entire $10-million purse offered in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize operates from a 4000-square-foot shop in Lynchburg, Virginia. Wooden floorboards bear witness to the building’s past life as a textile factory. Metal-bending equipment is arranged throughout the shop, and every so often, the quiet clicking of team members’ computer keyboards is superseded by the screech of a grinder or the hiss of a welding torch. Three of the four Very Light Cars built so far are sitting on work stands. The fourth is in Livonia, Michigan, undergoing engine emissions tests at Rousch Industries.

Eight men who regularly work in this obscure shop near downtown Lynchburg are the core of the Edison2 team. They’ve been toiling nonstop in the year since final plans for the Very Light Car were submitted to the X Prize Foundation. As June’s “Knockout” Round of the competition approaches, they’re getting weary.

Most team members permanently or temporarily reside in Charlottesville, which is 63 miles northeast on U.S. 29. Oliver Kuttner, the visionary leader of Edison2, redevelops buildings in both cities. He happened to have purchased this old factory five years ago. It took a year to carry out all the equipment and ready the space for residential and commercial use. Kuttner squirmed when I mouthed the term “business incubator,” but I think it applies. Tenants include a coffee-roasting company, a secondhand shop, and an auto mechanic. It was natural to base Edison2 here, so the guys commute.

Kenny Brown's machine shop is a key Edison2 supplier.

There’s another good reason to be in Lynchburg, a growing city of 75,000. Its location on the James River made it a textile milling center in the nineteenth century. Shoemaking also flourished here. Coincident to these industries was the development of a diverse machine-tool trade that can readily make any part needed for an engineering project that accepts no compromises in saving weight and reducing aerodynamic drag in the effort to achieve 100 mpg. The Very Light Car looks like a baby helicopter, and its parts and fittings are milled to absurdly close tolerances.

I visited the Edison 2 team on May 26, spending the entire day with the team. While there, it occurred to me that the Automotive X Prize is akin to La Grande Semaine d’ Aviation de la Champagne of 1909. Presided over by a Champagne producer, this tournament outside the French city of Reims offered $5000 and the Gordon Bennett Cup to the winner and nothing to the runners-up. There were 31 pilots and 38 planes from 8 countries. With home-field advantage—more planes and pilots entered than other nations—the French thought they had the Cup all wrapped up. Competition was waged in categories such as overall distance, speed tests of 10 and 30 kilometers, and altitude. American pilot Glenn Curtiss defeated the immortal Louis Blériot to win the tourney. “France reeled from national shock over failing to win the Cup,” writes Stephen H. King in his account of the incident.

It’s not hard to see electric cars in the position of the French flyers in the X Prize. Everything about the competition should favor them, and the government probably wants them to win. (Up to $5.5 million in stimulus funds were granted for operational costs involved with the X Prize.) Just last week, President Barack Obama asked the Department of Energy “to work with carmakers and others to promote the development of advanced vehicles including plug-in hybrids and electric cars, and to give technical help to cities preparing for them.”

Kuttner first heard about the X Prize in the spring of 2007. He lured racing engineer Ron Mathis to Virginia that August. They spent a year working on concepts and analyzing data. It led them to scrub the idea of building an electric car. The only way to true efficiency, they decided, was through low weight and superior aerodynamics. When the design phase began, more Edison2 employees were added. Most of them, like Kuttner and Mathis, have a background  of involvement in sports-prototype racing.

Randolph Pres. John Klein and Dean Dennis Stevens examine some Very Light Parts.

Kuttner also began to recruit investors.

“At first we were only selling a thought,” he said.

Now he has 5 partners, and nearly every day some noteworthy visitors come through the shop. Wednesday afternoon, a delegation from Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, a.k.a., “The Radcliffe of the South”) was treated to the tour that Kuttner has perfected. Among other things, he’s assembled displays of vehicles crashed at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Charlottesville research facility to answer the question of how the Very Light Car addresses the issue of safety without having a large surrounding mass.

An aide to one of Virginia’s U.S. senators canceled a 6.30 p.m. visit but will reschedule. And the Governor’s office has been talking to Kuttner about available factory space and money that’s sitting around as the result of the tobacco settlement.

“There’s something really beautiful about having the right idea,” he said.

This example of the Very Light Car wears a carbon-fiber body for X Prize competition.

Written by baggyparagraphs

May 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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