Mr Hemank Dabhade is the founder of Northway Motorsport, has created a sensation on the internet with his videos of his converted electric cars.
In this blog, i will give my thoughts on the work being done by Hemank and also share many insights we learnt during this fascinating meeting.
Honda Activa Electric : Conversion
But one product that stands out and has the possibility of becoming a blockbuster product is his project of an electric Honda Activa conversion. He bought a scrap Activa for 4,000 bucks.
In Hindi there is a saying - char anne ki murgi, rupay ka masala. He spent Rs. 60,000 converting it to electric. Hemank is not a fan of hub motors - so he fitted a mid drive BLDC 1 kW motor. The best part is that the motor drives the rear wheel through Honda’s famed continuously variable transmission. Hemank had to play around with the ratios though - because the motor speed and engine speeds are different. Another advantage of the mid mount motor is that it is an absolute Made in India stuff - I think one of his own factories makes the motor.
The electric Activa has done about 40,000 km after conversion. I took it out for a short spin. Loved the starting torque. And with a top speed of around 70 kmph it matches the petrol Activa top speed. Hemank has put in a 2.4 kWh battery pack - which serves up a very decent 100 km range. It’s currently fitted in the dicky, but he plans to migrate it to under the floor. With this config he has a killer on his hands. My tuppence is that he needs to fit the charger unit into the vehicle, with only the charging cable being required to be plugged in. This is what the Chetak guys have done - and is worthy of emulation. The under floor battery will mean that it is not removable - but I dont know of too many people who would want to lug around a 10 kg battery.
One stumbling block in this project is government certification. But I think it would be good to make a beginning serving rural markets - where more often than not - electricity is subsidised heavily - if not free altogether. Certification can be looked at once he has climbed the learning curve using the rural market experience. Kit manufacturing and mechanic training should be what Hemank should concentrate on.
Coming up next is the Mahindra e2o range booster pack. This is what has wowed the e2o community. With a promised range of 200+ km, it will suddenly bring back Satara, Nagar, Mumbai, Solapur and Nasik in reach of our little e2os from Pune city.
The booster pack has been packaged in the dicky. Extra 5 kg structure required to connect with body, as otherwise the floor board in dicky is FRP. Looks neat - but It kind of fills up the entire dicky, along with adding up 70 kg of dead weight permanently to the car rear side. Though our vehicles have been tested with loads of upto 120 kg by Mahindra. The extra pack is better suited for the frunk (the front dicky). Accident damage was discussed, but I feel that the lack of crumple zone will help in this case. Floor battery design for retrofits can also be looked at in future versions. Would have wanted to do a test ride of the booster car, but alas, it was in cell balancing mode. The car gave up at 180 km on a test because of 3 defective cells in the original pack.
A few words on cell balancing here. Each of the 16 cells in our E20 has its voltage measured. Should be 3.2 V. In manufacturing cells, there are some parameters which are still beyond control of the makers. Internal resistance of the battery is one such parameter. This internal resistance decides the degradation of the cells with time. And these lower voltage cells are the weakest link in the chain - the car electricals and electronics cannot work when voltage falls below a threshold minimum. So what Hemank does is that he measures voltages of each individual cell/ Cells with voltage lower than 3.1 V are isolated and supercharged to 3.6 V. They again degrade with time, but you get breathing room for 2 years. He used a nice analogy to explain. Father and son are on an uphill trek. Going slow because of dad's speed. Plonk dad 100 m ahead.. and the average speed will go up. But at some time, the son catches up. The plonking ahead needs to be repeated then.
Can active cell balance be part of BMS? As of now our E20s only charge for a max of 6 hours. Active balancing will require the car to be plugged in for much longer. Hemank is working on an external device which you can plug in to balance cells. He recommends that cell balancing be done once every 6 months after the car becomes 3 years old.
The booster pack works much better, when the car owner decided so junk his old pack. The reason is that then the 18 kWh pack can be accommodated in the same under seat space as the current 10 kWh pack. Apart from space, one more advantage of the new batteries that Hemank is using is the C rate - or the discharge rate. His batteries are rated at 6C, compared to the 2C fitted in the old E2Os. This means a more responsive and torquey car. Hemank talked of a 2 year warranty, I would have been happier with 3 years. The economics is that the 18 kWh booster will require an investment of close to 3 lakh. With the car resale value hovering around that price, a lot of people may shy away to go in for the booster. Given our overall happiness with non battery maintenance costs, I think it may be worth the investment. Hemank also talked about an E20 suspension upgrade.. caster, camber modification.. spring and shocker replacement.. budget at 1 lakh. Again I think we would be happier with lower budgets - max of 50 K. The good news in the booster project is that Hemank confirms that it is RTO legal. As the voltage, chassis and motor are not changing.
There is an option of going in with the 9 kWh pack, which will cost around 1.5 lakh. That is an absolute no brainer - but my suggestion would be to replace the old pack with the new one. With no superficial modification, even Sahyadri hospital will be ignorant - and so will continue to provide their loving service to our old babies. We talked to Hemank about a buy back scheme for our old batteries. He feels that we guys should be able to get around 50 K for a typical 5 year old. But maybe some group think can help - especially the guys who are in solar. Can they use our old batteries in their new projects?
This certificate is valid only for work done by Hemank and company.
As we left, Hemank was eyeing the V6 Nissan Teana, which is going to be a high powered electric gaddi. Being a small car bhakt, we had a heated political debate about environmentalism vs safety features of big cars. ABS.. Air bags.. ESP .. some steering stuff. Will leave that debate for a future blog post.