30 May 2012

Back on the road, better than before

Main Screen for the Think Tech Center diagnostic tool
We bought our first Think City EV a year ago at full price and have had no problems with it.  Initially Think did not want to sell me a car since I lived so far from any authorized service.  But I convinced them that I was capable of handling any service on my own.  After the bankruptcy and sale, the new Think North America organization started selling the remaining 150 or so cars at a steep discount.

Replacement Power Conversion Unit
When our second Think City EV arrived, the Power Conversion Unit (PCU) stopped working the first day we drove it.  As I reported earlier, Think's service manager stopped by my house a few days later and diagnosed the problem.  This put to rest any remaining questions about service.  Within days, a replacement PCU arrived with the diagnostic tools needed to reprogram it for my particular car.

Bottom view of the installed PCU showing black low pressure coolant hose.  The main 400 volt cables are orange.

I removed the hood, wipers, air intake, vacuum pump and a few other minor items just so I could look over the job while reading the manuals.  This way I had a good idea of what needed to be done before explaining the project to the shop technician.  Then we had our red Think towed to an independent local shop which has demonstrated interest in EVs, and the real work began.
Think City EV engine compartment after removing the hood, vacuum pump, wipers, air intake, etc.
The shop had to disconnect the 12 volt battery and the 400 volt battery before evacuating the R134a refrigerant from the air conditioner.  Then they removed the condenser to gain access to the PCU.  Next the wiper motor and mechanism had to come out.

Wiper mechanism is off to the side
Numerous other little things such as draining the coolant from the PCU and motor, as well as removing the mounting bracket from the cabin heater had happened before we got to the final bracket in the way of the PCU removal.  The technician told me the manuals did not explicitly mention this bracket, but it was certainly obvious enough.

Soon everything was back together and the Tech Center tool was used to reprogram the VIN and teach the new Vehicle Control Unit to recognize the wireless key fobs, without which the car will not start.

Although I was initially instructed to reprogram the PCU completely, I questioned this since the PCU appeared to be a refurbished unit.  Think agreed, and told me to leave the existing programming if it worked.  This turned out to be a fortunate event, as the programming in the PCU appears to be newer and a noticeable improvement, especially for highway driving. 
Live data read-out from the Battery Management System

More about that in a future post, after I have time to plot the data I took comparing both our new and old Think EVs.  I then returned the PCU and diagnostic tools, but only after getting logs files of the Live Data shown above and below.
Live data read-out from the Power Conversion Unit

The discussion list for the Think City EV over at Yahoo Groups has been very active since the price drop.  There have been some relatively minor problems compared to mine, the worst of which might be a bad 12 volt battery.  Think service quickly provided a document (now posted over at Yahoo Groups) which details replacement procedures for the battery.  (I don't know if this particular 12 volt battery replacement was done at the dealer or by the owner.)  There have also been some loose battery cables.  The speculation is that the factory disconnected the 12 volt batteries when sales slowed after the bankruptcy, and a few were not reconnected tightly before shipping to the buyers.  At these prices, most of us are not complaining very loudly about such things.
Rear torsion bar suspension
I have now seen more of the inner workings of a Think than most drivers ever will.  And on the positive side, I may have one of the first releases of updated power and regeneration curves.  Hopefully these new curves will become available as the new engineering organization in Munich gets up to speed.

There is also a survey going on at the discussion list to find out how many owners might be interested in purchasing the diagnostic tool.  Think is getting ready to place an order with the supplier in England.  I am not the only Think owner who lives far from an authorized service center and wants to own a service tool.  As I understand it, it is possible that the price may be lower if enough units are purchased all at once.  What the survey leaves out is that there might be an annual software maintenance fee for the most up to date versions.

09 May 2012

The Electric Car Factor

(The following is a guest post by Lanny who bought his Think on April 19, 2012.)

EV gathering in Marlyland
The area around Washington, DC has a thriving community of EV enthusiasts. We have the Electric Vehicle Association of DC which has been around for over 30 years and pulls a good crowd to the monthly meetings. New groups are forming, such as the Capital Leafs and the Maryland Volt Meetup Group, around the affinity for those cars.

On the first Saturday of each month, members of all of these groups have an informal gathering in a small business development called Maple Lawn that has six charging stations and a nice little coffee shop. The gathering on Saturday was particularly exciting because we had a surprise guest. Jim McL and his wife happened to be driving through the area and stopped by for a bit. This blog is a great resource for those of us who are smitten with these fun little electric cars and it was great to meet Jim in person and introduce him to the group.
We had a good variety of vehicles on Saturday. Besides my new Think City, there were a number of Leafs and Volts, a 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV, an electric Ford Transit Connect van, one of the new Mitsubishi iMiEVs, a Vectrix electric scooter and an electric bicycle that Jim took for an EV grin-inducing ride.

One of the best parts of these get togethers is the chance to see other EVs, talk with the owners and compare notes. There was a lot of interest in the Think. Many were surprised how solid the construction is and how roomy it is inside.

Ford/Azure Dynamics Transit Connect EV

My wife and I are starting to get used to the attention the Think attracts in parking lots and at charging stations. We recently met a couple who own a Tesla Roadster and they spoke of "the electric car factor" whenever they plan a trip to the store. They figure in extra time for answering the inevitable questions about the car to curious and interested folks in the parking lot.

Unsuspecting Plug In Prius Owner

Many of our group had unplugged and left for home when the remaining few of us spotted a brand new Plugin Prius circling the charging station at the far end of the lot. None of us had seen one before and we all started walking. The gentleman was struggling with the charging station and suddenly looked up to see all of us converging on him. Our questions began, one after another. Then he told us that this was his first attempt to use a public charging station. He didn't have a card so Jeffrey in our group lent him his. His wife spotted our "cute" Think and asked if it was electric. My wife gave her the tour.

We apologized for taking so much of his time and delaying his shopping excursion. After all, we were just interested in his electric car! This new plugin owner just got his first lesson in "the electric car factor."

08 May 2012

Diagnosis: Replace Power Control Unit

Think diagnostic interface from the back
I got a prompt visit this morning from Think North America's service manager (I am not really certain what his title is, sorry), the day after my wife and I returned from vacation.  He was able to confirm that our second Think needs its PCU replaced.

They could fly someone down here but I would prefer to learn something about the car, so I am arranging to use a local shop with experience in high voltage hybrids.  We need to lift the car and disconnect the high voltage cables, then evacuate the R134a and remove the air conditioning compressor and condenser to get at the PCU.

Think diagnostic interface from the front
While parts for the car are plentiful, I would like to purchase the diagnostic interface, pictured above.  At the moment these are not plentiful in the US, I am told.  The service manager, who is in regular contact with engineering in Munich (he was on a call with them before coming to my home) will let me know when they are available.  The price is above $1000 and the software license which provides updates regularly might be even more, but perhaps I can get an old static copy with some minor bugs.  Since I am far away from any authorized service, I would like to be equipped to diagnose problems in the future after the warranty runs out.

Think Ox concept from Skeie Industridesign Vestfold

I was not able to gather much in the way of news about the future direction of Think, except that the new model will likely be more along the lines of the four door concept than the previous two seat models.

01 May 2012

Break through technology for EVs in 2015

Delphi Heat Pump for automotive applications
Green Car Congress is reporting a new development at Delphi that will significantly reduce the impact of winter heating demand on EV range.

And I am reporting that our second Think City EV got out on the road today.  Temporary tags finally arrived, 5 calendar days (or two working days) after the car itself arrived.

I put 18 miles on it before it died hard.  I suspect the power control unit, we will see.  Better to happen now while the warranty is fresh.  Being an engineering geek, I am rather excited about the prospect of getting to see something under the hood.  My wife on the other hand, is not so excited.  Let's just say I am lucky she puts up with me.  She is starting to wonder if the Think does have something in common with the Mini E after all.  Like being not totally reliable.  I wonder if it is what the electronics industry refers to as "infant mortality", where some semiconductors die early.

29 April 2012

Service center summary for Think EVs UPDATED

New Think EV owners in Maryland
At the moment I have information on four seven service locations for Think City EVs, one two on each coast and two in the Midwest, plus one in my home town.  I don't have details yet on the Auto Clinic in Portland Oregon, where 20 Thinks just arrived.  I hope to have more on them later.

From West to East:

Hawthorne Auto Clinic, Liz Dally and Jim Houser, co-owners:
4307 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97215
503-234-4230, fax
They've been in business here for 29 years and are real nice folks.

Bryant’s Auto Electric
Randy Bryant
1753 Grant St.
Santa Clara CA 95050
I have not spoken with Randy yet, and his web site is not ready as of today.  They do service only, not sales, if I understand.  Sales are handled by Jeff Speno at www.missionvalleytruckcenter.com.

Green Wheels Chicago
1540 N Western Ave
Chicago IL 60622
Green Wheels handles both sales and service. Possibly the lowest price if you live in a ZEV state.

Tom Wood Think, Indianapolis
3300 East 96th
Indianapolis IN
Excellent web site, full service and probably the first dealer in the US.  Several older video links including one shot inside the factory in Finland.

Eurostar Autos
9330 Liberty Road
Randallstown MD 21133
Eurostar will be getting service training soon, sales are ongoing.  Tom is very excited about Think EVs and the future model plans.

Buddy's Auto
3711 Philadelphia Road
Abingdon MD 21009-1182

Checking local charging stations in Maryland.  It is hard to see the black cord in front of the black car.
I should also give honorable mention to my local shop which replace my Power Conversion Unit (PCU) in our second Think City EV:

431 Battleground Ave.
Greensboro, NC 27401
(336) 274-7872 

Technically The Auto Trends might not be a fully authorized Think Service Center, since there are only four Thinks in Greensboro.  So it does not really warrant the cost of investing in the diagnostic tools.  But they did an excellent job replacing my PCU, which is nearly the most difficult job in this EV.  Think loaned us the tools, which have since been returned.

No worries about service

An excerpt from the Think service manuals.  Buying my own copy is now on my wish list.
When our second Think EV arrived the other day, we were surprised that the delivery driver left the window down.  My wife went to put the window up before the cats got inside, and came back saying the battery was low, the window would not go all the way up.  This did not sound right, since Doug at Green Wheels said the car left fully charged.

It turns out that if you put the key in the accessory position, the 400 volt traction battery is not yet charging the 12 volt accessory battery, which was a little weak from sitting through the bankruptcy last year when sales slowed.  No problem, I have a 12 volt battery charger that plugs into the "cigarette lighter" outlet, which is always on in the Think. I can use that to charge up the 12 volt battery until we get plates of the car on Monday.  After that, the 12 volt battery will be charged simply by driving or charging the traction battery (regular charging).

But for now I just "started" the car which begins charging the 12 volt battery, yet the window moved up very slowly. The passenger side window moved more quickly.  I tried the driver's side again, this time the motor apparently over-heated and stopped to cool off.

I have adjusted windows before, so I was not about to make a big deal out of this.  Especially since we paid less than half as much for this car as we did for the Think we bought last year, and Think North America had resisted selling me the first car because I was far from any authorized service center.  But I could not figure out how to get the door panel off.

I emailed Doug at Green Wheels Chicago and quickly received the service manual pages for the door panel.  As far as I can tell, Green Wheels was the first dealer to get factory service training for the Think, so I was not surprised that Doug had the manuals close at hand.

Removing the door pull cover
As it turns out, there is a cover in the door pull that is easily removed.  Under that, there are two screws, in addition to the usual perimeter fasteners.

Unscrewing the door pull fasteners (T15 Torx, if I recall)
The service manual warns that removing the seal under the door panel may destroy it, but apparently they upgraded to a high quality removable mastic, something like a "rope caulk", but stickier.  I was able to remove and replace the same liner without damage.  If it had been needed, I could have gotten another liner from the Elkhart factory.
Door seal under the panel
Once I had access, adjusting the window motor angle was easy.
Adjustable fasteners between window and motor
There are slots for the screws.  I set the window half way down, removed the screws to see where they wanted to line up.  In my case the optimum position was at the far right of the slots.

After this adjustment, the driver's window moves a bit faster than the passenger's window.  But I am not taking the passenger door apart. It is good enough and I suspect it will loosen up with use.

I want to look into buying the service manuals.  It was fascinating to browse the service documents, looking for the one I needed.  Many of the debug tools were updated as recently as last November, which simply confirms that work did not stop because of the bankruptcy.

I do not recall seeing the lifting points in the regular owner's manual, so when I saw that in the service manual, I felt it was a reasonable case of "fair use" to post those photos at the top of this entry, even though the service manuals are commercial documents.  Everyone needs to know how to lift the car when rotating the tires.  Lifting points should have been be shown in the owner's manuals.

In the end, a minor annoyance served to increase my confidence in owning two Think City EVs.

His and Hers

We are now a two Think household
Our second Think City EV was delivered a couple days back.  My wife was rather skeptical when we bought the blue Think last year, it was quite different from the Mini Cooper EV we had before.  On the down side the Think is not as quiet as the Mini EV, has a little less range, less power and less regenerative braking. 

On the up side, the Think has a huge amount of cargo space, absolute reliability, a very good heater, the seats are more comfortable, and surprisingly I find it handles better than the Mini EV did.  In one year and almost 10,000 miles of driving, I had the blue Think fuss at me about charging exactly twice.  Both times there was a good reason, such as being plugged into an old worn out timer.  The Mini EV fussed at me more than twice a week about charging, and for months during winter the Mini EV refused to charge at 240 volts at all.

Our new Think before it left the Elkhart Indiana factory.  Is that a battery pack in the background on the left?

I have had some questions from readers about whether there are any "gotchas" with the Think, and we struggled to think of anything more to say than the obvious (last year's bankruptcy) or the trivial (as noted above).  But then we remembered two things:

The sun visor has limited utility on the side.  The visor is rather short since the car is narrow, and the sloping windshield puts it fairly far away.  I have taken to keeping a wide brimmed hat in the car for those times when the sun bothers me.  I had forgotten about this, but it cannot quite be categorized as trivial.  On the other hand this is a city car, not likely to be taken on cross country trips often, where the sun can beat down relentlessly.  I hope the new Think model (next year?) will have a side visor.

The other issue we had briefly was a little trouble getting into reverse on rare occasions.  Once it became clear what was happening, I simply moved the shifter back and forth through all the virtual "gears" several times quickly and the problem disappeared.  I suspect there was some dust in the switch.

My car pool colleague and her husband wish they could buy an EV, but they cannot charge at their present apartment which has neither assigned parking nor outdoor power outlets
It is interesting to hear from people in Maryland who are buying EVs when they do not have a garage.  In one case, a home owner does have a reserved parking spot and is working with his Home Owners Association to get permission to have an electrician run power out to the assigned parking spot.