Wedensday October 7th 2009 we celebrated roll out of our plug-in hybrid electric Fiat 500 conversion with the tech team. It was a trial and see kind of situation, though everything was scheduled to be ready.
And so it was. The Y-Box (our intelligence between the car, the driver, the street and the two motors) was ready, all the Fiat Error Messages were deleted for good, the wheels spun back and forward on the lift, transmission was cleared for use by the supplier.
So we let down and attempted to roll out - unfortuantely we had forgotten to charge the batteries after all our on-lift testruns (Kind of embarrassing after 14 years of driving electric, isn''t it?). So I decided to open up the champagne first and recharge while we were sipping and cheering. Halve an hour later Pierre (my compagnion) and I hopped on the driverseats and reversed the car out of the garage. Cheers.
We silently drove around the building to the lot in the back. That was it. Rock bottom empty batteries again. Yet, kind of happy and satisfied we spun up the conventional engine and went back in hybrid mode and then to the boccia drome for risotto ticinese and Merlot with everybody from the team. Yippie!
The car spent the night in the shop on his lift, the batterychargers plugged in all night (it is a plug-in hybrid). The next morning I decided to do some temperature measurements on the different mechanical components of the electric drive. I mechanically fixed the throttle to 60 km/h and selected the mode to electric main drive. After ten minutes I went under the lift to do the first measurement with the thermometer when I noticed that the rpm had come down some.
Guessing the friction in the transmission to be the reason I expected higher temperatures. But it was below 60C, yet the rpm continued to decline to a point, where the electric driven axle almost came to halt.
Just in this moment I noticed the clicking sound of two relais switches above my head in the conventional motor.
One - two - three - four seconds, with the precision of a Rolex, the Y-Box starts the Fiat motor and electronically puts the throttle down, the front wheels spinning in the air. I dash up from under the car and jump on the lift to turn the key and hit the emergency stop.
wow- - - - silence
After getting my breath back and measuring the voltage of the batteries, it was clear what had happened: The charger had not charged the accus all night, instead it went into sleep mode itself. That''s why we have run out of energy after only ten minutes of free wheeling on the lift. The Y-box noticed that the electric engine was not able to deliver the demanded output and therefor automatically activated help from the internal combustion engine - starting it and synchronizing the throttle with the electric motor.
Surprising? Not really.
Maybe it is, if you are the guy who has written down the process in the concept papers - and a year later in real life you hear the switches click and the engine roar.
It is kind of scary. But beautyful.