Live Green or Die
Ever wonder where the big car companies’ expert electric drivetrain and battery engineers come from? Well, if they intend to change their product lines, the big car companies will have to. There are not a lot of sources for this talent. Yes, there are smart “prototypers” in and around the major car companies, and even the old guys who did the EV1 and other California compliance electric vehicles (EVs) in the 1990s. But compared to the number of engine and combustion engineers and for its driveline components, the EV talent ranks are pretty thin.
As the major car companies are now finding, they can’t turn their product lines around quickly, nor well enough, to compete with a talented, nimble and dedicated EV company like Tesla. They thought, until a couple of years ago, that all they had to do was apply their well-backed talent and manufacturing to the problem, and they could emerge the leader in a few years. They were just waiting until the battery industry got their battery costs down to a level where they could make EVs profitably (maybe five years or more from now). Well, Tesla stole the lead a few years ago with their own battery and drivetrain technology ramp-up, to where they now have a few solid years’ lead over the majors and are still innovating faster. Even Volkswagen, now the most dedicated major regarding change to EVs, is finding that it takes much longer than they imagined. Indeed, several major car companies probably won’t survive the technology change intact (think partnerships first, then mergers). The writing is on the wall: find the top talent and get busy, or fade away.
That’s where Dartmouth University in Hanover, NH comes in. For over twelve years, the Mechanical Engineering Department at Dartmouth and assorted volunteers (I am one of many) have organized and executed a global college competition to design and build very high-quality hybrid and electric go-carts (think basic cars). The adult talent volunteering at this event is incredible, all thanks to its founding visionary, Doug Fraser, a former Formula1 top mechanic at McLaren, now retiring professor at Dartmouth. Mike Chapman is the new leader of the Formula Hybrid event. Every year, 20 to 40 colleges have competed to pass the incredibly demanding build requirements, safety inspections, and on-track time trials of this competition held at Loudon Speedway at the end of April and early May. This happens each year and because the major car and supplier companies have sponsored the competition, they get to see and have first crack at the best emerging talent. And they have used these events like job fairs to recruit talent, even offering signing bonuses to some. It is most rewarding to see Formula Hybrid alumni come back to the event as advisors and to hear of their success at their new jobs. The competition continues this year though some aspects are modified due to the pandemic. Teams will meet on the track in October for their safety inspections and time trials.
New Hampshire is a small state, far from Detroit. But Dartmouth and the Formula Hybrid team have shown how talent and initiative can play with value in the much larger automobile-industry game.
Go Big Green! New Hampshire can make a difference.
I hope that all in the G.E.T. readership is healthy and intend to remain so. My best to you all.
Randy Bryan is one of the co-founders of Drive Electric NH. Bryan has been an advocate for electric cars for eight-plus years. His company, ConVerdant Vehicles, has converted vehicles to plug-in hybrids, including his own Prius in 2008, and developed and sold inverters that turn a Prius into an emergency generator.