While Under Threat From OEMs, ECOtality Turns Down The Output On Chargers To Avoid Failures

4 years ago by Jay Cole 20

Yes, That Is A Lovely Sunset In The Background

Yes, That Is A Lovely Sunset In The Background

On Monday, ECOtality filed an 8-K with the SEC saying the company had basically run out of money and was in danger of falling into bankruptcy in the “very near future” unless a new/unknown source of capital could be found.

A Blink Residential EVSE Unit

A Blink Residential EVSE Unit

As part of the disclosure, ECOtality noted that R&D failures in their new commercial Minit Charger lineup that was expected to be out this year, will not be forthcoming as planned, saying that “…as such the product will not be introduced in 2013.”

However, more disturbing still was the news for current plug-in vehicle owners that there is an overheating/melting issue in the connector plug of 12,000 of their current EVSE units.

“Further, the Company is facing some uncertainty regarding the resolution of a phenomenon occurring in some of the Company’s previously installed EVSEs which causes overheating, and in certain rare cases melting, of the connector plug that connects the EVSE to the electric vehicle when charging.” – SEC 8-K disclosure from Monday August 12th, 2013

Adding to the problem, ECOtality is not sure what has caused it, or who will ultimately pay for the recall and/or repair:

“The Company, along with certain automotive original equipment manufacturers (“OEMs”) and equipment suppliers, has been actively evaluating the issue in an attempt to determine the cause and to address the problem…The Company continues to discuss with the parts supplier of the connector plug a plan of action which would require the parts supplier to pay to replace either all the connector plugs in its existing EVSE units or those connector plugs identified to be problematic. At this time, the Company cannot assure you that negotiations will result in the parts supplier agreeing to incur the cost of such remediation. Accordingly, the Company may have to incur such costs and expenses in the future.” – SEC 8-K disclosure from Monday August 12th, 2013

Making the matter worse for the company, is that automakers are now threatening to tell all their customers to discontinue use of ECOtality chargers until all the connectors are replaced:

“In addition, some OEMs have notified the Company that they are considering communicating to their customers and other parties to advise them not to use the Company’s EVSEs because of the connector plug issue if the Company does not replace all connector plugs on its approximately 12,000 existing EVSEs in the market. The Company believes such a communication may have a material adverse impact on the near term cash flow and prospects of the Company.”  – SEC 8-K disclosure from Monday August 12th, 2013

ECOtality’s short-term answer?  On Friday (August 9th, 2013) they turned down the maximum output on some of the machines to keep the connectors cooler.

“Even though a root cause for the observed phenomenon is yet to be definitively verified, in the interim, on August 9, 2013, the Company commenced the reduction of the maximum power delivered by certain of the EVSEs, which reduction has been shown in limited laboratory test to reduce the temperature rise in the connector plug to acceptable levels”  – SEC 8-K disclosure from Monday August 12th, 2013

/not the best solution

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20 responses to "While Under Threat From OEMs, ECOtality Turns Down The Output On Chargers To Avoid Failures"

  1. Tom K says:

    Good grief Charlie Brown…

    1. Spec says:

      Ouch! That’s a shame.

  2. Jay Cole says:

    Further to Tony’s pictures, it appears that ECOtality is trying to figure out just who is utilizing the higher output loads.

    Check out this email we got from Blink dated today:

    Hello XXXX,

    We are looking for the RAV4 EV drivers in our community. If you do not have a RAV4 EV, you can stop reading now.

    If you do have a RAV4 EV, Blink wants to learn more about your charging experience. We need your input to ensure that you can continue to have a reliable charging experience.

    Please fill out this short form and let us know the year of your RAV4 EV. We promise to only take a few minutes of your time.

    Charge On.
    Blink

    You are receiving this email as an ECOtality/EV Project contact.

    —-
    The link to that form is here. It would seem they are either working at turning down the output on those EVSEs on the down-low, or maybe considering replacing/warning these RAV4 EV owners in the future. Doesn’t hint at all that this is what is happening…but seems like a 1+1 =2 situation

    1. Dave R says:

      I got the same email. I wonder why they wouldn’t send the same email to include any vehicle which can charge at 30A?

      1. George B says:

        Same here. This issue is apparently finally being taken seriously. I can confirm that in the past few months nearly the entire EV world have visited Tony’s MNL thread you linked to below.

        1. Dave R says:

          Is that you surfingslovak??? 😉

          1. George B says:

            Who is that?!? 😉

    2. io says:

      Not all Rema handles are defective, the big question is, how many. Blink is probably trying to determine that, and if it’s significant, might launch some legal action against Rema?

      As you mentioned, the Fit EV, it will throttle charging if its inlet gets hot, but I don’t know whether the driver gets warned about this. If not, affected EVSEs might be seen as working fine with such cars, they still end up charged by next morning with nothing apparently amiss…
      That could explain why Blink isn’t including Fit drivers in this survey.

      Another possibility: Blink EVSEs monitor power draw and report to the mothership. Either logs already got scanned for telltales signs of cars like the Fit “backing off”, or new EVSE firmware now watches for and signals those events.
      Mine now says version 2.1.20130801, so very recent if those last digits accurately represent the date (max current remains set at 30A btw).

      1. Dave R says:

        Very interesting. Looking at the logs my Blink updated itself on Aug 8 at 17:47 PT.

        I wonder what changes were included. I charged a Model S at 30A for like 8 hours a few weeks back without issue (OK, I did dial it down to like 26A so that the estimated finish time matched up with when we needed the car next). I did feel around for hot spots and noted that the wire coming out of the handle was slightly warm, but the plug portion was cool. Maybe I should have busted out the IR gun.

      2. Steve Strange says:

        I have a Fit EV, and I have a Blink charger at home, provided through the Ecotality program when we got our LEAF two years ago. Ecotality noticed that I was using 30A on the blink, and called me to arrange replacing my charging plug. I assumed they understood the defect and that’s why they were replacing the plug. After reading this, I’m not so sure. But I haven’t experienced a problem yet, and I charge the Fit EV nightly.

  3. Dave R says:

    Tony Williams (also a contributor to InsideEVs) was one of the first people to melt his Blink’s plug to his RAV4-EV’s J1772 inlet. The Blink had no issues charging for over a year at 16A that Tony’s first 2 LEAFs, but charging the RAV4-EV at 30A was too much.

    Tony’s post on MyNissanLEAF:
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=10749

    Phil at EVSEupgrade dissected a Blink plug (manufactured by Rema, not Blink), and found that his plug had marginal crimps. Full story with relevant links below:

    Phil’s initial thoughts on the Rema plug design compared to the Yazaki/OEM plug – the Yakazi is definitely better engineered:
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=246142#p246142

    Phil later details out how install an inexpensive thermosensor to temporarily cut off charging should things get too hot (IMO this should be standard feature – apparently Honda FIT-EVs which also charge at 30A have one and will shut down charging if the receptacle gets too hot):
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=246818#p246818

    Phil took some thermal pics of a RAV4-EV charging at 30A compared to a LEAF charging at 16A. When charging a RAV4-EV at 30A the pins got to 139F, but only 75F when charging a LEAF at 16A:
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=247205#p247205

    To rule out the RAV4-EV inlet as the issue, Phil built a small extension cable with a 70A rated inlet – same temperature rise at the Rema handle:
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=247546#p247546

    And finally a picture of the the pin/wire crimp inside the Rema plug which clearly shows signs of overheating:
    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?p=247736#p247736

    Later posts show that replacing the handle with a known good one showed no appreciable temperature rise charging at 32A compared to 16A. There’s also a pick that shows what a good crimp on the Yazaki/OEM plug looks like in comparison to the poor Rema crimp. The Yazaki crimp is clearly significantly better.

    Note that Phil’s tests were on a completely different Blink than Tony’s.

    It seems very clear that quite a few of these Rema plugs suffered from poor crimps leading to overheating at 30A charge rates.

    1. Bonaire says:

      Crimps? With that amperage, good soldering is the only good connection that should be done for wire onto plug component.

      1. Having built aerospace grade connectors, let me suggest you are wrong!

      2. io says:

        Wrong, good crimps are actually very reliable, and that’s how high-current connections are generally done.
        Got overhead lines feeding power to your home? Look how they’re spliced…

        1. Dave R says:

          Yep, crimping is the only way to go for high current connections. When soldering you end up filling voids with solder which has a much higher resistance than copper. And if it’s a part where the wire may move, soldering creates stress points which tend to fracture after repeated movement while crimping has none of those issues.

          That’s why you’ll see crimps or more recently ultrasonic welding used for high current electrical connections or connections subject to vibration.

        2. Spec says:

          Yeah, and they often do the crimps with the wires live. I was amazed to learn that. They put on the big gloves and are real careful.

        3. Josh says:

          I can also confirm, in the wind industry, all of the high current (400+ amp) gets crimped.

  4. Deb says:

    Can someone explain which, Nissan Leaf models are at risk with these chargers? Is it only the 2013, which charges at a higher amperage? Also, I am assuming this warning is for both home EVSE and public chargers. Finally, translated, what is a rema handle?

  5. George B says:

    Yes, this will only affect EVs, which charge at a higher current. 2011 and 2012 LEAFs are pulling 16 amps, which is considered low and not likely to cause any heating issues. There is some indication that the overheating occurs due to low-quality crimp connections in J1772 OEM plug cordsets manufactured by REMA USA LLC.