Lee Iacocca recently passed away, and even though he is more well-known for other things, he was also a pioneer when it came to ebikes. So let’s take a look at the EV Global ebike, and the man behind the decision to make it.
Lee Iacocca died in July 2019. He had been a rising executive in the Ford corporation for many years in the post-war period. Among the hits and misses, his greatest legacy will likely be the 1964 Ford Mustang. Many families during world-war-II held off having children for obvious reasons, but…as soon as the war ended and huge numbers of soldiers began coming home around 1946, there was a flood of marriages, and then families having many children, leading to a population explosion.
The children born over the next decade are sometimes called “baby boomers”, and as soon as the 1960s hit, a disproportionate percentage of the population was turning 18, and wanted a car. But…what kind of car?
Of course it would have to be affordable, but the young adults of the era wanted something sporty. So the question then becomes, what do 1960’s young adults consider sporty? Lee Iacocca didn’t design the Mustang, but he told the Ford design studio to come up with several design proposals that incorporated trends he had seen in European models, and Iacocca was the single person who chose the version that he felt would be a winner.
Lee was proud of his Italian-American heritage, and the styling of Italian cars like Ferrari and Lamborghini had often influenced mainstream vehicle sports cars. One of the trends was how beautiful the “Gran Turismo” / GT models were. These were street-legal cars that were actually sold to the public to prove that they were “stock”, but they were special-edition sport models with high performance. Gran Turismo is Italian for the “large touring” class of car.
By selling a minimum number of these special editions to the public (a rule called homologation), they could be raced in certain racing classes that were popular. The most obvious “GT style” change from previous Fords is that the cabin on the Mustang was moved back slightly, so that the trunk was smaller and the engine compartment was longer.
This may not seem like much of a change, but…Ford sold over 559,000 during the first year they were available, so the Mustang was a certified hit with the public. Seeing this, Chrysler scrambled to hot-rod their Valiant with a V8, renaming it the Barracuda, and the Pontiac Tempest suddenly had an upgraded model called the GTO. Chevy took their time, but by 1967 they finally came out with their popular Camaro.
The Chrysler Years
For a variety of reasons, tensions between Henry Ford-II and Iacocca ended up with Lee being forced out of Ford. As luck would have it, at that same time the Chrysler corporation had fallen on hard times, and was desperately looking for a savior. Lee Iacocca accepted the position of CEO of Chrysler in 1978. His salary for the first year was only one dollar…plus lots of stock options. If he failed to turn Chrysler around, he would walk away broke, but…if he succeeded, the stock value would soar and he would be rich.
Lee then head-hunted some of the young engineers that were working back at Ford, who he knew were very talented and under-used. They were stuck designing the next generation of steering wheels, but…they wanted to design a whole car. The K-Car family that resulted is what saved Chrysler from bankruptcy. The mini-van that came next made them profitable again, along with creating a whole new category of vehicle…an affordable front-wheel-drive family van with a low-enough height that it could fit into a common garage…a “station wagon” for a new generation.
Electric Vehicle Global, EVG
In 1997, Iacocca formed EV Global, as a Southern California company to start designing and marketing electric vehicles. Their first product was the EVG ebike, which began to be sold in 1999. There were several variations and options, including the Police Edition / PE.
I feel that this ebike was ahead of it’s time, and the price actually wasn’t bad, ranging from $995 to $1,295 depending on options chosen.
The 20-mile range was adequate. The 15-MPH top speed seems a little slow, even though that was the common ebike speed limit in Europe. These ebikes also came with features like cruise control, front suspension to smooth out the bumps, a horn, and lighting. Front disc brakes were optional, and I think this is the most important feature to have, which was fairly progressive in 1999. Lee Iacocca was quoted as saying that “a Mercedes guy designed it for me”…
Other than a few existing ebike models in Asia and Europe to ponder, Lee had to figure out what features American buyers would want, or at least…what features they could be persuaded that they ‘should’ want. So now that we have the benefit of hindsight today, what did they get right? and what did they miss?…
The initial version used 24V, but it was soon upgraded to 36V, which is currently considered to be the minimum for a basic ebike today. It’s a steel-framed hardtail, but it does have a entry-level dual-crown suspension fork along with a basic sprung seat-post. All of these features would be derided today as just “big box store” quality, but it’s hard to complain when they were able to bring-in this design at under $999, even after adding the front disc brake option (which I would have required on all models).
That brings us to the motor, which is also a mixed bag. It is a high-quality geared motor from the Heinzmann company from Germany, using durable steel gears. A geared motor (as opposed to a direct drive motor) is usually more efficient on flat land, because it allows the motor to spin over five times for every time the wheel spins once. A direct drive motor (as the name implies) will spin once for every wheel revolution.
Most modern geared hubmotors have one steel gear driving plastic reduction gears. The plastic acts as a mechanical fuse, in case you apply too much power, since the plastic gears are cheap and easy to replace if they break. The Heinzmann has all steel gears. The benefit is that if you hot-rod it, the gears will not break. However, the downside is that if you get the motor too hot, something else will fry, and on the Heinzmann…the weak spots for hot-rodding are the brushes [plus, the all-steel gears were known to run loud]
Yup, this is a brushed motor (as opposed to the now-common brushless). 99.9% of modern ebike hubmotors are all brushless. On the plus side, a design that uses brushes can have a very affordable controller (they are very simple). On the downside, you just can’t hot-rod brushes. Anything you do to raise the volts or amps will shorten the life of the brushes. And the more you hot-rod it, the faster they fry. Only buy a used EVG if you test ride it, and you are happy with the stock power.
Once you decide to use a different controller so that you can use higher volts and amps (like 48V, which is popular now), and also swap-in a more powerful motor…you’d be better off buying a bicycle that fits you well, and adding a modern kit.
The Battery Pack
This brings us to the only part worth upgrading on the EVG, the 36V battery (avoid the 24V version). The original battery pack is made from three 12V Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) batteries in series. If you find a used EVG with the original style of SLA batteries, I guarantee they are no good anymore (or they soon will be). Even if they were recently replaced in the last few months, the stock SLA will not last long, and they suffer from “voltage sag”, along with being very short range for the given volume.
The only benefit of SLA is that they have a low initial purchase price. The weight, range, and performance are all easily beaten by modern Lithium packs. As to the cost benefit, if you have to replace the SLA packs several times over the amount of time that a single lithium pack would have lasted, you end up losing any cost benefit that you thought you had gained.
The ideal situation today is to buy a pristine 36V EVG for near free (or at least under $300), and you build [or buy] a lithium battery pack to replace the SLA. The stock controller and motor are maxed out at 18A, so 36V X 18A = 650W. If the stock range on SLA was 20-miles, then upgrading to lithium should double that range, if not more.
Since the stock controller and motor are limited to 18A, a modest four cells “in parallel” using the popular 18650-format cells only need to provide 5A each, so you have the option of choosing one of the popular “high capacity” models, like the MJ1, 35E, or GA. They are all roughly 3500-mAh each, so 4P would equal 14 Amp-hours of range (14-Ah). Don’t be fooled by the Amp-hour ratings on a SLA pack label, they can only provide half their Amp-hours before experiencing significant voltage sag.
The Heinzmann geared motor
And now we move on to the tech found in the torquey little geared hubmotor they chose. If you want a refresher on the meaning of the terms used to describe the tech inside motors, here is our article on that (click here)
Here is the heart of this motor. It is an axial-flux, with the eight round neodymium magnets on the stationary plate on the left. The epoxy disc on the right envelopes the coils that are energized and de-energized to make the motor spin. The low number of magnets helps the electrical switching frequency to lower the iron losses, and to make life easier on the controller.
The ends of the coil wires are terminated at the copper armature contacts on the right [called the commutator]. This is the type of motor where the coil-disc spins, and the permanent magnets are stationary, similar to the well-known Lynch/Agni.
Most of the customers who bought an EVG when they were new have posted that they liked them. Of course they didn’t have much to compare them to at the time. Although, they were clearly much more powerful than the 250W ebikes that were available from Europe and Asia.
As far as the items that I have pointed out as detractions (by today’s standards), they were technical things that the average customer wouldn’t understand or even care about. And to be fair, it really does appear to have been the best ebike available back in 1999, which is really saying something…
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, July 2019