Electronic Design

Barbers, Adaptability, And Electric Pickup Trucks

A recent CNN story called “Converting Gas-Powered Cars to Electric” sparked a round of e-mails among us Electronic Design editors. The story specifically described a man who ripped the engine out of his Chevy S-10 pickup and installed an electric motor, reminding me of a conversation I had yesterday with Dave, my barber. Dave drives this brobdinagian pickup camper, and we were talking about what’s under its hood. But before I get into that, I need to explain about Dave and, literally, where he’s coming from.

Dave grew up in timber country, way the hell up in Butte County, in a small town that’s a five-hour drive from Silicon Valley. He grew up there, hunting, fishing, cutting school, and watching all the jobs go away. So he learned barbering and moved down where I live, where people make money and get haircuts fairly regularly.

He opened up his own barbershop in a strip mall next to a donut shop. Being a hunter, he’s got the walls of the place hung with all the heads he’s had the pleasure to shoot, which tends (with the visibility afforded by the donut shop and the fact that he charges less than the blow-dry hairdressers he competes with) to bring in a steady customer base of a certain age and crustiness.

Dave’s relatives still live up in Butte County, except for last month, when the fires all drove them down here to move in with him. His pop has a hunting cabin way out in the wilderness that gets buried in snow every winter. Thus, it’s not totally unreasonable that Dave has that massive pickup camper. He uses it.

Getting back to yesterday, I’d stopped by for a donut, and Dave was outside, grabbing a smoke and talking to a customer about the truck. The gist of the conversation was that, yes, when the dealer had replaced the compressor in the turbo-diesel, he’d drilled out some drain hole that had been too small, resulting in some condensation, resulting in some rust, etc., etc. Then Dave mentioned some other truck he’d seen with a compound turbo diesel, and how when you opened the hood, you couldn’t see anything inside but hoses and wires.

Wait a minute, I thought. We aren’t talking Ferraris here. This is a pickup truck! I know pickups. I used to have a ’52 Chevy with the straight “Bluefire Six” engine with the solid lifters. The vehicles Dave was talking about are the automotive equivalent of the end of the dinosaurs—over-specialized, overweight, and doomed to have their eggs eaten by quick-thinking rodents.

Here’s what I mean. My wife works on the electronics of the Tesla Roadster. I’ve seen the engine. It weighs 100 pounds, and it ain’t very big. The electronics for the car are complex. But while they’re presently optimized for the torque/power characteristics of a two-person performance car, adapting them for a pickup would be essentially a change of firmware.

Adaptability. That’s what we’re talking about here. And, by the way, that’s what Dave demonstrates when he moves back and forth between Butte County and Silicon Valley. So, should Dave try some DIY engine conversion with his camper? Let me know what you think.

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