If there are 10 Nissan LEAFs in the Phoenix metro area, 20% of them are modified. How’s that for a statistic? There probably aren’t that many LEAFs out here yet, but Mike Montalvo, founder of digital tuning, inc., and the guy responsible for the venerable PocketLOGGER, has one of them and he’s already started hacking it.
What’s your name, location, and occupation?
Mike Montalvo, Phoenix AZ, Owner, digital tuning, inc, an automotive technology company specializing in vehicle data acquisition and electric/hybrid electric vehicle consulting services.
What’s your weapon (vehicle) of choice, how did you come to own it, and how do you use it?
In what was more luck than a planned attack, I was one of the first people in Phoenix to take delivery of a 2011 Nissan Leaf. Reserved in April of 2010 and ordered Sept 1, 2010, the car arrived on Feb 4th 2011. I’d been itching for an EV for a while. I love building things, so converting a car to electric was the intended route, but when the LEAF was announced, it seemed too good to pass up. A difference of a few minutes when reserving and ordering translated to waiting months more for delivery. It just so happened that I reserved and got my order in early which awarded me the 6th lowest VIN reported by enthusiasts on the MyNissanLeaf.com forums. In addition, I was accepted into the EV Project (www.theevproject.com), which, with a grant from the DOE, is installing home charge stations free of charge for participants, along with kickstarting the public charge station infrastructure by installing hundreds of public chargers all over the US.
80 percent of drivers travel less than 60 miles a day, and that includes me. My commute is about 7 miles each way, with an occasional 40mile round trip. I estimate over 99% of my driving is less than 70 miles a day. With the LEAF’s 100 mile average range, it was well suited for me.
I retained my 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee for it’s utility and for that 1% of trips that are over 100 miles. And since I drive it so little, I get a discount on the insurance.
As part of a consulting project, I converted a 2001 F450 to a parallel electric hybrid as a test platform for hybrid propulsion systems.
We heard you’ve already hacked the Leaf. How so?
Being one of the first to have a LEAF delivered, and being in the automotive aftermarket space, I felt there was a unique opportunity. Having had extensive experience with OBDII as well as older diagnostic protocols, coupled with my interest in electric vehicle engineering, I was eager to dive in to see how the vehicle worked. It’s very interesting to see, after years of being involved in engineering similar systems, to see how a major car manufacturer did things.
One of the first things I did was to reverse engineer many of the messages on the CAN bus. This gave me some unique insight into how Nissan handled things like battery management.
With this information, we are in the process of developing a diagnostic display specifically for the LEAF that can tell you things the OEM dash does not. It will also have features to eliminate some minor “annoyances” with the vehicle and give it features that aren’t available through the vehicle’s operating system, all using CAN messages.
How do you see the increased electrification of vehicles impacting enthusiast culture in the future?
I think there is still a certain stigma with EVs… that they are glorified golf carts and “uncool”. It will take some time before they are accepted by the mainstream, and longer still to be accepted by the traditional ICE gearhead. But on the other hand, we are already starting to see electric systems in racing. Some F1 teams have been using the KERS system, and now there are rumors that in 2013, cars will be all electric while in the pits. Since most new automotive technology has it’s roots in motorsports, I’d say that’s a pretty good indication of where things will be going.
What does being a gearhead mean to you?
I think anyone that has a constant curiosity of machines and how they work can be classified as a gearhead.
How do you define ‘high performance machine?’
I don’t think “high performance” is an absolute, but rather a relative term. 400HP is a decent amount of hp for a street car, but if you are making it with a 502cu in big block, tha’ts not high performance. You can have a high performance weed whacker if it puts out more than it’s normal power. High Performance is all about that fine line between making maximum power, and having a bucket of paperweights.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Mike. We’ll be looking forward to hearing more about what you’re up to in the future.
So, gearheads, here’s an interesting topic for discussion.
If we’re already logging and modifying the ECUs in our vehicles, what might be possible in the future, with more vehicle functionality being controlled by the ECU?