By Bill Moore
I am pleased to report that Wavecrest Laboratory hasn’t gone out of business. They’ve just gotten a lot smaller and more focused.
True, they're not making TidalForce electric bicycles or their associated motors and batteries. And they've closed their former headquarters in Dulles, Virginia and a battery subsidiary in Florida, lwhile laying off the majority of their employees. Now, the remaining seventeen employees and most of the company's high-tech equipment and intellectual property are operating out of their Rochester Hills, Michigan facility.
All this is part of a deep restructuring being overseen by 28-year Mitsubishi veteran Jin Matsumoto, who now works for Wavecrest's principal investor, Paperboy Ventures.
Kevin Pavlov explained that "Wavecrest has been refocusing itself, refocusing its efforts on serving the automotive and commercial vehicle marketplace. Part of that refocusing was to look at the non-core businesses and extract all the technologies we can and divest some of them, and then create an incredible team here in Rochester Hills in the center of the automotive world...
"We took the best of the best and consolidated all of the top innovators from the three key areas of hybrid system development: the motor, vehicle controls and energy storage to form this group."
Pavlov added that the restructuring also consolidated Wavecrest's "considerable investment in equipment from dynamometers to modeling systems.
"We now have a significantly powerful team and a lot of technology at our hands and a lot of resources to really engage in this marketplace."
With the shutting down of its electric bicycle venture and the closure of its former headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, Wavecrest Labs is now headquartered just north of the Detroit metro area and a few miles south of DaimlerChrysler's North American corporate center.
Jin Matsumoto explained to EV World that while the Dulles office was closed on December 15, 2005, a small "skeleton crew" remains until February to complete the shutdown. The company will continue to support, however, all of its electric bicycle customers and has a sufficient inventory to handle any warranty work that needs to be done for the approximately 1,600 units it sold over the last several years. The company will maintain a telephone hotline to handle service and parts questions.
A check of the TidalForce web site, however, didn't indicate that the company had effectively gone out of business. Comments made by the three executives suggests that part of the reason may have to do with their efforts to also sell the TidalForce brand to a potential buyer.
Gary Gloceri, the former Ford Motor Company engineer who took me for a white knuckle ride in their converted Smart Roadster back in 2004, pointed out that carmakers and their Tier One suppliers are starting to come to Wavecrest for engineering support because finding qualified electric-drive engineers is difficult. All three car companies, and especially Ford, have pledged to offer advanced hybrid cars in the coming years, which is proving a task easier said than done.
"Hybrid engineers are kind of rare," Gloceri said. "We can go 'soup to nuts' and hybrid developers see a lot of value in what we can provide."
Beyond more conventional hybrid engineering contract efforts, he added that Wavecrest is also doing its own R&D on what he calls "groundbreaking technology" that the company hopes to announce in the near future. He also pointed out that their facility can be partitioned into four different entrances to accommodate different OEM clients who wish to co-develop technology in their Rochester Hills building.
The timing of Wavecrest's move into hybrid-drive development and testing couldn't be better, as Pavlov noted.
"There's a big push for a lot of different companies to either make the technology directly or make subsystems in the technology and offer it up".
The company has also expanded its efforts behind small electric hub motors to include both "in-driveline" and "near-wheel" motors. It also has placed "hardware" in the hands of Matra, the French automotive company, but precisely what, the executives weren't willing to say.
"We expect a phone call soon," Pavlov said.
Jin Matsumo, who is Wavecrest LLC's CEO, explained that Paperboy Ventures -- the company's largest investor -- decided to step in and reorganize the company because its business model at the time just wasn't working. But he credits Pavlov and Gloceri with providing the real leadership in redirecting the downsized-firm's efforts.
Gloceri went on to explain that in addition to contract engineering and doing its own proprietary R&D, the company will also serve as a vendor qualifier for its OEM/Tier One clients. Revenue is seen as coming from several different streams including technology licenses and engineering contracts and patent royalties.
As to what class of vehicles, Wavecrest is now focusing in on, they've jumped from small, two-wheel bikes and scooters to heavy vehicles in the Class 4-7 categories like trash trucks and delivery vans.
"That is where a hybrid really works," Matsumoto said. "It is a huge segment of the hybrid market".
While the company is not immediately exploring either plug-in or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology, it is designing its system with "multi-mode" capability, which enables their system to be utilized in a wide range of vehicle applications using either parallel or series architectures.
"The plug-in world is a little bit bigger than a lot of people are looking at," Gloceri stated. "What we've seen now is there are some really closed-loop delivery systems, or… the last mile concept of the delivery system that are short range, closed-loop that are economically better at battery plug-ins. The other ones are better for hybrids."
While the company is also no longer in the battery manufacturing business with the shuttering of its Florida operations, Gloceri said Wavecrest still retains not only knowledge about manufacturing various battery chemistries but more importantly the "care and feeding" of those batteries in the form of recharging technology.
So, whatever happen to that nifty little hub-motor driven Smart Roadster? Gloceri replied that they still have it plus two more, one powered by a inline drive motor and the third by a "special system", which he refused to elaborate on other than to say "we'll tell you later."
These guys are so coy! But they did make it clear that they are lean, capable and hungry.
"If you're looking for a team that can jump in a do a short execution… fast, superb, quick, disciplined, we're the team and we'd like to send that message out to the world."
The "team" will have a display at the upcoming SAE World Congress in early April at the Cobo Center in Detroit.
"Our two messages are we are alive and kicking and we've got some big 'kickn' stuff."
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