A Washington, D.C. government office paid a convicted felon $680,000 to install cell phone-sized devices in cars that claim to increase electric vehicle range by more than 75 percent, something experts say isn’t possible and raises questions about the city’s procurement processes, according to a report by WUSA.
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In February, DC’s Department of Public Works signed a $680,000 contract with EV Technology LLC. The contract, which is for something the DC Department of Public Works called the “Black Box Technology Pilot Program,” called for the company to install 40 of these black boxes, which are about the size of cell phones and plug into cars, into the parking enforcement’s fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. The contract claims the black box is a “supplemental EV battery attachment technology that regenerates itself and revolutionizes EV batteries beyond runtimes, mileage and capacities while making EV and EV batteries safer and more sustainable.”A filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the “Energy Management Module” shows an image of a black box with red and black wires coming out of it. In this one filing, the company variously claims range increases on installed cars of “60-70 percent,” “more than 75 percent increase” and “a 60 percent increase.” These are incredibly bold claims for a small black box, considering the largest automakers in the world are spending billions of dollars each on research and development to try and engineer single digit percentage increases in EV range. Various experts interviewed by WUSA said it is impossible that the black box does what the company says it does.
It is not clear, as WUSA pointed out, why DPW was interested in a technology that could theoretically boost EV range when the department’s fleet of Bolts travel less than 25 miles per day per vehicle on average. Bolts have an EPA-estimated range of well over 200 miles.The contract cost $14,000 per vehicle—about half the retail cost of a Chevy Bolt—as well as ongoing “data monitoring” for an additional $3,000 per vehicle, according to screenshots of the contract posted to Reddit and subsequently confirmed by WUSA.In May, another EV company called Mullen Automotive, which is based in California, acquired a 51 percent stake in EV Technology LLC and made EV Technology’s sole owner, Lawrence Hardge, Senior Vice President of Technology of the new entity called Mullen Advanced Energy Operations. From Mullen’s press release, the contract with DC appeared to be the main reason for the acquisition. For its part, Mullen has been targeted by the short-selling firm Hindenburg Research as “another fast talking EV hustle.” Shares in the company have lost 99 percent of its value since the beginning of 2022 and it has yet to generate meaningful revenue or make any cars, much less sell them.
And then there’s Hardge. Coincidentally, Hardge has a similar name to Lawrence Hodge, who happens to be a writer for the car website Jalopnik. People keep messaging Hodge, the Jalopnik writer, confusing him for Hardge, despite them having different last names. So, in June, Hodge wrote an entire article about how he is not Hardge, which also led Hodge down the Hardge rabbit hole.The upshot is Hardge is, as Fast Company alleged in a feature story on him, a “convicted fraudster.” Hardge claimed on a Facebook Live broadcast to have signed a $10 billion deal with the Saudi government. Mullen’s stock surged. He specifically addressed the SEC in the video, telling them the deal was “already agreed upon.” No such deal has ever been announced by Mullen or reported in the business press.Among other things, Hardge has previously invented non-functional fire extinguishers which are no longer for sale and said he plans to open a “sports bar and entertainment complex” in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He has also registered companies for the sale of something called the Hardge Toilet Seat and Hardge Glow in Dark Paint, according to Fast Company, neither of which ever came into existence. He patented a dish called the Party Plate that has a beer holder in the middle which Anderson Cooper once made fun of. The way Hardge told it to the Jacksonville Advocate in 2022, he became ensnared in legal trouble in 1999, was convinced by a lawyer he barely knew to plead guilty and get leniency, but was instead sentenced to 24 years for selling unregistered securities. He served five years.Hodge, the Jalopnik writer, discovered that the testing that supposedly proved the black box could boost EV range was done not on top-of-the-line EVs, but a golf cart elevated off the ground, which significantly reduces rolling resistance.Washington, D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement spokesperson Cody Leihgeber-Carpenter told Motherboard that the contract with EV Technology was terminated “due to violation of certain terms of the agreement” and that there are “no further updates at this time.” Motherboard reached out to Mullen, EV Technology and Hardge for comment but has not heard back from any of them.On July 11, five days before the WUSA report was published, Mullen issued a “termination notice” to Hardge and severed its agreement with his company for breaches of contract, including “refusing to conduct any tests of the Technology at a Mullen approved facility” and “failing to disclose all claims or threatened legal actions by any third parties related to the Technology.” In a June 19 Facebook post first reported by WUSA, Hardge said, “No, I did not do the tests. I have no intention of doing the tests. Life goes on. I’m at peace.”In his interview with the Jacksonville Advocate last year, Hardge said that after he was sentenced, “I’ll never forget my lawyer came and told me that the district attorney had said there was no man in Mississippi smart enough to invent what this defendant claims he invented.” Hardge added that the University of Michigan told him they will “nominate me for a Nobel Prize. They thought I was the perfect candidate.” A spokesperson for the University of Michigan told Motherboard, “we've checked with colleagues who would be most likely to be familiar with Mr. Hardge (Office of Research, College of Engineering, Communications) and no one we talked with knew him.”