Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) Batteries – Super Charging the Power Systems

It has been a chaotic process to purchase the lithium batteries from Thunder Sky (Winston). I decided to go with the Winston batteries based on the great success other cruisers have had with their (Winston) batteries and the high charge/discharge cycle life. Until a few years ago this was a simple process of placing an order with Balqon (out of the Los Angeles area) and boom you were ready to install. Well Balqon is no more and the batteries must now be purchased directly from Thunder Sky. I’ve bought from overseas in the past so no big deal, right?

To start with, I received great quick responses to my email inquiries about pricing, sizes, availability – all the pre-purchase type questions. Things got more interesting when I requested shipping directly to San Diego, CA.

Only a few emails were required to get a shipping cost of $380 (sea) with pickup at the Port of LA. Wow, $380 shipping on batteries that cost $2,449 seemed high. I asked about air shipment or shipping directly to San Diego. However, multiple emails were sent with no response from Thunder Sky… Eventually it dawned on me that in China, rather than tell you “no”, which they consider rude, they will just not respond. Cultural difference understood, I emailed about arranging the shipping to the Port of LA. Immediate response.

A Proforma Invoice was provided and the shipping costs detailed:
Total: USD380/SHIP

Money transferred and the waiting begins – it would take about a month to manufacture the batteries and have them ready for shipment.

Saturday, May 30th – I receive an email that the shipment was picked up by the Freight Forwarder (BK Global Logistics) on Friday, May 29th.

Tuesday, May 31st – Another email with the Packing List and ship information (ETD: 7th June and ETA: 21th June)

Thursday, June 2nd – Today’s email has more shipment information and a request that I complete the ISF form. No idea what this is, I search the internet finding it is a US customs form needed for items shipped by sea. More searching and I find the necessary information which I put into a Word document.

Friday, June 3rd – I emailed the completed document (I needed to wait for the commodity code and consignee identification number from Thunder Sky).

Tuesday, June 7th – Receive a frantic email from Lexi’s (Thunder Sky contact) personal email address, “As informed by our forwarder they haven’t receive any information for your ISF ,pls apply it within today,otherwise you will pay more than USD 5000 fine . It very urgent. Pls apply it asap . Thank you ” Sweet Jesus, why is nothing ever easy. I immediately email back that I send the form on the 3rd (and my email was replied to) but I resend it again.

Thursday, June 9th – Lexi responds with, “It need you to apply the ISF by yourself. Pls confirm you already done it . Thank you”

I reached out to the US freight forwarder (Impex GLS) and after a couple phone calls and emails I’m sent a list of fees and power of attorney to sign so they can act on my behalf. Joyce at Impex is very knowledgeable and helpfully since everything is coming from Thunder Sky the payment part (and whom is responsible) gets murky.

I responded to Lexi explaining already paid the customs, dock, and pick up fees. And asked that they confirm the ISF fee has already been paid.

More back and forth emails, signed Power of Attorney, and just before filing the IFS I realized that by signing the document (filed late) I could be liable for a possible $5,000 fine. I put a hold on the filing and email Lexi requesting they acknowledge responsibility for any fines.

Yay for drama and the possibility that I will have to abandon the batteries if customs applies a $5,000 fine and Thunder Sky don’t step up and take care of it.

Friday, June 10th – Email from Impex that fees for the ISF will be paid by the overseas freight forwarder. But I tell them to hold off until Thunder Sky responds to the issue of the possible fine.

Late Friday night Thunder Sky emails that there will be no customs fee if filed within one week of sailing. I fire off an email to Impex asking them to file the IFS.

Monday, June 13 – Impex files the IFS and informs me there will be, “ISF single bond fee + other destinations charge” I respond that Thunder Sky should cover them, just like the IFS fee, but to email the itemized charges to me.

Emailed Thunder Sky about covering destination charges.

Tuesday, June 14 – More back and forth with Thunder Sky about Proforma Invoice which had incomplete shipping terms of “FOB” (missing origin or destination) and the freight shown as “pre-paid.” They are digging in their heels that they are only covering the freight costs to get the shipment to the shores of the Port of LA. Which means an additional $426.64 will be charged by the US freight forwarder. This will bring the total shipping cost of $806.64. OUCH! Beware if you are planning to import batteries from China. It will hurt. A lot.

Friday, June 17 – Yay for “More fees Friday!” Looks like there could be import duties and taxes too. Not sure how much yet but there could be a “household” exemption (and the shipment is less than $2,500). Still working to figure out if I qualify for the exemption or what the import duties will be.

Potentially – Most. Expensive. Battery. Lesson. Ever.

Tuesday, June 21 – The ship arrived at the Port of LA. I’m told by Impex that is will be 3 to 4 days before any next steps.

Friday, June 24 – Impex sends over an invoice and update, “Container is still on the vessel as of today and will send you pick up requirements to you after we receive our payment.” Thankfully the shipping price was a bit lower, coming in at $353.12.

Monday, June 27 – I emailed a picture of the check to cover the Port of LA fees and receive a response that there were be an extra charge if the batteries were not picked up by July 4th. What?!?!, are they ready for pickup? Another round of emails confirms I’m good to go. After arranging dropping off a check, I’m told I can pick up my new batteries tomorrow about 15 minutes away from the freight forwarders office. Next challenge, how to get assembled battery pack in the rental car. It is always another challenge to overcome.

Tuesday, June 27 – Pick up the batteries…drive from San Diego up to Carson (LA area) and drop off the check with Impex and meet Joyce. A quick hello, thank you, and I have the paperwork and address to pick up my batteries. I don’t want to get too excited that I skirted the potential $5,000 fine but I’m feeling hopeful.

I drive a short distance to AZ West the warehouse where I can pick up my batteries. Next worry is how I will get 200 pound batteries in my rental car if the warehouse guys won’t help.

Waiting for the security guard to point me to a parking place

Parked, up the stairs and hand over my paperwork and ID through the glass window. A form to sign is passed back and I see an $85 charge. Ugh, more money. I say nothing and I’m handed a paper to take to the forklift operator. Whew, it was already paid by Impex.

Waiting to load up, amongst the tractor trailers

The forklift operator was able to position the forklift rails into the truck and helped me slide them down. Nice, batteries in hand I’m out of here!

Extremely well packed battery crates, nice job Thunder Sky

Total cost worked out to $3,182 for the batteries. That is a total of 1,840AH (at 3.2V) which works out to $1.73 per AH. Looking at EVWest, I could have gone with the Voltronix 180 Ah (less capacity) for $1.47 per AH, and had a lot less headaches since I could pick them up in San Marcos, CA. However, the Winston cells do have a good history with cruisers and supposedly have 5,000 charge/discharge cycle life compared to 2,000 from Voltronix. In the end, I learned something new about international sea freight so it is all good.

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