By on June 5, 2013

2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004

It was the end of the line for the orange creamsicle Fiat 500e dubbed Zippy Zappy. She and I covered some 675 miles together during our seven-say odyssey (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click over to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 before coming back to the saga, I promise we’ll wait for you.) As I ended my afternoon commute by rolling silently through my forest, I looked down at the power gauge. 33% left. It had been a hot day so I had the A/C on, cruise control set to 74 MPH and Toby Keith was blaring on the radio. My range anxiety was gone. But had some EV mystique been lost in the process?

When the LEAF floated down to the forest floor for the first time in early 2011 it truly was the start of something new. Where this 21st century EV adventure will take us is anyone’s guess, but the LEAF represented the first viable electric car in nearly 100 years and single-handedly boosted EV sales in America to the highest numbers since 1914. Yes, I am discounting the EV1, the original RAV4 EV, Honda EV Plus and the S-10 EV. Why? Well, being horrible cars doesn’t help their case, and aside from that, put together they totaled around 3,000 over eight model years. Talk about dismal sales. Oh wait, most of them weren’t sold, they were leased as “experimental research vehicles.” Before we end our EV week, we need to talk about the 1990s EV blip.

Who killed the EV in 1999? Nobody. Sorry Chris Paine and the other conspiracy theorists, the EV was stillborn at the end of the 20th century and all the zapping from MagneCharge paddles couldn’t get that dog to hunt. (Oh how I love mixing metaphors.) What was the real issue? Let’s start at the beginning.

ev12.jpg

The EV1 was dreadfully ugly. Ugly cars don’t sell well. The EV1 was also a two-seat coupé. Two-seaters don’t fly off showroom floors. Toss in shopping cart like handling when the market clamored for go-kart manners, limited range, ginormous/expensive home charging stations, and lead-acid batteries that have a limited lifetime and you had a car no sane shopper would want to own. So GM leased them for $399-$549 a month ($576-$793 in 2013 dollars). The Gen II EV1 (why didn’t they call it an EV2?) landed in 1999 with NiMH batteries. GM traded the lead battery weaknesses for higher energy density (30% more capacity for the same weight) and a different set of problems. NiMH batteries were all the rage in the 90s—our Motorola cell phones and “luggable” laptops used them—but they “self-discharge” far more rapidly than other battery types and are more fickle about charging temperatures. Because of the nature of NiMH packs a beefier cooling system was needed to keep them happy while charging. Charge times doubled from 4 hours to 8 hours at 240V and the 120V “opportunity” charger had to be abandoned since the car’s new battery cooling system consumed nearly 1,000 watts meaning you could run the cooling, or charge. Not both. Toss in huge losses on every car sold, no desire to extend losses by making out of warranty parts and GM killed the endeavor 1,117 cars later. Thank God. Who killed the EV1? Who cares? It was a mercy killing and I believe in euthanasia.

How about the RAV4 EV? 0-60 in 18 seconds, a top speed of 78MPH, limited range and a steep $42,000 price tag ($60,680 in 2013 dollars = ouch). Following the death of the EV1 program, GM sold their battery division which held key NiMH patents used by automotive battery makers. Regardless of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Chevron ownership of patents and the closing of the large battery division, so few EVs were being made we can never be sure about the motivation for stopping production. Does it matter? Probably not since the market for a slow, heavy compact 2WD trucklet that cost more than twice the base price of a gasoline version was limited to say the least. In addition, the home charger for the EV1 and RAV4 cost $2,500 in 1996 ($3,611 adjusted for inflation), lease payments were steeper than a Cadillac, and gasoline cost $0.99 a gallon. Which would you have picked? The fact that any of these cars got off the ground in the first place is a testament to two things: 1. California’s legislative powers can move mountains. 2. There’s an ass for every seat.

2013 Fiat 500e Charging from ChargePoint J1772 Charging Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

What does that have to do with my week in Zippy Zappy? I’m amazed how far we’ve come in just 16 years. Battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the boom of portable widgets in the last 10 years. Batteries aren’t just more energy dense, they are more durable, safer and have faster charge/discharge rates. These improvements allow EVs  to be made that don’t weigh substantially more than a regular car, can handle like a regular car, look like a regular car and drive like a regular car. Thanks to other improvements we have lower charging times and smaller connectors. We also have 240V home charging stations that cost $450, one eighth the cost of the EV1′s funky paddle system and use up 1/20th the physical space.

Much of what was learned in the EV programs at the end of last century has been applied, not just to modern EVs from Zippy Zappy to the Model S, but to hybrid cars and normal cars alike. Hybrid cars accounted for 3.4% of new vehicle sales last month and 6.5% of new car sales. (Pure EVs? 0.54% of new car sales in May.) Those hybrids have built on EV lessons, from battery-powered climate control systems to aerodynamic improvements and power management systems. The next big thing (if you listen to some people) will be fuel cell vehicles which will build further on the EV lessons learned. Fuel cells are exciting in many ways but they need batteries because fuel cells work best when delivering a constant flow of power. The cells depend on the “ballast” ability of a battery to supply peak loads like going up hill or accelerating rapidly.

The Leaf battery pack

The more I drive EVs, the more the veil has descended. EVs are wrapped up in green clothing, range anxiety, conspiracy theories and more, but at their heart, they are just a regular car with a cord and a small fuel tank. If (and when) people begin to see EVs for what they are (and what they aren’t) I think we’ll see more of them on the roads. They won’t keep minke whales from being hunted down on Whale Wars. With our current power generation make up they are unlikely to have much of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. But as long as they fulfill the promise of reduced overall emissions and low operating costs, they will have a home with commuters looking for silent running. Next time I need a new car, an EV will certainly be on my list. Where on the list? Good question.

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

 Day 6

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87 Comments on “Living With an EV for a Week – Day Seven (EV death and resurrection)...”


  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Great series, and spot on conclusions. I enjoyed.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      I agree. One of the best seven-part EV reviews ever.

      And considering you’ve given it a name… I think that points at how high on the list this car is…

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Agreed, after this, TTAC should make Alex the editor on all things EV, at least for awhile.

      Alex: “Here are the drawbacks and issues, in a lot of cases they’re not so bad.”

      Other EV editor: “Why are they hiding all the drawbacks? How come there’s no debate?! WHY THE F*** ISN’T ANYONE TALKING ABOUT THE LIMITED RANGE? WHY WOULD ANYONE BUY AN EV WHEN YOU CAN BY A MAZDA2 FOR LESS MONEY?!”

      In any case, excellent series.

  • avatar
    GoesLikeStink

    It really is hard to get a stillborn dog to hunt

  • avatar
    Voltaggio

    Nicely done.

    Looking forward to the review of the 500e itself. Any idea when that will appear, Alex? Thanks!

  • avatar
    7402

    In some markets you can get a 2-3 year lease on a Nissan Leaf for $100/month. As part of a family fleet that includes a larger vehicle for family road trips, it makes sound economic sense as a city commuter.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      Where are those markets?? Because I will fly there and get one tomorrow.

      I just aggressively shopped a Leaf and even the advertised $199/mo “special” requires $2k down, some additional fees and normal doc fees, and there is a lease disposition fee as well. The very best deal I could get was on a 24-mo lease with only the first payment due at inception and it was about $330/mo in the end.

      At $330/mo an EV is a tougher sell compared to regular commuter cars at $200-210/mo. You won’t really save money on gas when considering the limited range of the EV and the lease mileage limits, so why bother worrying about range anxiety? I figure that the EV monthly sweet spot price is around $200-250/mo. At $100/mo they are pretty much paying you to drive the car, its a no-brainer, especially for a nice car like the Leaf. But for $100/mo I would even drive an iMiev.

      But I do not think they are really available anywhere that cheap. I hope you prove me wrong! :)

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        One of the local dealers had a $99 a month lease with $2K down on last years left overs awhile back. I was considering it and would have investigated a little further had I not saw the ad at 10pm and was getting on a plane at 10am the next morning. I still see them advertising a $199 a month lease. At $99 a month the fuel savings would have made it free for those 2 years, including the down payment.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        It is important to note that even the $199 leases are heavily subsidized by Nissan and/or the dealer, because the Leaf is currently a huge money loser for Nissan (as are all other EVs on the the market for their manufacturers). To make a “normal” profit the Leaf would probably need to be priced to near Tesla S levels, which of course would mean nearly zero sales. Of course high volume sales (i.e. 10+ times current sales levels) would bring economies of scale that would reduce manufacturing costs, but even these heavy subsidies from Nissan and the government is not bring anywhere close to that level of volume.

    • 0 avatar
      sco

      i think 7402 is right, the EV wont replace anything but could be a nice addition to the family fleet. Maybe the days of the all purpose vehicle are ending and we’re moving toward specialized vehicles for specialized purposes. I think car manufacturers would be OK with that.

  • avatar
    grey08

    Great read. Thanks!

  • avatar
    bigL

    why are there no electric pick-ups?

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      simple economics and technology. A car battery maybe adds $10,000 and there is a reasonable market of people who just ignore economics for environmental reasons (or other reasons).

      But for a truck the upcharge would have to be $40,000 or something significantly larger. and trucks are either bought by real truck people (plumbers, boat owners etc.) where the battery would wear out soon and may not even pull the fully loaded truck. Or the “environmentalists” would not buy a truck to begin with. And the weekend truck guys would not care about paying for an EV.

      and when you are worried about charging a Leaf/fiat on 240V at home, how would you charge a truck, install 480V and still wait 12 hours to charge? Or 150 hours on 120V?

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        …..and there is a reasonable market of people who just ignore economics for environmental reasons (or other reasons….

        If you only consider the direct cost of offsetting gasoline costs, the economics may not look so good. However, when you consider all the indirect costs (pollution, health, national security, and general impact) the picture improves, at least for those who concern themselves with more of a global picture. Maybe when the price of fuel includes such costs the overall market for such cars may improve. Still, all that jiggling around for charging stations on the fly must get old fast…

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      There were, GM and Fords original venture into semi mass market EVs to meet CA zero emission regulations were both pickups, the S10 and Ranger. They are the perfect platform as they is so much room and weight capacity for the batteries.

      Like others the Ranger was supposed to be a lease only vehicle but some dealers used a standard lease agreement with option to purchase, some leasees refused to return them and kept making payments. Ford didn’t want the PR mess of the EV-1 so they relented and sold many of them. The ones they got back were either cut up and/or sold to Blue Sky Motors along with the spare parts.

      There were also aftermarket S10 conversions done.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I haven’t heard anything from Via motors lately, but they allegedly sell Voltec-derived half-ton conversions. Interesting concept if you ask me, especially for utility/delivery vehicles, but way too expensive since there’s no economy or scale.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        There were some EV step van chassis produced by Navistar’s Workhorse division that were built out as UPS trucks as a test fleet. They were very expensive but the fuel savings were also large, though apparently not large enough to continue production with the then current technology.

    • 0 avatar

      Elon Musk has been talking about doing a Tesla pickup at some point. Several years out, but if Tesla continues to thrive, they’ll do one.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Best set of essays on the EV I’ve read, and not by a little. Excellent.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    This has been a great, objective, well balanced and rational evaluation of living with an EV. Many good, interesting points have been raised.
    I to am looking forward to the actual review.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    I would get one as a commuter, 13 miles each way. But then I remember I live in a townhouse with no driveway/garage. No place to put a charger.

  • avatar

    re day 6: Correction on coal: it represents only about a third of US electric power, not 49%. It has plummeted in cost in recent years due to cheap natural gas from fracking.

    As for EVs, I’m not going to be in the market any time soon. I just have no desire to deal with the charging issue and the short range. And I can’t imagine why anyone would want to have to deal with it. (I had a nightmare about it some years ago after writing about Better Place.)

    Nonetheless, anyone who does get an EV is saving on greenhouse emissions, pollution, and reducing, if ever so slightly, consumption of the magic fuel. More power to them, although bicyclists deserve even more credit.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      According to the US Department of energy, coal accounted for 49.6% of power production in the USA in 2012. http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Alex, those numbers are either not correct, or don’t mean what you represent them to be. I found no evidence that the numbers on that page are from 2012.

        As I posted on the last article: in 2012, coal produced 37% of electricity in the US (per the EIA):
        http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3

        • 0 avatar
          Alex L. Dykes

          I spoke to the US Dept of Energy folks about them prior and they said they were from 2012. The key difference I see is that the US Dept of Energy is talking about consumption and the EIA is talking about generation. Since we do buy power from Canada and Mexico that might have an impact on the consumption side. It’s also possible that the US Dept of Energy folks are crazy, but coal’s share of our electricity makeup fluctuates greatly from year to year if you look at the coal lobbyists info.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            I believe the DOE folks were mistaken.

            Below is a comparison of the DOE & EIA data (for 2005 & 2012). Data is from the Electric Power Monthly report (May 2013).

            Source – DOE / EIA 2005 / EIA 2012
            Coal – 49.61 / 49.63 / 37.42
            Nuclear – 19.28 / 19.28 / 18.97
            Gas – 18.77 / 18.76 (nat gas only) / 30.35 (nat gas only)
            Hydro – 6.50 / 6.50 (conventional – pumped storage) / 6.71 (conventional – pumped storage)
            Oil – 3.03 / 3.01 (petroleum liquids + petroleum coke) / 0.56 (petroleum liquids + petroleum coke)

            DOE-EIA 2005 are too similar, and DOE-EIA 2012 are too different. Also, as noted, coal’s percentage of the mix is steadily (and in the last 4-5 yrs, significantly) falling.

          • 0 avatar
            Alex L. Dykes

            I will have to look into that. The only big thing is: it doesn’t make too much of a difference in terms of the EV’s emissions since there wasn’t really a huge delta between areas that were 1/2 coal and 1/2 natural gas. It seems that overall gas is making up the difference.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      David,

      As I noted in another post in this excellent sequence by Alex, the beneficial effect on the greenhouse problem GLOBALLY from EV’s and hybrids is negligible in the big picture of things. But large numbers of EV’s and hybrids would probably make the air easier to breathe LOCALLY on windless days in smog-prone regions.

      —————-

      • 0 avatar
        jbreuckm

        For the time being yes, the global benefit is likely negligible. But the longer EVs stay on the road the better their impact should become, particularly if renewables continue to develop and increase market share.

        I think we’re nearing the point where the aggregate solar capacity around the world is about to pass the break even point on EROEI. I’m guessing something similar will happen with EVs over time as their footprint becomes greener.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    “EVs are wrapped up in green clothing, range anxiety, conspiracy theories and more, but at their heart, they are just a regular car with a cord and a small fuel tank.”

    Quite right. I agree with your conclusions.

    For an interested buyer, it’s worth pointing out the wonderful simplicity of an EV. No belts, emissions tests, fluids to change, hydraulic hoses, fuel pumps, cams, pistons, rings, bearings, injectors, warmup delay, etc.

    I’d beware of the ultra-cheap leases. They’re pitching base models that lack a few amenities people like in cars, such as cruise control and usable data screens.

    On the other hand, these cheap leases are paving the way for future EV sales, just as a drug dealer hooks his clients with freebies at the beginning. It’s a clever way to mainstream the technology.

    Tesla’s approach is the opposite: to produce a car whose performance is so compelling that its justifiably high price makes sense. When your car is being compared to an A7 (TrueDelta), you’ve got a winner.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Better recheck your owners manual because the Leaf does have fluids that need replacement and regular checks. They call out brake fluid replacement every 15K the initial cooling system fill is only good for 125K and you are supposed to check the reduction gear oil (transaxle)on a periodic basis and if you keep it till that 125K point it should probably be changed with the coolant. Those fluids are also subject to potential leakage just like in a ICE powered car.

      To me cruise control is something I don’t use very frequently and when I do it is on trips that are outside of the Leaf’s range so I certainly wouldn’t pay extra to get it and don’t see any real need for it in a city car.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        Yes, I’m aware of those. I’m speaking of the stuff you routinely have to manage – engine oil, ATF, PS fluid, and hot engine coolant. These things also tend to leak.

        The Leaf actually has two sets of coolant – one for the motor and one for the heater; I think each holds about 2 quarts. I’ve never even seen the motor get warm.

        I use cruise every day, even on my 9-mile commute.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The only one you are getting rid of the “management of” vs a modern car is the engine oil. You still need to check the reduction gear oil on a regular basis if you follow your owner’s manual recommendations and PS fluid has gone away on many cars with EPAS just as used on your Leaf.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Agree with Scoutdude on the fluids, and really…I can’t remember the last time I worried about pistons and rings. I have been driving and owning cars for 40 years now and out of maybe 15-16 cars have only had the head off of one. Warmup delay? What – 30 seconds at 0 degrees F?

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        On a cold day like that, the car will put maybe 5kW into 2 quarts of heater core coolant, so yes, you start getting heat pretty quickly.

        It’s nice because you don’t have to wait for the motor to warm up (which it never does, anyway).

        • 0 avatar
          Fordson

          Funny story – my ’03 SVT Focus, now my winter car, has a block heater – this was from the factory, as part of the cold-weather package. You can get one as a standalone on a Focus ST now, for like $35 – killer deal.

          So I plug the car in every night, and leave the pigtail sticking out through the grille (so I have zero wait for heat – coolant is 130 degrees).

          I can’t believe the number of people I have had see the pigtail and ask me as I walk up if it’s an EV. I usually tell them it is, then get in and fire up the high-flow-cat-and-high-flow-intake-equipped engine.

          Priceless.

  • avatar
    rolosrevenge

    “When the LEAF floated down to the forest floor for the first time in early 2011 it truly was the start of something new.” Um, no, it was when the Tesla Roadster blasted off of the starting line. That’s what motivated GM and Nissan to go big on plugins. Plus, the Roadster, while being 4 years earlier, has a more advanced battery system. It also sold more than those 1990′s EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Tesla sold fewer Roadsters during the entire production than Nisaan sells LEAFS in one month. A 2-seat roadster for the ultra-wealthy is not the same thing as a mass-market commuter car.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      What motivated Nissan and Honda to start producing EVs and Ford, and Toyota to get back in the game is CARB and their zero emissions mandate. It had nothing to do with the Tesla Roadster.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Look into Tesla Roadster bricking for some insight into how advanced their battery system is. You might also try finding one that the original owner put more than 6,000 miles on before losing interest and selling it for sixty cents on the dollar in order to determine whether it was a successful transportation device or just an expensive toy. Most of the 1,484 1st generation Toyota RAV4 EVs were sold to fleets and saw regular use. Some accumulated 150,000 miles, which is at least as relevant as a higher production total. The program stopped because the mandate for EVs was suspended. The bureaucrats want EVs again, so now they’re back. The only important role played by the Tesla Roadster was that it helped Musk attract investors to develop the sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I know a family who has held on to their Roadster and still use it on a regular basis for road trips since it has a longer single charge range than their RAV-4 EV and Leaf. They do use their Leaf for occasional road trips too, thanks to a great network of Level 3 DC fast chargers in our area. But yes the average Roadster was used as a toy by the wealthy.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    I’ve been driving a 2013 Volt for most of my transport the past six months. My 450hp and 550hp cars have seen sharply reduced use. The facts of my experience are dramatic. My lifetime average of miles driven relative to gasoline consumed is currently 134 mpg. On my current tank of gasoline, so far gasoline economy is 178 mpg. What about the cost of electricity? Well, I’m a homeowner buying power from the Los Angeles Dept of Water & Power, and frankly looking at my year-over-year usage, charging the Volt is barely visible in my utility bill. I intend to install a 240V charger, but haven’t gotten around to it yet, so I am charging at 120V/12A. I’ve only used a public charger once in six months.

    I live in a city divided by a mountain range running through the middle of it. Since the 2013 Volt allows the driver to choose when to burn gasoline while holding battery-stored LADWP power for level terrain or city speeds, I actively choose whether to drive my electric car from power stored in the battery or power generated from the gasoline-fueled generator according to conditions. I have no compunction about using gasoline as the generating fuel for my electricity when doing so will make a trip holistically efficient, but I also burn as little gasoline as I can. The Volt has a 9 gallons tank. I am typically buying 5 – 7 gallons about every six weeks.

    My Volt’s battery-stored electricity range has so far ranged from a low of 34 miles on a 30 degs F night, to 53 in 75 degs F temperature on mostly level terrain and disciplined (but not slower than traffic) driving. On 100+ degs days, my range is typically 42 miles. When I have had to use gasoline to extend range for some sustained miles, liquid-fuel-only economy has ranged from 35 – 48mpg depending on how aggressively I choose to drive, and how much climbing a trip requires. My sustained average for gasoline-fueled driving in the Volt is 42mpg, city or highway. Would a 50+ mpg parallel hybrid use less gasoline compared to the Volt running on gasoline alone? Sometimes. But 59 mpg isn’t 134. Nor 178.

    BTW, I bought my Volt; I didn’t lease it. And as much as anything it is a test run of the Voltec platform for me to determine whether I like it enough to spend even more on a Cadillac ELR next year. So while the fuel efficiencies and the sharply reduced costs of driving relative to my recent cars are interesting, cost isn’t a prime mover for me. The Volt is the least expensive car I bought in the last 20 years in inflation-adjusted terms, and the least expensive in the last ten years in raw dollar terms. There are further reasons to love the Volt.

    One is, it’s quiet. Damned quiet. Once you get accustomed to the serenity of it, ICE cars begin to seem acoustically intrusive. I love the sounds of a big V8 but the absence of them makes renewed exposure to them less beguiling. Another is that the Volt feels structurally strong and exceptionally stable. There’s some protest now and then from the low-rolling-resistance tires but handling is satisfying for a fwd car. I’m 6’3″; the Volt has excellent seats. Yes, I have leather. Even in our 106 degs F hot days in the San Fernando Valley, I have not had to use anything more than the “Eco” setting on climate control to stay cool. In the winter, during nights in the 30s, same to keep warm. The car warms the seats before it spends energy warming the full space.

    No one wants to be the fifth person in a Prius so the four-place arrangement of the Volt is fine with me, and those back seats are comfortable too, for anyone who fits. I can actually fit back there too, behind a smaller driver — better than in too many larger cars. The hatchback bay holds plenty and then the rear seats fold flat too.

    Volt isn’t a monster accelerator 0-60, but its performance 0-35 is excellent by any measure, and power delivery is completely, creamy, smooth. These are perfect characteristics for getting around a large city, especially one as diverse in terrain as Los Angeles. And the opportunities for substantial regen are numerous on every drive. Meanwhile, when I do get a 240V charger, I expect my gasoline use to plunger further still.

    We have climate change upon us, for both natural and anthropogenic reasons. But forget about climate change. We have a much more strongly positive correlation between rising CO2 in the atmosphere and ocean acidity. And then there are simple indignities of modern economic life, like refiners and fuel distributors using zone pricing for gasoline, and exporting California fuels while a shortage in-state “justifies” price increases. “Coincidental” shutdowns of multiple refineries for maintenance. We could have falling CO2 levels and still one can be happy to step away from petroleum antics even a little bit.

    Would I be able to effectively use an 80 miles range battery-only EV? Not as my only car. I couldn’t make it to Orange County, San Diego, Santa Barbara or Palm Springs on a single charge, which are of course no problem with my Volt. But A Chevy Spark EV or Ford Focus EV could completely cover the majority of my Los Angeles local driving. The CTS-V lease is up early next year. I can’t say I haven’t considered becoming a two-charger household.

    When I first heard Volt drivers say “this is the best car I’ve ever owned…” I wondered what they drove before. Then I bought one, and now I understand perfectly.

    Phil

    • 0 avatar

      Nice post.

      I’d be interested in a volt at around 15-20k. More than that, not really.

      I live in the Chicago far northern suburbs, have a free 220 line (40A — converted electric stove to gas) but also live 70 miles from work roundtrip.

      I can’t justify 40k on a car (worth more than all 3 of my vehicles put together), but $15k-$20k is doable.

      In the meanwhile I continue to use my motorcycle as many months as possible (which varies widely since 2 days ago, in JUNE the morning temp was 46F. I don’t ride under 50 due to grip issues.).

      My 8 year old motorcycle produces I think 10x as much in (certain) pollutants as some SUVs, but at least it saves me gas (& is fast). My next purchase will probably be a new 2015 or 2016 motorcycle mostly due to lower emissions. An electric bike is a possibility but the range simply isn’t there yet.

      • 0 avatar
        mannygg

        Rob, you realise you can get a Nissan Leaf for 20k now right (after tax credit)?

        Considering you have a 70mile roundtrip communte, an electric car is almost perfect. Just charge overnight and top-up at work. the fuel savings should add up pretty quickly. Plus, you already have 3 other cars, so you always have an option for longer road trips!

        • 0 avatar

          There is nowhere to top up at work.

          I looked about 6 months ago and there is a (pay) charging station about a mile & a half away. I could use that and then take the bus to work & back ($4.50) and do the same in the evening ($4.50), but just the bus fees now exceed the gasoline used by my motorcycle, not to mention the time waiting for & going by bus (probably 15 min ea. way).

          A bicycle might be an option but becomes impractical in winter…(it WILL hit -20F real here some winters…)

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        @Robstar:

        As much as I enjoy my Leaf, I must say that a 70-mile round trip commute is too much for the Leaf, especially in Chicago.

        I’m in western PA, and in the winter I lost up to half the original range due to cold effects on the battery and use of climate control. In the Leaf, it works this way: In my garage in the morning, it might say I have 70 miles in the tank. After an 18-mile round trip commute, it might say I have 34 miles left. This worked fine for my purposes – including other small errands – but it wouldn’t work for you.

        Now in the spring/summer, the miles driven pretty well match the range.

        EV mfrs should be more upfront about this fact. Nobody should buy an EV thinking their range can match their commute.

        • 0 avatar

          I understand completely. That is why I figure taking the “given” range and dividing it by 3 or 4, and the result being > than my commute is what I need.

          I divide by 3 or 4 due to winter, heater, ac, highway speeds & battery age over 10 years (I keep cars at least 10 years). I guess that means I need probably 210+ to 300 mile advertised range before it comes viable. Does this sound right?

          • 0 avatar
            gslippy

            Well… you might be right. I’d lean toward the lower end (210), but that’s solely Tesla’s territory today.

            However, Tesla claims they’ll be coming out with a mid-size EV car in a couple years that will compete at Leaf prices but with more range. I wait eagerly.

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      Phil, nice Volt review.

      Alex, consider some investigation on the lack of supply & demand pricing on crude, lack of competition between big oil, and how refiners are chasing export markets.
      I see no competition to grab domestic market share that would keep prices low.

      I also see a disturbing trend with local retailers. They only need to post the “regular” gas price here in Michigan. So they jack-up premium at the pump 50 cents over regular.

      • 0 avatar
        mannygg

        Agreed, really interesting to read, Phil.

        Trend-Shifter – What do you mean by ‘lack of competition’? I work in the Oil industry (as a supplier) and the general feeling over the years has been that competition is getting much stonger. I am sure that ‘Big Oil’ IOC’s are worrying over the ever growing Nationalised Oil Companies (Petrobras, PetroChina etc.).

        I also don’t understand your comment on lack of supply and demand pricing? All commodities traded on the world’s futures exchanges ARE by their nature priced by supply and demand. If you are talking about post-refining only, then I admit I have very little knowledge of the US market…

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        Who buys premium gasoline? When car reseaching cars and I see the words “premium only” on the spec sheet, that car gets cut from the list fast.
        It’s a complete deal breaker for me which is part of the reason I have not considred a Volt.
        However, after reading Phil’s excellent Volt review, I would relax my objection to premium gas in this instance if my driving requirements change and I would only need to buy one tank or so a month.

        • 0 avatar

          I buy premium as my car requires it.

          When gas was (ha) $3/g and spreads were 0.20, the difference was only 7% or ~ $3/tank.

          I save more not paying $60-$80 for a synthetic oil change & instead doing the Auto Zone “oil change special” and paying $10 to my mechanic to swap the oil & filter.

        • 0 avatar
          mcarr

          It’s been explained to me that the Volt “requires” premium gas because, in general, premium has better fuel stabilizers added to it, and tolerates aging better than the cheaper stuff. Presumably because it will spend a lot more time in the Volt’s tank before it’s burned.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Phil:

      Good post on your Volt. Comparisons are often made between the Volt and the Leaf, but I think they really serve two different market needs.

      Glad to hear it’s going so well for you.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    Great series Alex, really enjoyed it!

    But….blaring Toby Keith?….yeeesh! Woulda kept that one to myself! ;P

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Sorry, I love me some country. That’s what happens when you go to college in Texas.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        I used to love country music, but Toby Keith made me stop listening. That and the political hate on the Dixie Chix. I didn’t particularly like them because they were pop-county, but suddenly it was no longer about the music. When I started to perceive that you had to subscribe a particular kind of politics to be a country music fan, I was done.

        Johnny Cash, Hank Williams (both Junior and Senior), Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson are in my Pandora rotation, along with some classic acts.

        There’s a lot of really good country and blues music. Both sing about real life in a deeply human way. I sure hope that Country has gotten back to being about the music, while I’ve been busy to turn on the radio.

        But, yeah, if I’d written the article, I would have given the shout out to Merle or Hank. Because I’d rather have tear in my beer than a boot in my ass.

        EDIT: Big thanks and mad praise for this series. Seriously, a quip about country music is the biggest bone I can pick with it, and I’ve studied EVs pretty deeply and driven every one I can get my hands on. These are the kinds of articles that keep me coming back to the site, and I stopped by the Nissan dealer and almost bought a Leaf this week because I wanted to have the same kind of fun!

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Alex;
    quite balanced review, thanks for avoiding polarizing views.

    EVs will be great in traffic jammed, gridlocked, smoke infested cities.

    I have been gridlocked (riding on a Taxi) on several far-East megacities, and the pollutant build up in those conditions is beyond suffocating. Long idling followed sudden acceleration bursts are the worst modes of operation for an ICE, smog-wise.

    Unfortunately, on those same markets price is the primary selection criteria, and I can’t see EVs taking much market share there either, not until EV vehicle price comes down to ICE vehicle level.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Add me to the list of folks who really appreciated your series of articles. The best I have read.

    One issue not mentioned too much with respect to EVs and partial EVs like the Volt is that many younger people do not live in detached houses where they can safely invest in a charger. Lots of them are renters and move on after a couple of years. Presently, the idea of “overnight charging” is simply not feasible for these folks . . . not to mention anyone who lives in an elevator apartment building.

    And I do admit that for people who live in metro areas subject to ozone alerts and the like in the summer (like metro DC and Los Angeles), the idea of displacing the pollution outside of the metro area (which is what happens if you drive an EV powered with electricity generated by fossil fuels) makes sense.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    >>Comparisons are often made between the Volt and the Leaf, but I think they really serve two different market needs.<<

    I recently hired a 25 year old who relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles. An early question he posed to me: “I need to buy a car; what do you think I should buy?”

    My response was to ask him a series of questions to bracket him, so I didn’t start with any fixed notion that an electric car was right for him. But it quickly surfaced that the Volt was his starting point, though he didn’t know much about it — he just liked the idea of the car, to the extent he understood it. The larger point was that an EV was his category of prime interest. So we stepped through his requirements. I’m more than twice his age and there are three cars in my household, but he would be moving into an apartment building and whatever he bought had to serve as his sole car.

    The fault line between Volt and battery-only EVs appeared quickly. A 70 – 85 miles range battery-only EV can’t alone meet his need. A $90K 265 miles range Tesla S can, but he’s 25, in his second job and in no position to buy or lease a $90,000 car. With an affordable battery-only EV’s range, that car can’t ensure some of his *one-way* distance requirements can be reached on a full charge, without undue delay. And yet 70 -80% of his essential daily needs can be met by 38 miles of range. So all battery-only EVs fell off his consideration list. The Volt, the Ford C-Max Energi and plug-in hybrids from other majors got their consideration. The winner was the Volt, easily. Not only does he have many public charging stations nearby, but he amassed the facts and persuaded his apartment building manager to split the cost of installing a charger for him in his covered parking, on the argument that it will be a continuing asset to the building when he leaves.

    The Leaf and other battery-only EVs with 70 – 85 miles of range are too limited to serve as sole automotive transportation for all but the most intensely urban people. The Manhattan mentality of never leaving and using public transit or rentals the few times you do, isn’t feasible for most folks. So until affordable battery-only EVs have some combination of greater range and ubiquitous rapid charging available to them, they are 2nd or 3rd cars. The Volt can be one’s only car and go anywhere on current infrastructure, with no risk to your schedule. From LA, the battery-only EVs can’t assure I’ll make it to Orange County, let alone get back without additional charging. San Diego is out of reach for a same-day round trip. A weekend day to Santa Barbara can’t be done.

    Now, you can say that the determined battery-only EV owner can just grab a ZipCar rental when they need more range. Or in a few months, if you’re in the right states, a Chevy Spark + a Chevy Spark EV for example might not cost much more than buying (not leasing) a Volt, but then you need two parking spaces, and it generally costs more to insure two cars than one. The Volt is so far the only EV nails the single vehicle proposition and the actual experience of owning one is compellingly better than any parallel hybrid. Its closest functional competition is today Ford’s C-Max Energi, which while being a parallel hybrid it has a sufficiently strong motor and large battery to run the car on electricity for up to 20 miles and has a parallel hybrid’s excellent gasoline mileage when the battery is depleted. But to match the Volt’s fuel economics, your prevailing range requirements can only be half of what is feasible with the Volt.

    The Volt is the more accomplished of the two cars and better able to serve as sole transportation. Soon Chevrolet will have both the range-extended Volt and the battery-only Spark EV (going up against Leaf, et al) and GM will add the luxury ELR. Ford has parallel hybrids + battery-only EVs. Toyota is sticking with its aging hybrid synergy drive. Honda is shaking up battery-only EVs with its holistic leasing scheme. It’s going to be interesting watching this emerging market sort itself.

    Phil

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      My only issue with the Volt is that once the battery is depleted the economy is fairly unexciting. If your commute is between 11 and 25 ish miles, the Volt is about the same to operate as a Prius plug-in or the Ford plug-ins. Beyond 30 miles, even the C-MAX Energi is more economical. The ELR? That is another creature. Not because it is better than a Volt (its not) but because it looks seriously good and after sitting in the prototype I think it will make a big impact on the green luxury segment.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      For young people, renters, in their second job, these stories (and I’m sure they are true) I hear about talking employers or landlords into installing chargers runs afoul of the fact that young people fitting this profile change jobs more frequently than the rest of the working population (which is itself changing jobs ever more frequently, too), and change residence much more frequently than do homeowners.

      The value proposition (for any age group) of buying or leasing a plug-in EV because you have a 25-mile round-trip commute, or buying a Volt or C-Max Energi because you have a 50-mile round-trip commute, changes for the worse when you lose your job (because your allowable work-search area is restricted), change to a job that requires a longer commute or has no charger there, or change residence to one that requires a longer commute or has no charger there.

      At least with the Volt or C-Max you can suck it up and just take the hit of higher fuel costs – it will still get you there. With a pure EV, you’re SOL.

  • avatar
    cRaCk hEaD aLLeY

    + 1 great read, nice job I really enjoyed it!

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Interesting series, and a good read. But I’m afraid I’m still going to have to regard these cars as expensive, inconvenient and unrealistic novelties.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Phil R:

    Thanks for your very interesting, first hand comments.

    The South Cal automotive market is very demanding because of its extremely long commutes. I’m sure other US Metro areas also have long commutes, but nowhere as long as the LA area.

    Having said that, we all have heard the saying, whatever trend happens in the automotive market, it happens in So Cal first. For instance, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, with its abundance of flat terrain is sprawling like crazy, and insanely long drives will soon be the norm.

    Thus, EV range will have to be substantially increased to meet the requirements of those markets.

  • avatar
    probert

    In person the EV1 may be the most beautiful car gm ever designed. Citroen would be proud.

    I’ll say it again regarding energy : Almost all oil goes towards automobiles – our foreign policy is based on controlling supply lines -especially as 3 billion Chinese and Indians come on line. The price of this control is perverted domestic politics, perpetual war, and domestic terrorism. It’s no coincidence that all but one of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi.

    So green is good – but there are other compelling arguments for EVs and other high efficiency vehicles. And once energy is a domestic issue it can be dealt with politically as opposed to militaristically.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I don’t get myself too worked up about EV’s, for one specific reason: hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

    Once the storage and delivery is down, it will trump ALL EV’s in every feasible measure.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      You do realize that they are going to reform natural gas to make the H2, right?

      That’s why none of the energy companies are upset about FCVs – they will still be profiting from them.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Not much different than the money they make from the electricity used in EV’s. My point was more about the fact that hydrogen cars will operate and be as effective as ICE cars, with zero emissions out the back.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          What’s different is that you can run a car on straight natural gas.

          Turning natural gas into hydrogen adds an extra step to the process that causes energy loss.

          Furthermore, natural gas is easier to transport and store than hydrogen, requiring high pressure vessels that are neither as heavy nor as dangerous as H2 high pressure storage. Even better, they’re a whole lot cheaper than hydrogen fuel cells.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    >>Thus, EV range will have to be substantially increased to meet the requirements of those markets.<<

    It is for this reason I consider the Volt the most advanced car in production today. We know well how to put an internal combustion engine and a tank of fuel in a car. It is relatively easy to pack a big battery in a car and let an electric motor do the work and have everything operate smoothly. It’s just costly. It’s also now relatively easy to build a mechanically-coupled ICE drivetrain with electric motor assist. But the Volt makes a true EV entirely practical while allowing battery-stored energy to propel most of your driving. It combines a pretty big battery with a very small gasoline powered generator to remove EV limitations while keeping all operating transitions seamlessly smooth. The software managing the car is exceedingly well done.

    And yet, Volt represents a platform to bridge between ICE-intensive transportation and electrically-powered transport for individuals. The battery is a practical size and is engineered into a protected area of the car where its location also benefits rolling dynamics. The space allocated to range extension is ICE today but because that engine powers a generator to produce electricity to drive an electric motor, it can be stuffed with alternate range extenders, from LP or CNG ICE to compressed air to fuel cell or advanced capacitors or more battery.

    Ford C-Max is a more conservative stab at the same objective, with an even division of labors between an ICE mechanically coupled, and a battery-powered electric motor. While we’re in this transition, I prefer the simple, quiet, torquey elegance of full-time electric drive in my bridge technology platform.

    Phil

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      Just remember that the Volt is much more closely related to the C-MAX and Prius than a Fisker for instance. The Volt uses a planetary powersplit device as well, they just add a “clutch” that allows the system to operate pure EV until teh battery is depleted. Once the battery is depleted it will operate just like a Prius and C-MAX with some major software tweaks. The software tweaks allow the car to generate power to store in the battery and because of the bigger battery they attempt to favor the motor a bit more than a C-MAX Energi. At their core the systems operate on the exact same principle, the difference is primarily in the larger power output capability of the Volt and the software.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        Once the battery depletes in a Volt it does not operate like a Prius. It continues to run like an EV with the ICE only charging the battery. At around 70 MPH or faster it will operate like a Prius with a depleted battery. In simple terms, the Volt is an EV with ICE assist, the Prius is an ICE car with electric assist.

        • 0 avatar
          Alex L. Dykes

          Check up on GM’s drivetrain information sheets. The ICE can and will power the wheels mechanically at any speed. It uses the same type of power split planetary gearset as the Prius.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I present 5 reasons EV will remain a niche products until the time they offer the same price, range, refuel convenience, and array of vehicle types provided by ICVs.

    1) I arrive home from my daily commute in my EV and the range estimate is 20 miles remaining, just as I plug it in to recharge for tomorrow’s commute, my son rushes into the garage to tell me he needs a 25 mile ride to his city championship soccer game right away because he missed the team bus. What should I tell my son?

    2) Its 10F degrees and the cold weather has reduced my predicted range to 10 miles and I am 15 miles from my home recharger. Fortunately my handy navigation system shows there is a public recharger only 5 miles away. When I arrive I find 2 EV’s waiting ahead of me in line to recharge.

    3. There are no recharging facilities at my workplace, and as is the case with many city dwellers I live in an upper floor apartment with on-street parking only – where do I recharge my city EV?

    4. I live in the Arizona, and find after 5 years of desert heat my EVs range has dropped to less than half its original value – my dealer estimates that I need $8,000 in battery cell replacements to recover my range. Bluebook value for my EV is $7,000 with a functioning battery – what should I do?

    5. Because of my preferred hobbies and family activities, I need a van , pickup, or SUV with good load capacity – what EV will satisfy my needs?

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      In many ways these 5 problems are the same problems that could be said of many vehicles, for better or worse.

      1. You would take your other car. Supposedly the average US family has 2.8 cars, so those families that have 3 would just take the other car. Those that don’t? You don’t buy an EV. Or, you wait for a few extra miles. The modern crop of EVs will recover 25 miles in an hour. Bummer.

      2. You turn on your heated steering wheel and wait. Be sure you have an emergency blanket and a flare.

      3. You don’t buy an EV. Use ZipCar or do what the smart people do, move to a suburb. (I’m kidding, but only sort of)

      4. You should be commended for your willingness to try a new product and held accountable for not looking into battery life before you purchased your car. Check out: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/the-truth-about-battery-life/

      5. If you need a van you need a van. If you need a pickup you need a pickup. If you need a commuter car, why not EV? No car can be everything to everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        My point is that issues such as this make EVs a niche product that can provide a good solution for a small portion of buyers, but in the majority of cases require too much sacrifice or worry. If I use a conventional ICV in my examples I have the following outcomes:

        1. I stop at the gas station on my way to the soccer game and use 5 minutes to add 300 miles of range to my ICV.

        2. I go to the next gas station a few miles down the road to fill up my ICV or I wait 10 minutes for my turn at the pump after the two ICV cars ahead of me have completed their refueling.

        3. EVs are supposed to be the ideal city cars – but a large portion of city dwellers do not have convenient access to an outlet to recharge.

        4. Of course there is a small chance that a 5 year old ICV will need an expensive gearbox/clutch/engine change that might cost almost as much as the resale value of the vehicle, but with an EV an expensive battery change is almost a certainty with current technology. Of course EV proponents hope that the cost of batteries 5 years in the future will be a tiny fraction of today’s cost, but the projections I have seen indicate a low probability of that actually happening..

        5. The limitation of current batteries in terms of cost and energy density mean that they will be limited to smallish cars or very high priced luxury cars for the forseeable future. Thus anyone that needs more size than a Leaf will not have an EV solution, and in the US this means about 75% of the market.

        • 0 avatar
          rdwd

          1. I wake up every morning to 300 miles of range on my EV. Never freak out that I have to stop at the gas station again.

          2. Don’t need to. The EV was filled at 1/5 the price while I slept.

          3. City is defined by short commute. Larger cities are best traveled by public transport or walking/biking.

          4. Not only will future batteries be cheaper (by 8% a year since 1991), they will also have more energy density. This means longer range or less cost. The Tesla Roadster has an EPA rating of 245 miles. Five years later the Tesla Model S has an EPA rating of 265 miles while it is double the weight (and it’s just as fast).

          5. Same as number four. Batteries double in energy density every 10 years (a kind of slow Moore’s law) this means cars need less of them (cheaper) to travel the same distance or with the same battery-count the EV can travel further. The Tesla Model S is at 300 miles freeway driving now. In 10 years a 600 mile range Tesla means you can drive 10 long hours at 60MPH before needing a fill-up.

          For 2016 they plan the “Gen 3″ Tesla to do 200 miles of driving in the $30K range. EVs will no longer be a niche car by your description.

  • avatar
    Phil Ressler

    >>Once the battery is depleted it will operate just like a Prius and C-MAX with some major software tweaks.<<

    Not quite. Just because a planetary gear set is present doesn’t mean the total drivetrain has the same behaviors.

    The Prius is an ICE-driven car that provides for electric motor assist to improve efficiency. The plug-in Prius gives you a few miles of battery-powered range but almost every owner will be driving on gasoline most of the time.

    The Volt is an EV that stores energy in the battery and in the small tank of gasoline. It goes to great lengths to avoid use of the gasoline engine, operating from the battery in one-motor mode, then two motor (using the generator as a motor) to allow the main motor’s rpm to be reduced. When the battery is depleted to its minimum buffer storage, the ICE starts up to generate enough electricity to keep the battery up to its mandated buffer store as the drive motor tries to deplete it further, and then in instances where either high sustained speeds or climbing place load on the drive train that would reduce electric drive efficiency unnecessarily, the available rotational energy of the ICE is blended via the planetary gear set to assist. It’s not a 70mph trigger specifically. It’s a load trigger that can be reached under a variety of conditions.

    This is opportunistic mechanical coupling of the ICE to the drivetrain that alleviates a drop in efficiency that would otherwise occur under certain conditions and improves driver satisfaction in higher drivetrain loads, but it wasn’t absolutely necessary. It was an engineering choice to make the Volt a better all-around car — as in “…well, we have this range-extending 4-banger in there to spin electricity; why not tap it where it makes sense?”. For most Volt driving, the car is an EV. The mechanical assist (which is never primary) is the exception.

    Phil

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I finally got around to reading this series and I now think I understand EVs a little better and how they may or may not fit into my car future. Thanks.


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