By on February 14, 2011

Felix Kramer, an entrepreneur and plug-in car activist, is almost certainly the first person in the world to own both a Nissan Leaf and a Chevrolet Volt… which, at least in theory, makes him the perfect person to compare the real-world ownership experiences of these two highly-hyped vehicles (and once again prove the uselessness of “automotive journalism”). Though he demurs that he “hasn’t had much chance to really compare them,” he tells The Solar Home and Business Journal that

It’s quite obvious to me that for two-car families, it’s no problem in any way for the second vehicle to be an all-electric because that’s the car used for local driving. There’s an enormous market of tens of millions for all-electric vehicles despite Americans’ so-called range anxiety.

Cars are sold as giving you freedom. People go into a dealer and say about an all-electric car, “Oh, I have to plug it in. What if I want to drive it across the country someday? I won’t buy this car.” That mentality is very deeply seated, and that’s part of the reason that the plug-in hybrids could be the primary platform for plug-in vehicles for the next decade or two.

In the meantime, people who get a plug-in hybrid as their second vehicle may find themselves asking, “Why did I pay for this engine, I’m just driving it electrically.” In our family, the Leaf will be the car my wife and I will pick first every day when we’re in the Bay Area. When we’re both driving or we want to travel beyond the range of the Leaf, we’ll take the Volt.

And this, straight from the horses mouth, is why we’ve been bearish on the Volt: if you want an EV, chances are you can afford another car that will get better long-distance efficiency than a Volt. After all, the farther you drive the Volt, the worse its efficiency becomes until it reaches an unimpressive ~35 MPG or thereabouts. A Leaf for commuting and (say) a Prius for long distances would be considerably cheaper and, depending on the lengths of the long-distance trips, more efficient. As a fan of plug-ins, Kramer is clearly geeked about his Volt, but it seems clear that the inherent compromise of the EREV drivetrain concept keep it from mastering either zero-emissions commuting or efficient long-distance cruising. Jack of all trades, as the saying goes, master of none.

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47 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: Ask The Man Who Owns One Edition...”


  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Save the planet by taking one of the first Volts and keeping it in the driveway for occasional use while there are other ecoweenies waiting to take delivery.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Isn’t he being selfish for having two cars when one would would have a lot less enviromental impact?

    • 0 avatar
      DeadFlorist

      No.  Presumably the useful lives of these vehicles are dependent, as they customarily are, in how well they are taken care of and how much use they see.  If you drive x number of miles annually, you can either put those on one car, or put x/2 miles divided between two cars, and have each last twice as long, all other things being equal.

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    Is this double rainbow worthy?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Ed, I happen to be on the absolute opposite side of the equation.
    Folks want the security to go most everywhere.The Volt does a much better job of that than the Leaf. Plus you have the fact that a lot of ‘local’ driving can take over an hour in many metropolitan areas.
    The Leaf is good in an area where folks simply don’t drive very much. Most drivers average about 12k a year. On that regimen the Volt would be the more practical vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Not everybody has the same needs:

      His proposed Leaf & Prius combination works great when you definitely require 2 cars, and can limit one to local suburban driving.

      If you only need 1 car, then a Volt is a pretty good answer.

      If you want space and travel greater distances, then Volt & CUV work well.

      Different strokes for different folks.

    • 0 avatar
      dhanson865

      a lot of ‘local’ driving can take over an hour? Why does time matter in a negative sense in relation to EV or Plug in Hybrids?
       
      If you are burning gas when you idle or are trapped doing 25mph in a block of traffic then yes a hour to go 10 miles is more significant than 30 minutes to go 10 miles.
       
      But in a good hybrid, plug in hybrid, or electric vehicle you don’t care how long the trip takes in terms of range anxiety. In fact range is extended at lower speeds.
       
      A stock bog standard 2005 Prius can do well over 100 MPG if you drive it slow enough so your average Prius driver has a small reason to smile if they get stuck in slower moving traffic (though no MPG will overcome the stress of gridlock)

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      If you are burning gas when you idle or are trapped doing 25mph in a block of traffic then yes a hour to go 10 miles is more significant than 30 minutes to go 10 miles.

      But in a good hybrid, plug in hybrid, or electric vehicle you don’t care how long the trip takes in terms of range anxiety. In fact range is extended at lower speeds.

      But won’t HVAC, exterior lighting, and other ancillary features continue to draw power at about the same rate regardless of vehicle speed?

      I doubt many people are going to do without their heat or A/C when gridlocked in unpleasant weather.  Would an hour in traffic with the heater running and the lights on take a sizable bite out of a Leaf’s range?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      But won’t HVAC, exterior lighting, and other ancillary features continue to draw power at about the same rate regardless of vehicle speed?

      HVAC, yes, certainly.  Lighting?  Not much, no.  Neither will affect battery to nearly the same degree as moving the vehicle.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I’ve never understood the logic of a short-distanced car.  If it cost two or three thousand dollars, I could understand.  But laying down 25 to 30 large for a marginal appliance with limited capability when less money could buy something without the limitations?  Only someone with government induced “green guilt” would even think about it.  These cars are market abominations.  Only the long arm of the law could ever allow them to be produced.  It is madness, but about what we’ve come to expect from our  government.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      What would make more sense would be a trailer with a boxer motor or microturbine genset that would hitch up and charge the battery, as well as carry extra cargo for long trips.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Dr. Ken,

      The range-extender trailer concept is not new, Alan Cocconi of AC Propulsion built one for his T-zero EV, and I personally know somebody who did the same for his home-built EV.  The problem for my friend’s trailer is, aerodynamically, the trailer is a real drag, and the extra power it provides only marginally covers the extra load that towing it presents.  No free lunch, my man!

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      They make sense for a lot of people.  A 100 mile daily range would cover most of my normal everyday driving.

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      The government has nothing to do with me wanting one. EV’s are an absolute PLEASURE to drive. If I had that much money to blow on a car to commute in, I feel my money is better spent on technology than on a badge declaring it’s false status.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Dr. Ken – a generator which provides enough electrical power for an 85 mph long distance road trip is neither cheap nor light. And wrangling a trailer isn’t so easy.

      Wouldn’t it be better if that generator were carried on board, integrated into the car, and only activated when needed?

      I wonder if some really smart engineers could figure out how to do that…

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      @SVX pearlie,
       
      Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea. Now if they could come up with a way that I wouldn’t have to carry that accessory powertrain weight with me for the 95% of trips that wouldn’t need it.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Here in Europe the high taxation means more single-car families, and the somewhat cheap electricity vs incredibly expensive gasoline makes the electric car more attractive. I think EREVs make more sense here than in the US, and I’ll probably buy one in the future…
     
    …if they can build one that works perfectly in temperatures below -30 C. My Lada 110, an otherwise disgusting piece of junk, starts instantly without an engine heater in any weather, and becomes reasonably warm in a couple of minutes. Somehow I doubt that an EV, extended range or not, will be as tolerant to arctic temperatures.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      Toshiba has a new lithium titanate battery chemistry that promises minimal loss of capacity at -30C, called SCiB (super charge ion battery). SCiB has (presently) mediocre energy density, but very good charge performance and thermal environmental performance – 85% nominal capacity at -30C, 95% at -10C. Conventional lithium chemistries can fall to 70% nominal capacity at -10C, making them unsuitable for climates where the temperature often falls below 0C.
       
      http://www.toshiba.com/ind/data/tag_files/SCiB_Brochure_5383.pdf
       
      The real proof, of course, is not in lab tests but in real world performance. First application I’ve heard of is Honda’s EV-neo, a 50cc class scooter. They’re doing a limited lease trial starting in Dec 2010.
      http://world.honda.com/EV-neo/index.html
       
      Batteries still have a long way to go, of course, but they’re getting better all the time..
       

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The Volt has already proven it can be used like any other car in the real world. Cold weather and snow doesn’t bother it. The Leaf has yet to prove itself. A doctor out in NJ put 5100 miles on his CAB Volt in 90 days and averaged 110 MPG. Well over 2X the MPG you could ever hope to get with a Prius. Here’s the link:

    http://gm-volt.com/2011/02/11/the-chevy-volt-consumer-advisory-board-has-ended/

    The most important thing about the article is the fact that Mr Kramer chargers both of his electric vehicles for free using solar energy.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      The most important thing about the article is the fact that Mr Kramer chargers both of his electric vehicles for free using solar energy.
       
      TANSTAaFL
       
      I don’t find anything in that linked blog entry regarding solar charging. Regardless, characterizing solar charging as “free” is naive at best, and disingenuous at worst. Somebody paid for those solar PV cells, and somebody paid (or will someday have to pay) for the environmental impact of their production.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    I don’t buy his argument about 2 car families where one car is just used for local driving.
    This isn’t 1962. My wife doesn’t wait at home for me to cook dinner and care for the kids all day. We both have jobs that require daily commuting, Just like a lot of American home owners. (And given the charging station need, I owuld imagine most Plug-In car owners will be home owners, at least to start)

    So if I HAVE to pick, I’ll take the Volt.
      

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I don’t understand your confusion. Whichever member of the family needs the extended range takes the extended range vehicle. The person without the need for an extended range takes the EV. This would work for 100% of my family’s needs at this time.
      This has nothing to do with “who’s going to cook supper”. Neither my wife or I commute further than 25 miles each day. Virtually all of our driving is “local driving”. I realize that many suburban drivers have much longer commutes than we do, and that an EV won’t work for them. On the other hand, some people live close enough to walk to work. So the answer to your “argument” is to choose the tool that suits your need.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      @srogers
       
      You make the common false assumption (as does Mr Kramer) that the various vehicles in a multi-car family function as an on-demand motor pool. I’ve never met a multi-car family where it works like that. I have my car. My wife has her car. They’re not interchangable.
       
      EVs are touted by their boosters as a drop-in replacement for existing ICE cars. Yet whenever it’s pointed out that they can’t function that way in a huge number of instances, the response is invariably that the failure is at the user end, for not adapting to the shortcomings of the EV.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I’m not making any “false assumption”. Nobody in my family is possessive enough to give a crap about who’s car they’re driving.
      Maybe your wife’s car isn’t manly enough for you?

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Right then. No actual ability to defend your position, so straight to the ad hominem. Welcome to the internet, circa 1997.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      OK, the manly car thing was unfair since I have no idea if this is a problem for you.
      But if we’re talking EVs here, we’re talking about utility and principle. Many people who have strong enough beliefs and principle to pay the premium for an EV are likely more than willing to swap cars for their needs.
      Even non-EV people – say a family with a car and a mini-van – are commonly swapping cars when needed where I live.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicodemus

      I travel about 20kms (about 12 miles) round trip to work each day which on the face of it would be ideal for an EV – right?

      The problem with this belief is that it doesn’t cost me much to get to work whatever I drive. Hell, I could go out and buy the biggest baddest V8 Falcon and the fuel cost between this and a EV would not be very much in actual dollars (yes I agree per Km the EV will be cheaper, but I don’t do many kilometres).

      Moreover V8 Falcons are 10 a penny and fun to drive whereas EVs are expensive (about $60k AUS for an imiev) and are the automotive equivalent of a hair shirt (I drove an imiev the other day and it was dreadful).

      So EVs and their range makes for an almost insurmountable paradox – where they are most economical and practical to live with is an area where their strength ie low unit fuel cost is not such a significant factor anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      I’m with srogers on this; I don’t see the hang-up.
       
      If it weren’t for the fact that my fiancee can’t drive stick, we would be able to swap cars if needed. Personally, I’m hoping she can milk her granny-loved Camry econobox for another 5-10 years so the EV/Hydrogen/Diesel/Hybrid saga can mature a bit more. Her reluctance to learn stick, notwithstanding, it would be nice to have two whips used interchangeably.
       
      An EV/whatever for daily commutes, an ICE for daily commutes/road trips. By doing so, we’ve cut our gas bill in half in exchange for marginally raising our electricity rates, all without sacrificing any utility (apart from the freedom to go on two simultaneous road-trips.) Swapping a couple tons of carbon for a couple electrons from the nuclear power plant down the street seems to be a fair trade.
       
      Now all we need is for the technology to mature to bring the LEAF price more in line with a Versa, and we’d be one car closer to telling the Saudis to go get bent.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      I have to agree – cars are not generally an on-demand motor pool. My wife & I have 3 vehicles, she is only licensed to drive 2 of the 3 and her lack of stick-shift ability leaves her at one.

      We have a formula…

      Above Freezing: I take the motorcycle pretty much rain or shine as it kills everything else in gas mileage.

      Below Freezing:
      – Snow coming down or heavy snow expected? I take my stick car (STi)
      – Clear?
      – Does wife need the car? No ? I take her car as it gets better mpg
      – Wife needs car? I take mine.

      Back when my wife was working last year I had the shorter commute at ~ 67 miles highway…not sure how any ev can do that @ 60+mph right now….

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Also from the article…
     

    We’ve achieved the big dream of getting plug-in hybrids to market, as well as my personal dream of having a car that I can drive around the Bay Area, all electric, all the time, but that I can also take to Tahoe whenever I want because I like to ski and paddleboard. I can take the same car there, and on the way it turns into a hybrid. Then when I get there it’s back to running on electricity. This is a dream come true.
    It’s a great car to drive too. It’s fun, peppy, with a lot of advanced technology features. And you can get in it and drive it just like any other car. Really. All that someone has to tell you is, “Push the start button” and “Here’s the gear shift.” The lights, everything else is the same, just like a regular car. There’s a lot more to it if you want to, but you don’t have to know anything else. And that’s also true with the Nissan Leaf.
     
    Honestly, I have to think that this quote from the article is just as important.  If you have one car, the Volt is for you.  If you have 2 cars, but both are used as daily drivers, you might want the Volt as well.  If you have 2 cars and work from home and only make trips out as errands, a Leaf might do just fine for you.  Honestly, it really depends on driving habits and not just owning a second car.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    What would make more sense would be a trailer with a boxer motor or microturbine genset that would hitch up and charge the battery, as well as carry extra cargo for long trips.

    a trailer is nice, nowadays one can pick up a 5000 watts gas gen for dirt cheap, or can buy a small diesel gen set for very reas price too.
    Perhaps something we havent factor in yet, the GPS mileage calculator will be coming into our car real soon. The Big Brother will need to find something to replace the tax base. U look at the insane amount of gas tax revenue, so how will they survive without it?  Some of the green guys are not firing in all cylinders or not at all, no worries the big bro will have vays to make u pony up your hard earned mulla.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      So you would piece meal a trailer instead of buying a Volt?
       
      Also, has the Nissan been tested with charging and discharging at the same time?  Does it work at all?  Does it harm the battery?  The Leaf doesn’t have a very well placed outlet to charge with either.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    if they can build one that works perfectly in temperatures below -30 C. My Lada 110, an otherwise disgusting piece of junk, starts instantly without an engine heater in any weather
    We can make fun of all these anachronistic contraptions from Mother Country all we want , but if it can fire up in -30 it got to be above Rubies in any ones book.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I don’t think either makes much sense, but I think the Volt’s only-car capability gives it a wider appeal. The EV makes sense as a fourth car, not a second. The people who are likely to be buying them right now already own a daily car for each adult, then maybe a sports car or truck, then they open up to getting an EV or trading one of the commuter cars in for one. They are, after all, taking a huge risk that the car will work for their lifestyle, they have to be willing to flush that depreciation if it doesn’t work out. The Volt can theoretically appeal to a household with a limited fleet, but at the price it’s going for your’e basically selling to the same crowd, so it’s really hard to call a winner.
     
     

  • avatar
    MrIncognito

    My wife’s escape hybrid worked flawlessly through a week of -5 F thermometer, -30 F wind chill weather this month… that’s about -20 C on the thermometer and -35 C with the wind. I know a few prius drivers who have had no problems. The cold weather issue seems to be the thing that the nay-sayers have latched onto, but it really doesn’t seem to be much of an issue with the hybrids. The all electric vehicles may be another story, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned.
     
    Mileage does suffer as more energy goes into heating the car though.

    • 0 avatar
      Tree Trunk

      No car that I have ever driven is happy at -40, real forty below or colder in interior Alaska no wind chill factor involved.

      Our Prius was well over 50mpg in summer, is around 40 mpg if it is between 0 and -20 and has dropped down to 30mpg when the temperature stays at -40 for weeks.

      Still it starts runs and drives every day no matter how cold it is, all the electronics work, even though the touch screen is a little slow at -40 (the car is not garage kept).

      I don’t think an EV would be the best choice at these temperatures since the batteries have less juice and heating the cabin would easily drain them.  A webasto or similar oil furnace might the solution to the heating problem but I still wonder about the batteries.

      By the way the Volt was cold weather tested here in Fairbanks last winter, would be interesting to know if anybody has access to the performance results.  The only time I saw it it was riding on a flatbed!  but I am sure there is more to the story than that.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      5 F thermometer, -30 F wind chill weather this month… that’s about -20 C on the thermometer and -35 C with the wind.

      Wind chill is largely irrelevant to a vehicle.  It is merely an estimation of the cooling effect on exposed human skin.  A strong wind may cool down a vehicle a little faster but it won’t make it any colder than what the thermometer says.  In fact a strong enough wind causes a heating effect due to friction e.g. the space shuttle upon re-entry to the atmosphere.

  • avatar
    Garak

    The all electric vehicles may be another story, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned.

    I don’t know about modern day batteries, but a lead-acid-powered Elcat mail truck made me lose faith in pure electric propulsion in the mid-1990s. As the temperatures dropped, you turned off the heater, then the lights, and finally even the windshield wipers. You hoped to limp back home or at least to the nearest phone booth in the freezing cold van before the batteries ran out. 

     
    Hybrids, on the other hand, should have little problems in cold weather, but I’ll wait until plug-ins have been on the market for a couple of years. Just in case.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I’m glad that there are “early adopters” that will help usher in the era of EV’s. Increasing EV use will lead to long-needed development of solar, wind, etc., upgrading of the soon-to-collapse (even without EV’s) electric grid, stabilize the price of oil (leading to leveling off of the inevitable ramp-up in transportation costs via air and truck) – IOW, all of the “right things” to deal with the future.
    EV’s may even help insure that there’s gas left for our weekend “toys”, Snowmobiles, boats, jet skis and the like. Hate ’em all you want, but their adoption by “greenies” will help in many unforeseen ways.

  • avatar

    No one is even discussing cost of maintenance and long term depreciation, let alone reliability. The hidden costs of complex technology are going to hit home. Not tomorrow, maybe, but very very soon. The KISS principal (keep it simple, stupid) has gone out of the window in the name of ecology.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      My Prius has been the most reliable car I’ve ever owned, while needing the least maintenance.   And a typical internal combustion engine seems to have the potential for a lot more to go wrong than any electric motor I’ve ever dealt with.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      @Lectrobyte
       
      A big part of that is that the Prius’ mechanicals live a much less stressed life.  The powertrain is actively managed and doesn’t tend to hit the extremes of use (and thusly wear).  Conversely, the engine takes care of the chemical and thermal stresses the battery would normally be subject to.  Add to that, the regen-braking system minimizes brake wear and takes some load off the driveline components as well.
       
      EVs (which includes the Leaf, but not the Volt) would share some of these attributes, save for the battery preservation.  I would be concerned about the battery life in a heavily-stressed Leaf and Nissan’s hopes for this vehicle and it’s successors would be greatly aided by a significant battery bounty.
       
      Of course, this is all completely counter-intuitive to the “we were better off with throttle cables/carbs/crank starters/acetylene headlamps” crowd.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Add to that that your are essentially swapping mechanical complexity with electrical/chemical complexity. EVs are the essential KISS.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    <i><b>Cars are sold as giving you freedom.</b></i>

    As long as the power stays on you do. This winter my power went out twice. A few years ago, it went out for seven days, thanks to a bad ice storm.

    So, let me get this straight. If you live when it gets too cold, the electric car won’t be able to hold it’s charge for long. If I live where it doesn’t get too cold, I get ice storms that take out my source of electricity to recharge the electric car.

    Why do I want an electric car when there are so many better, more freer, more environmental alternatives?

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      > Cars are sold as giving you freedom.
       
      As long as the Suez Canal stays open and the Middle East don’t get above Slow Boil…  For those of us who were around in the 1970s, an electric car or plug in hybrid seems to make a lot of sense.   It wasn’t that the price skyrocketed seemingly overnight as much as the whole “No Gas” experience.  It’s an unscientific observation, but it seems like folks live farther from work on average and are depending on driving much more now than back then, too.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Or when a first responder gets electrocuted by an electric car.

      In a crisis, you can find gasoline.
      In a crisis, you cannot usually find electricity unless you have a 20 mile long electric cord.

      In the 1970s the oil prices didn’t stop gas from coming to the corner, the government did. If you were willing to pay the price of gas, you could buy it. Hawaii just came off a regulation that prevented gas from being sold over a certain price, forcing gas to not be available on a couple islands in a couple of remote places.

      Gas rationing is a government response, and a poor one. Ask Jimmy Carter how well it all worked for him. He’s a big government fan.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Of course our author lives in California, a mild climate ideal for EVs.  But what he does kinda makes sense (if one disregards the horrible economics).  In any two-car family, there is probably at least one person (and maybe two) who follows a very predictable M-F use pattern of driving to work, parking at work and driving home in the evening.  Assuming all that’s within the EV’s range (and assuming he has the necessary juice to fully charge the battery overnight), the EV makes some sense.  What makes less sense is the Volt as the second car.  As a gasoline car, the Volt is not too great . . . a Prius would be much better as well as cheaper to buy.  And, with it’s limited electric range, using the Volt as an EV doesn’t save that much money, compared to a thrifty gasoline vehicle or a Prius-type hybrid.

    OTOH, as the only family car, the Volt makes some sense if the majority of use is going to be within it’s EV range.

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