Friday, November 27, 2015

Amtrak, What Are You Waiting For???

Recently I blogged about long term battery storage options to help preserve the pathetic longevity of the Nissan LEAF 12 volt battery.  Being a resident of the farthest Northern State Capital in the Contiguous United States means I do know a lot of "Snowbirds!"  Snowbirds are people who abandon their Northern homes when the cold weather hits for sunny southern abodes.  Sadly, this means leaving the beloved LEAF behind... My only question;  WHY???

This makes no sense. Its like leaving your dog at home. Sure people do it for 10 days in Hawaii but no one does it for 4 months while in Arizona! Ok, I know what you are thinking; No one looks at their car like they look at their pet. I say "SPEAK FOR YOURSELF!!"

 Now in the early days of EVdom, the number of Snowbirds who were also LEAFers was minimal.  But that has changed and just monitoring the EV related Facebook groups for suggestions on how to store a LEAF long term is all one needs to know that a need is rapidly emerging.

My parents were also Snowbirds. Besides their primary home in Olympia, they also had a house in Mission, Texas located about 5 miles from the Rio Grande and Mexico.  It was located in a retirement community which was somewhat self sufficient so they had an EV (a golf cart; which was the primary source of transportation for nearly everyone in the park. In fact, they were so plentiful that no one there secured their cart. They would just pull up to the Pool, jump out leaving the keys in the ignition. This way keys did not get lost. And no one ever "intentionally" stole a cart and Yes, there were cases of "mistaken identity")  Now when my Dad was in his early 70's, they simply drove to Texas and back in the family car.

But as he got older, driving became more of a hassle than it was worth.  So one Winter, they simply relied on friends, relatives and an occasional taxi for rides. This did not work out well. Mind you; this was a retirement community which basically means "7 day weekend, every weekend."  This meant the social calendar was very active. There was always something going on at the community center. Someone having a party or BBQ, etc.  So it was easy to survive without a car most of the time but it still was a hassle.  Eventually,  they bought a car that was shared with my Dad's Sister among others. How well this worked out was not very clear. It was a bit of an expensive option and later when my Aunt and Uncle moved back to Michigan, its value became questionable.

Now before we get to a solution. Lets talk about Amtrak.  Now, their reputation is a bit tarnished after that horrific accident Philidelphia but a few interesting facts;

In total, long-distance routes carry about 14.6 percent of Amtrak’s passengers but soak up about 41 percent of the costs.
Read more at Reuters
Well, that is a very interesting statistic.  Here we have Amtrak using its very crowded popular Eastern Seaboard routes to support their routes covering the wide open West.  IOW; Amtrak is simply not a preferred route for travel if one has to go aways BUT... What about my LEAF? I be willing to bet she would not care especially if it meant being ignored for several months in a cold garage verses cruising The Winter Texas Sun (which is about the only time of year its pleasant!)

I think Amtrak is missing out on a great business opportunity by not offering car transport service. But wait!! They do offer it!! well as long as you want to go from Lorton Virginia to Sanford Florida since this is the ONLY car transport route they offer.   Now the route is 811 miles by car and they are charging $244 for the car or  30 cents per mile soooo, hmmmm?

At the same rate per mile we are looking at roughly  $600 for Texas but have to think a farther distance would be cheaper per mile because there would be only one load unload cost to consider.  A passenger ticket for the Florida route is $263 while a ticket from Olympia to San Antonio is $651 hence the $600 estimate.
I guess it all really depends on how long you will be down South. My Parents usually left right after Christmas and returned in April so were gone 4 months. Others I know leave right after Thanksgiving with various return times some as early as March so 4 months seems to be the average. So we are looking at roughly $1200 for the roundtrip carfare over a 4 month period which means a base cost of $300.  Well that could buy a lot of taxi fares.  Also need to realize that many people are only down south for 3 months which drives the cost to $400 a month.  Maybe not such a great deal, or is it?

To realistically evaluate the cost we need to look at acceptable alternatives and there are few.  Granted its about what you are willing to accept.  The community my parents lived in was pretty active. There was something at the Senior Center every night. Be it Bingo, A movie, pot luck or just an excuse for one of the residents to have a party (No one held parties at their house. The Center had several rooms that could be reserved at no charge) so there was a lesser need for many to venture to town less than 5 miles away.  So an occasional taxi could be very manageable financially. But my parents either ate out or with friends for nearly every meal. It was vacation for them (several residents lived there all year long) and that is how they lived it when there so having a car was essential.

The Center did have a shuttle that would go to the Mall during the week and also to any destination that was agreed upon by the passengers so it was workable but my parents hated it. There would be pick up times for the return from the mall that they would be on time for but usually it was up to an hour wait for stragglers. So the only real option was a car.  Ignoring the purchase price, Insurance would have to cover the entire year. Now I can get "storage" insurance on my car which is like $150 for 6 months so I would like do that when not down there and regular insurance while there.  So the cost would vary depending on the person but by far the cheapest option but then again there is the issue of having a car sit for 8 months which introduced a whole new set of problems.

So shipping the LEAF is likely the most expensive option if not buying a 2nd car but remember Amtrak Diesels are 30-40% more efficient than any other transportation option. Electric locomotives are even more efficient.  Amtrak is struggling to make long western routes profitable. This looks like an easy way to generate some more coin. Unlike passenger cars which often run at much less than 50% capacity. Car trains can add or remove as demand sees fit.

So Amtrak??? What are you waiting for???

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Nissan, Chevy, Tesla; Where To Go?

Happy Thanksgiving 2015 All!!

New reports of stronger commitments to EVs from a growing list of manufacturers has really generated a lot of excitement in the community along with a lot of speculation.  Some a "bit" of a stretch;  From Facebook.

Have to think "B" is referring to the Tesla III but a $20,000 Tesla??  but then again; it could be starting there and finishing in the mid 30's...

The other thing is the exorbitant cost of that extra 30 kwh of option "E".  What happened to volume discounts?   But its all a dream right now. None of these cars are here yet but the Chevy Bolt "might" be appearing on the streets within a year.  Well at least the current word is production will start sometime in 2016. I personally don't think they will make it out to this corner of the World until closer to end of 1Q2017 but we shall see.  Cost? who knows...

But right now the two most active discussions seems to be centering around Tesla's $35,000 III and Nissan's 60 kwh IDS.  No real word on what the Nissan will cost but many feel that a LEAF version will debut sometime between mid 2017 and early 2018.  This syncs up well with the Tesla III rollout. So the big question has become what car will be "the one?"

Well first off; the Tesla III will not be $35,000.  Musk has made a habit of advertising the price after incentives along with some other creative math.  Remember he was the one who showed how cheaply an S could be leased after adding in fuel savings? It was also rumored that the T3 would have access to the Supercharger Network. I don't think this will happen without a cost that will likely be significant.  There is already signs of abuse by Tesla S owners. So expect most of the T 3's to be in the mid 40's to low 50's. Still a bargain for luxury line. Tesla is killing the luxury market and I think it would be a mistake to put the T 3 into the mass market.  There is a HUGE niche in the entry level upscale market and that should be Tesla's target.  Either way; with rapidly changing incentives with no guarantee that many will still be available, I really have zero confidence that Musk will provide an "affordable" option to me. Plus I feel of the 3 front runners, they will be last to market. I do have a time crunch to consider.

Nissan will be a lot tougher to predict. Their reputation of being closed mouth up until the very last second makes their 60 kwh IDS concept announcement a bit suspect to me. Nearly everyone assumes this will be LEAF II but I just can't get on board with that. What I do think is that Nissan was more than a bit concerned with the excitement that was generated by the Bolt/T3 announcements so continuing to be secretive up to the last second was likely to lose current LEAF owners to their competitors.  Now the LEAF is a great product at a great price but its becoming increasingly apparent that a great majority of current EVers would gladly pay for more range.  Nissan's 30 kwh offering today is a nice jump considering its only a model year refresh and does show the public that the batteries are significantly better in that they can be put into the existing platform.

My prediction for Nissan is more like my wish list.  I expect the LEAF II to debut Summer 2017.  The S will now come standard with the 30 kwh battery pack and quick charging. By now, I think Nissan will realize that fast charging will have populated enough that too few will order an EV without it.  Pricing on the S I predict will be the same.  The real changes will come with the SV/SL which will have the  45 kwh pack standard with a 60 kwh option.  A fully loaded SL with the largest battery option I expect will come in the low 40's.  I also think that Nissan's EV options will explode with an expanding eNV-200, a 6 passenger vehicle  and a sports car.

This is what I am expecting. What I really want is the option to get the biggest battery in the cheapest trim option.  I fear I will be out of luck.  My true wish is at least 40 kwh in a car out the door under $35,000.  You see, WA State has changed their EV incentives to only EV/PLEVs under $35,000 qualify for the sales tax waiver. So its an all or nothing incentive.  This also marks the first time the Chevy Volt qualifies for the tax waiver and I can't tell you how happy I was to hear the 2016 Volt came in priced just under the $35,000 limit. This means car manufacturers are paying attention and consider WA to be an important market. Hopefully Nissan, VW and others are also paying attention!

Finally, the Chevy Bolt will start building in 2016 (Dec I am predicting and that will be insignificant since the company is rarely very active during the holiday season) with an announced "early 2017" availability.  No real info on specs other than it will have a 200 mile range for $30,000.  Now the question becomes is it $30,000 before or after incentives which was answered by Chevy; the Bolt would start "around $38,000."  Now this announcement was made before the change in the WA State incentive so I can only hope that Chevy does what the did with the Volt.  I do expect them to do it so it remains as part of my options to mull over.  It is also the only that is seems insured of being available within my very tight time frame.  The "start at" concerns me but at least there is an implication that 200 miles would be available in the cheapest trim.

My current lease ends December 2016 so none of the 3 will likely be ready then. Chevy has not put WA as a priority for new product rollout despite our top rung EV adoption rates so I suspect the Bolts to not be here before Q2 2017.  But neither will anyone else. VW? Who knows? They have made some noise but not sure I can really get behind anything they do just yet...

So a lease extension will be required.  Nissan was offering great incentives but those seemingly dried up and besides those required a specific time frame which I will not do. So I will go month to month. Now this could go on forever?  Not sure what the upper limit is but that is not the issue. It will be the degradation factor. So far my LEAF has held up very well only losing about 5% of its range after nearly 30,000 miles but then again, my 2011 did very well early before losing chunks of range near the end of that 3 year lease.  This would not be something I could easily manage without some improvements to the local public charging infrastructure; something that has not quite stagnated but all I seem to hear about is new charging stations in areas that already have dozens near by...

Either way, I do know what will be tops on my 2017 New Year's Resolutions!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Regen Or Not To Regen

Its cold out! And first thing people are starting to notice is that regen simply is not working as well as before.  Now why is this happening?  Well, I can only comment based on observations in my own LEAF.  I have been LEAFing it nearly 5 years and have tried nearly everything to find what works best for me as far as gaining a few more miles of range.  So before I get going, I have to say all I can offer is my personal experiences.  If you have something that you think is better, please let me know! I have 8 of the next 10 days off so I have time!!

I have always been a fan of neutral driving. Coasting in neutral helps me maintain speed when slowing for a traffic light that is still several blocks away but it also allows me to get more out of regen.  Now again, I have no scientific proof of this, only things I have tried and observed.

One trip I make frequently is driving down the Highway 512 hill going into Puyallup, WA. This is a relatively steep but short hill but it is steep enough that I can stay in eco mode and not really lose a lot of speed. And I was happy to do this but then I noticed that I was not getting the full regen and at 60 mph, I was more than a bit disappointed.  Me being the cheap bastard that I am did not have a LEAF with B mode so eco was it (Back when I was a "wild spender" my 2011 SL simply did not have the option...) Now all would be fine except that at the bottom of the hill was a pretty sharp curve and I found myself having to perform the ultimate of sins...friction braking.

Well, I was shocked.  After glancing around to make sure no other LEAFers saw me, I was determined to fix the problem!   Well we all know that good things do not come easy so naturally Nissan issued some sort of fix for something (probably something that wasn't broke) and the first thing people noticed is their regen wasn't working as well, on FLAT GROUND!

Another reason this needed to be addressed was simply maintaining my comfort zone.  I use my friction brakes every day (as much as I hate to admit that) but it has always been at like 5-10 mph when I had to stop.  I found the feeling of friction brakes at high speeds  to be a feeling I was completely uncomfortable with.  It was just a feeling that I knew I would never get used to much less accept.

Being in Western WA means you are either going up or going down. No huge changes in elevation mind you. Just a few hundred feet here and there. Just a few miles from my house is the Nisqually Flats that is bisected by I-5. Again a steep hill but less than half the length of the Puyallup Hill.  So what I was doing is shifting into neutral a few hundred yards from the crest starting around 60sih mph.  Generally I would drop down to about 55 mph before gaining speed on the downslope. The LEAF coasts very well! Now I would get up to around 70 at which time I would shift into Eco and slowly drop in speed to near 60 at which time I would be at the bottom or just past the bottom of the hill.  IOW; it worked perfectly!

So why wasn't the Puyallup Hill working? Was it steeper? That could be although my eye thought they were about the same. The speed increase in neutral seemed about even. So I decided to run the hill using different methods.  The original method I used was being in neutral until about 65 mph then shifting to eco. The steepness of the hill would maintain my speed well enough until I hit the sharp curve at the bottom where I wanted to be around 55 mph. I think there is a 45 mph sign posted there (very few people slow down that much btw...)

Anyway I tried shifting back to eco at a lower speed. This was tricky. Doing it too soon meant losing speed too fast which caused me to be a bit of a "slowbie"  (kinda like a Furbie but bluer... :) )  So I adjusted my timing a bit and it started to work!!  Well, for a minute.  I began to notice that even when at the same speed, my regen was lessening and eventually causing me to have to brake at the bottom.

Finally I found that my only real option was to shift back and forth from neutral to regen keeping speeds below about 62ish (easy to do as a lot of people drive rather slowly down the hill)  I then began to realize that by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, my regen capabilities were about half gone.  Even slight pressure on the brake pedal would not restore it.

So the next thing I figured was maybe batteries were getting too hot. This did start during a rare "6 TB" day.  But even during the coldest of Winter days, I was not getting any better regen.  But that kinda made sense. Batteries are restricted by the amount of charge they will take by both cold and heat.  IOW; they are like us. They function best in a fairly narrow temperature range.  But the inverter is a bit different. It only goes from hot to hotter.  So goes the conundrum.  It appeared my inverter was heating up and restricting the regen to the cold batteries who needed to regen to heat up to realize their full capabilities.  In run after run, it was the same result. I would start out at 4 regen circles but by the time I got to the bottom, it was 3 at the most and sometimes only 2 while the batteries started cold and stayed that way. This made it pretty apparent that the batteries were only a part of the problem... the small part.

At first this did not make sense to me.  After all, the LEAF is designed to take a lot of charge and be ok. But then I realized that regen is AC and fast charging is DC.  Normally, AC is not being taken in any faster than 6.6 KW but regen can have bursts up to 30 KW. This got me thinking that maybe Nissan did alter the regen profile because of issues that had  been cropping up when regen was combined by the heat of Summer?

Either way I discovered that my regen seemed to be the most beneficial if done in shorter bursts instead of long gradual ones.   Now I recently took a trip with a lot of much longer hills including a few 7-8% grades 3 miles long.  On the 140 mile trip, I still managed 4.9 miles per kwh shifting to neutral for any downhill stretch that lasted more than a few hundred yards.  I never got out of the 4 TB range despite batt temp readings of  68º from LEAF Spy a few minutes after a short (roughly 20 min) fast charge session.  So I probably have to call it 4½ TBs!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Snoqualmie Falls

After hearing about the power upgrades and nature trails, I decided it was worth a day trip to check out the Snoqualmie Falls.  The fact that we had just had a monumental storm and the falls were raging helped as well so naturally since the trip was green power related, I had to take the LEAF.  Now it was 66 miles there with hills so charging had to be done. Have never been in the area with the LEAF so it was very much unknown territory.

Now my first thought was simply driving there and plugging in at the hotel at the Falls but then again, it was near Winter and wanted to make sure I picked a good weather day to go. Problem with that idea is everyone else wants to go then too!

So I started investigating charging options along the route and decided on stopping at the Walgreens in Auburn which was 38.4 miles away per Google Maps.  But it was a Blink but Plugshare showed several successful charges this week so I decided that would be perfect and off the beaten trail so a queue would be unlikely.

Me and my "gas buddies" 3 chargers, 4 EV parking spots, one EV charging and ZERO empty spaces...
We got there and plugged in and I mulled the thought of charging to full and completely removing any need to charge at the Falls. The day promised to be gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky with temps hitting near 50 degrees, so I figured it would be crowded.  But soon another Black LEAF showed up so I unplugged at 85%. 6.20 kwh, $3.03.   Now, I was at 4.6 miles per kwh leaving Auburn. It was 29 miles to the Falls.  Arriving at the Falls I was at 4.2 miles per kwh and GOM said 52 miles. I was 66 miles from home.  Hmm...can I make it home?  Sounds like a challenge!

Now, I know what you are saying.  "GOM? What the hell are you doing relying on that?  I say, sure why not?  Its like any tool. If you don't bother to learn how it works, it doesn't! Simple as that.   Either way, the Falls were definitely raging and yes, the rain was falling UP!

Despite the gorgeous Sunny Cloudless day, we still got wet!

Now the main purpose was the hike. So we parked at the top across the street from the hotel, crossed the skybridge and down down down we went. 

Now Runkeeper says it was only a 552 foot drop from the top to the bottom but it sure seemed a lot more than that!   Now the view of the valley was nearly impossible due to the volume of water that was going over the falls along with the not so small volume of water misting back up to us creating a pretty thick fog.

But near the bottom of the trail along the valley we found the powerhouse. The first thing that popped into my head "Wow, fuel for a year!"

Unfortunately, what goes down must trudge back up the hill. So off we went. By the time we made it back to the top, it was determined we should find a place to eat.  This was actually a good thing because I had been mulling the trip home in my head and had determined that I would have to average over 5 miles per kwh going home and would still end up with the smallest of buffers... I think. Either way, I had resigned myself to accepting the fact that we would probably be a few miles short of what we needed to get home.  So off to Snoqualmie we went.  Plugshare showed a half dozen chargers, All Blink, All L2... oh joy...

Ok so the first one we went to; DOA. No power. Blink... Anyway, the 2nd one I couldn't find.  But the 3rd one was a success.  I plugged in and we walked slightly less than 2 blocks to the Snoqualmie Falls Candy Factory. Despite the name, they had a grill so we munched out on Burgers and Chicken Nuggets. The menu was basic but the prices were cheap and the service was quick.   We ate and spent a few minutes deciding we didn't want Ice Cream (I think Ry was a bit cold from the hike) so back to the car we went.

We had only charged about 45 minutes so we collected another  3.91 kwh for a cost of $1.52 Damn! this EV stuff is starting to get spendy!

So off we went. 65 miles more or less and GOM said 73! well, actually this is when you need to ignore it. I knew I would not get 73 miles out of it.  Now it was a Saturday afternoon and the roads wee full of Washingtonian Drivers which means accident. Bound to happen which would be as good as a 4 mile boost in range so I figured  between 55-57 mph and we should make it with plenty to spare and as always, I was right!


LEAF Storage With 12 Volt Battery Tips

Recently someone asked if garaging their LEAF for about 45 days would be a bad idea.  My response;

The bottom line is that a properly functioning LEAF will have no issues. Reality states that all really depends on the condition of your 12 volt battery. I have never had issues with storage including 15 days in July-August of this year. So what you MUST do;


DO NOT leave your vehicle plugged in. This prevents the car from topping off your 12 volt battery.

Charge your vehicle to roughly 40% SOC give or take. (LEAFs are shipped with about 30 % SOC) In my 15 days of storage, I lost 9 GIDs (116 to 109) but more importantly, my 12 volt battery voltage was stable at 12.42 volts. I was unable to determine voltage drop because the car had not gone anywhere on the day I departed but had been boosted as it read anywhere from 12.7 to 12.8 volts (the norm is 12.30-12.40ish)

Soooo, how do we determine our 12 volt battery health? Well good question and since the LEAF randomly shuffles the deck so to speak, its really anyone's guess but things to consider such as what is bad for battery.

Extended periods of inactivity; now how long is anyone's guess and ***IMHO***; the factor is cumulative. So more than say 24 hours probably contributes. This opinion of mine came about by observing 12 volt battery voltage both as rest, during startup and at random times during the same drive cycle. Things like timers, being plugged in, CARWINGS, etc all use your 12 volt battery which makes idle time MORE critical.

Radical changes in temperature; aka "My LEAF does not live in the garage" Both cold and heat weakens your battery. If your LEAF sits at the window with sad eyes looking in at night, expect your battery to be weaker than mine who lives with me (in the garage)

Accessory mode. Be like me. Pretend you don't have one. its not like you are going to smoke out any nearby pedestrians while "idling" away... and finally THE most important thing to remember

Now after posting this, I felt that some elaboration on how I came to these opinions was needed.  Nissan's 12 volt battery management system was failing enough that it became a concern to me when it first started cropping up because the LEAF was my only source of transportation at the time and being stranded was simply not an option for me so I started collecting data on both my 2011 and 2013.  Now, both cars pretty much acted the same so it begins.

The LEAF especially ones equipped with CARWINGS has different modes when its turned off.  A type of high readiness mode happens when the car is plugged in. This can simply be the car listening for the timer to start a charge or whatever. Either way; this is a 12 volt function and unless the car is in ready mode, its a 12 volt "battery" function.  Either way, these are things that can cause your LEAF to remain at a higher state (which includes using more battery power) longer.

Now I did post  some observations a few years back on my 2011 SL with CARWINGS and as mentioned, I repeated the same measurements with my 2013 S (without CARWINGS) and found little if any difference which I think is caused by the fact that both my 12 volt batteries were in good shape.

In the blog above, I noticed that my battery at rest generally sat in the same range of 12.3-12.4 volts if measured a few hours after being driven.  Checking it right after parking, it was in the 12.6-12.8 range.  The voltage here would slowly drop to the 12.4 volt range.   This tells me that when in ready mode, there is some charging going on but is it all the time the car is in ready mode?  Well no.  

The battery was at 12.18 volts this morning (The lower voltage due to the fact that it was cold last night. The garage which is normally in the mid 50's was at 45º this morning. During Summer when the garage varies from the mid 60's to the mid 80's, the voltage is between 12.4 and 12.5.  The temp outside was 24º this morning when I got up. that is about 15º lower than normal) About 2 hours later, I checked it again and it was up to 12.36 volts and the garage temp was 50º.  I started the car and the voltage went up to 13.80 volts but dropped to 13.00 volts within one minute. This tells me the LEAF checked my 12 volt battery and determined everything was ok, IOW, no boos needed.  13.00 volts is generally where the 12 volt system is at all the time when the car is in ready mode.  There have been a few times I checked it when it was higher (over 14 volts once in my 2011!) and my assumption was that it was a scheduled boost charge of the 12 volt battery. I think the 12 volt DC converter is active I do not believe the 12 volt battery is actively providing a charge when the car is running which probably accounts for the steady voltage I see most of the time. Some think the battery might be acting as a buffer for the 12 volt system and that maybe true to some extent but the Car's ability to seemingly overwhelm the battery makes me think the 12 volt battery's role while in ready mode is limited at best.

In an attempt to vary the voltage in the system, I tried both A/C and heat. Neither seemed to change anything at least during the short period of time I observed it.

Either way, I am confident that Nissan has heard about the issues in the earlier models and has tweaked the  software to insure weaker 12 volt batteries were properly maintained.

Now Lead Acid simply does not store well. If you plan to be away for an extended period of time like over 3 months, its probably best to put it on a battery tender.  Lead Acid batteries can lose up to 10% SOC per month. Sealed Lead Acid batteries do much better losing half as much in the same period of time but that is still not good.  For periods lasting under 3 months, your LEAF should be ok.  FYI; your traction battery should lose roughly 1 percent per month so no worries there.

Finally; temperature is probably the biggest factor. Best case for lead acid is 59º F. Now, heating the garage for several months while you are away is probably not doable but if you are in a very cold climate, something as little as a 40 watt incandescent light bulb (Yes, they are still around) will do the trick.  If you are in a moderate climate, a timer that runs the light during the coldest part of the day will be fine. For most of us in the Puget Sound region, I think simply parking in the garage will be fine.

 The chart below (provided as an FYI only) is for hot areas so not really a concern here but notice the difference in recoverable charge for Li for a 40% SOC storage charge verses storage at full SOC?  Chart from  A great site for battery tips!

One thing this chart does illustrate is the great long term storage for Li.  I wish I could find an updated chart with the new chemistry that Nissan is coming out with in 2016 but guessing someone will figure something out soon enough!

Friday, November 13, 2015

With A Longer Range But Much Higher Price, Can A Tesla Ever Be A Wise Choice Financially?

Now, I have to admit I am not up on Tesla S degradation rates and why should I?  Even if they lost 25% capacity in 5 years, they would still have over 200 miles of range anyway which means Tesla Degradation would rank about next to last on my "to worry about" list.  Besides, if you can afford to buy a Tesla, a few grand here or there wouldn't make a difference anyway right?...or would it?

The Roadster has been out the longest and Tesla recently announced replacement packs for them for a mere $29,000 (which is more than my LEAF was btw...) and they claim the high price is their cost and its primarily due to the higher costs of the "hand built" nature of the car and some of the more active ones should be well over 100,000 miles by now and no matter how well the batteries are treated, they will fade so lets crunch some numbers.

Before we get started, I have to say that normally I let rich people "be rich" and ignore them for the most part.  I am almost as far as you can get from that level so my mindset is completely different. Shania Twain once said in an interview that even when she had more money than she could possibly spend, she still found it hard to spend it lavishly especially on herself. She found it easy to buy gifts for others but her lifelong thrifty habits were simply not that easy to overcome.  I find myself doing the same things. I don't have cable TV but not because I can't afford it. I simply feel its value doesn't come near its monthly subscription costs.

But my interests in long term viability of a Tesla started because I met a couple who is thinking of spending a significant part of their savings to get one. They are retired so probably in their 60's or 70's and I immediately began to wonder if they were making a mistake or (more likely) jumping the gun.

We all know that Tesla offers a ton besides the sensibility of EV driving. They are 2nd to none in cool and that only gets more attractive every week it seems as Tesla continuously rolls out new updates. After all, with a 17" touchscreen, there has to be something to keep your interest!

So here we go. Right now, gas prices makes these types of calculations nearly impossible.  Gas is cheap and has sustainably so for the longest period that I can remember. I paid $2.09 for gas a few weeks ago. Since getting my Corolla a few weeks short of two years ago, the price of gas has varied nearly 100% ($3.919 on June 14th, 2014 to $1.939 on February 3rd, 2015) so its really anyone's guess as to what we will be paying two years from now.   I feel like it will go up but then again, EVs are gaining momentum and when the 2nd Gen's with their 200 mile ranges come out, I think EV adoption will explode. All this will encourage gas prices to stay low.  But then again, we are talking about gasoline and Big Oil and they rarely if ever make sense.

But if gas were to average say $2.50 a gallon for the next 5 years and we are tracking a 20 mpg vehicle at 15,000 miles a year our gas bill would run about $1875.  To make it fair, if using a LEAF to compare we should use mileage from a car that is similar like say 30 mpg or $1250 a year.   Now during my nearly 5 years of LEAFing, I have averaged between 1.8 and 2.2 cents per mile. A Tesla being bigger is probably going to average 3 cents a mile.  I am using electricity rates that currently run about 9 cents per kwh.   Since this couple lives in WA (their rates are actually a bit lower than mine but guessing they will not drive as efficiently so I its probably a wash) I will use my performance over my last 15,000 miles (this includes public charging fees btw) which ran me $310.64.  Ah....lets make it an even $350 for a LEAF,  $450 for a Tesla (at the 3 cents per mile figure)

But WAIT!! you say.  "What about Superchargers?"  Well I say, they might be convenient for cross country travel but they are not convenient for people in my neighborhood who rarely drive outside the Puget Sound Region.  We do have them but the one in Centralia is 30 miles South which is generally not the direction of travel for me or them. And the other is in Burlington which is pretty much about 75 miles farther than where we mostly go (Seattle...)  so the stops to either location would be pretty limited.  Plus we can't lose sight of the fact that any scenario predicting the future has to have a lot of things left out, right?

But say you had a Tesla Sportster back in 09 and were now pushing 120,000 miles, you could probably safely say you have saved $11,200 in fuel alone (not to mention the $$$ in entertainment value from just driving the car!)  But then again, this would be looking backwards, not predicting the future so a quick glance tells us that even 2009, gas prices were 25 cent a gallon higher than our $2.50 mark. in fact; using average gas prices, we vary from an estimated cost of  $1725 in 2015 to as much as $2587 in 2012. Add in two gas tax increases for the State (this makes us #2 in the tax race!) over the next year and that makes for a pretty wide range.   So you could probably say you saved closer to $15,000 in fuel costs alone.   One thing that is very clear here; for high performance cars, the Roadster was a bargain so $29,000 for a replacement pack makes financial sense well below 100,000 miles when the high maintenance costs of high performance gasoline cars is considered.

But say we drove a LEAF instead. On this I think I can speak with much more confidence.  Forgetting the much lower sticker price (lets say the S bells and whistles "kinda" evens that out...)  so what is our cost to drive when a future $5500 pack replacement is in our future?

First of all, with a much more limited range, any degradation will have a cost of convenience that must be considered. Unlike the Tesla which can realistically lose 25% of its range without too much inconvenience, my 90 mile LEAF is a completely different story.  Now I have never gotten that much degradation so I can only extrapolate my expected degradation levels.  Using Sloaty Degradation Model it would take me roughly 105,000 miles to get to a 25% loss.  That would lower my usable range to 67-70 miles. (If I had to, I would drive slower to prevent stops for charging most of the time)

So 105,000 miles of driving is 7 years of savings at $900 a year or $6300 which pretty much makes a $5500 replacement cost a no brainer and again that is fuel only using what is likely an unrealistic price of $2.50 for gas.


its that 70 miles of range we need to deal with. Now, I am ok with some compromises, charging on the road or driving a bit slower and colder to make sure I can make it but others? Not so much.


You have options!!

Ok, its a GOM but still pretty nice to see an estimated 123 miles of range WITHOUT a full charge!! Later it was determined that this brand new SL with a 30 kwh pack had 356 GIDs!!

Ya, the times they are a changing!!

Monday, November 9, 2015

"What If I Don't Want To Drive Like Dave?"

Every day I get feedback implying no one else can get the range I get out of my LEAF. Well, yes I do better than average and yes my circumstances are very specific to my performance and no I am not even close to the best hypermiler out there.

Now, I did drive a Prius for nearly a decade so I do have a lot of "careful" driving under my belt so naturally that equates to a better acceptance of what I needed to do to drive further.  But the biggest factor in my performance is traffic.  Puget Sound traffic has gotten progressively worse and commute times verify this.

Add to that several chokepoints where slowdowns cover more than 3/4th of the day and speedy travel is simply not possible. But there are times when traffic flow clears up for a bit here and there so I decided to find out what my range was when I "drove like everyone else."

To really come close to averaging 60 mph, one pretty much has to drive aggressively in the fast lane. Although I attempted this several times, the pattern was the same. I rarely could drive more than 10-15 miles at a time without a slowdown no matter what time of day it was.

A typical drive;  left my house driving 40-45 to the freeway 3½ miles away. Got on I-5 headed north and settled into left lane with LEAF speedometer at 66-68 mph.  Hit 70-71 a few times while on the downslope to the Nisqually Flats and this went on for  about 8 miles then we hit chokepoint #1 DuPont/Ft. Lewis.  It is just after 5 AM so slowdown is mild. Speeds drop to as low as 20 mph but generally maintaining a roughly 35-40 mph pace. In an hour the pace will be closer to 10 mph. In 3 miles we are past that and now I am up to 72 mph with occasional dips to 68. (guy in front of me has speed control issues...)  this goes on for about 4 miles then comes the 512 freeway interchange. There is something wrong today. Normally speeds drop to no lower than about 50-55 at this time of day but its goes to 35-40 mph until we pass the interchange where traffic flow immediately goes back to normal. Once again, speeds over 65 mph are doable.

5 miles further down the road is the Highway 16 interchange (this area has been under construction for almost 30 years) which includes in rapid succession the exit to Tacoma Mall and the Tacoma Dome along with I-705 interchange and the Port of Tacoma.  (the 2nd shortest freeway in the United States)  Traffic here varies in speed from zero to 15 mph and is like this about 18-20 hours a day since they close lanes at night for construction purposes so no, you will not breeze thru this area at 1 AM either...

Traffic here clears up just as you pass Tahoma Market; host to one of my most favorite fast chargers (a Blink no less!) and is clear sailing! well for 8 miles when the Highway 18 interchange shows up. Now this one is not too bad going north in the morning where many times I can maintain a speed near 50 mph but it does not come close to  making up for the HUGE slowdown every afternoon going south which is also the longest jam up at over 10 miles! (Because its a slight downhill slope from Highway 18 to Fife, I generally gain at least 1 mile per Kwh here...)

But its morning so the slowdown is only for 2-3 miles and averaging about 40 mph.  Finally the last slowdown is right next to where I am going.  This slowdown is caused by the main exits to Seatac Airport, I-405 interchange and SouthCenter Mall (one of the largest in the area)

I pull in and I am at 3.9 miles per Kwh and have an estimated range of 39 miles remaining and I have driven 46.3 miles. So should I be nervous? Should I plan to stop for a charge somewhere?

Nah!! Now you might but not me because I am Dave!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

October 2015 Drive Report and 60 KWH On The Horizon!

My efforts to drive the LEAF less for work worked but personal events actually increased my driving so my efforts to keep my lease mileage in check is ahhh, well struggling.  In October the LEAF traveled 1290.9 miles at a cost of $29.77 (this includes some public charging costs) or 2.3 cents per mile. My electrical rates also went up so I am paying 8.9 cents per kwh till late next Spring.

As always, the Corolla was only used for work purposes and nearly all of it was the last week of the month.  Benefiting from gas hovering just over $2 a gallon, it went 717.1 miles for $37.01 or 5.2 cents per mile.  Hmmm, this means if gas dropped below $1 a gallon, gas might have a chance!

Well obviously the big news is coming from the Tokyo Motor Show with Nissan's IDS concept  vehicle and the 60 kwh power pack.   Details are very lacking but a few pictures have popped up including this one where the old pack is in the background with the 60 kwh pack in the foreground.

60 kwh pack

With any picture, size comparisons can be dicey and with the 60 kwh pack in the foreground it will look larger but notice the space between the humps?  Hard to deny that the 60 kwh pack is longer and that I believe is done to make the pack compatible with multiple wheelbases including longer ones like SUVs.    Also notice the humps are a bit higher which would blend well with higher sitting vehicles.  It will have 288 cells as opposed the the 24 and 30 kwh packs which only have 192.  

Now, I am all for more range but it has to be in the right price range.  60 kwh is enough to cover a wide range of vehicle sizes and makes including infiniti but again the price has to be right.  Tesla has a great niche in the luxury market and I think they should stay there. There is a huge market in the mid 40's range for their Tesla 3 and I hope that Nissan realizes that prices beyond the mid 30's is going to price a huge portion of people out of the market. I would rather "settle" for a 40 kwh pack if it means it can be done for nearly the same price as the 2016 LEAF!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sept 2015 Drive Report; Its Time To Adjust Your Tire Pressure!

As mentioned before, I have to start reducing the usage on the LEAF to insure I do not exceed my lease mileage and Winter is coming on so I naturally with the shorter range that cold weather brings, its just convenient to start now so the Corolla wins the mileage crown this month going 1202 miles at  $68.79  or  5.7 cents per mile.  Part of the expense includes gasoline purchased July 6th. When tanks last from the 6th of July to Sept 10, estimates is as good as I can provide :)  FYI; I have to go back even farther for the same $68.79 in electricity for the LEAF but interestingly only a few days more to July 2nd.  The only difference is that was 3,680.2 miles ago despite very low gas prices and the Corolla's  40.22 MPG during the month.

The LEAF went only 901.5 miles costing $18.49 or   2.05 cents per mile.  I forgot to mention a few months ago, Puget Sound Energy had a change in their rebate amounts so despite the fact that my rates did not go up, my effective cost for power increased just about a penny per kwh to 8.7 cents.  I had no public charging events this month which is probably the reason I broke the 2 cents per mile mark for the first time in months.

As always; The LEAF thrives on exercise and I have to admit my LEAF is probably getting a bit "pudgy."  I had a 4 day stint where the LEAF averaged 13 miles day and another 3 day stint when it averaged 18 miles a day which means my battery stats plummeted.  Low water marks for ahr, Hx and Kwh available were 59.13, 90.32 and 19.9.   But this does not worry me.  It is pretty well normal and I do know a fellow Washingtonian, Josh who had similar stats but then he took a road trip to Canada which naturally included a handful of fast charges and his ahr jumped over 65 ahr! It almost seems like the LEAF senses when you need a few extra miles and provides you access to capacity that is normally hidden. Maybe its to help with longevity under normal uses?  Don't know if that has any basis of truth, but it sounds good!

Other than that, September 2015 has to considered "announcement" month.   The 2016 LEAF specs were finally announced along with prices and surprise! (not for us) the SV/SL will have a new 30 kwh battery complete with a 100,000 mile capacity warranty. Says a ton about the implied technology upgrade for the new chemistry!

The 2016 Volt was also announced boasting a 53 mile EV range along with a jab  at Nissan's "old" range.   But I think its more pay back in response to Nissan's "What If Everything Ran on Gasoline" ad. In the battle of "effective" advertising its basically a repeat of Super Bowl between Seattle and Denver.  Nissan pretty much nailed it in the first few seconds...

And finally, the long awaited Tesla X SUV.  So all in all, a great month for Electric Vehicles.  But they gained much more than that with the Volkswagen TDI scandal. VW admitted they rigged certain TDIs (about half a million) to cheat the emissions test giving them a much better rating then they deserved. How much better?  In reality; there is likely no standard poor enough for them to qualify.

The fix will be expensive but the damage is done. Now there are several reports suggesting the additional pollution caused anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of deaths.  VW lost billions in stock value so guessing it will be a few years before we know the entire impact of their actions. Either way, diesel is definitely not the way to go right now and the only question that remains is how many disgruntled TDI owners will convert to electric?

And Finally; the season is in the middle of change which means its time to adjust your tire pressures! I bit the bullet and did not change mine and now I am getting up in the morning with tire pressures ranging from the high 39's to the low 40's.  I normally run at 44 PSI. Its not even Winter yet and I have lost 4 PSI already!  Keep in mind; you want your tire pressures to be "cold" pressure. Now there is no temperature specific to this because it varies from region to region but basically you "want" to set your pressure during the coldest part of the day. So if you set your pressure to 44 PSI (VERY recommended) then it is perfectly normal and accepted to see 44-48 PSI during your driving day.  This is NOT dangerous IN ANY WAY and FULLY accepted safe practice.

A reputable tire store will verify this.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Price of Gasoline, Taxes and Roads

Taxes suck! But lets face it, as much as we hate them, they are a necessary evil in our World today. They pay for basic services that we rely on so a way to levy the tax fairly to account for all levels of income is a constant debate.

One of the least applicable to the above statement is use tax, namely the gas tax. We will revisit this later.   The Federal Gas Tax was supposed to be used to maintain the transportation system but in the light of the Bridge collapse in Minnesota and the resulting revelation that dozens of other bridges were in danger of collapsing due to lack of maintenance; Something needed to be done.

Well, its been 8 years, a month, and a week ( well at least it was when I started writing this...)  since that Bridge Collapse killed 13 people and what has been done since then?  Well, common sense would dictate we raise funds by increasing taxes to lessen the backlog of repairs to insure such a tragedy does not happen, right? Well, that did not happen and what's worse is that raising the Federal Gas Tax really doesn't happen, period!

The Federal gas tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon, 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel and set in 1993 (inflation has gone up 64.6% by 2015) and seems like its not going to move and due, I am guessing, to intense lobby pressure by the biggest and the richest; Big Oil.

It also may seem that the Feds have tacitly decided to let States take over the job of increasing gas taxes (WA has increased gas taxes nearly every year since 2003 with the exception of the few years during the recession in 2009) but if that is the case, then new funding for the Federal Highway System needs to be addressed since our state taxes barely pay for state roads maintenance.

So the next question becomes "What is the right amount to charge and who should pay for it?" As mentioned above, use tax tends to treat lower income users unfairly.  But unlike most use taxes, (Cigarettes, Alcohol, Sugar) gasoline is a necessity to many especially here in Washington State where we have one of the worst public transportation systems in the country.  So a transportation budget of some sort is a requirement that ranks up there with food and shelter in importance and cost.
So the question remains; How do we do this without forcing lower income people to choose between gassing up or eating?  Its this question that we struggle with and a few approaches are being tested by various states.  Its a well accepted fact that the greatest strides in reducing our carbon footprint comes from enabling lower income people to reduce their footprint.  They tend to drive much more inefficient cars and they greatly outnumber the more affluent.

Washington State is one of the leaders in Electric Vehicle adoption but has so far been the realm of the rich. (I could cite a study published on Facebook this past week but the data is woefully dated) WA leads in Teslas per capita thanks to Microsoft and Amazon among other tech companies that call WA home.  Now this is not a completely bad thing. Someone has to get the ball rolling and like all new products, the introductory price is high compared to what the mainstream selling price will be.  I expect to see a 175 mile LEAF within the next 18 months  that will cost less than my first LEAF leased in Jan, 2011 and as strange as this statement may seem; we have current Tesla owners to thank for that.  So ya, its pretty much always the people with the expendable cash that leads the charge so the study is not really a valid one.  But the overriding issue is not the cost of EVs, its the cost of new cars, PERIOD.

During my brief stint as a car salesman, I found that the adage "you need money to make money" was still very much true. Used cars came basically in two flavors; lightly used, economic cars for $10-$20,000 or older, larger cars for under $9,000 partially due to the high price of gas at the time which was in the mid to upper 3's at the time.

Problem with this was young couples usually with at least one small child just getting started had poor credit or no credit so car loans typically ran 14-17% with some over 20% which meant only the larger inefficient car was their only real options for purchase. Contrast this to an older more established couple with responsible credit who could easily get car loans in the 6-8% range (or less) allowing them to get the smaller, newer more efficient car usually at payments lower than the young couple. This means that the younger couple will pay a much higher portion of their income for transportation making it that much tougher for them to get ahead.  Now one might say "This is how the credit system has worked for years" and I have to say "and look where it got us!"

Now, contrary to popular opinion, the value of the middle class is not shrinking every day but only because population growth has bolstered their numbers and a select few have enjoyed higher incomes but that is not where the issue lies. It is the growing support of the less fortunate that has become a burden we all must share and that burden is becoming an issue.  (Another reason is the re-defining of the Middle Class especially on the upper end of the income spectrum)

A recent study stated that the government bolsters the highway fund with about 69 Billion dollars across the board costing each tax payer over $1100 annually. This includes people who do not drive at all. Now raising the federal gas tax 50 cents per gallon would cover the budget shortfall with a little bit left over and right now with gas over $1 lower than we have been used to paying, there seems to be little reason to not do this. But there is no movement towards that end and as we all know, only dramatic events like 9-11 spurs Congress to act with any kind of expediency.

This increase would not even put back half of price cut gasoline has seen over the past year, so would it really be a burden to the lower middle class?  California thinks so and has proposed a graduated incentive program for zero emission vehicles based on income where conceivably, a family could be driving an EV for less than half the original sticker price.  This could be a good idea if done properly without gaping loopholes (think about how the "Cash for Clunkers" program panned out) that the well to do can slip thru.  This would also go a long way towards quieting EV dissenters over a recent study showing 90% of EV incentives going to towards people with high incomes.

Either way, I doubt there is a single solution and a combination of perks to lower incomes and perhaps and adjustable gas tax rate that is reduced when prices spike upwards but there is little doubt that what we are currently doing is failing on several fronts.