Sunday, June 2, 2013

My Encounter With A RAV 4 EV!

Thursday, I met up with Doug, a Seattle Area resident who was the proud owner of a 2012 RAV 4 EV.  Doug, like many of us started years ago with a Prius,  got a LEAF a few years back and decided that EVs were the way to go and added the RAV a few months ago making nearly all his transportation electric! 

Now it did not take long to understand his decision to buy.  His out the door cost was just over $38,000 (before the tax credit) after the $10,000 dealer cash and some other random discounts making it just a few thousand more expensive than his or my 2011 LEAF.  He has a 110 mile trip he does on a regular basis and still gets home with 20-30% charge left over.  He estimates his range with careful driving to be around 130-140 miles in extended mode.  With range like that, even the most demanding LEAFer like Steve Marsh could drive for years before having to worry about degradation or range issues.

The RAV comes with the ability to charge up to 9.6 kwh but he was plugged into the Blink L2 at Tahoma Market receiving juice at the 6.6 kwh rate the Blink provides. While reviewing the controls and displays, I noticed it taking just under 2 minutes for each mile of range gained. I started up the car with no fanfare. No startup sound or anything with the dash coming alive as the only indication that it was on with the "ready" mode lit up.  The shifter knob mounted on the center armrest area was the familiar Toyota "Prius sparkle Blue" with it direct shift to "B" mode format.

I pulled out of Tahoma Market and a glance at I-5 insured that we would be getting nowhere fast there so I turned north on Old Highway 99 knowing the speed limit would be 50 mph soon.  The RAV was quiet, smooth, powerful and very solid feeling.  With only 2200 miles on the odometer, it was barely broke in so one can never know what the test of time would bring but there was no hint of looseness, start of a rattle or any vibration at all in the steering.  Poorly repaired asphalt was barely felt at speed and the "top heavy" feeling of many SUVs was simply not present here.

I shifted into "B" mode and got up to 45 mph then took my foot off the accelerator and received about 50% of max regen. Unlike in a Prius, "B" mode did not feel heavy or remind me of driving a car in 2nd gear.  Regen was engaged gently so despite my lack of experience driving the car, a smooth ride was still easy to do.  Doug then switched the car into "Sport mode" and the accent lighting on the dash turned Red and there was a noticeable change in the pedal response. Traffic did not really allow me to do much (plus Doug is a big guy and didn't want to piss him off...) but even at a low rate of acceleration, the power could be felt.  I drove about 5-6 miles up the road then turned left and into a school parking lot. Here the low center of gravity was noticeable making turns effortless. During my stint selling cars for Ford, I drove a lot of different cars and even at very low speeds, body roll on SUVs can be felt. There was none of that here, very solid road feel.

We retuned to Tahoma Market after what I think was just about a 10 mile drive and I noticed we only used 9 miles on the range estimator making it pretty reliable. Speeds ranged up to 53 mph with a  few stops and traffic slowdowns to the 35 mph level.

Skipping the obvious EV aspects and whatnot, I really liked the interior.  Seats were a cloth with leather (or leather like?) wrap in a light gray. Hope you like the color because there is apparently no other choice here. The center display was large and bright really emphasizing how much difference an extra inch of screen real estate can do over the LEAF's 7 inch display.  Add to that a small screen about two inches by four inches below the center screen that provided additional info on climate controls, etc. 

 With 10+ years experience and over a million examples on the road,  feedback screens for driving performance is something that Toyota does a pretty good job at.  Like the Prius, there is a consumption screen that shows a per minute breakdown of your efficiency, a big plus for a data driven guy like me.  Toyota obviously did not want to redesign the RAV so all the gauges might be digital but still in the "round analog" looking format making it too hard to really tell what is going on at a glance. Now my unfamiliarity with the car is probably aggravating my impressions but numerical digital displays have always been better for my head, so not a plus or minus. more of a personal thing here.  The "power" screen is also set to the left side and not an easy thing to watch if trying to brake efficiently so a lot more "eye splitting" between the screen and the traffic in front, but the enhanced level of regen in "B" mode will help in that instance.

NAV was "normal" in that all in-car NAV systems kinda suck.  Pluses was the ability to scroll (unlike the LEAF which I HATE HATE HATE!)  by simply touching the screen with your finger and dragging in the direction you wanted. Minuses is only having "top down" view.  The LEAF's ability to change the angle of the view allows you a general picture of your route in the distance but zooms up on things close by making it harder to miss turns, street names, etc.

Entertainment options were awesome with Pandora (only thing I really use) built in. Saves me from running the battery down on my cellphone like I do now. (Pandora is a power hog!) Didn't try it so don't know what the speed of the network handling the request is or anything, but still nice to have one touch access without having to fumble with the phone!

The back seats were functional, nothing spectacular but they recline making it a big plus over the LEAF seats. Hard to say but the seats *might* not clean up as well as the LEAF's smooth texture microfiber.  The back hatch was not extremely deep but more than enough room to haul several pieces of luggage or the monthly excursion to Costco and unlike the Prius, there is no sloping storage moving towards the back so full height is maintained.  A side opening rear door is not my preference and it did seem to make the opening a bit less convenient as well but I can see the ideology behind it because of the higher position of the vehicle and a larger door, in its full open position the hatch might prove difficult to close for shorter owners.

Overall, Doug got a great deal in my opinion.  140 miles in good weather means an easy 100 miles in bad. Although the RAV is a compliance car only sold in CA, he has talked with his local Toyota dealer and they are more than willing to service the vehicle should any issue arise. Dianne of Carson Toyota has extensive experience shipping RAVs to all areas of the country so that process would be easy. I have other opinions concerning Toyota skating thru their zero emission obligation with so many out of state sales, but that is another topic...

No fast charge is a deal breaker for most EVs due to their short ranges,  but the 140 mile range would still allow the RAV to cover a huge portion of my transportation need and with TMS, most of that range should be available for several years. Also I have only exceeded 140 miles in the LEAF a half dozen times or so and in all those cases, there were several 120/240 volt charging opportunities.

Now, I love my LEAF and fully intend to lease another next Jan when the current lease runs out and here is the big difference. Unless there is a major change in the 2014 LEAF, I still don't recommend buying one. The 84 mile range and future degradation is simply for me and my driving needs for me to feel comfortable with a long term commitment. I would not feel the same with the RAV. I could easily see myself buying here,  plus Toyota makes it clear they prefer sales over leases. Unlike Nissan, Toyota does not credit you the entire $7500 fed tax credit on the lease price. Just another reason to buy.

Finally the price. At $38,000 it would have been a no-brainer 2 years ago when I got my LEAF but times have changed. Today a LEAF can be had for just over $30,000  so the extra cost would be an issue for me but the extra room, extra range, etc complicates the issue considerably. Take for example someone with a 50 mile commute. How long could he drive that commute in a LEAF? Well, Steve Marsh is still able to go more than 50 miles and he is just under 80,000 miles but with his degradation a 50 mile commute would have to be driven carefully.   So suppose we put an 80,000 mile limit on there and with transportation costs favoring the EV by 8 cents a mile then one could save $6400 over a conventional gas vehicle before they would have to start thinking about the cost of a battery replacement.  Now, in the RAV's case, it is less efficient but not overly so and it has TMS which should slow the rate of degradation down considerably.  But we have no one who has a significant amount of miles piled up yet so lets just pretend the degradation rate is about the same as the LEAF. (although the degradation should be slower)

So if we go back to Steve Marsh, his latest GID readings was in the 230-232 range making a 17.5% loss.  Now if the RAV lost that much its range would drop from 140 to 115.5 miles meaning that Steve's commute could no longer be done on a charge. (Steve currently must quick charge a bit in both directions to make his 64 mile  one way commute but also has a charger at work) AND he would not be looking at any battery replacement costs so lets look at the next 80,000 miles and $6400 in fuel savings (that "could" be much higher)  and he has lost another 17.5% and now his range goes from 115.5 miles to 95.3 miles.  So now, Steve is pricing his 2nd battery pack replacement while Doug is still going strong. All of a sudden that price difference does not seem so bad?

**edit**  had either a brain fart, math challenge, or "The Sun got in my eyes"  so edited the part about Steve's commute which I look at is two "commutes"  because his employer was nice enough to install a charger for him so he does a full charge at home at night and a full charge at work during the day.

****Public Service  Alert****
Help us help you! Plug in America has a survey to measure LEAF battery degradation. It takes only a few minutes and will help the EV Brainiacs get the data they need so they can tell us what we can expect down the line


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