Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defending Nissan's Battery Replacement Program

Since the announcement of Nissan's intention to lease replacement batteries instead of selling them outright, the rage of indignation from customers has simply spiraled out of control.  Nissan announced in late January that a replacement cost for the traction battery would be provided by Spring 2013 and with this announcement coming the day before Summer without a purchase price, people are feeling like a ping pong ball in a shell game. The result is a very active one-sided conversation that has essentially buried the real information that people need to know, especially ones who are not familiar with the LEAF and are still in the "info gathering, shopping for a new car" stage.

Now, despite the title of this post, I am not completely happy with what Nissan has put out so far, but I do see the benefit for many and do understand that Nissan is in a very tough situation.

**Right now there is an immediate need for some to get their LEAF back to full capacity. Whether its from driving 80,000 miles in good weather or from driving 30,000 miles in hot climates, some simply have lost too much range to make their LEAFs viable.  Now the Capacity Warranty states that when the 9th capacity bar is lost (just under 70% of the original capacity) within 5 years or 60,000 miles, The pack will be replaced at no charge.  Due to cost many will opt for that, but many simply cannot manage their LEAF with that little of a range.

** There is a heat management issue that may have first come to light in Phoenix but is now becoming obvious that it covers most of the southern tier of the US. Nissan realizes this and they are working hard to develop a battery chemistry that is more heat tolerant AND maintains the cycle life.  So, there will be a solution to that but its not here yet.

**Battery costs are still high. A purchase of a replacement battery without exchange would be an expense much too high for anyone who is still making car payments on their LEAF.

**Battery innovations are progressing at a rapid pace. Its predicted that battery costs could be lower by half in as little as 3 years. Now, no one knows that for sure but even if there is no major break thru in the technology, volume production will lower the prices significantly on their own.

So this is what Nissan has to think about when coming up with the best method to replace the lost range owners are seeing. So how to take care of the early adopters in a way that would not get a severe backlash a few years down the line.

Now, everyone wants a purchase plan and everyone wants a spare battery and I am not sure why.  A new LEAF pack would probably cost $12,000 or more.  So now you have two batteries and I suppose a few could somehow integrate that into some sort of backup for their solar system for a few thousand more?? Ok, I can see that but if that is what you want to do, you best stop complaining about a $100 monthly fee since you have so much money to spend.

So, ok lets look at purchase with exchange?  Cant really do that until we determine the value of the degraded pack. So how should we do that?  Well, IF a new pack is $12,000 (could be more) then would it make sense that a 70% capacity pack is worth 70% of a new pack price?  or $8400 so we should be able to get a pack replacement with exchange for the difference or $3600?  uhhh, well that is one way to look at it but that is not how businesses work.

We could actually look at the prices between LEAFs with new packs verses prices of LEAFs with degraded packs but there is the "new car penalty" complicating the issues, so lets look at the value of a 58 mile range LEAF verses an 84 mile range LEAF. If you examine the numbers you will see that there is not a one to one relationship between anything "used" verses "new".

How many of you are willing to pay full, or near full price for something that has been purchased, opened and returned? even if it was out of the store a single day and still complete?   ok, that is what i thought.  Ok, then you would take it for what?? 10%? 25% off.  Ok, now how many of you would pay 10-25% off if you knew part of the item was missing? or chipped? or somehow not "new looking" anymore?

So, a  LEAF battery degraded to 70% of its original capacity is probably worth no more than 50% of its original cost or maybe even less. cant say for sure but we can be assured its not worth 70% of its original cost, right?

So lets look at some scenarios. First one with no Battery Leasing Program.

**You have driven your LEAF 45,000 miles and you have 10 capacity bars but its really becoming inconvenient for you. Its a daily stress test to make it home and you are really getting tired of that lady asking you if you want to search for a non existent charging station.  You decide its time to chuck the battery and get a new one. And although its a bargain (Ford's price for the smaller Focus EV pack is currently $17,355.76) You balk at the $12,000 price and decide $6,000 for the exchange is a better deal.  You pull the trigger, you have 12 bars and you tell the lady to "eff off!" when pulling into the garage with 15 miles left in the tank.  Problem is, the battery chemistry has not progressed a lot. (it has some but...) So in 2-3 years, you start noticing that familiar loss of range and you are halfway thru your loan payments for that battery.  Then you get up and read about Nissan's new battery innovation that is expected to retain more than 90% of its capacity after 60,000 mile in Phoenix and its only $2500 with exchange.  First off, you would be thinking I should have waited! Or, I deserve to get that battery because I was instrumental in getting LEAF sales off the ground as an early adopter! And all those would be valid feelings.

But you made a purchase and you are several months beyond any return period.  Many stores have a 30 day price protection guarantee. If you buy something today and that same item is discounted to a lower price within 30 days, they will refund you the difference. Its not a program that many take advantage of but check it out. A lot of stores do it. But too much time has past for that but not for the financial obligation you have agreed to.  Then the real pain starts when they announce a $100 a month battery lease program (while you arent even half way thru your $200 a month loan payments for the battery you purchased)

Now; lets look at the Nissan Battery Lease Program.  This will be a challenge mostly because other than the basics of how the program works, we dont have prices so filling in any dollar values is dicey at best but not knowing facts never stopped me before so why start now?  ;)

Same scenario; 60,001 miles and wanting more range.  Now, it took about 4 years to start feeling the pain of range loss so guessing this new replacement battery will be the same.  But now its a much tougher decision. There is no mileage or degradation parameters for entering the lease program. So the longer one waits the cheaper the overall program right?  But if we decided to jump right in,  We are now have a Car we own and a battery on loan as long as we continue to fork up the $100.  Well, as one can guess the first few years are like heaven.  We have all the range back and for less money than the gas bill for the "other" car.  Still very low maintenance. IOW, looking like a great decision financially.

Now, the scenario must diverge.  We now have had our LEAF for  8 years and 120,002 miles on it and once again, the lady is starting to harass us.  So its time to look at another battery purchase since the stupid lease program wont do anything for us until we have only 8 bars and we are already suffering at 10 bars. So waiting is not an option so what to do?? Well its now the year 2020, the average battery price is now about $150 per Kwh and with weight reduction we can either get a 30 Kwh pack for $4500 which would double our lease payments but only last 5 years or simply get a brand new LEAF III which would quadruple the payments but gives  us a 200 mile range and will take 10 years before any range issues comes up because of the new battery technology using energy of misguided forum posts!

Then we have the driver who is retired or works from home and is really doing the  "Live Local" program and only drives less than 10,000 miles a year.  Their LEAF will cover their transportation needs for 10 years before degradation becomes a problem but all batteries will wear out and its  now 2020 (again!) and they decide its time to try that lease program which btw is now $150 a month for a 2011 but a ridiculously low $75 a month for a 2015 LEAF II. But luckily for them, there is a special low mileage option that they take for $100 a month.  Its now 2030 and the newer better, more advanced battery pack with a 10 year technology advantage is still going strong and one is beginning to wonder if  that $12,000 investment over the past 10 years was worth it now that the LEAF is approaching 200,000 miles.  And despite the fact that 200 mile range EVs can be had all over town for Under $20,000 (after adjustment for inflation of course) they realize yea it wasnt a great deal but still not bad!

Finally, we have the road warrior. They blew thru 60,000 miles in two years and are very happy with the $300 a month they are saving in gas but the range is getting tight and they are looking at the very real possibility of that $300 a month savings being cut up by public charging station fees.   Now with the driving they do, keeping a car 10 years is not in the cards for them. They *might* keep a car they like a whole lot for 5-6 years but that would be rare.  So this LEAF thing starting to fail to provide after two years is simply not in the budget! like WTF???  Cant afford to buy the battery that Nissan has just recently offered for sale so lets take a look at that lease thing they started a while back?

Well FIGURES I drive too much for the "advertised price of $100 a month" Its another bait and switch. But then again, the $150 plan seems workable and should give me enough to drive another 2-3 years.  So he jumps on it holding out as long as possible with the degrading pack until the time charging on the road just becomes too time consuming.  Now its a $3600 more than what was budgeted and it cuts the gas savings to barely $100 a month but the battery chemistry is a "bit" better so it goes an extra year before the range issues pop up (so now its $5400 more money) . So its dump the car with 150,000 miles (especially since it was just paid off last month) and get another new LEAF with 50%  more range, better battery chemistry and for a few grand less than your 2011!

Ok, we have established that I have an active imagination and ad libbing is something I tend to do.  Now we can bounce the numbers around but it does become clear that offering a battery for purchase is going to burn an already burnt early adopter.  It is expected that early adopter getting version 1.0 of anything will pay up the nose but how many times can you kick a poor horse?  Offering a battery for purchase at this point only delays the existing issues for a few years. If it took 2-3 years before you started thinking along those lines, what makes you think it will take longer the 2nd time around?

The other thing we need to think about is that this is not the final word from Nissan on Battery pack replacement.  Now, if one wants to think that Nissan just threw this lease thing together (along with its total lack of details on cost) just to make the Spring deadline, then ok. I am with you on that. I dont agree with that, but its easy for me to understand why someone would think that.

Personally, I think Nissan thought long and hard on the subject and made the best decision for the current situation. A situation that is currently in the state of rapid change and that is battery technology improvements.  It could be 5 years to see a doubling in capacity at half of todays prices or it could be 3 years.  Leasing takes the gamble out of that decision and allows one to calculate the budgetary cost for the future.

Now, just to clarify. I am not a complete fan of this program ( the 8 bar thing for the 2nd lease battery is simply too much!) but in exploring other possible scenarios, I feel this is the best way to go today.  Two years from now, I doubt I will continue to feel that way.  We still have at least 6 months before the program launches and 100% of the pricing details to see first before I can really make anything resembling long term plans. I have 7 months left on my lease so we shall see.

**disclaimer** As part of the Nissan LEAF Marketing Focus Group, I do get some insight to the inner workings of Nissan's decision making process. This article has none of that (since we really didnt get much) and is purely from an owner perspective. Now I dont feel I have to say this but some people get carried away over taking individual statements way out of context and running with them. But this is all speculation on my part as to why I think Nissan went this route. Like all decisions, it has its good parts and bad parts but overall, I think they really did the right thing

Friday, June 21, 2013

Nissan Battery Replacement Program

On June 20, 2013 Nissan announced preliminary details of their long awaited LEAF Battery Replacement Program. As many early adopters started hitting the 2 year mark of ownership with their LEAFs, thoughts had turned to the long term maintenance cost of replacing the traction battery sometime in the future.  The anticipation of being able to type in that one unknown number into their TCO calculations had reached a boiling point and Nissan promised pricing by Spring and they delivered on the day before Summer.

Instead of being given a price to purchase a replacement battery, Nissan announced plans to launch a Battery leasing program by early 2014.  There were no specifics released, only guidelines but basically the lease would cost about $100 a month and would guarantee at least a 9 bar battery forever.   Some basic FYI's

** There is no timeframe to when one can enter the program. Therefore, no one should sign up before the basic range warranty guaranteeing replacement after the 9th capacity bar is lost within 5 years/60,000 miles.  This means one can start the program after 150,000 miles and with a battery degraded to 50% if they so choose to do so.  However, one can enter the program AT ANY TIME.

** The terms of the program requires turning in the OEM battery which will be replaced by a 12 bar capacity battery of equal or greater quality. The capacity is covered for as long as the lease payments are made with no time limitations. Termination of the lease program by the customer will result in Nissan retrieving the leased battery WITHOUT return of the OEM battery.

** The replacement battery will be one with the most advanced technology available at the time. I could not get Andy to commit to a larger capacity in the future and without a major overhaul (and expense!) of the BMS, that might not be possible but what will happen is improvements making the battery pack more resistant to degradation by heat, greater cycling capacity, etc. (added for clarification)  This does not mean that a larger capacity battery may not be in the future. Advances in size/weight reduction could potentially allow a larger capacity pack to be retrofitted but its my opinion required changes to BMS hardware/software combined with dropping new EV car prices would make that an expensive proposition

** Nissan's goal of a lease program will "level the playing field"  across all dealerships. There will be no added installation fees, signup fees, etc at the dealer level. 

I was invited to a conference call with Andy Palmer, Jeff Kuhlman and Brian Brockman just before the announcement and they based their decision on results of the survey knowing that there are several people who want to "own" things and what is essentially a lifetime lease is something that is somewhat alien in the auto business but is actually commonly practiced in nearly every other business.  Nissan was faced with a tough decision and they really had no other car manufacturer to look at when making the decision. Other EV manufacturers want you to pay several thousand dollars years in advance for a battery (Tesla) or just quotes a price nearly equal to half the cost of the car (Ford)  neither of which I personally would have been happy about so its easy to see why Nissan did not choose either of those paths. If I was creating a score card to critique;

Currently innovations in the chemistry of Lithium batteries are improving on average every 6 months. A flat one time price for a new battery (which would be with exchange so no options to have two batteries) means a very large cash commitment (with associated loan fees, interest payments, etc) which would probably result in payments more than double the $100 monthly lease fee for several years.  Phoenicians with high rates of degradation could easily see replacing batteries every two years under the warranty program so flat purchase would not be in their best interests.  This also allows them to pay a very modest fee until a battery chemistry robust enough is developed to handle the escalating heat issues of the Arizona desert. This allows them to continue to drive EV without worrying about the large investment in the near term due to range losses.  This is a big big plus for the program.

No option to buy another pack is a drawback. The process to change out the packs should not be done by anyone who is not qualified but the process is not complex and well within the abilities of the practiced DIY'er with a well stocked garage.  Special lifting equipment would be needed to maneuver the pack but it could be (and has been) done.  Many had hoped to buy a new pack from Nissan and use the old pack as a battery backup for their solar systems. This is really just a small minus. There is little doubt in my mind that few would consider a purchase of a new pack without exchange simply because of the very high cost.

Replacing the lease pack below 9 bars capacity is a HUGE minus. This could potentially mean driving a LEAF with a freeway range of 55 miles for a significant amount of time while waiting for that 4th bar to disappear. That 55 miles is in Summer. In a Northwest winter it would be closer to 45 miles. Most of the people I know well who have a LEAF could not easily make that much loss work in their daily driving needs without a lot of compromise and the key here is understanding that compromise.  It is one thing to buy a car, pay it off and reap the benefits of driving at a quarter to half the cost of their ICE counterparts. That benefit alone makes one's ability to accept compromise pretty high. But the level of acceptable compromise drops fast if one is paying $100 a month for a leased battery. Add to that the requirement to charge away from home and potentially away from the home PVC means another additional cost making TCO as much if not more than gas purchases.

The lease program is a huge plus for high mileage drivers. Here many easily save more than $250 a month in fuel costs which is what someone averaging 30 mpg paying $3.75 for gas logging 2000 miles would save minus electricity costs. In Steve Marsh's case, his employer provided him a charger at work so he only pays for half his electricity costs charging at home but will soon be paying for public charging (a price I strongly think is still being considered despite some recent announcements )  In reality, $100 a month for long term coverage against degradation is really unheard of in the automotive industry. With his driving needs, the highest mileage terms would be eclipsed in 3 years.  The lease would cover him to a million miles if he so chose to do so. Keep in mind; prices are not set but a predictable cost is always a plus.  Try doing that with your gasoline budget!

But there is the flip side here.  People with low to moderate needs will be screwed. Driving 1000 miles a month means an additional cost of 10 cents a mile. With the lower annual mileage, the need for a replacement of the leased battery might outdistance the ownership of the car meaning the money paid into the program would never be recouped. Like the flat $5 Blink fast charge fee or the WA State $100 EV registration tax,  flat fees simply DO NOT WORK.  Sure its great for the company providing them. Easier software and accounting needs and in most cases, flat fees do work for a reasonably large percentage of the customer base so this is a small minus.  A lot of talk at MNL over what would be a good purchase price for an exchanged battery and the consensus seemed to be in the $3500 range which would be more than 3 years at $100 a month after interest charges, inflation, etc are considered.

My thoughts of the announcement which are very preliminary and may be based on incorrect understanding of the information I have received thus far are understandably mixed but all of my concerns could be easily fixed by the "flat fee" issues.

Nissan feels that most LEAFers will not exercise the exchange program for the life of their LEAF driving the car 5-10 years then getting then purchasing LEAF II or III.  So the lease program was the best solution to make sure that early adopters were taken care of and I agree with their decision 100%.  A very large purchase price for a replacement battery to own would not work in high degradation areas even if it was under $3,000.  By making it a lease program, its a predictable flat fee per month without the options of dealer added services. The pricing would be assumedly handled by their leasing arm.  Although there was no mention of a lease processing fee, i could understand one of modest terms of a few hundred bucks.

But if I were Nissan, I would want a program that covers more needs.  A tiered option would be the best.  How about plans that cover both high mileage AND low mileage LEAF drivers?

What about $50 a month for a LEAFer that covers capacity to only 7 bars with steps to 10 or 11 bars with an increasing cost.  The higher tiers should implement a time factor (replacements no sooner than 12-24 months) with a $150 (or whatever) a month lease rates.

During the conference call, Nissan stated that there are several legal issues that needs to be hammered out as the reason for the delayed 2014 launch date.  Palmer did state that this lease program was Nissan's original intention when the LEAF first came out but was unable to do it based on laws and the terms of the Federal tax rebate which the LEAF would not have qualified for unless the pack was a part of the car purchase price.  It is also my hope that Nissan announced the lease program to judge the reaction of the EV community and will consider that reaction when fine tuning details of the program.

I understand many of you are disappointed because we did not get the battery pack price but Nissan's reasoning is sound on this and this is really the best course of action.  Its one thing to get an early model that does not have the seat heater, more efficient heat exchanger, etc but to be saddled with a 2nd very large bill for a battery is not in anyone's best interest. Traction battery technology is still in the state of rapid change and will be for years to come.

Finally; Nissan has only announced the basic intent. There were no other details provided, so the actually monthly cost, mileage limitations after entering the program, termination fees, conditions for exchange besides capacity, etc.  have not been revealed and guessing its because the technology is evolving so rapidly that they simply dont know what will be available in 6 months.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Improving Charging Options.

The announcement of Ecotality's flat $5 fast charge fee, the expected uproar from the EV community,  the lengthening lines at the chargers, the nearly empty L2's, AND the accelerating sales of the LEAF may not qualify as a "brick wall" to EV acceptance. But it is likely to be a hindrance rivaling the scale of inconvenience caused by the Skagit River Bridge collapse on I-5.

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see conspiracy theorists claiming Ecotality's announcement is a marketing move to get more L2 revenue from the disgruntled fast chargers wanting just a 10 minute blast while shortening the lines for people who actually need the full 30 minutes.

But on the eve of the start of the flat fee, Ecotality has barely acknowledged the discussion exists but one can only hope their minimal reply is a result of very active discussions at their corporate level.  Now they might want to think about their own conflicting business model. On the one hand, they charge a fee based on time for L2's but a flat fee for L3's.  If anything, this is backwards. I can only speak for my area but L2's outnumber L3's greater than 100 to one.  (actually its "infinity to one" since I don't have ANY Blink fast chargers in my area)  Now Ecotality's explanation for charging by time was to prevent ICE'ing by EVs. IOW, time plugged in after the charge has been completed.  I can agree with that, but then common sense seems to fall away or maybe I am missing something?  Does it make sense to charge by time to prevent camping for locations that number in the hundreds verses a flat fee which encourages camping for stations that can be counted on one hand?

A glaring example of wasting their resources is Capital Gateway Park on 14th and Jefferson in Olympia.  Here sits 8 Blink L2's that seem to never get used.  The reason is simple. They are situated away from the main area used by most state employees which makes it at least a 20 minute walk for many, IOW unplugging and moving during a break is out of the question.  Granted there is a couple buildings in the area but most are 5-6 blocks away or more.  During the time when they were still free, I saw a Volt plugged in nearly every day. Every once in a while, I would see a LEAF or two joining it meaning less than 50% capacity.  I am willing to bet if Blink set up a "bulk rate" of sorts like? say $5 (where did I get that figure from??) which would be good for up to 9 hours or so, that every station would be full.  Now, does that allow more people to charge? no, it would be limited to 8 people but would generate 40 hours of charging revenue or $40 daily for Ecotality.  Now, that is not the best long term solution but it would be more than I expect they are making now.  Now is this fair for people who might have appointments with the State and need a few hours of charge to get back home afterwards?  Well no, but there are several chargers scattered in 1-3 plug configurations all around the downtown Olympia and Capital area which might prove a better fit. Thursday afternoon, I did a drive by of more than a dozen Blinks in the area.  I only saw 3 in use. (only one was actually charging...)

All this brings up the real challenge that we will need to address and that is how to address every charging need and then determine locations and types of chargers. So then, what are the needs?

The "A's"
Obviously we have the commuter and they fall loosely into two categories; short distance and long distance.  By short distance, I mean ones who can comfortably make it to work on a charge but might need a boost to make it home in bad weather or for errands on the way home. This group would be looking at getting a charge nearly every day but could actually do without it but it would be a bit of an inconvenience.

The "B's" 
These are the road warriors whose commute is at or beyond the new LEAF range which means they need something enroute within a few years or less to make it. They almost always  "have" to charge away from home every day.

The "C's"
They have a very short commute easily making it on an 80% charge and will be fine for years even with future degradation. Charge almost always at home but does make the longer trips on weekends and may need a charge occasionally on the road. This charge can be a few hours on an convenient L2 or a 15 minute boost at a QC or even plugging into 120 volts at the Sister's house for the day.

The "D's"
These are the "C's on steroids" for lack of a better term. They frequently plan trips that may require a half dozen charging stops during the weekend

Ok, so there you have it and like any list that "forces random shapes to choose between circles or squares"  many of us are a combination of these. Now as an EV'er my solution has always been put a fast charger at every gas station in the country and call it good.  After all, is that not where America fuels up?? We EV'ers are Americans (for the most part) right?  But as we all know that line of thinking doesn't seem to penetrate much beyond the EV community so I guess we need to look at other options.

Now, the first problem we have is money. Everyone whines about costs (kinda hard to believe as we ignore the "herd of Elephants in the room AKA "Associated Oil Costs") being too much and that we EV'ers are somehow being pampered by the government dole? If anyone has a good explanation on that, I would be interested in hearing it because I feel kinda ignored. But it is a discussion between 50,000 EVers and 250 million Gassers, so it might be better to table the discussion until we can at least get better odds "up" to something doable like The Battle of Thermoplyae  and although LEAFs are really starting to take off, I think its still at least a year away.  And since we can put in like 10-15 L2's for every L3, then this really begs the question? how many L1's can we put in for the cost of every L2?

Another possible reason for Ecotality charging a flat $5 for a fast charge is that they realize most only charge for a short period of time and do so because they have no other choice. So by putting the screws to the "B's" they are increasing their revenue but at what cost?  I think Ecotality is getting desperate and are in a panic to solidify a revenue stream and they are going about it the wrong way.  What they should be looking at for a real cash cow is installing banks of 120 volt charging stations at major employers and billing a daily or monthly subscription fees.  This gives about a 40 mile boost for the average "8 hour a day" employee and prevents situations like being billed $50 for a 5 hour charge like an unfortunate airline traveler who plugged into a Blink L2 (read link above...)  This covers the "A's" and will also encourage a LOT more potential A's to go EV. For this I would bill 50 cents an hour, $3 a day or $55 a month.  This could also be used as an employee incentive. Free charging for Employee of the Month, 50% off for car poolers. Hey! great ideas breed greater ideas! This should make the A's plenty happy! Instead of paying an extra $8,000-18,000 for the range of a RAV 4 EV they can just get the range conveniently while parked at work for a very reasonable cost.

The next thing we need to look at is where is the best place to put the L2's?  Some feel that grocery stores are best for fast chargers but I have to disagree (remember you can post feedback here and I am sure that comment will bring up things to say!) and the biggest reason why is because I do not feel that fast chargers should be used for 30 minutes. In this hustle, bustle world we live in, time is important and 30 minutes at a fast charger is not in your best interests of time management  So I think that fast chargers should be located in areas where the stopping time is more along the line of 10-15 minutes which means a fast food stop (50 million fast food visits daily makes for a HUGE potential market), convenience stores or a waypoint for regional travel near major roads and freeways. And make it a per minute charge with tiered pricing for longer duration charges to encourage people to just get what the need and go.  Also allow dual head chargers to use one of their heads to charge intelligently!  There is no reason why the queued vehicle cannot start charging when the charging vehicle charging rate drops sufficiently to allow it.  All the Blinks I have seen have a 60 Kwh power available (per their screen) and the LEAF only charges at 48 kwh.  Even with a very low battery, the Blink should have the enough power to switch the queued vehicle on after about 18 minutes or so.  This will cover the D's  and get the B's in a "B"etter mood as well!

Shopping Malls and major retailers should be putting in the L2's for no other reason than to get a marketing edge on the competition. Sears, Target, and Walmart seem to be absent in this regards as least in this area. As major players  Walgreens has taken the lead in this area and with 8,077 locations nationwide we can only hope that they expand the current L2's from Semaconnect.  Now a lot of you might say that Walgreens is not a good location for L2 charging and for many that is right. A occasional fast charger positioned would be nice but considering the chargers Walgreens has installed up to now have been fully funded by Walgreens itself, I can only be grateful for the generosity and consideration they have given the EV community. They have most definitely won all my drugstore needs! And L2 can work in some situations.  Case in point; the last 2 times I picked up prescriptions were for my Son. The doctor's office phones them in and both times it was at the end of the day so had no other errands so I sent them to the Walgreens that had a charging station. I went there plugged in and went to pharmacy and as expected, the prescription was not ready yet.  This is something that really used to bother me because I have waited anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. Never knowing when it was ready was irritating.  But in both situations, I was able to walk across the street, get some grocery shopping in (there is also several eateries available)  so got some fresh air, exercise, errands done and all while keeping my stress level low knowing I was adding range to my day!

Costco is another retailer that should be getting into the charging game.  My typical stops at Costco average an hour or so, sometimes longer. They could tailor the charge as free if you are a member (swipe your membership card!) and make it free if you are an executive or business member! But even with membership stores, one just does not have the occasion to be there that often so a time based fee is the only thing that makes sense so I guess Blinks Buck an Hour model is doable here and will cover the needs of all the letters above but more importantly of the C's who in their budget conscious thinking will have a day planned in the area to get the charge they need and the best part is that Costco just might be offering plugs again soon!

What this all boils down to is that charging per hour for L2's wont work when they are placed in locations that people normally park for extended periods. Unless you are in the habit of commuting by plane across town then the ideology of putting them in at airports really needs to be examined. Same for work locations. A few L2's would be nice to cover visitors and others who have the chance to move their car during a break or something but generally speaking, no... L1's providing 120 volts maybe slow but they are dirt cheap in comparison and is really all that most commuters need.  Any company that wants to earn a living charging EVs will need to realize that there is no part of the EV community that can be ignored. My charging needs change on a daily basis and I am betting so do many others here.  So Ecotality, lets get away from this "one fee structure fits all" ideology!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Charging Data, Time Management and Flat Rate Whining; Part Two

Probably said all that I can say about Blink's flat $5 fee and how it would hurt both Blink and us. What can I say? Its not like it takes all that many words to figure out that flat rate fees work in lots of cases and fast charging is simply not one of those cases.  It is really that simple.  Anyway, this post will be updated frequently as I gather charge data. Below is first time (in 5 attempts) that I was able to charge until the machine stopped on its own. Using the AV station in Tumwater below. used a  stopwatch with a lap function so time is minutes.seconds.hundreths.  Charge is Kwh. Guess I didn't have to specify I was at an AV charger since Blink treats the charge we get like its proprietary information. It was a sunny day with temps in low 70's.

There is a reason I have advocated charging the lower 2/3rds of the pack and that has nothing to do with heat, degradation, or anything else. It is simply time management. I suffer from what is commonly known as the "I-5 curse" which states that it does not matter which direction of travel you are headed, incidents in EITHER direction will cause you to be stuck in traffic anyway. So the urge to grab a charge and go can be overwhelming at times especially since this week (my weeks start on Saturday) I have been stuck in traffic and both times I would have missed it if I had been a few minutes earlier but then again, I might just be creating drama in my head in order to motivate me to continue my rant against long charges at fast charge stations and companies who encourage such behavior by doing things like flat rate fees...

time          charge     Gid
zero           zero         50
1.20.77      one           ...
1.14.43      two           ...
1.13.99      three         ...
1.14.96      four         103
1.23.45      five          114
1.29.10      six            125
1.41.15      seven       137
1.45.82      eight       147
2.03.08     nine          160
2.21.60     ten            172
2.41.82      11            183
3.16.88       12           196
4.00.09       13           211
2.24.00      13.48       219

total time 28.11.12  SOC 78%.
Time to get first 52% of the charge; 9 minutes 37.83 seconds
Time to get last 48% of the charge; 18 minutes 33.29 seconds
Time to get to 65% SOC; 18 minutes 30.15 seconds
Time to charge from 65% (my recommended stopping point) to 78%; 9 minutes 40.97 seconds

The bolded times designates either 7 kwh verses 2.48 kwh.  Now the slower time is still gaining you about a mile a minute in range so still "worthy" but you can see that as soon as it hits 65%, the rate really starts to drop off fast and keep in mind; I did not even get to 80%.

I did a charge at the Blink at Tahoma Market and although it was set to 80% (and it went to 80% earlier in the week) the charge stopped at 70.1%!  So next time I will probably set the charge to 100% with SOC meter on to track it...

To be continued;

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