Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Public Charging Fees

Once again it seems like public charging fees are making way more news than they should be making.  But recently one network made statements inferring that the only "fair" way was to charge by the Kwh.  They justified the comment with saying that its how gasoline is billed so its fair right? Well that is one way to look at it but the way I see it  is that is like charging $3.00 a gallon for gasoline in a pickup but charging $4.00 a gallon for a Corolla because it can do more with that gallon so it should pay more for the same gallon??

Another point they brought up is that cars charge at different rates.  So a Volt would be penalized because it charged slower if charged by time. Umm, like so what!  If the Volt owner wants their fair share of juice, then they should not have gotten a Volt. You get what you pay for. I have a LEAF with a 6KW charger that I PAID FOR. I could have saved money by simply accepting the 3.8 KW charger but I did not because I want the convenience of getting a faster charge AND saving money on public charging fees.

Now; if things were a little different, then ok, charging by the KWH could make sense but the problem we have is too many cars (Ya, they hot around here!) and a very limited number of plugs to go around.  So, it becomes a question of serving the public. When billing by the Kwh, there will be people who will spend 15 minutes on a 50 KW charger getting that last kwh (at a rate of 4 KW) while people are waiting impatiently behind them.  So now, the public loses out, the network provider loses out. NO ONE WINS HERE

But if we are billed by plug time, then most would think twice about paying say $2.50 a kwh... They would be more apt to get what they need and move on. Remember on a fast charger, the more you charge, the slower the rate which means the greater your cost per mile.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Greenlots has announced at charging rate of $10 per hour at their fast chargers in Seattle which will be billed by the minute at 17 cents a minute! Details are a bit sketchy as this announcement is literally a few hours old but what we need to do is get behind this company and show them AND OTHERS that a per minute billing system will work and will have the greatest amount of acceptance!

Another fine example of charging is the chargepoint Charger in Gig Harbor, WA who bills by the minute at the rate of 50 cents an hour. I plugged in for 45 minutes and 33 seconds the other day and was billed 38 cents. Since I was charging at just over 6.1 KW, that power is cheaper than I can charge at home!!

**Edit**  Ok, the rates set by Greenlots are as the managing entity of the charging stations and the rates are actually set by the host which in this case is Whole Foods at their Seattle Store. IOW, they run similar to Chargepoint

The website linked above says little about their network but they do have a map on their mobile app which can be downloaded for both Apple and Android

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lease Turn Ins FYI's

Already talked about my concerns over possible ramifications of turning in my LEAF without its pre inspection and sure enough, it came back to bite me. But it bit me in a spot I was not prepared for.

I got a statement charging me $308 for the broken antenna, $188 for the scratch (its a deep one) on the back bumper which I was expecting. Now, I did not get charged for mismatched tires or cleaning (car was a mess) which surprised me but what I did not expect was a $375 charge for a cracked windshield!

I say what?? I know my car had issues but a cracked windshield? no way! and $375?? double no way!! For one thing; I have zero deductible glass repair clause on my insurance policy (remember my previous post about overpaying for insurance right? well, this is something that comes at no additional charge. Its actually a $100 deductible glass repair but they have stated several times that they waive the $100)

So while emailing my sales guy, I am also calling NMAC, they bounce me around to a few people until I get a guy and his first question is "Did you get your pre inspection?"

Well, we all know the answer to that one.  I say no but says "I did a walkaround with my sales guy and we did not notice any issues with windshield."

Mean while, sales guy emails me back stating he only remembered scratch on bumper, broken antenna and "star" on windshield.  WHAT?? what star?  well too late to look at the "star" because car is gone.

So have to think that this $375 charge is the result of damage that people in abandoned K-Mart parking lots fix for $25?

Either way; the rep is submitting a request for an adjustment to the charges and I will find out the status of that request in 3 business days which means Monday I am guessing.

But things that I should have done;

** Get the pre inspection. As mentioned in my previous post; that was the reason I was at the dealership to begin with. But I didn't do it. Let the salesman talk me into doing the swap right then and there. I should have gotten the 2013 and held onto the 2011 to do the inspection at a later date but...

** Take a lot of pictures. Concentrate on the glass and bumpers and any other likely spot that might be damaged in a parking lot incident.

this pre-inspection thing is strange because what is to prevent something from happening between the pre inspection and the actual turn in?  Since the entity responsible for the inspection would not be at the dealership at the time, its possible that something could happen at the dealership that would cause a crack or scratch or dent, right?

Either way; I am not accusing the dealership of damaging the car while it was stored there waiting for the inspection to be done although it would have been there likely over 10 days.  I still get carwings notifications when the car is charged and so I know when it was likely to have been cleaned since the standard procedure is to run the heater on high 2-3 hours to dry the upholstery which as you might imagine would probably warrant a charge afterwards.

So, keep those thoughts in mind when you get ready to terminate your lease. OBTW; As mentioned, I had not gone to the dealership with the thoughts of switching cars so my EVSE was where it always is (and still is) and that is plugged in inside my garage...

**edit**  Feb 1, 2014   Just received word that they erased the debt so no more money is due. Thank you NMAC for your reasonability in this matter! The moral of the story; It never hurts to ask!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

3 Years!!

Yesterday marked the 3 year anniversary of my experience with the Nissan LEAF. On Jan 18TH, 2011 I journeyed to Rairdon's Nissan in Auburn WA to pick up my blue SL with QC. Up until that previous weekend, I had planned to purchase the car but changed my mind at the last second because I became a bit hesitant about how well my state would support EVs. Its funny that range degradation was never really in my thoughts at all and why should it be? I was living in Olympia, working at a job in Olympia that I had been at 8 years so I thought I was set.  Wow, was I ever wrong!

For the 3rd time since I had been there, the company was sold.  Every time, we lost benefits. I finally decided it was time to move on but now realized that the range of the LEAF might hamper my job prospects.  Now this was really a complete 180º change in attitude for me especially when 8 years prior, I made the decision to take the job in Olympia for much less pay than an offer I had 40 miles North.  I did it because I did not want to commute and I did not want to overly support the Oil companies. I had a Prius at the time so the gas bill would have been manageable in any case but I simply did not want to spend the time on the road.

After bouncing around a few jobs in the area, I finally settled (at least for now) on a job that requires travel to various job sites all over the Puget Sound region and has an office in Tacoma which is currently 23 miles from my house. The commute was ok for the LEAF but the best part is now, I got paid to commute.  For any travel more than 20 miles from my "location" of Olympia (actually two locations of Olympia or Lacey and mileage is measured from whatever is shortest naturally) I am paid mileage plus wage (minimum wage which sucks but better than nothing and I know a LOT of people who drive a lot farther who get paid nothing, so I "live" with it. either way, it makes being stuck in traffic somewhat more bearable...)

But as I took on more and more responsibility for the company I worked for, I started getting more jobs that only needed one or two people. So, I was less able to use a company vehicle (policy states that any job over 75 miles one way, a company vehicle is preferred so that leaves a lot leftover) and had to rely on my car more which was ok by me. The mileage I soon realized is a tax free payment that is not income and geared towards the price of gas in the area. It did not take me long to realize that using my LEAF at 2.4 cents per mile and near zero maintenance was a very lucrative proposition!

But degradation did set in eventually causing me to lose about 12% of my range and that little bit did affect my options quite a bit.  Now, one one man jobs, I could stop and charge and simply change my pay records to not reflect any stops that I could not bill to the company.  now WA State has very strict labor laws concerning meals and breaks so I did incorporate them as much as I could which is another reason why a per kwh pay system is something I supported so much. I frequently did not have 30 minutes to spare!

And thank you WA for your initial support of public charging and to the Feds for recognizing the people of WA for their progressive attitudes towards clean transportation in making us one of the launch points for the EV Highway Project.  But even that has almost come full circle.

What started out great guns with awesome promises never did really live up to the hype.  Ecotality, the makers of the Blink system of chargers and EVSEs simply never lived up to the hype. They only installed a fraction of the fast chargers promised and for several months had technical issues that took a year to resolve. But the did resolve the issues (a moisture problem in WA?? whodhavethunkit!!) only to be sold a few months later.  As far as the new owners?? Well that question has yet to be answered since they have effectively ignored the fact that we even exist.  Slowly, nearly every fast charger on the Blink Network has fallen into disrepair out of sheer neglect.  

For the few that are still working, new users are unable to access them anyway. Access cards are impossible to get and since the ownership change, I am not aware of a single card being issued despite several dozen people asking for one. This leaves only the option of requesting an access code from them and trying to get it to work but this can only work if the station is currently communicating with HQ, another issue altogether, which is simply another roadblock to LEAFers simply wanting to drive their LEAFs during less than stellar weather (which is common at this time of year around here) But there maybe light at the end of the tunnel as Nissan installed a half dozen fast chargers at various dealership locations which helped including Olympia and Puyallup which has true 24/7 access!

All in all, EVs are gaining steam in the market place and sales are accelerating. More options and manufacturers will soon have plug options available and hopefully will move beyond "compliance" numbers.  I am not willing to predict what it will be like in the next 3 years at the end of my new 2013 lease  but...

** WA needs to step up to install a charging network. This could allow them to boost the local economies of struggling areas.  Grays Harbor County is a perfect example of an area desperately needing a boost and also on the way to several tourist destinations. Putting chargers here would have people in EVs stopping and shopping for food, etc.  who would otherwise breeze right thru in their gas cars.

**Nissan needs to boost their EV selections. The LEAF is a GREAT start but they need to cover the needs of other market segments.

**Higher capacity batteries with better cycling are on their way and will be here by the time I am ending my current lease. If the price is right, I will move from leaser to buyer and I will be providing the information on how I will get the money  to do it.

Soooo, stay tuned!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Breaking It In!

Since I will be back to the work grind, I have decided to make today my one month anniversary of LEAF 2013 (its actually Monday the 20th...but close enough!) and what a month its been!!

I still don't have a definitive range test and not sure I really want to do one. They have so much variability built into them that unless I get on a track somewhere, results are really only a one time shot. Now, if I have the opp to get near 100 miles on a charge, I might consider circling the neighborhood but even that is unlikely based on a lack of free time. But one thing is obvious and that is the 2013 seems to have a bit more to offer.  It looks like Nissan has simply allowed the BMS to access just a pinch more battery. In my 2011, it was a random access to the full 281 GIDs.  I hit it several times but it was once every 3-5 days or so and I would go weeks without hitting it.  In the 2013, every full charge has hit 284 so even the target is higher.

Now, the weather still plays a big part especially at this time of year and during our monsoon I did a 68 miles and might have had 2-3 miles left and that was while averaging 52 mph on the return trip.  But we had monster winds (power outages all over the Puget Sound Region) and very heavy rain so not the best of conditions.

Compare that to just a few days ago,  I drove almost the same distance 65.5 miles but had 27 on the GOM, 21.5 on LEAF Spy (which I trust a "bit" more) 60 GID and my speed? Well, I "try" to keep it at 60 mph but its a LEAF so its super smooth driving feel completely overcomes my feel for my speed. So, my log showed me doing as much as 72 mph with long stretches in the mid to upper 60's (guessing I was going downhill or something...)  So, in a nutshell, my 2011 got about 90 miles in mostly freeway driving using my VERY conservative style during Summer. But that was consistent because I had cruise control and my usual set speed was 58 mph for the first 2 years and that later dropped to 55 mph as my range degraded.

But the trip above is projecting to the same 90 miles at much higher speeds during Winter. This is a much larger improvement than I was expecting. I actually feel that I can make 100 miles @ 55 mph.  My previous 4 forays into triple digit distances all involved a significant amount of street level driving. They had to because there was no way I could approach 100 miles on the freeway.  But anyway; come Summer, we see how it goes.

The one thing I noticed with the 2013 is that it needs a warm up cycle and please don't tell me what is warming up because I aint gotta clue. Like the 2011, the 2013 blows off the first 10 GIDs or so at the rate of  5-8 GIDs per mile.  After that, its more like 3-3.5 GIDs per mile, a HUGE difference.  For a long time, I figured it wa a "float charge" thing.  This is common on lead-acid batteries. They are charged by charging to a level of 14ish volts which seems pretty high for a 12 volt battery right but that is how its done. (maybe that is why they don't cycle very well?) so the voltage is a bit higher right after charging is complete and settles to its 12.7-12.8 volts. So they read artificially high for a bit so was wondering if that "2874" was a "float GID" reading right? Makes sense...to me anyway.

But actually that was shot down because anytime the car sat more than a few hours, it would go thru the same warm up cycle...oh well.  One thing I do know is that its not warming up the heater.  But with the heated steering wheel and seats, it is more comfortable and actually worked well when the temps were in the teens but the heat caused extra condensation on the windshield so defrost needs to be run more than before so kinda of a trade off. I am sure I am still ahead energy wise with the 2013 and positive my butt likes it a lot more than the 2011!

Now, you might be tired of hearing this but if you really want to know what your LEAF is doing, get LEAF Spy.  It really is invaluable as a tool. Every day, I find another reason to look at its data.  More recently, I have been casually tracking temperature readings from on the traction pack and have noticed that generally driving at freeway speeds is good for a 2-3 º rise over 25ish miles.  Now, that is during the Winter and ambient temps do play a part. During our cold snap, twice I noticed a 4 º DROP during the same freeway trip.  Now there  is a constant debate on how to treat your battery well so it will treat you well and two of the most popular topics are heat verses high SOC.

Now we already know both play a part but what if in the Summer, you get home and you have a relatively late start in the morning like 8ish.  Many set their timers to finish the charge just before they leave in the morning but what if that little extra amount of heat is hurting you especially when your drive might add several degrees to the pack?  Unfortunately, I did not get LEAF Spy in time to check on this before temps got cold (also, hadn't thought about this either :) )

So maybe it might be better to let the charge complete say at 2-3 am during the coldest part of the day so the pack can cool a bit more before hitting the streets and the heat of the day.  Either way,  I decided to get a new EVSE upgrade (despite the fact my old one worked fine) and this one is programmable so its currently set to 20 amps. I am on a 30 amp breaker so can go as high as 24 but really don't need the extra speed generally (and if I do, it takes 2 mins to reprogram it) and also I am using an ancient breaker panel that has proprietary breakers with a really crappy reputation so thought it best to not push the limits.

Either way, I am doing what I can to boost my battery's life. Want to do better this time around as compared to my 2011 so aiming for less than 8% degradation at 45,000 miles which is probably a pipe dream but we see.

One quick thing before I go. My basic battery readings are 67.36 ahr and 104.36% Hx. Now, that is where its at most of the time but only for a few days, then the numbers start to drop. I have had it as low as 66.91 ahr and 102.83% Hx. When that happens, I quick charge it to get batt temps at least up the upper 50's low 60's and that boosts my readings back up again. I have never gone past 67.36 ahr but have had Hx readings as high as 105.98%!

So I guess my pack is like me. Not too hot, not too cold

Customer Service

Hi all!, I am baaaaacck!!  Actually other than 3 days of training, I didn't go anywhere but today does represent the first day off since Dec 26th. A lot has happened in the LEAF world (as it always seems to happen) and as always, some good will come out of somethings and some bad will come.

The 2014 LEAF has been announced. There was small price jump which is essentially the cost of adding backup camera to all models. I will stick with my previous recommendation that unless you;

1) Have a regular need of 50 miles or less per day

2) Live in an area well supported by public charging options (like work) and don't mind the time to plug in or the cost

3) Live in a cooler area

You should most definitely lease.  What kind of deals the 2014 will have remains to be seen, but the 2013's are being offered nearly interest free. So, if looking for a great deal, you better hurry because the 2013's are going fast.

Living in the Puget Sound region has its advantages. It is protected from Pacific Storms in all directions except one.  So when storms come in from Alaska, the Olympics offer very little protection for us and recently we were hit pretty good. Torrential rains were not too bad. Flooding was actually relatively mild but the wind played havoc causing power outages to thousands.  Not good when you have a LEAF.   Like any power recovery process; the main, more populated areas get fixed first, then crews start working out towards the isolated branches in the network. This means that your house; the one you picked for its isolated, woodsy ambience; may take a few extra days before the lights come back on.

This is pretty much what happened with a Seattle area LEAF owner. She had very moderate needs and despite being a veteran LEAFer, she had never quick charged before.  She never had the need. Her home charger did it all...until the lights went out. This left her with a LEAF not fully charged and errands to do.  But, we also live in one of the most supported areas of the country for EVs.  A lot of public charging options are available. So off she went.

After doing what she needed to do, she stopped at Nissan of the Eastside in Bellevue. She explained her situation and asked to charge and was advised the Eastside fast charger was for business use only but there was a Blink charger on the premises that she could use.  She states she spent 10 minutes trying to get it to work, then left without a charge barely making it home.

Now, that is all we know.  The result of this incident is a very unhappy person trashing the dealership online.  Who is to blame? What went wrong here?

Eastside GM, Jimmy Kalie promises to look into a better solution.  They are planning a move which will give them a lot more room (space was an issue) and a lot more chargers, so that is good. But one thing to think about is that Eastside's charging policy has come under huge scrutiny with many swearing allegience against them because of it.

Eastside's charging policy is a good one and really SHOULD NOT be changed. Currently its used to charge their HUGE fleet of LEAFs (including probably the largest LEAF loaner fleet in the country) and for Eastside customers. They were the first dealer in the area to get a fast charger and it was a HUGE boom to them and us.  It really illustrated the advantage of having one and the dealers in the region were not blind to that fact. Now, we have over half a dozen dealer located fast chargers in the region

What does need to be changed is their level of customer service. Now we can only guess as to the details of the conversation between the LEAFer and the people she interacted with but what is obvious is that she felt uncomfortable enough with the interaction that she did not go back to the dealer with help getting the Blink to work.  This is wrong.  Having sold cars, been in a customer service oriented job (we are all serving customers either externally or internally) and I have seen the job handled one of two ways.

1) Be available to answer any and all question or render assistance when asked ONLY

2) Ask fact finding questions to very customer's level of understanding for the situation, terminology, etc.

IOW; there are some people who won't go an inch out of their way until asked.

As stated above, we can only guess as to how the conversation went but guessing she did say she normally charged at home and that her power was off which is the reason she was so low (apparently not as low as she thought since she "barely" made it home. Its my guess that the "guessometer" is more to blame for the level of stress than anything else...)

This should have been a red flag to the person that she might need help.

"Are you aware we have a Blink Fast Charger here installed specifically for you?"

"Have you ever used one before?"

"Do you have a Blink card, and if not, are you familiar with how to initiate a charge?"

Instead, what happened was a potential future customer (she lives in the neighborhood!) walking off with a bad taste in her mouth which put her in a bad frame of mind which most likely contributed to her inability to get the Blink to work.  So a bit of customer service training will fix it?

Probably not. Although its the right way to go, it won't change the perception the dealership has wrongfully attained.

When the dealership moves and they have more room for chargers, it will probably be easier to do but maybe they should institute a fee for use. Make is a per kwh fee so its reasonable but prevents too many people from camping out.  Make it clear its primary purpose is still business use with very clear expectations of the wait time and that "first come, first served" does not apply if there is a business need or customer.

doing this also allows promotions as well. "Free charging this weekend for anyone testing driving a new Nissan at the Eastside! 

Heck, when I was selling cars, we gave away stuff nearly EVERY weekend. Seahawk banners, coffee cups (with our name on it of course), t-shirts, hotdogs, you name it. One thing I realized; it didn't matter as much what is was we were giving away or its value as long as the word "free" was emphasized.  All we wanted to do was increase foot traffic.  It was the 2.4 in 100 that "might" eventually lead to a sale. So, its not like it was a great way to drum up business, but it did work