Saturday, May 31, 2014

EVing The Countryside!

Today is the last month of May which means tomorrow I will gather information for the May Drive report. The mileage will be lower than normal simply because I haven't been home to LEAF it much. Started with the first 5 days of May finishing the Disney trip, then 2 days in Alaska and then finished up the end of May with the LEAF parked almost 6 full days for my trip to Cincinnati.  That does not leave many driving days left!

But one thing it did give me was how much disparity EVs have in various parts of the country.  Case in point; a very large Toyota dealer near Cincinnati that had overflowing cars parked everywhere. Grass was not sacred there!  But they only had 5 Priuses!  It was amazing! The local Toyota dealer here has like a hundred! welll, maybe not that many but they do devote nearly an entire section of their parking lot to Priuses.

Also despite my looking, I did not see any LEAFs (easy to spot) or Tesla's (fairly easy to spot) or other plug in's. (some not so easy to spot at a glance)  I did manage to see one Chevy Volt though so it wasn't a completely plugless wasteland.  But then I realized, its a receptacle so I jumped onto Plugshare and

well, see that little blue dot near Forestville? that is me. so I purposely positioned the map to view the most likely location of a plug and...

Yes, I am afraid it actually was a plugless wasteland!  No amount of zooming and panning provided me with as much as one single result.

Which brings me back to who should shoulder most of the responsibility (and cost) of providing an amicable environment for EVs to thrive.  It would seem national policies would become mired in a sea of red tape and rightfully so. Despite nationwide distribution of a handful of plug options, there is essentially huge regions of the country that are simply not interested.

But the expense can escalate quickly and many States are still seeing their way out of budget crisis' from the end of the previous decade so extra money might also be an issue.  EVs can provide benefits in areas covered by several different federal programs, I think its time that these programs start to pony up some cash. Not a lot mind you. No one program should pay for it since it is a shared benefit show it should be shared responsibility.  Also as mentioned above, the level of benefit varies greatly from area to the next.  This would lessen the load on the transportation sector as it should.  Now is this a backend run for the Green Team?

Some will look at it that way but I have to think that EVs have the potential to become much more than just a treehugger's dream if we let it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Who Decided That Its New Cars' Sole Responsibility To Clean The Air?

The push for cleaner and more efficient new cars is important but what about the older inefficient cars that we allow to remain on the roads for years and years and in some cases for free?  Ever check out the cost of licensing classic cars? Yes, you read it right, its currently $51.75 to license a "classic" for the LIFE of the car in WA State. And in truth, its a great program  but like all good things, abuse is prevalent.

What it boils down to is as long we allow it, the "under $1000" car market will continue to flourish. This can be stopped requiring all cars to either conform to modern pollution AND mileage standards or be scrapped before any new transaction can happen.  This will cause a HUGE jump in the cost of used cars and really put a lot of people in a bad situation, right?

Well, maybe that is where we need to go. The cost to drive in the U.S. is one of the lowest in the industrialize World and lately I am beginning to think that is not a good thing.  Is it because I am getting tired of getting stuck behind cars that put out more smoke than the old Marlboro Commercials?  We do have laws that are supposed to prevent junkers from being licensed but they don't always work. Either the inspection time frames are inadequate or the "variances" that allow POS's to continue on is too lax. In WA, we have this thing that if the repair is too expensive, they don't have to do it? WHAT???

How does that logic make sense?  But that is only part of it.  Because here if an oil change won't fix the issue, then don't worry about it and you have the blessing of the State!!

Am I crazy? Ok, well maybe the "oil change" statement is stretching it a bit but from the link above

If your vehicle fails its emissions inspection, you will be required to have the vehicle repaired to bring it into compliance. However, there's a limit to how much money you have to spend on this. If you've spent more than $150 on repairs and you car still fails a retest, you might be eligible for a repair waiver.

$150!! Like what??? ok, i amend my statement because for some cars, that is only HALF an oil change!!

Remember "cash for clunkers?"  ok, its intent was good but the execution left a bit too much on the table. Maybe we need more of this.  Obama's Health Care plan made it thru the very deep sea of red tape to become a reality because of the enormity of the need.  Its my opinion that a revised and better controlled Cash for Clunkers Program based on income has almost the same level of need in this country

**Edit**  A response from a Tacoma EV Association member who actually does those smog inspections says the biggest problem with the entire program is that the $150 "ceiling" has not been raised once in the 25+ year history of the law.  He remembers back then, most repairs cost that little (my oh my how cheap it used to be!)  but nowadays nearly everyone comes in willing to pay the $150 to get the waiver and have zero interest in getting the car fixed or even finding out what even needs to be fixed!

25 years?? that is worse than the 20 year old federal gas tax!!

Public Charging Updates

A lot of positive buzz was generated when Nissan announced they would offer 2 years of free charging with a new program called EZ-Charge.  This provided access to 4 of the largest public charging companies in the U.S.  Blink,  Chargepoint, Aeroenvironment and NRG's eVgo.  Each company has strong representation in certain regions along with little or no presence in other areas of the country. We in the Northwest felt we got a good shake because we did get 3 of the 4 major players in the area involved with the new program with only SemaConnect not participating.  eVgo has nearly no presence here currently.

This means it was a big concern when Chargepoint announced that it was dropping out of the program citing heavy-handed tactics by eVgo as the reason.  Gone was the largest public charging company in the U.S and all due to actions of a public charging company that has no chargers within 500 miles of my home. (that is the farthest distance I can select on the eVgo website)

Now one might ask why I am so concerned about this? I have free charging at a Chargepoint nearest my home (Olympia Nissan) based on the fact that I got my 2013 there and this new program is for cars purchased/leased on April 1, 2014 and later so I missed the boat on that one too.  But Nissan also announced "special" pricing offer that will be announced on or about Aug, 1st that would included existing LEAF owners. Now it would be nice to have a single card and a single bill. A quick scan of my financial standing shows a balance of about $12 on my SemaConnect account (from $25 a few years ago I think) and I should have $20ish on my Chargepoint Account which also started at $25 last Decemeber.  It would be nice to put it all in one place and ALSO be provided a user friendly option for paying for a charge.  Chargepoint also had the advantage of being just that. Most of their chargers still billed by time which I think is the lesser evil especially against session charging.

Now there is still time before the actual launch of the program and maybe Nissan and Chargepoint can still figure out an acceptable way to be together in spite of eVgo's presence. (or non-presence as is the case here)  Now this would not only seem like a good thing but the right thing especially considering the deep partnership Nissan and Chargepoint already enjoy.  This is probably not the best solution but maybe a regional alliance is more applicable at least until these companies become nationwide. I would GLADLY accept SemaConnect in place of eVgo!

Last week, I received a survey about public charging and EVs in general. One of the questions asked who I thought should take lead in paying and installing and managing public charging stations.  the Feds, States and Public Charging companies were all options to select.

Now, I think that the very individualized distribution of EVs across the U.S. pretty much means the Feds would have a huge amount of pushback from oil revenue states, etc.  After all, wondering what LA was thinking when they found out some fed money was going to pay for charging stations to help out the Greenies on the West Coast?  Guessing they weren't too thrilled with that but then again, the total Fed contribution was so pathetically small that maybe they didn't even notice?  Its like grabbing some of your Daddy's change when you were a kid; how much can you take without him noticing? Ya, that pretty much nails it.

So, I feel that the States need to take a MUCH larger initiative getting public chargers out there. CA is taking the lead on putting in Hydrogen fueling stations but only because they know that no public company is willing to put out that much money and wait that long for a return (eventually it will happen...)

Now, Public EV charging is probably 3-25 years closer to having a viable business model over H2 but still does not ignore the fact that the attraction for private businesses is still down the road. So the option is throw more money at public charging companies running the very real risk they will take the money and spend it on locations we don't want and create policies we don't like (which is pretty much what has happened so far)

Public charging does have a huge amount of benefits so it is worth funding but the problem as I see it is that not all the benefits have direct financial implications.  Cleaner air, lower gas bills, etc are what we want so there is a TON of good things that can come out of public charging so maybe the States/Cities should take the lead. WA State which has no hydrocarbon resources would do well to reduce its gas bill. It is simply a HUGE cash drain going out of the state daily. Add to that the fact we have HUGE resources to generate electricity so every mile on electric is a direct benefit to the financial stability of the State.  Now, I have already written about this before and the states option does leave interstate travel up in the air and soon (within 1-2 years) Nissan's longer range LEAF will make those trips much easier to do so the current mish mash of public charging companies will still play a role.

The other thing we need to address is workplace charging and creating more laws to make charging viable.  Despite ICEing laws enacted in WA State, the problem still persists. As this article predicted, part of the problem is the STATION getting in compliance with the law.  The other issue is lack of people reporting violators,  reluctance by business owners to PO potential customers, etc.

So basically after 3½ years and despite great success here, a major attitude adjustment over EVs is still very much needed here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Wants, Needs and Reality

Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag with Andy Palmer's statement that the 2016 LEAF will have multiple pack sizes to choose from, I think the real question is how much do we really need? Or better yet; when is too much simply too expensive?

The Tesla Model S definitely answers question # 2 for me anyway but what I am wondering is at what point do we make that decision?  Since the S 40 pretty much went away before it started, its really hard to say. Tesla said they dumped it because no one wanted it but who really knows what the real answer is?  How many took the S 40 simply because that was all they could afford? After all, when looking at EV savings, its a bottom up view.  Since every mile counts, we always see the savings on the very short trips. Its only the very long ones that come into question and by that I mean if you have to take the time to stop and charge, are you really saving anything? This makes it important to insure you have enough range without paying for range you don't need.

Put another way; if your primary driving need uses 75% of range (like an S 40) verses 35% of your range like an S 85,  are you saving money?  To get a "return" (arguments about the money pit aka new car purchases are fully understood by me so lets look beyond the terminology) on the purchase price, you want a car that best matches your need for the price, right?

Well, Nissan gets this. Most of us can barely afford the LEAF as it is and no, I am not talking about current owners. Its the fence sitters I am talking about. The mostly yet to be tapped market that will be the true watershed moment in EV adoption. So introducing a longer range LEAF would imply that the shorter range LEAF's price would likely drop.  There is a lot of speculation as to how much more we are willing to pay for the longer range and the unfortunate lack of competition means Nissan has a LOT of leeway on this but set the price too high and we are looking at another 2 year launch period like the 2011's?   So the right price is as critical as the right range.  Most fence sitters can't afford to add a car so they must replace a car and a limited range EV option without knowing the full options is simply too much of a leap in faith for many to take.

Now depending on which speculative story you read, the top of the line LEAF will be out at 135-180 miles.  Either would more than cover 99% of my driving needs which are extreme. I work as a contractor for a company that provides inventory/marketing/inspection services. So, I am on the road every day.  I do have access to company cars and that is what is usually required for longer trips over 100 miles one way.  For the rest, I have the option to use their cars or POVs. Now, not all of my co-workers have or want to use their cars so there is frequently not a car to get for shorter trips (we are responsible for providing our own transportation for any job less than 20 miles one way) which compromise roughly 90% of my work assignments.

I am ok with this! I am reimbursed tax free per mile driven and that reimbursement is based on the local price of gas. With gas hovering around $3.70 a gallon, I am receiving 38 cents per mile and that is round trip mileage booked. At roughly 2½ cents per mile,  using the LEAF is a significant financial boom to me.  (They don't pay me enough otherwise!) In 5 months, I have booked 5300 miles in the LEAF, about 3000 miles in the gasser, 4600 miles in company cars and several thousand miles in public transportation (mostly air travel)  The gasser mileage breaks down as long trips; (company car NA) 2100 miles,  LEAF NA; (borrowed or stolen!)  228 miles and the rest were shorter trips made because the gasser had been sitting too long. I try not to let it sit more than 2-3 weeks if possible.

The longer LEAF range would allow me to get rid of the gasser. Before I got the gasser, I was simply trading cars when the need arose with a family member but had lost too many opportunities to collect the mileage reimbursement which lead me to just getting an extra very cheap car. (it was just over $2500 after tax, licensing, etc). The longer range would put me into "car switch" mode at most a few times a year which is very doable but more importantly has the strong potential to never have to switch at all.

All this brings me back to the question of need. Someone states we drive an average of  just over 30 miles a day.  But this figure is very misleading. I do know a lot of people who drive a lot less than that but large metropolitan areas have a higher average simply due to space, cost of living and the fading allure of suburban living.  We bought cheap in the sticks and then commuted to work making a common daily driving range average closer to 60-80 miles.   I live in such an area.  Seattle's cost of living is accelerating to the point that a movement was started to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Ya, that is a clear indication of how expensive it is there.

So maybe Nissan has it right. The sweet spot is "around" 150 miles. This allows the longer commute plus errands, plus the Saturday afternoon family outing plus degradation and finally, the most important requirement; peace of mind.

Now there will always be the camp that won't accept EVs until they can do everything gassers can like drive cross country in 3 days and yes, I have done that and hope to never have to do it again.  For those maybe we should look at car carriers by rail. You drive to the terminal, load up your car, check into your cabin, enjoy the scenery and get dinner all while someone else does the driving or railroading as is in this case.  Either way; I have to think that even when 500 mile EVs come along, I will opt for my 150 mile EV simply because it will the the right price for my needs.  The other issue is waiting for that car. Well there is no reason to wait that long. The range will be here for MY 2016 which is probably 15-18 months at the most.  With 50,000 LEAFs on the road in the US approaching one BILLION EV miles, we can make a significant impact now.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We Are #1!...ish

Yes, we do have a #1 here, the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and also the city itself which was the fastest growing large city in the US last year. They "Boomed" past Boston to become the 21st largest city in America.

Well, that means traffic! The other day in anticipation of stretching the range, i took for Kent doing 55 mph. Little did I know that great weather and terrible traffic (it was literally a crawl in the morning AND afternoon in and out of Kent) found me home 92 miles later with 14% SOC!! Wow! with performance like that, who needs more range??

Well, I do for one.  Only because today, I went to Renton and Auburn and it was 110 miles round trip and I took the gasser.  I could have LEAFed it but did not want to stop to charge although the day was so nice, I would not have been too against it.  But that is not the point.  The 5th version of the LEAF, fueled by recent comments by Andy Palmer, was predicted by some (not me) to have more range. Well, it did not.

After 4 model years, many thought it was time but I can't say I don't understand Nissan's stance.  The LEAF still has little competition (realistically none)  in its price/performance area and they are selling all they can make so where is the incentive to get better faster?

Getting better is a no brainer. They will have much better batteries, range and wing dings for sure.  In fact, they added B mode to the S trim which is one thing I would have loved on mine and MY 2016 will have something else very cool as well.

But the problem with the "more range" wish is that the price stay where its at. Most say Tesla is expensive but if comparing the range per dollar, the Tesla and the LEAF are pretty close to the same.

If you get an S85 for say 90,000 and 265 miles of range that is $339 per mile or get a LEAF for 31,000 and its 84 miles and that is $369.   Now, if we add in the fed cred the price becomes $82,500 or $311 on the S and $23,500 or $279 which really means that leasing is still the best idea.  Granted its a short time, limited mileage, never own the car, etc. but my same weighted cost is $105 a mile based on 36 $245.75 payments.  Now, I like to think I got a better than normal deal but even if my payments were $280 a mont, that is still $120 a mile.  And lets face it, the Tesla only gets that 265 with careful driving and my current LEAF gets closer to 90 miles. Any way,  my whole point is that if you want to complain about the LEAF's range. Don't call Nissan. Call Ford or GM or VW or any other company that has failed to challenge the LEAF

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

April 2014 Drive/Weather Report

Before its always been your Grandchildren's problem or your unborn child's problem and despite warnings, our lack of nepotism or what have you, we failed to act.  Well, now that we have proof that detrimental climate change is already here AND hurting us badly, VERY badly actually, how do we feel about changing our habits now?

I am posting my stats a bit late because I was in Disneyland at the end of the month.  It was a miserable trip. The temperatures were in the mid 90's and
UP...mostly up.  We literally could not stand more than a few hours at a time and when you factor in a 30-60 minute wait in line for a ride, it was literally, get up, get there right when it opened, do 1-2 rides then bail back to the hotel to languish in the pool until nightfall.  Problem with that is that is when EVERYONE is there so the wait times and crowds double.

But I can't blame climate change right? Just bad luck. The day after we left the temps were to be in the mid 70's for the week. So we were simply unlucky. Problem with that is Climate Change is changing the odds making a "lucky" trip less likely.

Anyway, enough crying, I need something to cheer about!! So, gas cost for the month of April; ZERO!! I have a ¼ tank of gas in the Corolla and my last fillup was March 27th.  But I did drive 311.7 miles for the month (including a trip to the airport) so my gas cost was roughly $28 putting me at 8.98 cents per mile. I am guessing that I am still around 40 MPG and will update this post when I do get some gas which might be as early as the middle of next week or so.  Work reimbursement was $93.10. this drops my overall TCO to 81 cents per mile.

The LEAF traveled 1514.4 miles for a cost of  $34.60. Now that might change because I charged at Oly Nissan before my connection request was approved and was billed $5.50 by Chargepoint for it despite the display stating it would be $3.  But I will leave it as is...for now.

Anywho, that works out to 2.28 cents per mile. Once again my home electricity costs were low allowing me to not be billed at tier two rates for the month. (vacation helped with that...I think. Spending $3000 to save a few pennies on the electric bill?? hmmm) Work reimbursement was $329.84. Factor in the usual insurance and lease payments and we are sitting at a TCO of  17.4 cents per mile.

In other news; As expected my first drive after returning to Olympia showed my Hx at 98%. I am predicting a few days of normal activity will bring me back to 100%.   So its 6317 miles and counting and so far so good!


Finally decided to get some gas (was still just below 3/8th of a tank) and gas has gone up 29 cents per gallon since my last fillup March 27th. My cost per mile only went up .75 cents but only because of a record high 42.8 MPG...  Even when doing very well, gas is still a bundle! the $33.08 I paid in gas could have lasted me a good 1400-1500 miles in the LEAF!