Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Longer Range EVs and the Fate of Public Charging

My 2013 LEAF has transformed my driving habits! No, its not because its electric since my primary source of transportation has been electric since 2007. In fact, I turned in my 2011 LEAF to get the 2013 so what did cause the transformation?

Range! My 2013 having an extra handful of miles has allowed me to use public charging a lot less than in my 2011.  I do this by simply driving a bit slower, using neutral driving, and monitoring my progress using LEAF Spy. This has allowed me to squeeze that extra 4-5 miles out of my LEAF without doing the 15 minute pitstop I did so frequently in my 2011.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that the early days in my 2011, I had much less driving needs and I also was "driving blind." Without a battery monitoring device, it was nearly impossible for me to tell just how far my LEAF could go! So it was a crap shoot wondering just how long I had to sit charging somewhere to make it home. By the time I did change driving habits, degradation had set in albeit to a very modest degree, but degradation all the same.

So the real question is if a small increase in range has lessened my dependence on public charging, what will a big jump in range do? Are public charging companies about to fade away? Is their future doubtful?  Well to answer that question, I have to say for me I would use public charging more because trips that would take 3-5 charging stops or more could be reduced to 1-2 charging stops and if the chargers were placed well, could only slightly impact my total road time.

In my 2011, I did a road trip from Olympia, WA to Salem OR once.  I would have been ok with doing it more often but my passengers were not. It was "only" 7 charging stops for the 405 mile round trip which did include some local driving while in Salem but one charging stop (which was actually multiple sessions) was at the Salem destination on 120 volts at the home we were staying.

Now this trip has been done in the Prius several times (With a ZENN and its 35 mph limitations, road trips were not an option) and we always stopped at least once (or twice about half the times) for a meal which means a fast charge would  be applicable there.  With double the LEAF's range, only one stop would be needed to get to Salem. This makes the "Just leave the Prius at home and take the EV" argument a much more popular choice!  FYI; a few times it was predetermined that we would not be making any stops on the way since it is barely a 3 hour drive to the point where we had coolers with snacks, food, drink, etc and every time, we changed our plans and stopped somewhere anyways...

With the launch date probably 18 months or more away, its anyone's guess how much LEAF II and its near 200 mile range will cost but there have been hints it maybe just a little bit more than the current price range. This keeps it in the affordable range but the real question is how much more can be charged while keeping it in the range of the masses?  Well, I am guessing not too much. We already saw evidence with the Volt and Ford Focus EV that even with incentives, prices over $40,000 scare a lot of people away.

Where there is a lot of room is cutting costs to provide a cheaper EV option. There has always been rampant speculation as to how much it really costs to manufacture EVs and if you listen to Nissan, Chevy or what have you, they make it sound like they are really sacrificing to bring you the car at the prices currently offered.   Sorry but I couldn't swallow that line with the help of $300 Champagne!

The price of goods has always been determined by how much we are willing to pay for that item. No one does it for free or even close to free. Nissan has nowhere near the cash to support EVs or subsidized pricing so there is little doubt in my mind that they can come up with a version of the LEAF and a price that would compete directly with the gasoline car in the $20,000 price range before incentives. Sure Nissan had help with a generous loan from Uncle Sam to kick start their US operations but they would not have done it without a clear timeline for paying the loan back.

But an EV that competes directly with gasoline versions price wise is surely to make huge waves among the buying public. This forces the focus away from the sticker price to the huge differences in maintenance/fuel  TCO and I think this will be the main profit engine thru sheer volumes of sales. I also think this will be the main driver for future, longer range (and higher profit margin) EV purchases!

The only thing missing is a well placed public charging network. Hope someone is listening here!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jan 2015 Drive Report

WOW!! Just paid $1.939 for gas yesterday.  Did not think it would be that low but recent news reports suggest issues at the refineries on the West Coast may drive gas prices up soon so enjoy it while you can!!

In January, the Corolla went 1050.5 miles at a cost of $55.54 or 5.29 cents per mile.  As always, this cost is an estimate due to the fact that I do not fill up right at the beginning of the month but its close enough.  My 3 fill ups for the month averaged 36.1 MPG which is my lowest figure ever. (previous low was December 2014 which was 37.7 MPG) I will be keeping an eye on this and hoping its not an early warning of major upcoming repairs!

Now there has been some noise hinting that these low gas prices has made getting an EV a mistake? Well, not quite.  Ya, 5 cents a mile is cheap (and yes, I am ignoring that extra ½ cent + per mile in oil changes!) but my LEAF still came in UNDER TWO CENTS PER MILE! so gasoline prices still have a long way to go and keep in mind, its looking like the prices are about to make a u-turn but hopefully not too soon.  We should be raising gas taxes now to get the badly needed extra revenue while prices are so low then reducing them as prices go back up but...

Either way, the LEAF did manage to go 654.0 miles on $11.68 of PSE juice (which includes a few freebies...) or 1.8 cents per mile.

**Sidenote** Yesterday, I went to the garage to grab something out of the freezer and one of the charge lights on the dash was blinking. Unfortunately, I had forgotten what it might mean but a quick query on Facebook helped me determine it was likely a 12 volt battery boost in progress.  Now, not that I constantly check this kind of stuff but it was the first time I had seen this in 4+ years of LEAFing.

This was a bit of a concern so got up this morning and checked the voltage and it was 12.18 volts at 7:35 AM. This was a concern!  My blog about others having 12 volt battery issues in Oct, 2014 showed my average voltages being in the 12.4ish range.  Now, it is colder now (which hurts the battery) and the LEAF sits a lot more (which also hurts) so the 12 volt battery is not getting the constant boosts now.   So I decided that since I have most of the day at home, I would check it every hour or so to see what it did.  My 8:30 check made me feel MUCH better

7:35   12.18 volts
8:30   12.30 volts
9:36   12.29 volts
10:53  12.28 volts
11:58  12.27 volts

Ok so now I am thinking I checked the voltage at 7:35AM when something else was going on in the LEAF that was causing a voltage drop. Whatever it was apparently was only on a brief moment. If I should ever run across this again, I will check the voltage every 5 mins or so to see how long this event lasts.

Ok, its been a week since I started writing this. Got sidelined onto something else so FYI; gas has gone up about 20 cents a gallon so I expect to pay a lot more at the pump but then again, been LEAFing it mostly this week to see if I can drive my batt stat numbers back up to the range they were in when I switched to driving the Corolla mostly. I will let you know how things turn out!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Nissan, When Will the LEAF E Be Available?; Long Term EV Views

Recently there was a story published online talking about the longer range Nissan LEAF.  Reading the story gave me the distinct impression that the story was mostly speculation likely built from bits and pieces of casual conversations from various Nissan employees.

It mentioned the SL getting more than double the range with possibly a more powerful motor as an option while the lower trims would see a smaller increase in range, all for a small increase in price.

I am hoping its all speculation and mostly false and the biggest reason is there is very little wrong with having an EV that gets 85 miles of range on a charge. A huge majority of commuters could easily make that work for them which would include nearly all their personal driving needs as well.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am all for longer range! Its the "small increase in price" comment that worries me. Ongoing battery tech improvements coupled with volume manufacturing should  drive costs down in 2017. The sticker price is still a roadblock for many and Nissan cannot lose sight of the fact that a cheaper 85 mile LEAF would still be in high demand.  Am I suggesting a new trim, the LEAF E for economy that keeps the 85 mile range but cuts the price several thousand from the current price? Yes, that is EXACTLY what I am saying!

Keeping shorter range EVs on the road means that public charging stations will still fill a need but the current setup is not working and we need to figure out a better way or the system will fail to receive the necessary funds to maintain itself.   High power AC units combined with creating a "boutique" like atmosphere can accomplish this.  Maybe "boutique" is not the right word but what if the charging station was not a station and was more like a center?  Abandoned gas stations would be the right footprint.  Have several charging stations both high power AC and Fast charge DC and design it like Starbucks.  Make it attractive to want to hang out for an hour.  Free wi-fi, data stations for laptops, music,  and even enclaves sufficient enough for a 2-4 person impromptu EV owner's meeting to swap stories and share experiences.

But a longer range is still needed.  Range variety will bring more customers in. There is a balancing act between the high sticker price and the perceived utility of the car. Too short a range with a high price, too high a price with ANY range, and simply not enough pegs for the board all tend to reduce the potential customer base. But if done right; Nissan can cover most of the market by doing at least 3 ranges.  85, 125 and "about 200" I think is the sweet spot.   Tesla is a great car but for most, you are paying a huge premium for battery capacity that simply is not used very often. Most of us simply do not have the cash to pay for something that exclusive.  If you do, great! but for the rest of us, Nissan; allow us regular people to have an effective  2 EV household that covers nearly all our driving needs without having to sell the house to afford it!!