Monday, September 28, 2015

Price of Gasoline, Taxes and Roads

Taxes suck! But lets face it, as much as we hate them, they are a necessary evil in our World today. They pay for basic services that we rely on so a way to levy the tax fairly to account for all levels of income is a constant debate.

One of the least applicable to the above statement is use tax, namely the gas tax. We will revisit this later.   The Federal Gas Tax was supposed to be used to maintain the transportation system but in the light of the Bridge collapse in Minnesota and the resulting revelation that dozens of other bridges were in danger of collapsing due to lack of maintenance; Something needed to be done.

Well, its been 8 years, a month, and a week ( well at least it was when I started writing this...)  since that Bridge Collapse killed 13 people and what has been done since then?  Well, common sense would dictate we raise funds by increasing taxes to lessen the backlog of repairs to insure such a tragedy does not happen, right? Well, that did not happen and what's worse is that raising the Federal Gas Tax really doesn't happen, period!

The Federal gas tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon, 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel and set in 1993 (inflation has gone up 64.6% by 2015) and seems like its not going to move and due, I am guessing, to intense lobby pressure by the biggest and the richest; Big Oil.

It also may seem that the Feds have tacitly decided to let States take over the job of increasing gas taxes (WA has increased gas taxes nearly every year since 2003 with the exception of the few years during the recession in 2009) but if that is the case, then new funding for the Federal Highway System needs to be addressed since our state taxes barely pay for state roads maintenance.

So the next question becomes "What is the right amount to charge and who should pay for it?" As mentioned above, use tax tends to treat lower income users unfairly.  But unlike most use taxes, (Cigarettes, Alcohol, Sugar) gasoline is a necessity to many especially here in Washington State where we have one of the worst public transportation systems in the country.  So a transportation budget of some sort is a requirement that ranks up there with food and shelter in importance and cost.
So the question remains; How do we do this without forcing lower income people to choose between gassing up or eating?  Its this question that we struggle with and a few approaches are being tested by various states.  Its a well accepted fact that the greatest strides in reducing our carbon footprint comes from enabling lower income people to reduce their footprint.  They tend to drive much more inefficient cars and they greatly outnumber the more affluent.

Washington State is one of the leaders in Electric Vehicle adoption but has so far been the realm of the rich. (I could cite a study published on Facebook this past week but the data is woefully dated) WA leads in Teslas per capita thanks to Microsoft and Amazon among other tech companies that call WA home.  Now this is not a completely bad thing. Someone has to get the ball rolling and like all new products, the introductory price is high compared to what the mainstream selling price will be.  I expect to see a 175 mile LEAF within the next 18 months  that will cost less than my first LEAF leased in Jan, 2011 and as strange as this statement may seem; we have current Tesla owners to thank for that.  So ya, its pretty much always the people with the expendable cash that leads the charge so the study is not really a valid one.  But the overriding issue is not the cost of EVs, its the cost of new cars, PERIOD.

During my brief stint as a car salesman, I found that the adage "you need money to make money" was still very much true. Used cars came basically in two flavors; lightly used, economic cars for $10-$20,000 or older, larger cars for under $9,000 partially due to the high price of gas at the time which was in the mid to upper 3's at the time.

Problem with this was young couples usually with at least one small child just getting started had poor credit or no credit so car loans typically ran 14-17% with some over 20% which meant only the larger inefficient car was their only real options for purchase. Contrast this to an older more established couple with responsible credit who could easily get car loans in the 6-8% range (or less) allowing them to get the smaller, newer more efficient car usually at payments lower than the young couple. This means that the younger couple will pay a much higher portion of their income for transportation making it that much tougher for them to get ahead.  Now one might say "This is how the credit system has worked for years" and I have to say "and look where it got us!"

Now, contrary to popular opinion, the value of the middle class is not shrinking every day but only because population growth has bolstered their numbers and a select few have enjoyed higher incomes but that is not where the issue lies. It is the growing support of the less fortunate that has become a burden we all must share and that burden is becoming an issue.  (Another reason is the re-defining of the Middle Class especially on the upper end of the income spectrum)

A recent study stated that the government bolsters the highway fund with about 69 Billion dollars across the board costing each tax payer over $1100 annually. This includes people who do not drive at all. Now raising the federal gas tax 50 cents per gallon would cover the budget shortfall with a little bit left over and right now with gas over $1 lower than we have been used to paying, there seems to be little reason to not do this. But there is no movement towards that end and as we all know, only dramatic events like 9-11 spurs Congress to act with any kind of expediency.

This increase would not even put back half of price cut gasoline has seen over the past year, so would it really be a burden to the lower middle class?  California thinks so and has proposed a graduated incentive program for zero emission vehicles based on income where conceivably, a family could be driving an EV for less than half the original sticker price.  This could be a good idea if done properly without gaping loopholes (think about how the "Cash for Clunkers" program panned out) that the well to do can slip thru.  This would also go a long way towards quieting EV dissenters over a recent study showing 90% of EV incentives going to towards people with high incomes.

Either way, I doubt there is a single solution and a combination of perks to lower incomes and perhaps and adjustable gas tax rate that is reduced when prices spike upwards but there is little doubt that what we are currently doing is failing on several fronts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

TDI's Will Outlive Mankind

In 2012 Stephen Hawking theorized that Mankind's only chance for long term survival was to leave the Earth.  We were simply too destructive to our home and Earth had long since lost its ability to support our chosen lifestyles in a sustainable manner.  Terraforming Mars was tossed about.

This would be done by building massive factories on the surface of Mars that would generate greenhouse gases. This would bolster the very thin Martian atmosphere and help retain heat, warming the planet. This would allow water in a liquid state which makes sustaining life as we know it possible. Well, I guess I don't have to elaborate on the massiveness of such a project or the decades that it would take to achieve this.  Besides, growing evidence suggests that we don't have nearly that much time anyway.

It is no longer a secret that we as a species have already put ourselves into a hole that roughly 50% of us may not be able to climb out of.  Even if all man-made greenhouse emissions were stopped today, the damage has already been done.  Like a runaway freight train, its simply too late to apply the brakes.  But at the same time, is it not better to hit the wall at 30 mph than 50?

So we institute laws, rules and promote feel good measures to reduce our carbon footprint, (Remember back in the day, not so long ago when we thought this would be enough?) focusing on the two industries that first came to mind; personal transportation and public utilities.

And that makes sense, right? I cannot tell you how bad it is when I am sitting on I-5 in a sea of idling vehicles in daily stop and go traffic. Its hundreds of tailpipes creating an exhaust severe enough that noticeable irritation of sinuses is prevalent.   The next logical step in this blog would be to post links to the relationship of respiratory ailments and proximities to freeways.  But no need. The subject has gone haywire with hundreds of studies linking Childhood Asthma,  Autism, and Cancer, etc...

The same thing applies to Coal burning power facilities. They are hampered by smokestacks that can be seen for miles.  The smog created daily reminders of the effects the stacks had.  Shortly after moving to Washington State in 1986, I went to Seattle and like most first timers, went up to view the city from the Space Needle.   Despite it being a very warm Summer day without a cloud in the sky, I was unable to see Mt. Rainer. There was sign that showed where it should be and it did say that on some days, the mountain was visible, but alas, it was not to be the day I was there.  But, I would be redeemed. In 2013 I flew my Son out from Ohio to say goodbye to my Dad and we visited the Space Needle and the Mountain was in plain sight. It was so clear it was hard to believe that it was nearly 100 miles away. It seemed like it was just a few miles away! (being real tall helped...)

So, our diligence was helping. We had completely cleared up the skies of Seattle! The sign stating where Mt. Rainer should be was no longer there cause it just was not needed. But why was all our efforts not really helping?  Well, its because we can't handle the real issue.

As we all "know",  aliens are now considered real and this is something the Government has been covering up for decades because they felt we could not handle it.  Be it true or not, hiding or minimizing issues is something Uncle Sam has been doing since day one. So what is the issue we should be really looking at?

If you have Netflix streaming I recommend you watch  Cowspiracy.   The documentary like most emphasizes the facts that help its message while minimizing or ignoring ones that do not so like any documentary, watch it with an open mind. Nevertheless, some of the facts are simply too much to ignore and are verifiable thru other sources with simple Google searches.  Keep in mind; despite Air Supply's claim, we need more than air and love to survive...

** Each pound of Beef that reaches your table uses 441 gallons of fresh water. This is actually the lowest estimate I could find. There are several that have VERY wild figures but I will pass on them for now.

**The Amazon Rain Forest aka "Lungs of the Earth" is the greatest carbon sink on the planet by an enormous margin so it would make sense that we protect it right since it takes out the carbon in the air that we put in, right??  Weeeeelll, not quite. In fact 80-90% of the deforestation of the rain forest is due to converting the land into cattle grazing fields. But that is only half the problem.  Instead of logging the area and converting it responsibly (at a considerable cost) we have elected to burn the forest which simply adds to the air quality issue, BIG TIME!

So what does all this add up to?  *sniff*... hate this part, its very depressing but... there is a silver lining (at least I justify it in my head as so...) and that is transportation (including those belching TDIs) only account for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions which I take to mean that EVs are making an impact!!


Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

unfortunately, that is only the beginning as Cows fart a LOT emitting Methane which is 20 times more potent in "keeping it warm" than plain old Carbon Dioxide. 

Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.

Wow.... all that just so I can get a Big Mac.  If you thought fast food was damaging to your personal health, this should illustrate that a prosecutor has a strong case of Manslaughter against you if you take that bite...

So why is this not known?  Well, actually in the scientific community, its known, very well known and has been for decades but this requires a wholesale shift of our lifestyle and that I am afraid is a hurdle that makes adopting an 80 mile EV a piece of cake. 

So now you are wondering "What has this got to do with TDIs and VW?  Not going to go into detail about Volkswagen's  wanton disregard for the rules and regulations that govern what we are allowed to drive in this country. By now, I doubt there is anything new to discuss.  What I am willing to say is that despite our overwhelming need to have a knee jerk reaction commiserate to the severity of VW's action, I am afraid it just aint gonna happen. 

Just as we did not let GM fail despite their doing everything they could to deserve it, we won't let VW fail either.  They still put out a great product and it remains to be seen how hampered that product will be when they have to follow the same rules as everyone else but I am guessing we will see no more than a token fine along with some petty cash to current owners if the performance and efficiency is significantly affected by the fixes.  Besides, its not like VW will get off scot free. They have already lost 48 Billion in stock value, have had to halt sales in the US and have already earmarked several billion this quarter to pay to fix the half million cars out there. 

Besides; they are one of the few (very few) companies out there that has a semi-ambitious EV rollout planned (or least are willing to talk about it...)  so gotta keep em around for just a bit longer!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

2016 LEAF Announced!

As expected Nissan finally let the "cat out of the yard" announcing the specs for the 2016 LEAF and as expected the 30 kwh battery pack makes its debut on the SV and SL models and will hit showrooms around mid October (or when the 2015 inventory is sufficiently depleted...) but that was about all that happened that we knew about.  There were a LOT of surprises.

**Good Surprise**  Actually a very good one. Notice the 8 year/100,000 capacity warranty on the new cells in the 30 kwh pack?  Signs of great things in the future!  Note the fast charge is no longer an option on the SV/SL.  It was an option on the SV for $1630 on the 2015's. More on this later. Not sure what the "excessive wear" means on the 30 kwh packs but guessing its the same roughly 67-70% degradation level as the the 24 kwh battery has  (verified thru Nissan Press kit release) . Would be great to see that lowered but no word on that and pretty sure Nissan would have mentioned numbers if it had changed.

**Minor Surprise** no more rear seat heaters for S/SV.  I admit mine was rarely used but it was a GREAT conversational thing and very cheap heat!

**Surprise to be determined**  Nissan introduces "NissanConnect" which replaces Carwings and hopefully adds over the air software updates, faster connections and wi-fi ability but then again, maybe a bit too much wishful thinking here

**For S trim fans, the rear view monitor size has been increased to 5" which is a good thing. Mine was hard to see. What would be really nice is a hood to shade the screen. Living in the far North AND on only stretch of the North/South I-5 that travels east/west AND living on the western edge means I drive with the Sun in my face every morning and evening.

Since this is not LEAF II, no real changes here other than the slightly heavier (46 lbs) 30 kwh pack weight.

Prices for the S trim remain the same at $29,010 with the Charge package price a mystery for now. The SV is obviously what Nissan will be pushing soon since its price of $33,700 is $30 less than the 2015 SV with fast charge option added. The SL however is a head scratcher.  Starting at $36,790 is $1670 more than the 2015 SL.  Now the 2015 model's MSRP at $35,120 was just barely over the $35,000 limit to qualify for sales tax exemption in Washington State and I had anticipated Nissan recognizing that but WOW, I guess not!

Either way the pricing does not make sense so I started checking other reports which only increased the confusion. Now the top info came from MNL so checking other sources,  Green Car reports the S Trim dropping to $28,060 which makes sense and does agree with a price of $34,200 on the SV with EVnewsreport  but that still makes the battery pack upgrade on the SL 3X more expensive but then again, who knows right?

In conclusion; hoping Nissan's new "NissanConnect" gives us something more than Satellite Radio (and other garbage I don't want) and am excited to see how well these new batteries hold up in the AZ heat. (FYI; I know someone who gave up on his Prius because it could not stand the AZ heat either, so its not just a Nissan thing) and I have to say that 2015 may have been the year of "2015 S trim with charge package" and 2016 looks to be the year of "100 mile SV" but can't say I am happy with the way prices are moving.  I always had doubts about Tesla's $35,000 claim on the Tesla 3 and nothing has happened to change my mind on that but looks like Nissan is headed out of the "affordable" area with the larger battery packs.  I am now afraid to speculate on how much the 2017 (or 2018) LEAF with is double range pack will cost.  So does mean we might be thinking about a 2017 "LEF?"

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Chapter Two; LEAF Moves Forward

It was January 18th, 2011 and it was a good day, a very good day. Picking up my LEAF after months of waiting, conjecturing, assuming, predicting and so on!  It was from a dealership 56 miles from my home in the dead of Winter! (well, ok late Spring for you Midwesterners)

I remember not using the heat, toggling defrost just enough to keep the windows clear and driving EXACTLY 60 mph to insure I would make it. The GOM started at 93 miles and dropped 20 miles in the first 10 miles which did cause a bit of concern but then again, I was not worried because... well, lets go back 9 months.

After I sat in front of my computer for nearly 7 hours waiting for the email invite from Nissan to place a request to a dealership for a quote, I found myself with several weeks in front of me with nothing to do so I searched out and found ( MNL) where there were several others in my exact predicament.   So naturally after lurking a few weeks to see if this place was ok, I joined up and I am glad I did.

For one thing, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone had a wild level of anticipation over what the LEAF was and could do despite NO ONE ever setting eyes on a LEAF. Yes, that is right. I committed myself (although you could back out anytime but that is not my nature) to getting this car without having seen it or anything else. In fact; I turned down a test drive when picking up my LEAF cause it would have required a longer wait and I wanted to get home as soon as possible (issues with the uniqueness of EVs, WA State tax waivers, etc. made getting home quickly IMPOSSIBLE!)

Back then the Nissan hype was a 100 mile EV and they backed up their statement by posting a chart describing what range you would get in various weather conditions and I realized quickly that 100 miles was only possible during a very specific set of non normal circumstances.

So using this chart and my previous experiences with my ZENN which was reputedly supposed to have a 35 mile range @ 25 mph (mine was modified to go 35 mph) but only got 20 miles after the speed mod, I figured that 75 miles was a safe bet for range so my expectations were tempered to the circumstances quite well. I also knew from my Prius hypermiling days that I could easily get more miles if I needed to.  So my previous experiences immediately questioned the 70 mile highway results and the "suburban" 138 mile result. One seemed way too low, the other way too high.  But the "L 4" testing cycle was an unknown entity to me so I grudgingly pushed it to the back of my mind.

Now my ZENN used lead acid batteries and had no BMS to speak of which is why I had to buy aftermarket equipment to monitor and distribute voltages between the 6 deep cycle battery units. The problem with that is that the charge balancers worked adequately when the SOC was high, but the lower the SOC, the greater the voltage delta which caused one of two issues; very short range or very short battery life.  In the end, it was both.  The point being I was a more than a bit unfamiliar with the concept of BMS so the inaccessible top and bottom of the LEAF battery pack was something I did not know existed until reading posts from other more experienced EVers from California at MNL. Because of this, I always felt it better to charge to 100% over 80% as I prefered the closer balance of the higher SOC pack over the larger imbalance of a low SOC pack.

But it was a rough start.  Nissan came out with prices that were realistically too high especially for early adopters.  Ya, that IS how new technology works but this was not a $500 DVD player you could rebuy 2 years later for $50, it was a car that you wouldn't even be halfway thru your payments on in two years! It was this thought that caused me to make a last second switch from buyer to leaser and I am glad I did.

Now this last second decision did not come without some pain. I did not have nearly the tax liability to claim $7500 from the feds so I converted a chunk of my 401 K to a Roth which meant that all the income tax that was waived when it was deducted from my paycheck became due immediately. I did this the 1st week of December 2010 because I was thinking my LEAF would be delivered before the end of the year which (if you read line one) did not happen.

So I leased paying an equivalent of $442 a month for an SL with the charge package; IOW, the top line trim. I felt that a limited range LEAF without quick charge would be much less convenient for me despite my very modest transportation needs.  At the time, I lived, worked and did 90% of my shopping, driving locally so I was ok with the limited range, it was still a HUGE benefit to power a car by one of the cheapest electrical rates in the Nation.

Later Nissan lowered prices to spur sales which led to a huge increase in sales and interest but like any early adopters, I missed the bargains but my 2nd LEAF; a 2013 S trim with the charge package made up a lot of that. Better batteries, slightly more range all for $245 a month on lease with 15,000 mile annual allotment just like the 2011 SL at nearly $200 more per month. I was a happy camper but by then, my personal situation had changed dramatically. I left my old job because I was simply tired of it and did not like the direction the company was going in. They had changed ownership twice and used the 2009 recession as an excuse to change the pay and benefits structure dramatically in 2010. I put up with it for 17 months (much longer than I should have) and then opted into the class action suit against the company and left.

Which is how I ended up with my current job working in inventory. Now, I went from working locally to working the entire Puget Sound region and West to the Washington Coast. My transportation needs exploded.  But kinda worked out because I started the job just as the West Coast Electric Highway started installing their stations so again, LEAF life was good!

For me anyway but down South, things were not so good. They did have a lot of stations but a lot more people and cars and worst of all, a LOT more Sun. It was quickly realized that the LEAF despite having a test track in the Arizona desert, did not do well in hot weather.  Now, the question of why didn't Nissan employ TMS? (Temperature Management System) in their battery packs like others did?   Not sure if we ever got a real answer so have to say it was a money thing.  But the damage was done so Nissan in their haste to provide a quick fix did the unthinkable (at least in the battery world) and that was to retroactively give every LEAF a capacity warranty on the traction pack.  This helped but did not really fix the problem. There was still the dilemma of TMS using electricity which meant reduced range and the LEAF range was already small enough.

But until bigger batteries arrived, the only real option was getting a better handle on exactly what the LEAF battery pack could handle and this where the collective minds of MNL was at its best. Soon we have a multitude of battery monitoring apps that allowed us (or at least gave us the courage) to use every single electron in the pack.  The best of the best was LEAF Spy developed by Jim Pollack. (Turbo 3 on MNL)

The program is downloadable thru the common app stores online for a cost up to $19.99 and in the case of the Android platform,  only required an Android cellphone with a bluetooth-enabled CAN bus reader. The reader can  be had for around $20 and in my case, I simply pulled my old phone out of the drawer so for $40 (actually less since the CAN bus reader was given to me :) )

The huge amount of data available from the program essentially added 5-7 miles to my comfort zone which meant the once daunting task of tackling 100 mile commutes was now child's play.

But it still required me to do gas once every month in Summer and a few times a month during the Winter which ultimately meant a bigger battery.  Yes, I had to admit to myself that no amount of hypermiling or route planning was going to push me over the top so now here we are.

With less than 2,000 2015 LEAFs remaining, the 2016 LEAF with its new 30 kwh battery pack is just around the corner. Some are speculating Oct 11th, I am still going with September. I predicted the 15th which makes it in the midst of  Drive Electric Week. That simply makes sense.  No, its not LEAF II. Actually I suspect its more an extended test drive on the new battery packs that will go into LEAF II.  So my feeling is that one of two things will happen. One, the  2016 LEAF with the 30 kwh battery will perform as expected and there will be the double range LEAF II out in a year as the 2017 or things will not go perfectly and LEAF II will make and early 2018 model year debut.

All speculation mind you, but with 15 months left on my current lease, I have nothing but time...

August 2015 Drive Report

Well, vacation is over and back into the swing of things a few days late into the month driving 1541.3  miles in the LEAF for a cost of $27.28 (Last fillup in the Corolla was nearly the same cost) or 1.8 cents per mile which is a bit higher than my recent 1.7 cents per mile due to no free juice this month. Happy to report 2 100+ mile days on a single charge with both days aided by very slow traffic. (pretty much an unavoidable daily occurrence. Hard to believe the area only ranks as 7th worst traffic...)

For the 2nd month in a row, I have to estimate the Corolla's performance so using the same numbers as last month of 7.68 cents per mile driving 113.9 miles for an estimated cost of $8.75.   This will change as the LEAF is approaching 27,000 miles with my annual lease limit of 30,000 miles being Dec 23rd which means I will pretty have to shift more driving to the Corolla.  FYI; last trip to the gas station was July 9th.

As most of you know; I drive slow to insure my range is enough to get me where I need to go so I decided to go the opposite to see how well I would do if time was paramount to my destination so I tried three commutes at 70 mph.  With traffic, I was unable to maintain a constant 70 mph speed so the trips ended up varying in speeds between 65 and 75 mph per LEAF speedo.  As it was work required trips, there is some street level speeds required at each end but no more or less than "real life"  and one (Sears in Puyallup) was only a few blocks off the freeway so the numbers should not be used as reference, just an interesting tidbit of LEAF range info but the trips yielded estimated ranges of  77, 73 (rain) and 81 miles on distances of 61.2,  65.9 and 73 miles to an estimated SOC of 2%.