Wednesday, July 2, 2014

50,000 miles with a 2012 Chevy Volt

I recently hit a milestone...  50,000 miles with my 2012 Chevrolet Volt, almost entirely on electricity.  That's about 2.5 years of my ownership.  There are very few owners of Chevy Volts that have already hit 50,000 miles.  What makes my experience even more special is that I've managed those miles in such a short period while maintaining 93% of that driving under pure electricity.

I had a lot of worries when I first bought the car...  I'll try and answer them one at a time given my 2.5 year perspective.

Can the fuel savings alone make this car affordable to drive?
In short, yes.  If you drive the number of miles that I drive, the efficiencies you gain from switching to a low electricity rate from high prices gasoline can save you massively.  Below is a report I generated just after the 50k mark.  To explain how I get the 6 cents per kilowatt/hour (about half the national rate), you'll have to look at previous blog entries.


To compare those numbers above to my previous vehicles...  The previous two cars I owned was a Mini Cooper that got around 32 MPG and a BMW Z3 2.8 that averaged a little less than 23 MPG.  So, had I kept driving either of those two cars, ignoring all other costs, I would have spent anywhere from $200-266 a month in fuel costs.  Comparing this to the Volt, I am only spending about $40 a month in total fueling costs, netting me a savings of $160-$220 a month on fuel alone.  You should also add in the cost of oil changes.  I changed my oil around 7,000 miles (using synthetic) for both my previous cars.  Oil changes averaged around $90 a change.  After 50,000 miles, I would have changed the oil 7 times with my other vehicles.  I have only changed the oil once with my volt, netting me an additional $540 in savings, or $18 a month.

Will the car be expensive to maintain?  Will I have a lot of problems?
Well, this is a major jinx, but I don't know any other way to say it.  I have brought my car into the shop one time.  My car was one of the early Volts that needed the battery reinforcement upgrade.  Short of that, I haven't had any issues that required service.  I have connected to a bad electric vehicle service supply that threw some error codes, that had I not known better, would have resulted to me taking the car in.  But nothing that required dealer service.  My brakes appear to be almost new, as I drive in Low almost all the time (it reduces the use of brakes to almost nothing).  My front two tires, which I have shamelessly ignored with only one rotation, will likely need replacing in about 6 or 7k miles.  I did my one and only oil change last month.  So far the car is not expensive, nor have I had any problems requiring dealer intervention.

Will I notice battery degradation?
I nervously watched the Leaf owner forums when owners in hot climates started seeing their batteries degrade in hotter climates.  As someone who charges 1.5 cycles a day, I was worried I would be pushing the limits of the battery and would be one of the first Volt owners to see less daily range...  While this still might be the case, at nearly 50k electric miles, my daily electric range is precisely where it was when I bought the car.  And in actuality, it is better, as I have learned to drive the car more efficiently.   So I am still getting 40 miles of range, give or take 5 or 6 miles depending on conditions, throughout the year. I have still yet to see anyone online convince me they are seeing any range degradation on a Volt, and I doubt I'll see anything until past 75k miles.

Will I be able to maximize my electric range?
Way back when the Volt was introduced as a concept, I was curious to know how a Volt would fit my commute.  My roundtrip commute is anywhere from 64-75 miles, depending on if I carpool with anyone and if I need to run any chores.  I never envisioned being able to charge at work, but by working with the county, I have been able to charge every day, at work, for free.  It has allowed me to go thousands of miles before burning a drop of fuel.  It has been the best possible arrangement for electrical efficiency.

Will the range extender meet my needs?
I went almost 2 years without knowing the answer to this question.  I was nearly 97% all electric at the 2 year mark (with a combined MPG of over 1,000 MPG), with the most gas I had used at one time was to get the car home from a distant dealership immediately after purchase.  However, I found myself in the need of renovating a 110+ year old  house, over 100 miles away, in the last 4 months, and have been able to exercise the gasoline range extender quite a bit.  It has worked flawlessly, and I feel very fortunate that I don't have to trade cars with my wife to make those long runs (because a regular electric car would be impractical, at best, to travel the distances I needed to make in the time allotted).  This has convinced me that until 300+ miles of electric range is affordable and practical, a range extended electric vehicle is going to be the most practical single car solution if you want to drive electric and not feel the adverse effects of range anxiety.

Will I enjoy getting into the car, everyday?
I loved my BMW.  After 10 years of ownership, I still got excited to drive it, to take the top down, to sport around the town pushing the speed limit.  That car was special.  Large amounts of maintenance, and high miles (256k) finally pushed me into a new car.  I purchased a Mini Cooper, as a stopgap for the Volt, and I had lost any love affair with the Mini after the 6 month mark.  I still have an enormous affinity for the Volt after 2 years, and suspect I'll be very happy with it through 100k miles.  I will admit to flirting with the BMW i3, but for now, the Volt is still the car for me.  I know that if I end up with a BMW, I'm just going to be throwing a lot more money into maintenance and needless inspections designed to pad the wallets of the dealerships.

Am I going to be buying a car that just won't make it?
I was worried more about the entire sector...  "Will electric vehicles make it?" was a really good question at the end of 2011 and early 2012.  To some degree, it still is...  But with May's new record of over 12,000 electric cars being sold in one month, I think it is a safe growth market for now.  I am confused about GM's commitment to the Volt and electric cars in general, as the advertising has been non existent for over a year, and by introducing an ELR that is vastly overpriced, but I think they'll get on target with a cheaper and better second generation Volt for 2016.  So far, buying an electric car doesn't feel like I purchased a Betamax.

The car still looks and drives like new.  I still have great pride of ownership.  And I still have my friends ask me questions about it all the time.  I love it.  Owning this car has caused me to challenge my personal political beliefs, the leaders of our country, and what we are told through the media.  It has been as transformative as any material purchase can be, and I feel honored to be considered an electric vehicle pioneer.

Please feel free and ask my any other ownership questions, and I'll be happy to update this entry with the answers!

Monday, June 9, 2014

When life happens, the Volt is mighty nice to have...

Well, its been a long time since I have made a post.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but I'll save that for another day...

I often have dialogue with folks who see that I am 95-96% electric, and they ask, 'why not just buy a purely electric car.'  I give them a few reasons.

Reason 1: A purely electric vehicle will have less effective range every year after purchase.  This should be intuitive.  As the battery ages, the range diminishes.  However, what may not be intuitive is how this compares with a Volt.  As the Volt's battery diminishes in capacity, the gas engine just takes over sooner.  The effective range doesn't really change.  Yes, its true that if you were to add up the diminished electric range to the gas mileage, there would be a difference.  But the percentage of lost effective range is miniscule as a percentage of the total Volt range.  And since the Volt can travel as far as you like on gas, I doubt it will change your driving habits much.  Leaf owners, on the other hand, have to start adjusting to their new limited range.

Reason 2: Life happens...  What does this mean?  Well, for me, I've had to do an unexpected renovation of a property that is 100 miles each way from my house.  I've been working on this thing since the first week in February, and I'm still not done.  Can you imagine trying to do this in a Leaf?  It would be impractical, at the least, and impossible in my circumstances.  For those that buy cars with very limited range, they are going to be left with few options if things come down the pipe that are unexpected.  Maybe those Leaf owners will borrow their spouses' cars when they need to take long journeys, but I love that my Volt is a single car solution.  You don't realize how valuable this is until you really need it.

Reason 3: I just don't see the value in buying a big expensive battery that won't be utilized that often.  As seen by Tesla, to get a true gasoline car replacement in electric form is VERY expensive.  Even then, the 250+ miles of range is still a limiting factor.  If I go to the Outer Banks, I would completely exhaust the battery, and probably have to plug into a 120V outlet for days to be able to travel back to my home.  Not practical.  And then you'll have those Volt owners that want bigger batteries.  I think the Volt battery is right sized.  You could always want a little more, but the goal for the mass adoption of the electric vehicle is cheaper pricing.  You aren't going to get there with bigger batteries.  If you are going to have a gas range extender, then I think the battery capacity of the Volt should be sized to fit the vast majority of American daily driving, and leave the rest up to the generator.  While is does, and I think that is why we are unlikely to see any significant capacity changes in the Volt battery.

When pricing for batteries comes down significantly and fast chargers are prevalent everywhere, the equation changes.  But, for now, I think my 3 reasons are enough to want a Volt as opposed to a BEV for the next 3-5 years.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

North Carolina PEV Readiness Plan Now Available

I have had the honor of working with a bunch of PEV stakeholders during 2012 to compile and produce a large amount of PEV data and recommendations in one of the regional planning taskforces funded by the Department of Energy found in the plan below.

From the Advanced Energy site:
"The North Carolina PEV Readiness Plans were supported through the NC PEV Readiness Initiative: Plugging in from Mountains to Sea (M2S) planning project with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities Program through Centralina Council of Governments. Project collaborators include: Advanced Energy, Land-of-Sky Regional Council, NC Solar Center/NC State University, Piedmont Triad Regional Council, & Triangle J Council of Governments."

There is a wealth of information in this comprehensive, large document, that will help a wide range of people including but not limited to individual purchasers, employers, and local and state government to plan for electric vehicles.  While this focuses on North Carolina, much of the information is general in scope, and will apply everywhere.

I encourage you to go through it.

The plan can be found here in PDF format:
http://www.advancedenergy.org/transportation/ncpev/docs/NCPEVRoadmap_February2013.pdf

The referencing page is here with some more details:
http://www.advancedenergy.org/transportation/ncpev/readiness_plans.php#state

Monday, February 4, 2013

California Volt Inventory Makes or Breaks Sales...

Prognosticating Volt sales has been a hobby of mine since February 2012.  I've gotten fairly good at it.  But I have also gotten it wrong a few times, most recently with the sales numbers for the last three months of the year.  In this post, I analyze why I got it wrong, and what were the causes.  In short, my loftly sales expectations were artificially deflated through a lack of inventory in key markets.  Those goals would likely have been met had there not been extreme inventory losses in the California market.

With August sales nearing 3,000,  I thought the Volt had finally made it over the hump.  I expected progressively larger monthly sales through December, possibly breaking the 4,000 mark.  With that said, I did expect a big drop in January 2013.  With the Volt carrying a hefty tax credit of $7,500, I expected people would be more willing to buy a volt near the end of a tax season rather than at the beginning of a new one.  Why wait over a year for $7,500 if you don't have to? 

I was right to a point. Sales from August to October slowly rose to almost 3,000.  But then the monthly sales streak that had been going on since April 2012 came to an end.  November Volt sales plummeted to almost half the previous month.  There has been no discernable momentum since, with a bounce back December immediately followed by a depressed January.

Why the dive?  It wasn't demand.  It wasn't that all of a sudden the Volt became unattractive.  It wasn't the easing of promotions, although GM did get less aggressive after August. 

The big reason behind the bipolar volatility of Volt sales is a enormous lack of inventory in key markets. 

When the California market is under stocked, Volt sales are going to struggle.  With California Volt sales purportedly 50% of the nationwide total, GM has gotten way behind the eight ball in supplying this critical market.  And complicating matters are California's emissions laws.  If someone wants a Volt that isn't local, its not as simple as getting one across state lines.  That Volt must be equipped for California emissions if HOV access is important to you (California requires the emissions package to be eligible for HOV single car occupancy).

Let's take a look at inventory levels in the 30 mile radius of the 90210 zip code.  Why look at 90210?  I have been checking inventory levels for this zip code since back in May of 2012 from data provided by cars.com, and given that it is likely the Volt's single largest market, it should provide a good illustration of the problem.

 
 
As you can see, the changes in inventory from May of last year to January of 2013 are pretty enormous.  I don't think this graph is indicative of the inventory levels you would expect to see in a well-supplied growth product like the Volt.

In overlaying the nationwide sales numbers to the 90210 inventory graph, we can start to see how this inventory model is a problem.

The first shaded area I am going to call the "Volt Sales Growth Period".  The green line, indicating monthly Volt sales, is on a fairly sharp slope through August 2012.  Inventory in the 90210 area code is also sharply increasing through August (please note that I have scaled inventory by 10 in order to keep the orders of magnitude similar in the graphs- use the upper graph for actual numbers, and take note their are tiny differences between the two which are the result of rounding some numbers, and not others). 




The next period I am going to call the "Volt Sales Constrained Period".  Since Volt sales are so heavily dependent on California, any disruptions to either maintaining or increasing inventory is going to have an effect on sales.  While sales marginally increased from August through October, you can see downward trending 90210 inventory pulling back the reigns.  Available California inventory was able to maintain but not grow sales beyond 3,000. The quarterly growth rate we've seen since the first quarter of 2012 start to decline.


 


Then General Motors, for better or worse, takes a bad situation and makes it much worse.

From September 17, 2012 through October 15, 2012 GM shuts down the Volt plant for retooling and to add a new car line. 

This created the perfect storm. 

Los Angeles inventory is already very low, barely able to sustain the demand.  A month long shutdown will cause a full 30 day disruption to the supply chain for California.  While GM ramped up production prior to the shutdown in order to stockpile Volts, it wasn't enough.

And now we enter the "Volt Sales Destruction Period". 

When the plant reopened on October 15, it would take 4-6 weeks to start seeing some inventory gains in the Los Angeles area.  And as soon as we start to get a little inventory added back into the market in late November, during a period of the year where this car should have its maximum inventory, the plant gets shutdown AGAIN for most of the month of December for the holidays.  There definitely were some buyers of the Volt in December, obviously looking to take advantage of the tax credit, but imagine how much better that number would have been had the L.A. inventory been at higher levels.

And then we got the expected January drop.  With inventory levels at year lows in January 2013, is there any wonder why GM only sold 1,140 Volts last month?  I expected a dip, but this dip was far worse than it needed to be.





General Motors need only look at the decisions it has made in not maintaining proper inventory levels in key markets to see why Volt sales havent been able to reach and maintain that magical 3,000 sales a month mark.

To end on a positive note, there is FINALLY a large surge in Volt inventory coming into California.  If history is an indicator, we should see February 2013 sales numbers up considerably from January 2013 as long as this increase continues.

Additional graph of nationwide inventory levels as an FYI:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Battle of the Plug-in Hybrids : Chevy Volt versus Prius Plug-in versus Ford CMAX Energi

When considering what plug-in electric vehicle to purchase, its often difficult to make good comparisons.  Each manufacturer will generally only highlight what makes their particular model look best, and omit factors in which they don't compare very well.  I'm going to help you in this quest to make some good comparisons, and even though I don't compare every model out there, if you dig deep enough, you'll be able to compare other offerings to this grouping.  I am NOT focusing on pure electrics today.  I will do that in another entry.

But first, let's take a look at why you have to be careful using manufacturer websites to make good purchase decisions...

This is from the Prius Plug-in webpage:




From looking at this, who the hell wouldn't want to own the Prius over the Volt?  I mean, its over $7,000 cheaper than the Volt?  Look at all that extra room! 

Examined a little more closely, the price difference between the Volt and Prius is only about $2,100 when you factor in that the Volt gets a $7,500 tax credit and the Prius only gets a $2,500 tax credit.  And with that extra $2,100, the Volt provides you with an EPA estimated electric range of 38 miles when the Prius only offers you 6-11 miles of electric range, depending on if you blend the EV mode with some gas or not (the Prius will burn gas above 62 MPH or if you accelerate too hard: the volt doesnt burn gas in either of those scenarios during your EV range).  But people purchasing electric cars don't care about that stuff...  Its the legroom, right? ;)

I figure most people wanting to buy an electric car actually want some significant electric range, so that's a pretty big important point to omit on your advertisement.  Many people are going to fully qualify for the tax credit, so looking at the pretax cost as a comparison is also a bit wonky.

So, let's take a look at some comparisons, done 'Voltowner' style...  I am absolutely biased.  But I've done my best to show the differences between three cars in a similar price range, and highlight things that I believe will be important to people looking to buy electric cars.  I am making a comparison between the 2013 Chevy Volt, 2013 Prius Plug-in, and 2013 Ford CMAX Energi.  I have done my absolute level best to provide accurate information below.   If there are typos or technical inaccuracies, all you need to do is comment below and I will fix them.

I think you'll find enormous value in the Volt, even though it's slightly more expensive than the other 2 vehicles, but depending on your circumstances, picking one of the other two could be the best choice for you. I have colored a cell green if I deem that car to be the category winner.  The cost per mile metric is just for electric miles.  Obviously you get a lot more electric miles with a Volt than you do the competitors, so while the Volt may not be 'as' efficient on electricity (the difference in monetary terms in minimal), it is 'efficient longer' than the others that convert to burning gasoline much sooner.  I probably don't have to tell you that gasoline is going to cost a lot more than 4 cents per mile.






 





 
* The Cost Per Mile of EV Capacity is a metric I came up with that should give you an idea of what you are paying for each mile of EV capacity.  It should be able to give you a value comparison of the 'bang for your buck' of EV range.
 
** Thermal Management Systems are important in extending the life of a high voltage battery.  The Volt wins as its thermal system is considered superior in laboratory tests for maintaining a constant temperature.
 
*** GM has established the gold standard of HV battery warrantees.  They actually warranty the battery for capacity loss, which is a huge protection.  The other manufacturers generally state that degradation in batteries is to be expected, but they don't pin down an exact capacity loss which will result in a replaced battery.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Buying a Volt: It's an American thing, not a Republican or Democrat thing...

An interesting poll is currently underway on gm-volt.com.  The poll is soliciting responses for those who own a Volt or are strongly considering owning one, asking "Did you vote for Obama or not?"  Presumably, the original intent of the poster was to find out who is registered as a Republican or Democrat, but as evidenced in the thread, there are a few self-professed Republicans that voted for Obama.  Nevertheless, while the poll isn't scientific, and is not as clear cut as I would like (Are you a registered Democrat, Republican, or Independent would have been better), the results still say a lot.

With just over 100 votes collected, the poll is evenly split.





I am sure to most Volt owners, this is a 'duh' moment.  But it seems to many in the media, and those blogging critically on the Volt, that owning a Volt is like having a drivable billboard advertising that you are a hardcore tree hugging liberal (I am using that term affectionately here, not intended as derogatory).  While there are plenty of those types of people that drive the Volt and other electrics, there are plenty of Volt driving Republicans that would disagree with that assertion.

I have long wondered how it is possible so many Republican leaders have gotten the 'electric car' issue completely wrong, pigeoning it as a left wing environmentalists brain child.   It's not even close to the truth.  Especially for the Volt, when it was pioneered by conservative GOPer, Bob Lutz, that professed he didn't believe in global warming.

This poll, while small, should be a wakeup call.  More and more Republicans, like myself, are rejecting undisciplined and unintelligent platforms, especially as it pertains to energy.  Republican leadership risks alienating more and more people, like me, when they spout and support ignorant and incomplete assessments or our country's dire energy situation.  They also risk being on the wrong side of history, and I think that's going to happen a lot sooner than expected.

As I tell critics, you could believe the entire environmental movement is complete crock, that global warming is a hoax, and that electric cars provide no benefit to the environment over traditional gas guzzlers, and STILL support this country making a concerted effort to significantly diversify our country away from oil and towards electric.  I explained all of my reasoning to this endeavor back in my first post.

The electrification movement is an 'American thing', and the sooner the thought leaders in my party get on board, the better it will be for all of us.

Monday, January 7, 2013

One Year of Volt Ownership: The Costs of Operation and Comparisons

[Attention visitors:  As this entry has received a lot of notice, a few points.  I have over 20 blog entries.  If a question you have isnt answered in this entry, it is likely in one of the numerous other entries.  I did not intend this entry to be a 30 page novel.  Just a quick summary.  If you will look at the 2012 entries, you'll find answers to a lot of questions.  Or you can just comment below and I will answer.  Please view my very first entry, Why I bought the Chevy Volt, to see my personal motivations.  They likely aren't what you expect.]

One year of Chevrolet Volt ownership was reached on January 6, 2013.  Today, January 7, 2013, marks the beginning of year two.  My previous blog entries go over a lot of my personal feelings on the car, so I am going to focus on just the numbers for this entry.


According to AAA, the average price of gas in 2012 was $3.60 a gallon, which set the record.   Below I computed my savings based on the average price of gas for 2012.  When I post these through-out the year, I use the weekly average for my numbers because keeping track of a yearly rolling average can be tricky. 




What isn't listed here in additional savings is that I had no oil changes for the year.  Throw in 3 oil changes (at around 7,500 mile intervals) that most of the comparison cars would have needed and makes the Volt even more attractive.  I also only paid for about half the electricity listed up there.  While I did use about $371 in electricity, the place I charge at work provides electricity at no cost to me (supporting their sustainability mission) and a lot of the malls and shopping centers I go to also allow me to charge for free.  I also received my level 2 charger at no cost to me, thanks to Progress Energy and being an early adopter.  While that giveaway is no longer available, new Volt owners are making this up with by often paying 3-4k below sticker price.  I paid almost sticker price for my Volt.  It is now possible to get Volts around 30k, after tax credits, at dealerships that push heavy volume Volt sales.

In retrospect, my actual numbers were pretty close to my early estimates for yearly driving assumptions and expenses.  I had initially thought I would drive 22k miles a year, but a long vacation abroad at the end of December ended up shaving about 1,000 miles off my anticipated total.


One of the more interesting observations after a year of ownership is the degree the EPA label underrates Volt performance and savings.  Many Volt owners have stated that the EPA label should be considered a floor.  In other words, in all likelihood, a Volt owner will do MUCH better than what is stated on the EPA label.  For example, the range of 35 miles for a 2011 and 2012 was generally only seen during winter months, and most owners that I have spoken to exceed 40 most of the year (including me).


So I decided to have a little fun.


I took the EPA label for a 2012 Volt then edited it to match my actual performance.  I changed their assumptions in the fine print to match my circumstances exactly, including REDUCING the 5 year price of gas average the EPA has on the label (as $3.95 a gallon) to the average gas I experienced in 2012 of $3.60.  I recomputed MPGe based on my average consumption of 31 kWh/100 miles.




Anything in GREEN is an improvement on the label.  Anything in RED was when the Volt underperformed.  The only thing in red was the combined MPG of 36 instead of the labeled 37.  My engine ran so little, often coming on for 1 or 2 miles throughout the year, that the engine was not able to warm up and gain any efficiency.  On the few trips where I traveled a long distance, the engine was averaging about 45 MPG.


Below is the original label.  The differences are pretty stark.  Without a doubt, I have some of the best electrical rates in the country, and have found ways to charge when I am at work to prevent the gas engine from ever turning on.  But this should give readers an indication of the ENORMOUS variability in calculating the costs of operating an electric car.  There is room for a lot of improvement over the EPA label.




Pictures speak louder than words.

This is how much gas the Volt used in one year
Had I driven a car getting 50 MPG, like a Prius, this is how much gas I would have used:
 Had I driven a car getting 30 MPG, like a Chevy Cruze, this is how much gas I would have used:

Had I driven a car getting 23 MPG, approximately the new car average, this is my fuel burn:
 And finally, if I elected to drive a car getting 17 MPG, I would have used this small amount of petrol:
This is one year.  Can you imagine how this is going to look in 5 years?

If anyone believes my power rate is wrong, please see the bottom of this post for an explanation.