Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Feature comparison between a 2015 BMW i3 and the Chevy Volt

If you have been linked here from Forbes, please see the next post for my cost of operation.

As stated in the previous post, with sadness, I have sent my 2012 Chevy Volt to greener pastures and have decided to do my first ever lease on a BMW i3 with Range Extender.  I only have 500 miles now on my BMW, so I can't do a proper review, but from what I have seen, my review will be better than what is currently out there...

I am not going to compare the range extender.  Not at this time.  One of the benefits of a car with 80 miles of electric range is that you are not going to need it very often.  I managed 93% of my driving to be electric with the Chevy Volt, with the assistance of public L2 charging, and I expect that number to be closer to 98% with the BMW i3.

What I am going to compare are the differentiators between the two.  I'll let you assign a value to these...

Cool features the Volt just doesn't have...

1) Stop and Go Adaptive Cruise Control:  This feature is the one that made the difference for me.  In short, once on the highway, the car will follow the car ahead of you, adapt to their speed at a configurable following distance, all the way down to 0 miles an hour.  Then the car will continue to follow them when they start moving again.  I commute 1 hour each way to work, often in bumper to bumper traffic.  In the 4 days I have used this, it has worked very well.  I take my foot off the accelerator and just steer the car.  It isn't the Tesla Auto Pilot, but it isn't too far away from it, either.

2) Automated parallel parking:  It is a nice feature to have, and seems to work well.  In the three instances I have tried to use it, it parked the car effortlessly without me touching anything.

3) Rain Sensing Wipers:  I like not having to touch the windshield wipers and adjust them for the constantly changing amount of rainfall.

4) Collision Avoidance:  Active braking to avoid collisions with vehicles that you are about to run into

5) Detailed sensor display during parking:  Really nice.  Will actually show you a picture of your car on the screen, and show active feedback to where sensors detect obstacles.  The backup camera, by the way, is the best I have seen.

6) Advanced GPS routing to maximize your electric range (ECO Pro routing)

7) LED Headlamps: Finally happy to have properly bright, but low energy, LED headlamps.

8) Automatically folding side mirrors:  I use this, often.  When I park, I press a button, and the mirrors fold in.  One less thing to get knocked off.

9) Better basic warranty:   4 year/50k miles versus 3 year/36k on the Volt.

10) Automated preconditioning:  You tell the car your departure times, and it makes sure the car is warm...  NOT the same as the Volt, where preconditioning is a manual process done through the app (no scheduling)

11) Totally lay flat rear seats:  Great for Cargo.  The Volts seats do not lay entirely flat, and the middle cup holders are still exposed.

12) 7+ kW charging: Makes the most of your charging.  The Volt, even the second generation model still only has a 3.3 kW charger.

13) DC Quick Charge: Probably will never be available on the Volt, as the car is intended as a mix mode vehicle.

Cool features the Volt has, that the BMW does not...

1) Auto locking doors:  When you walk away from your Volt with the keys in your pocket, the car automatically locks.  I can tell you that I have been leaving my i3 unlocked a LOT because of the lack of the feature that they should support (they have proximity unlocking)

2) Remote unlocking of doors: BMW only allows you to lock, but not unlock your doors with the app.  A huge fail, and poor decision.

3) Charge completed txt notification: BMW does not have an option to notify you when you car has completed charging.  Another big swing and a miss, when plug sharing is very common.  I cycle my car out as soon as the charging is done.  With the BMW, I have to load the app, and routinely update the status to see how much longer I have.

4) Lane Departure Warning: Beeps if it senses you are tracking out of your lane

So, you can see that the BMW has a lot more offerings on the i3 than the Volt by just looking at features.  If you look at performance, the i3 will also win.  The Volt should hold more cargo.  As to rear passenger comfort, this could be a toss-up, even though there is a lot more head room for passengers in the i3, and what I also to believe is a little more legroom.  I also think that the i3 interior, with the Terra trim level, is vastly superior to the interior fit and finish of the Volt.  I always thought the Volt relied too much on plastic for a 40k car.

In conclusion, the BMW i3 is a more expensive car for a reason.  It has a lot more features.  But the Volt could still be the car for you if you find yourself using the gas engine a lot, or don't value the features listed above and their associated premiums.  Also, I don't think I would trust the i3 range extender for long distances.  The Volt clearly has it beat in that area.

4 Year Chevy Volt Cost of Operation Report : FINAL

On January 7, 2012, I had the privilege of being one of the first electric vehicle owners in the state of North Carolina when I purchased a fully loaded Chevy Volt.  On January 7, 2016, 4 years exactly from its purchase, I traded my beloved Volt for a new BMW i3.  So this marks the final cost of operation report for my car, one of the most traveled Volts on the planet in regards to electric miles driven.  When I traded the Volt, I was filled with a lot of mixed emotions.  The car had never failed me.  It delivered more than advertised.  It was the best car I have ever owned, and likely will ever own.  It felt like I was letting it down by trading it in.  But I also realized, being a first generation car, that the Volt acted as a bridge towards electrification.  It wasn't the destination, but a stop on the way.  And while I am likely going to be back in a General Motors product in the not too distant future, there was nothing they were going to provide me inside of the next 2 years (in North Carolina) that would prevent me from trying something else.  So I decided to take my first ever lease, a 2 year lease, on a BMW i3 with a range extender.  More on that in the next post.

For now, here is the last Operation Report for my 2012 Chevy Volt.  I attempted to be as accurate as I could with the 4 year rolling price of gasoline.  May my Chevy Volt go own to provide many more electric miles for its next owner!

Friday, January 9, 2015

3 Year Cost of Operation on My Chevy Volt!

Hello, all!  I know I've gone into hiding.  It just seems as though things have been working out great for the electric car, and I can let other people do some of the heavy lifting ;)  2014 was a record year for electric car sales, nearly reaching 120,000 cars in a single year.  I think its a safe bet we'll beat it next year, even as gas prices as in a decline (in my opinion, temporarily).  There are just too many benefits of driving electric, and more and more people are seeing that.

With that said, here is my personal 3 year cost of operation report.  You will notice that I've burned some gas in the last year.  It is what happened when you renovate two homes that are over 2 hours away.  A lot of driving :)  It is just what makes the Volt so special, however.   Limitless range!

I have a major project I am working on.  I am attempting to have a 6 Kilowatt solar system installed on my home.  I'm not sure why I didn't do this sooner.  It will cost me, after tax credits, about $6,000, and the system will raise the value of my house by over $16,000, and generate over $1,000 in electricity each year!!  Why didn't I do this sooner?

Anyway, here is the report!

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:

The referencing page is here with some more details:

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, 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: