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.

Friday, January 4, 2013

One Year of Volt Ownership: My Reflections

Come Monday, January 7, 2013, I will have owned a 2012 Chevrolet Volt for one year.  It’s been one hell of a year.  What started out as a simple car purchase turned out to be a life altering event.  Why?   It’s a long list. 

The car vastly exceeded my expectations which were born from a technological car crush way back when the Volt was announced as a concept in 2007.  I followed the Volt’s development closely, mainly on gm-volt.com, for several years.  My goal was to own a Volt as soon as it was sold in my state.  And based upon my expected use cases, I figured I would average around 100 MPG combined with my 70+ miles per day commute, not the 1000+ MPG I would get after a full year of ownership and 20,000 miles.  Owning a Volt for one year has removed any doubts about the viability of the electric car movement.    While nay sayers will complain about the cost of EVs at the same time people like me can show these cars are already a cost effective solution for many, I have no doubts that the electric car industry will follow the same trend that every other piece of technology has gone through during our lifetime:  initially high adoption premiums, whose costs are rapidly diminished through economies of scale, and delivered not only cheaper, but better.  You would have to completely ignore history to believe otherwise.

I didn’t realize the influence I could have as an early adopter, helping usher in the electric car age.  I participated in several state wide Plug-in Vehicle Readiness Groups funded through the Department of Energy.  That work is helping our entire state get educated on electric vehicles, and promoting sustainable, thoughtful and appropriate policies for their adoption.  Not only that, but working with large and powerful stakeholders such as car manufactures, power companies, and legislators helped fill in any knowledge gaps I had about electric cars.  In this past year, I learned what it is like to be a true advocate, sacrificing a lot of personal time to help promote electrification.  This blog is only a tiny portion of that work.  I even battled a conservative radio talk show host, I believe successfully, for about 15 minutes on air.

As a result of owning this car, I pay a lot more attention to where I get my news, and how much I trust what I hear/read/see.  If you know the sky is blue, and the news sources that you trust so much tell you the sky is orange, you have a problem.  News sources I once trusted, probably to my own ignorance, such as Fox and Drudge Report, have not only distorted facts about electric cars, specifically the Volt, but they have told lies.  In fact, Matt Drudge in my opinion has directly libeled GM and the Volt, and should have been taken to court and sued for millions, as I believe he has negatively affected Volt sales in that amount.   If you have read this blog, you know I’ve written a few entries attempting to expose a lot of the lies told by the media about this car.  But my distrust of the news now goes way beyond just the electric car, as I am now forced to scrutinize almost everything else I see reported.  Thankfully, my critical thinking ability has been reinvigorated.  I can’t say the same the same for most Americans.

I have even reevaluated my once strong love of the Republican Party.  I still consider myself a Republican.  But much of the Republican Party has left me in its extremism, loss of a balanced approach to solving our nation’s complex problems, and a lack of intellectual integrity and honestly.  The fact that the Republican Party cannot see the enormous and repeated damage caused by our dependence on crude, foreign or domestic, and sees the only viable solution in expanded drilling is beyond comprehension.  Given that this was an election year, it wasn’t difficult to get the candidates’ views on electrification of the transportation sector.  Needless to say, electric vehicles are not widely supported by Republican leadership.  So I have a difficult time supporting candidates that don’t have a balanced, intelligent, and honest answer to our nations’ energy crisis, and as a result, can’t trust them to make good decisions on other issues.
 
So, all of this change and self-reflection from a simple car purchase…   Long live electric cars and long live the Volt!
For those that want all the nity gritty details, I'll be publishing a new post very soon with my details.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why MPGe really doesn't matter much...




I have long hated MPGe.  Miles Per Gallon Equivalent is an often misunderstood rating, that is prominently placed and emphasized by the EPA in its window stickers, and successful in confusing consumers, dealerships, and reporters alike.  I have seen many well intentioned dealerships advertise the Volt as a car with a "98 MPG" rating (dropping the 'e' altogether).  I have seen critics wrongly try to showcase cheaper cars with a higher MPGe as better than the Volt.  Competing car manufacturers are using the MPGe metric to make their inferior electric car offerings look better than the Volt.  Certain electric hybrid automobile manufactures, with their offerings being short on range but high on MPGe, are playing a game of smoke and mirrors.  "Ignore the short range, and put all your attention to our higher MPGe!"  The devil is in the details, and I worry that too many consumers aren't going to understand how to properly evaluate their choices.

What is MPGe?

Well, it is really an efficiency rating.  The EPA determined how many BTUs of heat a gallon of gas would put off if you if burned it.  Then they calculated how much electricity would be needed to generate to the same number of BTUs.  This number is 34 kilowatt hours.  Then the EPA determined the range of a car after consuming 34 kWhs of electricity.  So, if you see a car that is rated at 95 MPGe, that means the EPA rated that car to go 95 miles on 34 kWhs of electricity.  If you see a car rated at 115 MPGe, that means it could go 115 miles on 34 kWhs. 

So, why is the car rated at 115 MPGe not necessarily better than the car with a 95 MPGe.  There is no doubt that on a given amount of electricity, the car getting the 115 MPGe is going to do more with a given unit of energy.  However, if the car getting 115 MPGe can only drive 10 miles on electricity before turning on the gas engine, and the car getting 95 MPGe can go 45 miles before turning on the gas engine, the overall efficiency of the longer ranged, yet inferior MPGe car, is going to best the shorter ranged, higher MPGe car, on all but the shortest of trips.

Looking at this from the abstract.  Let's say I need to hire a worker.  I tell that worker that he/she can work up to 8 hours a day.

Option 1: Your first hour of work is paid at $10 an hour.  All subsequent hours are paid at $2 an hour. (Compare this to Car option 1:  115 MPGe and 50 MPG on gas)
Option 2: Your first four hours of work are paid at $8 an hour.  All subsequent hours are paid at $1 an hour.
(Compare this to Car option 2: 98 MPGe and 37 MPG on gas)

With option 1, the worker can make a maximum of $24 for 8 hours of work.  $10 for the first hour, then $14 for the remaining 7.

With option 2, the worker can make a maximum of $36 for 8 hours of work.  $32 for the first four hours, then $4 for the remaining 4.

So what can we take from this?

1) Option 1 has the highest hourly rates.  The starting rate and secondary rate are BOTH higher than the second option's rates.  BUT FOR A FULL WORKDAY, OPTION TWO WILL PAY YOU MORE.

2) If the person that is going to be hired plans on working 1 hour only, option 1 is the best.  The benefits of the second option don't come into play until after the first hour, so if the worker is only going to be working one hour a day, the first option is obviously best.

3) You have to look beyond just the raw numbers, and see what fits your situation the best.

So, bringing this back to cars...  A car that promises a higher MPGe than the Volt, may not be better for you at all.   You need to look at the electric range of the car, estimate your daily driving habits, and come up with a combined fuel economy in your situation.  This obviously extends to the MPG rating on range extended cars like the Volt and Plug in Prius.  The Volt gets about 37 MPG when running on gas, with the Prius at 50 MPG.  Ignoring the fact that the Prius will turn on the gas motor even during the initial electric range if the car gets to 62 MPH or if you accelerate too hard, the Prius's superior MPG shouldn't matter much to Volt owners.  Volt owners use their gas engine so little that the added 13 MPG efficiency of the Prius won't cut much into the fuel savings.

What would I like to see done about this? 

Despite there being a lot of criticism on this idea, the EPA needs to consider adding other metrics to their label that reduce the bias of MPGe.  Given the cheap nature of electricity compared to gasoline, one car being 10-15% more efficient with the power it consumes isnt going to amount to much difference in the wallet of the buyer, but that car only going 11 miles on a charge versus 40 is going to make a big one.   It would also be nice to display the potential tax credits for the car.  With the Volts much larger battery, it gets 3x the tax credit of the Plug in Prius ($7500 versus $2500).  With this difference, the Volt has over 3x the electric range for about the same cost.

One final note... I know for 100% electric vehicles, MPGe is a good metric.  It could also be a good 'tie break' metric if two cars are identical in range.  Its just not a great starting point to evaluate electric cars, and the EPA can do much better.