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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Almost @ 1 year of ownership with the Volt. My fuel savings!

I am not going to do a big write-up on this one.  I think the numbers speak volumes.  At the end of the year, I will calculate the yearly average price of fuel (will likely be about 20 cents higher than  the current rates listed) and give a total.  Look for that post around the one year anniversary mark, which will be January 7, 2013.

If you drive a car that gets 23 MPG (the national average), the yearly savings based on my driving habits and electricity costs are going to be around $3000 PER YEAR.

Here is a snippet from my bill.  It has three components.  On-peak kWh is the top line.  Off-peak kWh is the second line.  Demand factor is the third line.  Demand factor by definition is the most amount of energy used during peak hours for any 15 minute period.  That number, the demand factor, is multipled by a rate that changes seasonally.  I can completely discount the demand factor from any costs associated with the Volt.  Why?  Because I know when we generate the peak rate.  It happens when the clothes are being washed, the HVAC is on, and I am cooking on the stove.  When I know those moments are going to happen, I simply throw the breaker on the car charger.  If I allowed my car to charge during those peak moments, it would likely add about '1' to the demand factor, increasing my bill anywhere from $3.50 to $6 a month.  Since I make the decision to disconnect the car during peak moments, my car does not affect the demand factor.  All that is left is adding up the on peak hours and off peak hours, and that will average out somewhere around 6 cents per kWh.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

October Sales are in!

Electric cars are here to stay.  The market for electric cars was around 1,300 cars at the beginning of the year.  This month: nearly 6,500.  If you include Tesla, Fisker, Ford, Mitsubishi, and the other smaller players, the number is likely over 7,000.  The market growth is amazing.  Had sales numbers been stock prices, and we bought in at the beginning of the year, we'd all be very happy people right now. 
As I stated in my previous blog, electric cars are late bloomers.  Are they selling in the quantity that the manufacturers wanted straight out of the gate?  No.  Are they getting really close in a fairly short period of time?  Absolutely.  10 months into the year, General Motors is only about 5k away from their targeted sales rate of 40k a year.
How long can this growth maintain?  I'm not entirely sure.  I think the Volt could sustain about 40k-50k Volts a year with current gas prices.  If prices go lower, so do sales.  I do believe that come January, we will see a big drop in sales.  This is due to the nature of a heavily subsidized car.  Not only is January a bad sales month, but people will have to wait over a year to get their tax credit if they buy in January.  A lot of people will not want that.
I will also prognosticate that we will see a dip in November sales.  Is it demand related?  No.  Inventory is at year low levels due to the factory shutdown.  Demand has been so high, inventory has been stripped to a 30 day supply.  Back in January, we had close to a half a year supply of Volts on the lots.  It takes about a month for the supply chain to be cranking again.  Since the Volt assembly line restarted in the middle of October, dealerships won't see new inventory in significant quantity until the middle of November.  This is going to hurt sales a good bit.
But look for December to be the largest ever, possibly above 3,500 Volts delivered to customers.
It is an exciting time for electric vehicle advocates!!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Volt Sales Targets: Disappointment and Triumph

Missed Targets

General Motors is being repeatedly beat up about missing sales targets set for the Volt. They said they'd sell 10,000 in 2011 with a limited release of the Volt in select states across the nation. They sold about 7,500. They said they would sell 40,000-45,000 in 2012 once the car was rolled out nationwide, and it looks like they are going to sell about 25,000 through December. Without putting this into perspective, and following the Volt's tumultuous and short life thus far, it would be easy to label the Volt as a failure.

However, this is a new market. When it comes down to it, GM is attempting to sell a type of car that has never been sold before. It was difficult to gauge how well the public would initially take to liking the Volt. Would they be able to see past the initial higher purchase price to recognize the vastly cheaper operating costs as it compares to the total cost of ownership comparisons to gas vehicles? Would they put concerns about the battery behind them with a generous warranty that shields the consumer from any issues for a long time? Would gas prices remain high in order to make an alternatively fueled vehicle attractive? Would dealers embrace the car and promote it, or would they shun it in favor of more traditional vehicles?

I think those issues alone should have been enough to make General Motors give more conservative sales estimates. But they didn't. They put out bold numbers. Not being an automobile insider, I suspect there are good reasons for high sales estimates that go beyond the obvious. I suspect car companies need to negotiate good prices from suppliers based on volume estimates. A lower estimate is likely going to mean a higher price per unit. This is completely speculation on my part, but otherwise I don't understand why such high targets were placed on such a fledgling product.

Things get worse.

Then the unthinkable happened. In late 2011, widely publicized and congressional involvement in a NHTSA Volt safety investigation would stoke fears in potential buyers. A Volt caught fire at a test facility 3 weeks after a side impact test. NHTSA eventually concluded that the Volt was as safe as or safer than most cars on the road, and General Motors made a modification to further reduce the likelihood of a battery fire in the event of a serious accident. But the damage was done. The Volt had become a political lightening rod. The conservative media was hailing the 'combustible Volt' as an example of wasted government tax dollars in the wake of the General Motors bail-out.

Up until that point, the Volt sales looked to be on an upward pace near of the end of 2011 with consecutive sales increases, culminating with a sales record of 1,529 in December. But the NHTSA hearings, and enormous amount of negative press, mostly unfair and speculative, took its toll.

Enter 2012.

Volt numbers in January plummeted to just 603 vehicles sold. February wasn't much better with sales rising to 1,023. At this rate, GM would struggle to pass the 10k mark on the second full year of production. Then General Motors announced that the plant would suspend production of the Volt for 5 weeks, starting in the middle of March. Vultures were circling. Pundits were calling this the end of the Volt. Owners and advocates were desperately trying to explain the sales drops, stating that the media had been so unfair and harsh during the NHTSA trials, that people weren't willing to trust the Volt as a result. General Motors publically abandoned its sales targets for the Volt, simply stating they would match supply with demand. It was indeed, grim.

Early Spring.

Then something happened. In a rush to bring the Volt to the market, General Motors had underestimated the importance of producing the Volt to meet California emissions standards. The nation's largest car market was selling an alternatively fueled vehicle that did not qualify for the states' $1500 additional tax credit, nor did it qualify for single occupancy HOV lane access. The Nissan Leaf did. The Toyota Prius during its early years did as well. GM had missed a critical component to jump start sales. Back in January, GM had announced its intention to deliver California emissions compliant Volts by March. In the midst of the plant shutdown, rumors started to pop up. New Volt records? Could it be possible? How was this possible? The HOV compliant California Volts were produced before the shutdown, and were being delivered to dealerships. There was a line out the door to get them. Then we got the March sales numbers: 2,289 domestic units sold. The press was in a frenzy.  The Volt had a pulse! As a result of this unexpected jump in sales, General Motors decided to restart production a week early. Volt advocates sighed with tentative relief that perhaps the worst was over.  In April, it was reported by the Detroit Press that the CEO of GM, Dan Akerson stated that he expected sales of the Volt to be averaging around 2,000 to 3,000 a month by the end of the year, and that should be enough to silence critics.  Once again, GM had created a target for the media.

Fast forward.

It has now been 6 months since the Volt seemed to turn the sales corner. After the March spike, Volt sales retreated below 2,000 and began an unbroken series of consecutive month over month sales increases. The Volt market is in a period of sustained growth. It would take until August for the Volt to break through the March sales record, but in August and September sales were 2,832 and 2,851 respectfully. All indications show another month around or above the 3,000 unit sales for October.  Finally, a sales target that was met!

The anti Volt pundits will just look at the total. They'll say, the Volt has only sold 16,348 cars through September, well short of making the 40,000-45,000 initial goal of General Motors. While that is true, it isn't being fair to the facts or obvious trend for anyone closely following the car. The Volt will likely end October with 3 consecutive months of around 3,000 units. This will annualize out to about 36,000 cars a year. So, while General Motors has taken a little longer than expected to get there, they are likely to meet or exceed the 40,000 a year mark in 2013 given current trends.

The Volt is a late bloomer. The electric vehicle market as a whole is going to be a late bloomer. We aren't going to have 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. by 2015, let alone a million. That doesn't mean that electric cars are a failure just because they may not have come out of the gates as strong as the government and some companies had hoped for. But given a little perspective, I think you'll see that the steady and improving adoption of the Volt and its competitors is a trend worth betting on.

Quarterly Sales Rates:
January -> March: 1,305 a month or 15,660 a year
April -> June: 1,634 a month or 19,608 a year
July -> September: 2,511 a month or 30,132 a year
* October -> December: 3,100 a month or 37,200 a year

* estimates based on generalized upward trend seen through previous quarters


Friday, August 10, 2012

EPA Sticker of the 2013 Chevy Volt: Savings Examined

As I have stated in previous posts, buying an electric car takes a little more thought and consideration when compared to a normal car.  Not only do you have to examine your typical commute and accessibility to charging infrastructure, but you also need to look beyond the EPA Sticker on the car to determine your actual savings.  Let's look at the 2013 EPA Sticker for the Volt, and examine this in some detail.

According to this label, the average driver will save ~$7,000 in fuel in 5 years of ownership.  How do they define the average driver?
  • 15,000 miles a year
  • $3.80 a gallon fuel
  • 12 cents per kWh energy rate
  • 35 kWh/100 miles
Compared to the same driver purchasing a vehicle getting 23 MPG.

So there are actually 5 variables here plus one hidden variable.  At least hidden to me (point it out if I have missed it).   They are considering that Volt owners will enjoy a mixture of both electric driving and gasoline driving.  How do I know that? We'll examine below.

After 5 years of driving a car at 15k miles a year, you will have 75,000  miles on the odometer.  For the car averaging 23 miles per gallon, this means that car will have burned 3,261 gallons of fuel.  At  $3.80 a gallon, this will give you $12,392 spent in gas (in the fine print on the sticker, they have $11,600 in gas, but they obviously forgot to update that with a new gas price, as my math is not wrong).

The Volt, if driving by the sticker efficiency of 35 kWh per 100 miles, and driving 100% of the time in electric mode, will cost the following in electricity:

75,000 miles divided by 100 mile units = 750 units
750 units multiplied by 35 kWh = 26,250 kilowatt hours
26,250 kWh multiplied by 12 cents per kWh = $3,150

If we take the fuel cost in the 23 MPG car and subtract it from the electricity cost:
$12,391 - $3,150 = $9241.  This savings exceeds the EPA sticker rating.

So, if you drove the Volt 100% of those miles in electricity, your savings are $2,000 more than the sticker.  So how did they come up with a savings of $6,850?  By assuming a considerable percentage of your driving will be on gas.

How do we figure out the percentage?

Take $9,241 (our savings with 100% electric driving) and subtract from their savings of $6,850
= $2,391

We take that number, and divide by their fuel cost of $3.80 per gallon
= 629 gallons

In the Volt, 629 gallons will get you 23,902 miles (based on 38 MPG combined). 

So, exactly what percentage of your time driving the Volt does the EPA think you'll be using gas?  Apparently just about 1/3 of the time.  They are giving you a combined MPG rating of  119 miles per gallon (75,000 miles / 629 gallons).  As it turns out, that reasonably matches what we're seeing on for the average Volt driver.

So, the sticker is making some reasonable assumptions.  Why can't you take this at face?

Let's examine my situation with a few changes to their assumptions to match mine:

  • 15,000 22,000 miles per year
  • $3.80 a gallon fuel
  • 12 6 cents per kWh energy rate
  • 35 31 kWh/100 miles

So, I drive a lot more.  My energy rate for charging is HALF the national rate.  I am more efficient in my driving than the sticker, and am averaging about 31 kWh per 100 miles, which extends my actual electric range per kWh consumed.

I'll use their assumption of 119 MPG combined for the moment.  Let's run through our math again:

22,000 miles per year * 5 years = 110,000 miles

For our traditional car getting 23 MPG.
110,000 miles divided by 23 MPG = 4,782 gallons
4,782 gallons multiplied by $3.80 = $18,171

For the Volt:
We need to get their 'electric and gas miles' based on 119 MPG combined rating.
110,000 / 119 MPG = 924 gallons burned
924 gallons multiplied by 38 miles per gallon = 35,112 miles

So, they think the average person will travel 74,888 miles on electricity and 35,112 miles on gas.
Those costs:

924 gallons burned mutiplied by $3.80 = $3,511
74,888 miles divided by 100 mile units = 749 units
749 units multipled by my efficiency of 31 kilowatt hours per unit = 23,215 kWh
23,215 kWh times my electric rate of 6 cents per kWh = $1,392

Combined cost of gas and electricity in the Volt: $4,903

5 YEAR FUEL SAVINGS OVER THE 23 MPG CAR: $18,171 - $4903 = $13,268

My actual savings are closer to $16,000, as I am driving 96% electric, or over 850 MPG combined rating, which is over SEVEN TIMES BETTER than the EPA rating.  I have included my running total chart below.  Its more math, but just know that it isn't hard to improve dramatically beyond the 119 MPG combined rating of the EPA chart and really increase your savings.

So, what does all this boil down to?  The Volt is NOT an expensive car when you look at all the costs:

In the EPA case (15k miles a year with all their assumptions):
Volt cost of ownership = $32.5k (post tax rebate) + $4,538 (fueling cost) = $37,038
23 MPG car = [$20k .. 25k] + $12,391 (fueling cost) = $32,391 .. $37,391

In my case (22k miles a year with a higher efficiency and half cost electrical rate):
Volt cost of ownership = $32.5k (post tax rebate) + $4903 (fuel costs) = $37,403
23 MPG car = [$20k .. 25k] + $18,171 (fueling cost) = $38,171 .. $43,171

Conclusions:  The Volt, even by EPA data is marginally more expensive than a very inexpensive $20-$25k car, and WILL be cheaper as your approach the top of that range and go beyond.  If you drive more miles and have better electricity rates, the Volt is CHEAPER UNDER THAN A $20K CAR.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Volt Sales - Updated through September 2012

Below are 2012 Domestic Sales numbers for the Chevrolet Volt. 

GM does NOT consider a delivery to a dealership as a sale.  The reported numbers are purchased Volts by a customer.

I update the below graph and data monthly.  Bookmark this thread.

Some of the media are saying the Volt is a flop, and is failing.  Does this look like failure to you?


I want to explain the Purple and Yellow line. 

The purple line shows sales if you took that month and multiplied it by 12.  It would give you the annual sales rate based on just a single month's sales.  Obviously, this is not a good indicator of sales, which is why the media should be more careful when using ANY single month as an example of yearly car sales.  I am really using it as a scaler, as the sales numbers overlayed against the higher figures are negatively biased in this graph.

The yellow line shows estimated annualized sales if you added up previous sales including the charted month, and then extended that sales rate for the year.  The increasing rate shows that sales are accelerating month to month.  It normalizes the large individual sales spike in March, and does a better job showing the improving sales picture.


The Volt is the number one selling electric vehicle.  The above graph gives you some YTD sales numbers of the Volt's primary competitors.


According to, the Volt outsold almost every hybrid in America.  It is the number one selling American owned and produced hybrid, including all electric cars.

The Volt has outsold year to date in the hybrid/electric/PHEV categories:
Prius PHV
Nissan LEAF
Smart forTwo EV
Ford Focus Electric
BMW Active E
Mitsubishi i 

Chevy Malibu Hybrid
Buick LaCrosse
Lexus RX400/450h
Kia Optima
Ford Fusion
Honda Civic
Honda Insight
Toy. Highlander
Linc. MKZ Hybrid
Honda CR-Z
Ford Escape
Buick Regal
Porsche Cayenne
Lexus HS 250h
Cad. Escalade
Infiniti M35h
Chevy Tahoe
GMC Yukon Hybrid
Chevy Silverado
Porsche Panamera S
BMW Hybrid 7
Lexus GS450h
Acura ILX
VW Touareg Hybrid
Mazda Tribute
Mercedes S400HV
GMC Sierra
Lexus LS600hL
Mercedes ML450
BMW ActiveHybrid5 (535ih)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Debunking Seton Motley: Dealing with Absurdity

ATTN:  Unlike Seton Motley, if you see anything below that you feel is not accurate, and you can correct it with appropriately sourced material, comment below.  I will consider all corrections to details in this article.

It is a sign of the times when Matt Drudge decides to link to a blogger's site as a source of legitimate news, especially when that blogger is clearly not in touch with reality or the truth.  He did so last week when linking to a blogger named, Seton Motley.  Ironically, the blog entry is mentioned as an 'Update,' when most of the material sourced within the blog is old news, some of it almost 2 years old.  Seton has just recycled and mischaracterized old information.  I have thoroughly debunked his attempts in the past associate the Volt with fires.  I have attempted to have Seton correct his misinformation, yet he refuses to do so.  If he did, his argument against the Volt would be limited.  It is now necessary to confront his misinformation.  In fact, show me one Seton Motley interview or article that isn't filled with inaccurate, false, or misleading information, and I'll be amazed.  I am going to link you to his latest blog entry on the Volt so you can read it in its entirety.  Debunking his posts are an exercise in tedium, so while I don't discuss everything, I do hit the big issues.

One other thing to keep in mind.  As you see all the liberties that Seton takes with 'version' of the truth, take note that he is routinely on radio and television.  That means that a lot of people hear what he has to say, believe it is true, and move on.  It is sad when such misinformed people, like Seton, are given such a loud platform by which to spread their lies.

This is the offending blog:
Seton uses a few tactics to make his points, which often fail when compared to rational and logical arguments. 
Tactic 1: Guilt By Association.
Tactic 2: Using outdated and usurped material.
Tactic 3: Just plain bad logic.  Seton often strings together things that are completely unrelated to attempt to make a point.
Let's start to examine his latest blog post.  I am attempting to respond to as many of his inaccuracies as possible. 
SETON BLOG: The Press has failed to mention at least five Volt fires, myopically focusing on the one the Obama Administration hand-selected for attention.
The Press hasn't failed to do anything.  The Press has likely seen, as I have previous posted, that there has only been one Volt fire, a fire that happened during a government test crash.  I explain this in great detail in one of my blog entries, complete with lots of sources.  I suggest reading it, because I'm not going to rehash it in this entry.

In addition to the government testing and garage fires that I have meticulously and accurately explained, he also says:
SETON BLOG: In January, GMcalled back” every single Volt ever sold in the U.S., to fix the allegedly already “fixed” battery….
Technically, it wasn't a recall.  GM did this voluntarily after the NHTSA tests exposed an area of concern, and GM made the correction before any government mandated recall was necessary.  I don't know why he says the battery was allegedly 'already fixed' as this is the only corrective action GM has made with regards to the battery.  The correction basically adds some extra steel around the battery cage to protect it more from intrusion in a severe accident.  This is the first example Seton uses to make it seem like GM is failing to make the Volt a safer car.  Here is the second:
SETON BLOG: But that didn’t fix the problem either. So in March Chevrolet announced they were replacing the power cords for nearly every single Volt ever sold in the U.S…
Actually, the battery cage enhancement did satisfy the government.  It did fix the only battery related issue to date with the Chevy Volt.  Completely unrelated to the battery was an issue with the car provided charging equipment (EVSE).   An EVSE is essentially an expensive extension cord which interfaces the charger that is built into the car with your wall power (in this case, 120 Volts).  The plug for this EVSE was not very rugged.  People were hanging these EVSEs by the plug, as opposed to properly mounting them to the wall with a bracket. Imagine you have a chest high mounted standard outlet, and you plug your alarm clock up to this outlet, allowing the alarm clock to dangle on the wall and not resting on a table or the floor, with all the weight on the plug as it connects to the outlet.  This would result in wear on the outlet, cord and plug. There were some reports of damage to the plug, which could have lead to a fire.  In an abundance of caution, and since people were clearly using the EVSEs in a manner that was not in accordance to the manufacturer's guidelines, they replaced the cords and plugs on the EVSEs with a heavier duty version.   This is not related to the Volt fire.  This is not related to the garage fires.  This is not related to any battery issues.  It was component that needed updating. 

SETON BLOG: And on Wednesday (April 11), a General Motors (GM) lithium-ion battery exploded and caused a fire at a research facility near its Detroit headquarters. Most unfortunately, …one employee faces life-threatening injuries

Lithium-ion batteries like this one are used by GM in the Chevy Volt. Making this just the latest in a long line of Volt fire problems.
Seton uses Guilt by association for this.  GM was testing, by their own accounts, prototype batteries in 'extreme conditions' that are 'not in any production car' including the Volt.   Since this wasn't a Volt battery, by extending his logic, since one lithium battery exploded, we could conclude that all lithium batteries must be dangerous.  This obiously isn't the case.   Have the rest of you thrown out the numerous other devices in your house that use lithium batteries?  I didn't think so.  Another strike for false Seton logic...

SETON BLOG: The Press has failed to mention that the Volt fire problem remains unsolved. Is it the battery? Is it the charging station? Is it the charging cable? All of the above?
The correct answer to his question is 'None of the above'.  The Volt battery issue was resolved in January.  "Is it the charging station?"  Again, Seton uses the 'outdated and usurped material' tactic in this instance.  During one of the garage fires in which the Volt was cleared of fault, Duke Energy initially told its customers to stop using the charging station they had installed for early adopters, as it was present in one of the two garage fires.  After an investigation, Duke would clear the charging station of any blame.  Does this matter to Seton?  Nope.  I actually sent him a link the the article where Duke Energy is quoted.    No corrections.  And since the 'charging cable' issue to the best of my knowledge hasnt been linked to any fire, I'm not even sure why he is mentioning it.  Misdirection?

SETON BLOG: “The Press has for the most part failed to mention how pathetic this “second-best sales month” actually is. And even when one Dinosaur does, the unwarranted enthusiasm is palpable.
Wow. Huge number.
The Press also fails to put this pathetic tally in perspective.

Actually, I think the press has done a pretty good job at putting this number into perspective.  Year to date, there are only 6 hybrid cars and zero electric or hybrid electric vehicles that have outsold the Volt.  The Volt has actually outsold, year to date,  over 30 other cars in those categories.  In fact, the Volt is the number one selling American owned and made hybrid car.  The Volt has outsold other notable hybrids such as the Honda Civic, Insight, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu.  Seton goes on to compare the Volt to the Chevy Cruze, an econobox, that has already sold over 100k cars in the first 6 months.  If you compare just about ANY car to the Chevy Cruze, it will look like a failure.  The Volt and the Cruze may share the same chassis, but this is common in the industry.  There have been Toyota platforms that were also sold under the Lexus name, and VW that sold under Audi, to name a few.  Just because the Volt is built on a Cruze platform doesn't mean the car is just a 'Cruze with batteries'.  Since the top 4 traded cars for the Volt are the Prius, Camry, Civic Hybrid, and BMW 3 series, all cars that carry a large premium over the Cruze, it is safe to say the Volt is much more heavily valued than a 17k Cruze.

SETON BLOG: And speaking of the Volt’s ridiculous $41,000 sticker price
There goes Seton, again, using outdated information.  The 2012 Volt reduced the base price to ~40k.  Seton is quoting the price of the base 2011 Volt.  But this is onpar with the rest of his very outdated analysis.  The following being the worst:

SETON BLOG: According to multiple GM executives there is little or no profit being made on each Volt built at a present cost of around $40,000. Furthermore, the $700 million of development that went into the car has to be recouped

Where does he get this?  An article published back in 2010, almost 2 years old, in which an executive stated that it will take some time to amortize the expenses out of the Volt development, and that it will take a while to increase the per unit profit.  Why is this news?  This is the case for many new vehicles, especially ones that have a lot of new technology.  The Toyota Prius was reported to sell at a loss of 10k per car when it was initially sold in the United States.  They are now selling over 15k a month, presumable at a reasonable profit, as they have earned back their R&D.  Why should the Volt be any different?  Does Seton want GM to produce the same model year after year, never refresh its lines, so that it can be made completely irrelevant?

SETON BLOG: Speaking of those “tax breaks for purchasers and other consumer incentives” - as of November of last year that tally all by itself was $250,000 per Volt sold.
I'll let you read the following link that discuss the credibility of that report.  It may be interesting for the reader to note that the Koch Brothers have funded the Mackinac Center.  The Koch Brothers have wealth in the billions, and are heavily invested in the oil and gas industry.  Can you really trust a study from a group that being partially funded by essentially oil and gas investors?

I also find the view of subsidies incomplete.  While electric vehicles definitely enjoy some government incentives, according to our own government, we spend between $6 billion and $60 billion a year to protect Middle Eastern Oil Reserves.  This is an ENORMOUS indirect subsidy that every consumer in America gets, as that military protection is stabilizing worldwide oil prices.

So who is really getting the biggest subsidy?

SETON BLOG: And with GM’s new 60-day return policy, it looks like you can buy a Volt and cash the $7,500 bribe check. Then return the Volt - and keep the $7,500 bribe cash. How’s that for Taxpayer coin stewardship?

Is there a possibility of fraud as a result of loopholes in the government tax credit?  It is possible.  I am trying to get some details on this.  This isn't so much a Volt problem, as it is an IRS problem.  So in a blog filled with inaccurate data from Seton, it is possible he got one thing partially right.   Then again, given his track record, I won't be betting the house on his revelation. 

In conclusion, if a blogger were really trying to make an informed audience, he would not resort to any of the tactics that Seton uses.  It is dishonest.  It purposely distorts the argument and misinforms its readers.  Seton's blog is an embarrassment to the truth.  He is obviously ignoring any data that stands to tear down his poorly constructed arguments.   I hope the rest of you can see through it.  While there are good discussions that can be had about electric cars, lets build those discussions on an honest debate, not a facade of the truth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

6 months of owning a Chevy Volt: The costs and experiences

I have now owned my 2012 Chevy Volt for a little over 6 months. This past Saturday marked my 6 month anniversary that I marked by traveling about 160 miles round trip for a July 4th weekend with my family. A trip that was made possible due to the gas generator coupled with my initial electric range of about 44 miles. For the past two weeks, much of the country has been experiencing a record heat wave. Extreme heat definitely reduces electric range. Had I opted for the Nissan Leaf, I seriously doubt I would have made the 80 mile initial leg on a fully charged battery, and had I been able to eek it out, it would have been a pucker moment for sure, as I would have literally coasted into my Aunt's house on fumes. But that is the beauty of the Volt. While critics like to laugh at an electric car with a gas engine, this is precisely why it is such a brilliant idea: Range anxiety is nonexistent... even battery degradation, which will occur over time, doesn’t mean as much to someone who has a gasoline backup.

So, let's talk about my numbers. Some of the images below were made last Tuesday before I went on vacation. Slightly dated, but it isn't worth me editing a bunch of new screen shots to add a few miles.

I make this chart weekly.  As you can see, the savings on the car is pretty amazing at my level of driving.  At the 6 month mark, I am driving an annualized 22,000 miles a year.  I am managing to maintain my 95% all electric driving that I have written about for the past 6 months.  So, even a high mileage driver, someone who commutes 70 miles a day, is able to burn next to no gas.

How is this significant?  Well, the average car sold in America last year was rated at about 22 MPG.  That means that I will NOT burn about 1,000 gallons a year with the Volt.  Multiply that by 5 years, and you get 5,000 gallons.  I think we all know that 5,000 gallons is a helluva lot of fuel saved.  What does 5,000 gallons look like?

This is what 5,000 gallons looks like.  So, don't kid yourself.  The potential to save massive amounts of money through not burning gas is there.  Sure, if you wanted to drive a Prius, you'd only save about 2,100 gallons of fuel during 5 years ;)  Still nothing to laugh about.

The data below is courtesy of  They collect data multiple times a day directly from my car's computer.  I cannot manually input data or tamper with their statistics.  The first chart is my mileage over time.  Green represents electric miles while the blue is gas miles.  You'll notice my gas miles have barely moved.  The majority of my gas miles were during the first week of ownership, when I had not established a charging routine at work.

With the above graph, you can see my MPG as it changes per month.  If I used little to no gas in a month, it will be represented by 1000 MPG.  Voltstats will not publish MPG above 1000 in these charts.  I burned a little gas in May, driving the car to the Lake, which is why it dipped for that month.  February was cold, as I would often just start to burn a little gas as I approached work.

My Accomplishments:

So, I am approaching 10,000 miles on a SINGLE tank of gas.  I managed to drive 115 miles all electric in one day (multiple charges).  And my current record is 2,800 concurrent miles without burning a single drop of gas.  I think this is pretty impressive.  But what is more impressive is that there are a good number of Volt owners that have done better than I have.  While I am in the top 15%, I am not in the top 5% in any category.

And for those that question the electricity usage.  This is a side by side of this year's and last year's electricity use.  While the Volt has definitely used electricity, I have actually used LESS overall electricity in the previous 6 months of charging a Volt than I did last year without an electric car.  The climate had more effects on my electricity bill than the Volt did by a long shot.

2012 Total: 9,544 kWh       2011 Total: 9,797 kWh

Clearly the Volt is not electricity hog, even when I charge it from practically zero almost every single day.  My electricity bills confirm what is being reported to me as the kWhs consumed through and the built-in meter in my Aerovironment charging station.

The car is performing to my VERY high level of expectations.  To date, my car has not been in for service for anything other than factory suggested corrections, and that was for a total of 2 days in which I was given a rental car by GM.  I have personally added only 3.5 gallons to the car since I purchased it on January, 7, 2012.  This car, hands down, is a world changer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

My interactions with the Public about the Chevy Volt

As a Volt owner, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to come to the conclusion that large numbers of our citizens have lost, or never learned to begin with, the ability to think critically.  What exactly does that mean to me?  If you have a passionate view on a particular issue, you should be able to articulate your position well, have that position grounded in facts that you have not just heard or read, but also verified, and be able to rebutt an opposing viewpoint.   A critical thinker should also, upon reflection and being exposed to new facts, be able to accept that his/her position may have been incomplete and consider the possibility it was entirely wrong to begin with.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people that are so passionately against the electrification of the automobile, they do not have the ability to think critically.  When the case for electric cars has more positives than negatives, and fixes issues on both sides of the political aisle, it should be a no brainer for us to support it.  But very rarely in this country can a Republican support anything a Democrat believes, or vice versa.

This is a parody of my interactions with those who lack critical thinking ability, an all too vocal group of individuals.  There is some adult language in the clip below, but nothing too terrible.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fire Recalls for other manufacturers

This really is only tangentially related to the Volt.  In the Volt's case, it is getting tied to the Chevy Cruze fire recall, even though they are completely different vehicles, with different engines and setup under the hood.  I took about 15 minutes to do quick google searches of car recalls that were related to fire hazards that were not General Motors cars.  I am absolutely sure I have missed a lot.  But to put the Cruze recall into perspective:

1.3 Million BMW 5,6 series for Fire Hazard

Possible Recall for 1,000,000+ Toyotas

646,000 Honda Fits

490,000 Ford Vehicles

235,500 Mini

168,000 VW TDI

167,000 Acura

79,275 Nissan

67,872 Jeep Wranglers

2800 BMW

1,000 Audi R8 Super cars
600 Rolls Royce Ghost

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Truth Matters: A Compendium of Volt and EV related articles

I come across articles weekly that speak to the truth of electric vehicles, and soundly debunk the arguments posed by the anti EV crowd.  I am creating this living blog entry in order to keep track of all this research in hopes it will aid others as they hopefully engage in thoughtful debates with opponents of electrification.  Granted, that isn't always possible.  But I hope this blog will supply you with facts, not rhetoric.

If you want to contribute a link to this article, please comment below and I'll add it in the appropriate section.  Please report broken links.

Subsidy Issues Examined:

Mackinac Electric Vehicle Study
The following links examine the exaggerated and factually incorrect report that states each tax payer is paying 250k for each Volt sold.

Indirect Subsidies to support our nation, and its reliance to oil

Government Accountability Office examines various government and non government expenses for Military Protection of Middle Eastern Crude; Concludes about 30 billion a year has been spent.

Academic Analysis of U.S. Military Expenditures to Protect the use of Persian-Gulf Oil for Motor Vehicles

Volt Sales Not from Fleet or Government

Fleet sales at bottom

Less than 2% of total sales YTD are to the government (includes military)

Domestic Drilling

Drilling won't lower gas prices.  It will reduce the foreign trade deficit, but that is about it

The Environmental Effects of Electric Cars

In a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, they concluded that electric vehicles are far cleaner than the average car in even the most polluted power grids, but are far better than even 50 MPG cars in the cleanest states.

Battery Issues

Battery prices are falling sharply

Lithium prices are up, but this has little effect on battery prices

New study supporting 'prices of batteries are going to come down greatly over time'

Batteries to be Recycled:

Grid Impact Issues

Many studies have been conducted.  The basic conclusions of these studies are that while EVs will present certain challenges to power providers, there are many things that can be done overcome the challenge, and that we can support a large adoption of EVs with proper planning.

EPIRI Study:

KEMA Study

Volt Sales

The Chevy Volt will outsell the Corvette in 2012

The Chevy Volt is the number one selling electric car, and outselling almost every other hybrid being produced

The TOP four traded cars are all foreign cars, and include the BMW 3 series

No, Virginia, Fleet sales are not inflating Volt sales [read the article, not the link]

Foolish Predictions

Read this CATO article published back in 2001 about a car that is now the number 3 top selling car in the United States

The Volt Fire Controversy

Both Garage Fires that were occupied with Volts ruled out as likely cause by both fire marshals (as well as NHTSA, GM, insurance companies, and other investigators)

NHTSA Conclusion that the Volt is safe

Popular Mechanics: Don't worry about the battery

Chevy Volt Cost

Snopes debunks one of the most outrageous email chains going, stating that electric vehicles cost 7x the cost of gas to operate

Is the Volt Too Affordable?

User provided Total Cost of Ownership Links

Misc Websites

The average Chevy Volt owner gets 120+ MPG combined

Lots of EV myths discussed here

Fox News segment how the Volt will help win the war on terror

Chevy Volt:  One of the most awarded cars on the road

This is a list of 'Upscale Midsize Vehicles' in which the Volt best some the nicest cars in the world

Foreign Trade Deficit as it relates to oil

The biggest Volt Owner forum

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Volt Fire Myth, Debunked

In the lovely twittersphere, there are some 'uninformed' individuals, through apparent lack of intelligence, critical thinking ability, or ability to properly research an issue, that would just as soon spread lies about the Volt than tell the truth. And more interestingly enough, when approached to correct some of the flat out lies, they continue to refute evidence that is plainly visible and published for all to see. When I find a person like this, it becomes plainly obvious that they have no intent to see or report the truth, and will only give to their readers as much information as they dare as to not cast doubt on their preconceived and ill formed beliefs. While there is good debate to be had about electric cars, let’s have the debate on the real issues, not fictitious ones.

We will start out with a bold statement, and prove it below:

At the date of this blog posting, there have been NO CONSUMER FIRES CAUSED BY THE CHEVY VOLT, either in garages or as a result of an accident. The ONLY fires were a result of government testing, the majority of which was done in a manner to purposely incite a fire through non real world conditions (the battery pack was setup to fail).

Let's examine a few issues....

1) There were two (to my knowledge) fires in garages in the last year that happened to have Volts parked in the garage. As reported in my previous blog entry (Responsibility in Journalism), Matt Drudge has been one of the main culprits of linking, prior to any investigation, the Chevy Volt to the garage fire. In BOTH garage fires, the Volt was ruled out as the probable cause.

Regarding the Conneticutt home:

“It wasn’t the cars,” Barkhamsted Fire Marshal William Baldwin told regarding the cause of a fire at the Barkhamsted residence of Dee and Storm Connors.

Regarding the North Carolina home:

When news first came out regarding this incident, many believed the culprit behind this fire could be the Volt, but Iredell County chief deputy fire marshal Garland Cloer says; “the source of ignition seems to be from outside the area of the vehicles.”

So, there you have it. Two Fire Marshals have removed most to any doubt of the Volt being the cause. Let's also not forget these fires were investigated by MULTIPLE sources. Car companies, power companies, insurance companies. People that know a little bit about this stuff and they have ruled out the Volt as the cause. Duke Energy also ruled out the charging station.

Let's talk about the NHTSA fires... This is the one that really got a lot of press attention. Here is the summary of what happened in a Nut Shell:

1) NHTSA received Volts for collision testing, and performed these tests at their contractor's site (MGA Research).

2) They performed 4 crash tests on 4/20, 5/6, 5/11, and 5/12.

3) The car received 5 Star Frontal and Side Impact Crash ratings.

4) On June 6, NHTSA was informed by MGA that the Volt that was impacted THREE WEEKS prior had caught fire and was destroyed outside the testing facility.

5) Through an extensive and long investigation, they determined that the fire was caused when the battery casing was cracked during the last side impact test, and coolant meant to manage battery temperature leaked onto the battery, causing a short and a fire.  The coolant leaked, when as a part of the test to simulate a rollover, they rotate the car in the air 360 degrees (circulating the ruptured coolant).

6) On 9/21 they repeated the side test on another Volt to attempt to recreate the accident along with 360 degrees rotation. The attempt did NOT succeed in producing a fire.

7) A this point, NHTSA, along with other government agencies, worked to recreate a condition that would purposefully puncture the battery housing and cause a coolant leak. The only way they could do this was remove the batteries from the protective shell of the car, and impact JUST THE BATTERIES with the sled.  After the impact, they literally rotated these batteries, in air, a full 360 degrees, making sure that the coolant would make contact with all parts of the battery (simulated roll over).  They did this on 6 batteries. 2 of the batteries caught fire several days after the testing. So they ran tests on a car battery in a condition that would not be found with consumers, that wouldn't be found in the vast majority of accidents, and even after this, were only able to create fires on 1/3 of the batteries several days after the impact.

8) NHTSA monitored EVERY major Volt crash (airbags deployed), and found not a single incident where a crashed Volt started a fire.  They also investigated the garage fires mentioned above.

8) General Motors, aware of these issues, voluntarily made an enhancement to the cage surrounding the battery that would further reduce the likelihood of a fire.

9) NHTSA closed the investigation, citing the Volt as being no more flammable than any other car on the road, being comfortable with the enhancements made by General Motors.


Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety defect investigation into the potential risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash. Opened on November 25, the agency’s investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.

BTW.  Want to know how many cars actually DO catch on fire a year?  250,000 of them.  About 1% of all cars on the road.  And not a single one of them, to date, is electric.

Eventually, something will happen, and a Volt will catch fire.  That’s what happens with any machine where massive amounts of energy are stored.  But taken in context, it’s nothing spectacular or unnerving.  Electric vehicles are safe to own and drive, and are here to stay.