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  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, 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.