Wednesday, July 2, 2014

50,000 miles with a 2012 Chevy Volt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 9, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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