Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Obsession with Electric Vehicle Range and the Value of Range Extenders...

Too much, in my opinion, is made on electric vehicle range.  It is true that too little range can significantly hamstring an electric vehicle from its proper utility.  But what I also suggest is true is that too much electric range is overkill, and that the best option is to purchase a range extended vehicle.

Here is why:

Let's look at the upcoming Chevy Bolt.  It is being lauded as the first longer range BEV that will be available to the masses.  That is true, and I am sure many people are going to buy it.  But how much better, really, is a 200 mile electric vehicle than say a 50-100 mile electric vehicle with a range extender?  I opine that it really isn't better at all, for 'most' people (doesn't mean
all).  Somehow, over a period of 4 years, I managed to put 76,000 miles on my Chevy Volt, with only 4,000 of those miles being powered by gas.    In fact, I've actually gone back and looked at how a 200 mile electric Bolt, with no gas generator would have worked out for me.  I've concluded that many of the trips I took in my Volt which required me to burn gas, would have still required more range for me to comfortably drive with the Bolt.  That means that the Bolt would have stayed in the garage, and I would have driven my wife's CRV. 

So in reality I would have probably burned MORE gas with a 200 mile BEV and traveled fewer all electric miles than I would have with my 35 EPA estimated electric range Volt simply because 200 miles of range still isn't good enough to do away with a gas consuming vehicle.

I see this problem often with Leaf owners... 

Leaf owners are great folks, but many of them would tell me, quite condescendingly, that the Volt was  not a real electric car.  The problem with that statement is they'd say this at about the same time as they pull into work with their spouses gas burning car 'because they had to run extended errands and the range of the Leaf wasn't sufficient', or the 'charging infrastructure at their destination was unreliable or unavailable'. They would say this as they pile into the family mini van to drive to the beach.  For me, the Volt is every bit of an electric car as the Leaf as long as the owner of the Leaf has to rely on a second vehicle to travel places.  This was never an issue for me with the Volt.

I think the real issue is perception.  Many early adopters just can't stand the fact that they aren't decoupled from gasoline.  It just burns them up inside (excuse the pun).  And so they purchase an electric vehicle, which ends up not meeting all their needs, and then they think more range is going to solve  the problem.  It may for some, but not for many.

There will come a time where battery tech is so cheap and the energy density is so high that this argument no longer makes sense.  But we are a good bit away from that.  So I would appreciate even more effort in getting more electric vehicles in the market in the 50-100 mile range with COMPETANT gasoline powered range extenders rather than focusing on super large format BEV vehicles.  If this happens, electric vehicles will become more and more widely accepted as an option and gain a lot of market share.   That's what we want, right?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Feature comparison between a 2015 BMW i3 and the Chevy Volt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Year Chevy Volt Cost of Operation Report : FINAL

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

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