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Can you drive from SW Colorado to Michigan in a 2018 Battery Powered Chevy Bolt? YES YOU CAN! Part II

As promised, here are answers to the more basic questions about doing a long-distance road trip in a mid-distance, 235-mile range, Chevy Bolt EV.

Starting the final leg with 75% State of Charge.

Was it cheaper than paying for gas would’ve been?

At home, where DC fast charging isn’t necessary for us, driving the Bolt is about 40% less expensive to fuel than using gasoline for a comparable car. On this 1,600 mile trip, we charged four to five times a day on high voltage, DC fast chargers. Assuming we would’ve driven a car getting 30 mpg, it cost 15% more than we would have paid at gas stations in the Midwest, where gas was running about $2.10/gallon. The electric fuel cost us $135 for the one-way trip, about $20 more than gas. We charged overnight at hotels for free on two nights, waking up with a full tank.

In Iowa, local electric companies MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy provided free fast charging at all their stations. We used two of them. These were slower rate fast-chargers, with top potential of 50 kW, unlike the 62.5 kW we would start with from the Electrify America chargers. They were pleasantly located with grassy areas and picnic tables nearby.

Avoca, IA at a Casey’s General Store

How much extra time did it add to the trip?

On the days when we drove more than 500 miles (10-11 hours of driving time), we spent four to five hours charging at four to five different fast chargers. Yes, that is a lot of time. The 2018 Chevy Bolt is slow to accept charge. No matter how fast a charger is able to provide electricity, the 2018 Bolt will accept a maximum of about 53 kW. It drops off in a step-wise fashion after the battery gets 55% full until it gets down to 25 kW when the battery is at 80%.

This image is from https://allev.info/2020/03/chevy-bolt-2020-dcfc-charge-curve/ and is for the 2019 and 2020 Chevy Bolts.

In contrast, a Tesla Model 3 can take a maximum of over 100 kW, depending on the power of the charger being used. Over a 30-minute Tesla Supercharger session it will accept power at an average of 85 kW. That said, the Model 3 long range version cost about 50% more than a Chevy Bolt in 2018 when Chevys’ were still getting the full federal tax credit while Teslas’ was phasing out.

Driving the Bolt for this trip was inconvenient. It was not pleasant to spend more than an hour in a Walmart parking lot 100 feet down-wind from a truck-stop hosting at least 50 idling semi trucks. Yes, a lot of time is spent in big parking lots on today’s cross-country EV road trips.

Can you see the DCFC station in this picture? Look to the left, past the lovely garden. It’s the orange and white thing past the fence.

However, there were a fair number of very pleasant charger locations. There was the brand-new station in Saugatuck, MI, where the parking lot was shaded by thick deciduous forest. The charger there faced an open, grassy sculpture garden and was next to a REALLY good breakfast restaurant.

In the case of the free Alliant Energy charger at Grinnell, Iowa, we were able to park about 2 miles from the freeway at a quiet Alliant office surrounded by corn fields and several acres of preserved prairie with a walking path mowed around it. We spent about 75 minutes there, walking and picnicking, wanting to fill up a bit more than usual because it was our last fast-charger stop of the day.

While at this stop, in the nearby fields we noticed all the corn, which was still green and had been quite tall, was laying down flat on the ground with fat, full ears still attached, unharvested. It turned out three weeks before our visit an extreme straight-line windstorm with winds up to 126 mph tore through a large section of central Iowa. It destroyed 7- to 8-million acres of corn and beans. It crushed many empty silos, setting the state’s farmers up for problems finding grain storage this fall. Four people were killed. 1.9 million people across several states lost power, some for as long as thirteen days.

If you’re curious about what it was like to be hunkered down in a suburban Iowa home during this storm, take a look at this video. Note the contrast of the idyllic scene at the beginning with what happens after minute 14. Not very pleasant.

This extreme weather event was more than inconvenient for Iowans. It threatened life and livelihood. Climate events of this magnitude are becoming so common, it barely made the news. We are at the point where government action has taken too long to adequately slow emissions down. Individual actions, such as buying an EV if you can afford it and turning a long 2-day road trip into a more relaxed 3-day road trip, are among the most immediate actions one can take to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Were the charging stations working and available?

In short, yes. They were all working, though we had significant difficulty getting the Electrify America (EA) fast chargers to initiate charging at the Flagler, Colorado and Colby, Kansas locations. We were eventually able to charge at all of them, but only after spending 20-30 minutes on the phone with an EA representative. That was very frustrating knowing we had to spend another 45 minutes to an hour at the station once the charging finally started. EA also, through an error in their software, double-charged us at every station on our trip out. The problem was fixed by the time we returned home a couple weeks later, and EA completely refunded all the fees for those charging stations. The effect of those refunds is not reflected in the $135 spent on electricity given above. That value is the cost on the way back when we were charged the correct amount at all the EA stations.

What would we do if we arrived at a charger to find it in use by someone else?

This did not happen to us on this trip. The fast-chargers we stopped at usually had room to charge two to six vehicles at a time. We only had even one car pull in while we were charging on three occasions.

While we never had to wait to charge, we did block a station for another person at the single fast-charger station on the Tollway south of Chicago for about half an hour. It was a 50 kW unit, so slower to charge anyway, and we needed enough charge to make a long jump to the next station which was located in Michigan. As we lounged on the grass under a shade tree, we watched a guy pace back and forth for half an hour waiting for us to be finished. It was a friendly encounter, but we felt bad about it, knowing we’d be sad to be in his shoes with the final 300 miles to go in our trip.

A portion of the Illinois DCFC desert, just south of Chicago on the I-80, I-294, I-90 Interstate corridor. There is a DCFC in Joliet, but it has been extremely unreliable since it was installed in early 2020. How do you find out how reliable a station is or has been? Check www.Plugshare.org, and share your experiences there, too!

Let me take this moment to beg whoever is empowered to increase the availability of faster public fast chargers in south-east Illinois and north-west Indiana, please get busy. After having no trouble finding fast-chargers across Nebraska and Iowa, it was a slap to have so few options on this urban major interstate route. Between Geneseo, Illinois and Michigan City, Indiana, over almost 200 miles there is only one non-Tesla fast charger available and in working order, and it is a single, slow 50 kW unit at a Tollway rest stop. ComEd and Indiana Gas & Electric, can you help get some public EV fast-chargers on I-94 please?

How was it better than a long trip in a gas-powered car?

There were some pleasant surprises. The EV trip was three days of more relaxed driving. The pace was easier to take. We used the stops to stretch our legs walking and to eat without having crumbs fall in our laps. The trip felt less stressful because we weren’t pushing for maximum miles. We arrived at our destination less achy and irritable. The inconvenience was vanishingly small when compared to the climate-related catastrophes being suffered by people coast-to-coast on a now yearly basis.

Person-by-person, mile-by-mile we can make a difference. YOU CAN DO IT!

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Can you drive from SW Colorado to Michigan in a 2018 Battery Powered Chevy Bolt? YES YOU CAN! Part I

This post is divided in two parts: PART 1- Why do it? And PART 2 – Answers to the basic questions of how much time did charging add to the trip? What if all the charging stations are taken when you show up? How much did the cost compare to gas?

On August 28 of this year, 2020, the day after Hurricane Laura mowed into Louisiana, my husband and I started a 1,600 mile road trip from Durango, Colorado to Beulah, Michigan driving our all-electric 2018 Chevy Bolt. A couple weeks later, we’d have to turn around and do it again to come home. In 2018, the trip would not have been possible. The fast charging infrastructure we used was installed in 2019 and 2020, so it felt like an adventure.

Iowa, where wind energy produces 42% of the state’s electricity, the highest of any state.
  • How would the costs measure up?
  • Would the charging stations be working and available?
  • How much extra time would it add to the trip?
  • What would we do if we arrived at a charger to find it in use by someone else?

The answers to all these questions will be provided in Part 2 of this post, which will be published a couple days after this one. For now, let’s start with more basic questions:

  • “WHY?” Why would anyone try to do that now?
  • Doesn’t it take SO much longer with the charging stops?
  • I can’t buy an EV until my current car rusts into a pile of dust, so isn’t it a waste of money to buy an all-electric vehicle before the vehicle technology and charging infrastructure are more mature and built up?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can tell you a bit about me and why I did it. I graduated in 2000 with a master’s degree in geology, and I’ve worked the past twenty years as an air quality specialist, with seven of those years doing greenhouse gas emission inventories for industry. I’m a scientist at heart. I strongly believe analyzing empirical data, when it’s available, is really good input to base decisions on.  However, also as a scientist, I DO mean to sound alarmist about climate change and Americans’ contribution to it from their traveling habits.

Hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades, an analysis of observational data shows, supporting what theory and computer models have long suggested: climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive.

Henry Fountain in the New York Times, May 18, 2020

Global warming is likely worse than you think, because most climate scientists don’t want to sound alarmist. They are even-minded, non-biased scientists, after all. So what you hear about in the media and from the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) reports about climate change are actually the low end, least destructive scenarios of what climate models predict will happen if we continue at our current rate of emitting greenhouse gas emissions. We need to slam the brakes on these emissions.

Massive forest fires in California redden the sky in Michigan, 2,400 miles away, July 8, 2020. You can run, but you can’t hide from the effects of climate change.

We are at the point where government action has taken too long to adequately slow emissions down.  Individual actions such as buying an EV if you can afford it are among the most important, immediate steps we can take to lower our personal greenhouse gas emissions and signal our governments we are ready to step up to the challenge of slowing climate change.

Nope. Didn’t carry all that in on our backs.

As a western US outdoors-loving environmentalist, over the last 25 years this knowledge has been the root of a fair amount of psychological stress for me, triggered by cognitive dissonance. I’ve lost count of the number of river trips I’ve been on, serviced by one or more large pick-up trucks traveling several hundred miles carrying hundreds of pounds of rafts, waterproof boxes of food and gear for groups of up to twenty peoples’ pleasure. And I’m a kayaker! I don’t really need that much gear to go down a wild river, but it sure is nice to have rafts carrying friends and coolers of cold beer along. However, I have also known for more than 25 years how harmful this way of loving the wilderness is. Traveling long distances at high speeds in either cars, trucks or airplanes fueled by fossil fuels creates larger amounts of greenhouse gas than any other thing individuals do.

So in early 2017, when Nissan offered their all-electric, 136-mile range Leaf at a VERY reasonable price, I figured we had to do it. Finally, the world came around to creating electric cars which cut emissions so significantly that regardless of any inconvenience, we had to step up and early adopt.

Sweet lil’ EV. So sweet.

The Leaf was a great commuter car. I was surprised at how nice it was to never have to stop at a gas station as part of my routine. Never. I just plugged it in at home when needed (two or three times a week in my case), and it would charge overnight. When the opportunity to buy a higher range (235 miles) Chevy Bolt came up, we jumped on it. We wanted to use an EV for more of our less frequent, middle-distance trips. We owed the world something for all the fossil-fuel enabled pleasure we’d taken. We could finally start paying it back.

And, as this round-trip to Michigan proved, you pay more than just money to settle a greenhouse gas emissions debt. However, the slower rate of travel had some benefits, too. Tune in to PART 2 of this post for answers to questions posed at the beginning of this post.

Hurricane Laura also traveled generally to the north-east as we drove on those August 2020 days. It killed fourteen people, half of them by carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of generators indoors. Power was knocked out for days for 360,000 people. As late as September 2, tanker access to liquid natural gas plants and oil refineries was still limited by debris and salvage operations in the waterways which lead to those plants.

Hurricane Laura, which one was that? There were so many this year. And so many last year. It sucks to have your home destroyed by fire or hurricane. Not so much to spend a couple thousand more for a car, and a bit more time fueling your vehicle.

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On Buying a Tesla in New Mexico

By Mitchell Chapman

Tesla sells directly to customers via their website, rather than via a franchise dealership network.  For this reason they’re not allowed to operate directly in New Mexico.  As a result, for New Mexicans the Tesla purchase process involves a little risk and uncertainty.

I live in New Mexico, and I recently bought a Model 3.  Here’s how everything played out for me.  I hope this information helps any others who may be thinking about buying a Tesla.

Day 1: In late August, 2020, I created a Tesla account and paid the $100 to start the purchase process.  I opted for the least expensive long-range Model 3 available.  The website said to expect delivery in 3 to 5 weeks.

Within a couple of hours I was contacted by my assigned “Inside Delivery Specialist”.  Right off the bat he explained that, since I lived more than 220 miles from the nearest delivery center in Longmont, CO, my Model 3 would be delivered via a Carrier Direct delivery.

I owned a Chevrolet Volt, and I’d already received a provisional trade-in price from the website.  To finalize that price I needed to report the Volt’s mileage and to upload several photos of the car, together with a photo of the current odometer reading.  There was no loan on the Volt, so I also needed to upload a scan of the title.

While waiting out the 3 to 5 weeks, I contacted my bank to verify that Tesla’s preferred payment method – electronic transfer – would be acceptable to them.  I also contacted my insurance company to set up coverage for the new vehicle.  They explained that they could email proof of insurance as soon as I had a VIN for the Tesla.

If you’ve followed Tesla’s activities over the past few years, you know they’ve had issues with initial build quality.  This adds an element of risk for buyers in New Mexico.  In particular, when I made my purchase the state had only two Tesla mobile service technicians.  Any major quality issues would require taking the car to Longmont, Colorado for service.

Fortunately, a kind soul had posted a Model 3 [delivery inspection checklist] (https://github.com/mykeln/teslaprep).  I downloaded a copy and began familiarizing myself with the most common issues.

The checklist said paint flaws were the only issues for which buyers should refuse delivery.  Most problems could be fixed by a mobile service technician.

Tesla’s website has a series of tutorial videos explaining how to use the vehicle.  Teslas aren’t hard to drive, but their human-machine interfaces differ from most other cars.  Door handles, keys, procedure for “shifting” – almost everything is different.  What’s more, with carrier direct delivery nobody will be available to provide an introduction to the vehicle.  So I took some time to watch all of the videos.

Day 24: About three weeks after I placed my order, my delivery specialist emailed.  He had a VIN for the Tesla.  It was time to fill out the motor vehicle purchase agreement, upload proof of insurance to my Tesla account, and make final payment. 

I contacted my insurance agent, who emailed a temporary auto identification card.  Then I logged in to the Tesla website, uploaded the completed documents, and set up the wire transfer.

Day 27: A couple of days later, on a Saturday, a trade in packet arrived via Fedex.  The packet contained a notice saying that it needed to be completed and returned within 48 hours.

The instructions said to sign only the yellow highlighted areas on the forms: Odometer Disclosure Statement for Title Transfers, Trade-In Annex, Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Forms, State of California DMV Statement of Facts.

The Odometer Disclosure Statement in particular worried me.  It requested the same sort of info I’d provided at the start of the trade-in process, weeks before.  I started wondering whether, in addition to signing the highlighted fields, I was supposed to fill in an updated odometer reading.  The alternative, to leave so much information about the Volt blank, seemed akin to handing someone a signed, blank check. It was a Saturday, but I emailed my delivery specialist.

He got me sorted out.  He confirmed that I just needed to sign my name in several places.  I also needed to sign over the title to the Volt. I uploaded scans of all of the signed forms so he could review them.  He confirmed that everything was in order, and gave the OK to take them to Fedex. The delivery specialist also let me know that he was seeing an estimated delivery of day 36.  I should expect a call to schedule trade-in and delivery once the carrier had arrived in New Mexico.

This was, surprisingly, an emotional day.  The Volt was not quite four years old, and it was in great shape.  I felt wasteful for giving up a car before using it up, as I had done with every other vehicle I’d owned.  On top of that, even if the new car had a serious flaw that forced me to reject delivery, the Volt was gone.  There was no going back now.

Day 31: At the end of the following week I got a text message and a phone call, both from an unknown number, asking to meet the following morning at the Santa Fe CarMax.  I made one more pass over the inspection checklist.

Day 32: The next morning at 7:10AM, an hour before our appointment, a follow-up text arrived.  The carrier driver was at CarMax, ready whenever I could get there.  He added: “Also I think you have a return unit. I’m not picking that up.  It’s going on a different truck.” This was news to me.  My delivery specialist had always said I’d be handing over the Volt and taking the Model 3 at the same time.  I told the driver that I needed time to find someone who a) was awake and b) could come with me to drive the Volt back home.

He quickly coordinated with his dispatcher.  “Bring the return unit if you can.”

I drove down to CarMax.  It was easy to find the delivery truck: its trailer was stacked with several Tesla models.  A pearl white Model 3 was parked in front of it.

photo by M. Chapman

I greeted the driver and started looking over the car. The delivery checklist had been created for customers who were taking delivery at Tesla delivery centers, and who could therefore have most problems resolved before driving away.  This was a different situation, so I focused my attention on the paint.

Everything looked good.  The panel gaps were consistent.  The paint had no flaws.  (I did eventually discover a small missing chip on a door hinge, visible only when the door was opened.  I could fix this on my own.)  I had lucked out.

However, there was one problem.  I couldn’t find the temporary tag.  I asked the driver, who shrugged apologetically and said Tesla had not given him any temporary tags.  He said that everyone else on his route had just climbed into their cars and driven off.

Okay  …   I gave the driver the keys to the Volt, climbed into the Model 3, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and started the drive home.

A year earlier, returning from a trip to Yellowstone, I’d stopped at the Tesla showroom in Denver.  At the time I was just window shopping, so I was surprised when the showroom staff offered to let me take a solo test drive of a Model 3.  I remember my impressions: this rear-wheel drive Model 3 had a slightly harder ride than the Volt, significantly more road noise, and a fair bit more power.

Now, driving home in an all-wheel drive Model 3, I got a much different and more pleasant impression.  The ride was firmer than the Volt’s, but the cornering and handling were noticeably better.  This Model 3 was no louder than the Volt, and in fact it seemed a bit quieter.  And it had a lot more power.

Given the price difference between the Model 3 and the Volt, one should hope the Model 3 would come across as a nicer car – a *much* nicer car.  All the same, I was both relieved and pleased.

I’d penciled in an extra section on my delivery checklist.  It listed items related to the trade-in.  The absence of a temporary tag had distracted me from these items.  As a result, I made it almost halfway home before remembering that I had meant to remove the license plate from the Volt.

I headed back to CarMax.  Alas, when I got there the carrier was long gone.  But the Volt was there, looking forlorn at the back of the carrier truck lot.  I got my plate, and felt another pang of guilt for “discarding” what had been a really good car.

Now I had a Model 3, but I couldn’t drive it anywhere.  A web search revealed that “no temporary tag” was a common problem.  The solution was to ask the delivery specialist to email a PDF of the temporary tag.

It was a Saturday, again, but I gave it a try.  My specialist called back and said he’d contacted the “shipping team”.  They would be sending the tag.

Day 36: A couple of days passed with no tag in sight.  I emailed again.  The delivery specialist said he’d contacted the shipping team again, and that he would let me know as soon as he had more information.

Day 38: When I made my purchase, Tesla had a seven days / 1000 miles, no questions asked return policy.  I thought this period began as soon as a customer took delivery.  Now four of those days were gone.

I couldn’t get a response from my delivery specialist.  I decided to try the Tesla advisor who had contacted me at the start of this process, when I’d first requested a trade-in quote.

As luck would have it, this was (September 30th:) the end of the quarter.  I got an immediate auto-reply saying the advisor was out of the office, assisting with deliveries.  The message also recommended to call the Tesla store for quicker assistance, and it provided a phone number.  I called.

Once I reached a human, he assured me that the return period wouldn’t start until the temporary tag was shipped.  He said that, since I was buying in a state where Tesla was not permitted to operate (or words to that effect), the tag would be included in the registration packet.  Tesla was supposed to send that within 7 to 10 business days of my purchase.

This didn’t match anything I had read about the experiences of other Tesla buyers.  Neither did it match what my delivery specialist had told me.

Happily, I didn’t have long to stew.  Within the hour I received an email from “Lone Tree Order Suport”.  It was the Tesla Advisor, sending a PDF of the temporary tag.  Finally, I could start driving the car.

No problems manifested during the 7 day period.  The car was (and is) great.

Day 57: Given the temporary tag mix-up, it should have been no surprise that the registration packet was late.  I waited until after the 7 to 10 business days had elapsed, then contacted my delivery specialist again.  Even though he was on vacation he responded, saying that the “DMV team” was still processing my registration documents.

The packet did eventually arrive, via FedEx, after 15 business days.  This left one last task: registering the car and paying the vehicle excise tax.

Day 61: I reached the Santa Fe MVD Express about 25 minutes before it opened.  A line of customers, spaced six feet apart, already extended halfway around the building.  About 50 minutes after I got in line, I was inside the building.

MVD Express had long since established procedures for reducing COVID transmission risk.  They took my registration documents and my phone number and told me I could wait in my car.  Within 1.5 hours of my arrival, everything was done.

Conclusion: The Tesla purchase process is ever changing.  For example, I’ve recently read that Carrier Direct delivery is no longer free, and that it now costs $750.  Still, if you’re a New Mexico resident who is interested in buying a Tesla, I hope this story has been of some help.

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A Colorado driver’s plug-in hybrid experience

A Colorado driver’s plug-in hybrid experience
photo courtesy of Honda

By Richard Grossman

Our plug-in hybrid Prius was hit by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel on June 7th, 2019. My wife had a serious fracture but I was more fortunate with only minor injuries. The Prius, which saved our lives, was demolished. We wanted to replace it with another EV before the federal reimbursement for EVs decreased at the end of June. We had installed PV panels on the roof of our carport, had a level 2 charger and didn’t want to become reliant on fossil fuels any more than we could help. However, we travel to Denver to visit family, so range is a problem. The options were to replace the Prius with a Tesla (too expensive!) or get another plug-in hybrid (PHEV).

Fortunately, I had already done a bit of research and knew where to look. The Prius Prime didn’t appeal because of its limited EV range and overly complex appearance. After talking with local dealerships and finding that the Prius was the only option available in Durango, I looked down in Farmington. The Mitsubishi Outlander was a real option—it has 4WD and is the most popular PHEV world-wide [Ed. Note: all-electric range of 22 miles]. A test drive reinforced what I had already read, that it was not up to modern standards of finish. Furthermore, I was concerned that its safety rating wasn’t top notch.

The Honda Clarity was another possibility. It had the bells and whistles that make it safer, was comfortable and was available on the lot. It did not have any safety rating yet, but its first cousin, the Honda Accord, had excellent ratings; that was good enough for me. It also had a safety feature I hadn’t heard of before—an air bag for the driver that is under the dashboard that might have prevented my wife’s injury, had the Prius had one. She was driving in the accident, and had downward force on her left knee that broke the top of her two leg bones into several fragments.

The second test drive turned up a problem that I had read about in reviews of the Clarity. The vehicle refused to function on the battery, although it worked well as a hybrid. What was the point of a PHEV if it wouldn’t run on the battery! I negotiated a good price that included an extended service contract (just in case) and drove it home.

On the way back from Farmington I played with the controls that govern the source of the motive power. I had read that holding down a button for a few seconds will cause the engine to charge the traction battery. When I used that, a white line appeared on the panel showing the battery charge level—and I realized that the battery had been totally discharged!

After learning how to use this computer with wheels attached, I have been very pleased with the Clarity. Most of my trips at first were back and forth to the hospital or rehab unit where my wife spent way too much time. I clocked the battery-only as driving almost 60 miles. [Ed. Note; the EPA rating for pure-electric range on this vehicle is 48 miles, very similar to the 53 mile rating on late-model Volts, a comparable PHEV that is no longer made.] The first tank of gas, filled at the dealership, propelled me 715 miles to the gallon! Of course, that was because I kept the battery well charged at home. Since then we have taken longer trips—to Denver and Grand Junction—and had very good mileage and comfortable rides. I discovered that it is possible to carry 8-foot fluorescent bulbs in it, and that the trunk will hold a lot of stuff. It is the only vehicle that we have ever owned with a trunk in back; our first vehicle was a VW bug, but its trunk was in the front.

I hope Melloy Honda in Farmington has sold other Clarities. I have told them I’m pleased with ours—and I also suggested that they fill the battery as well as the gas tank in the future! [Ed. Note; I too have arranged to test drive a PHEV, only to discover upon arrival at the dealership that the car’s battery has not been charged, A dealer can always charge up using the 110 V cord that comes with the car, even if they don’t have a conventional (Level II) charger, but apparently many can’t be bothered. Consider requesting a charge in advance of arriving at a dealer to test drive a PHEV.]

Kelley Blue Book’s (KBB.com) awarded the Honda Clarity their 2020 Best Buy for BEV/PHEV cars, in recognition of the model’s class-leading all-electric range, seating for five, and safety features.

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A new mass-market SUV comes to Western Colorado

A new mass-market SUV comes to Western Colorado
from caranddriver.com/volkswagen/id4

When I talk to prospective EV buyers on the street, I find that positive responses fall into two broad categories: 1) I like going really fast and boy do EVs rip!, and 2) EVs are so efficient that they enable me to travel with very little burden on my pocketbook or planet, especially if I drive moderately. The latest entry into our EV market will likely appeal most to the second group.

VW has announced that it will soon be shipping their ID.4 all-electric compact SUV to US buyers. Our closest VW dealership is Grand Junction VW (970 255-6677). There are already two SUV class cars in our area: the Tesla X full-size SUV ($80-100K) and the “compact” or “crossover” SUV Tesla Y ($50K and up). The AWD variant of the ID.4 (comparable to the Tesla Y in size and drive wheels) is projected to sell for about $45 K (before tax rebates) when it becomes available in 2021. The rear-wheel drive (RWD) variant of the VW.4 may start to arrive this year (2020). Because VW is new to the BEV market in the US, it is still eligible for a substantial federal tax rebate (up to $7500 as of now); buyers in Colorado are also eligible for a state tax rebate (up to $4000 presently). After rebates, the VW enjoys a substantial price advantage (up to about $15,000) over the Y. The other feature in which they differ is the ability to tow: the RWD ID.4 will tow up to 2100 pounds, the AWD ID.4 will tow up to 2700 pounds. The Y is not set up to tow (see correction in comments). Frankly, I’m a bit skeptical that the RWD ID.4 (201 hp versus the 302 hp of the AWD version) could do justice to our mountain roads towing a 2100 pound trailer, but I also question why a year-round resident of Colorado would be happy with the slightly less expensive RWD version, when the AWD one is right around the corner. The range of the ID.4 is estimated to be 250 miles (I don’t believe the EPA assessment of range has been released); the Y variant currently for sale is EPA-rated at 316 miles, substantially better than the ID.4.

In other respects, the competing “compact SUVs” are fairly similar. Charging rates, storage capacity, and superb autopilot features are roughly the same. For example the ID.4’s cargo space is claimed to be 64.2 cubic feet (with the back seats down); that of Tesla’s Y is 68 cubic feet. VW does not claim over-the-air software upgrades. The VW comes with 3 years of free charging at Electrify America fast chargers (a rapidly expanding network, mostly along the interstate highways in Colorado); Tesla buyers have (paid) access to the Tesla network. On what basis might one choose? One Durango buyer prefers the VW because it is a “normal car which happens to be electric. Not an electric car that is made such that it doesn’t appear to the general public because of all the compromises.”

The VW has three features that worry me: 1) Across the full width of the dash the ID.4 has a light bar that flashes in various patterns to communicate, especially warnings, to the driver. If a deer runs across the road in front of me, the last thing I would want is for the whole dashboard to start flashing and draw my attention away from the road. 2) The VW is very reliant on touch screens, as opposed to knobs and switches. I have a lot of trouble with touch screens at the best of times, and they are a particular annoyance in the winter when I might be wearing gloves that do not conduct electricity. For example, the VW has a touch screen on the driver’s arm rest to select whether a tap applies to opening the rear windows or the front windows. I don’t want to have to look down at the armrest while I’m driving; I want to feel for the pattern of switches and choose the appropriate one. 3) The rear brakes on the VW are drum brakes, not disks. In our mountains, especially when towing, I would be more comfortable with disk brakes all around. VW says the drums facilitate regenerative braking.

Finally, a few niggling details about charging. VW prominently notes that the ID.4 can charge from 5% to 80% of full charge state in 38 minutes. This is true when using a sufficiently powerful fast charger (125 kW), but buyers should be aware that they might not always have such a capable charger. For example, the new fast chargers planned for downtown Durango (and at 50 mile intervals along US 285 to Denver) are rated at 125 KW if a single car is attached, but only 62.5 kW if two cars are hooked up at the same time. Similarly, at home the promised charging rate (11 kW) requires a 50 Amp circuit, but many homes do not have such a circuit. If the 82 kWh battery in the ID.4 were completely exhausted prior to recharging with a home 11 kW charger, it would take about 8 hours for a full charge, but if your home supported only a 30 Amp circuit, the maximum charging rate would likely be about 5.8 kW, requiring 15-16 hours for a full charge. At the present time, when charging rates are not standardized or well understood, it is prudent to do some wiring “homework” prior to taking the manufacturers’ claims of charging rates at face value.

Overall the ID.4 (and Tesla Y) are solid “compact” SUVs that will power drivers through most snowy and mountainous driving year round in our area. Neither is a candidate for off-roading. Either could replace an aging Subaru that is unavailable in electric. The Y has a little more range and a little bigger price tag.

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How has covid affected EVs so far?

How has covid affected EVs so far?

The covid pandemic has battered companies worldwide, especially automobile producers. The glaring exception has been Tesla, whose global sales have soared even while the majors tanked (especially in the second quarter of 2020). For at least one month, sales of the Tesla’s Model 3 in California exceeded those of any other model – gas or electric – by any manufacturer. This may account in part for the aggressive behavior of Elon Musk in attempting to exempt his US manufacturing plant from covid workplace restrictions. Globally, Tesla is now the unchallenged leader in EV sales, with first half 2020 model 3 sales exceeding those of all other models by a factor of about ten (the second place model is one sold only in Europe). Sales of EVs of other manufacturers have held up better than those of internal combustion engine (ICE) models, but only marginally so. The Chevy Bolt is doing okay, but is not in the same league as sales of the comparable Tesla model 3.

To what can we attribute the phenomenal sales record of Tesla? It isn’t their network of local dealerships (the nearest are in Albuquerque and Denver). The chatter in the automotive and investment magazines has focused on the technological prowess of Tesla engineers. Many have mentioned the cult-like allegiance of Tesla owners, and the over-the-air software updates. Investors have shifted vast funds into the purchase of EV stocks, with the result that Tesla is now arguably overpriced (at one point the nominal value of Tesla exceeded that of the other major car manufacturers and traditionally mighty enterprises such as Exxon-Mobil and Microsoft). Today the price of Tesla’s stock has fallen back to a still extraordinary level, and it is paralleled by soaring evaluations of companies that have yet to produce an EV: Rivian and Lordstown for example.

I am awed by the success of Tesla, and wonder what is behind it. My hunch is that Tesla’s long-lasting batteries, cool features, and over-the-air software updates are only part of the story. Furthermore, post-purchase consumer feedback suggests that Tesla may have the highest rate of assembly flaws of any car manufacturer. The J.D. Power survey of 2020 model-year purchasers found an average of 166 problems per 100 vehicles over all manufacturers, but 250 problems per 100 Tesla vehicles (cnbc.com/2020/06/24/tesla-lags -auto-industry-in-qualiy-finds-new-jd-power-study.html). And Teslas can be pricey. Certainly, Tesla gains from its notoriety, but I think car buyers are holding back from buying the other brands of EVs because those do not come with a network of fast chargers for cross country travel. The other car manufacturers are waiting for the public (i.e. tax dollars) to build the needed charging infrastructure; Tesla invested. What do you think is responsible for Tesla’s success? If you have an idea, please add a comment to the box following this article; civil opinions will appear on the site after cursory screening for relevance (we get a torrent of spam).

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New fast chargers in our area

New fast chargers in our area

The daisy-chain of high-speed chargers planned for the US-285/US-160 corridor between Cortez and Denver is finally springing to life. Pagosa Springs (445 Pagosa St.) has a new fast charger with CHAdeMO and CCS/SAE connectors (adaptor required for Tesla). The new chargers are right downtown, overlooking the river, next to the existing level II chargers. There are two stations, each with both types of connector; if both connectors for a given station are in use, each connector will deliver 62.5 kW, but a single user will receive 125 kW. The full amount will charge most pure electric vehicles to 80% of full charge in 30-50 minutes.

Next in line is Durango, where a similar Charge Point fast-charging station is planned for early 2021 at the transit center (250 W. 8th St.). Further west there are existing fast chargers in Bluff UT and Monticello UT; further north there are similar but slightly slower (62.5 kW) chargers in Lake City CO and Creede CO. The Tesla Superchargers (150 kW) in our area are in Farmington NM (4200 Sierra Vista Dr.) and Blanding UT (12 N. Grayson Parkway).

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Reminder to EV owners in the LPEA service area (La Plata and Archuleta Counties, Colorado)

On 1 July LPEA initiated a “demand charge” for residential electricity users. The point of the new charge is to “bend the curve” of electrical demand down at the time of day when high use is straining the capacity of the grid. EV owners are exceptionally well placed to assist in this endeavor, because most can automatically shift their charging time away from the peak demand period (4-9 PM) until later at night, when surplus electricity is available. Regardless of the new charge on our electric bills, this is a great idea, as shifting EV charging to times of power surplus will reduce the need to build more power plants. In most cases, this will not inconvenience EV users in the slightest; on the rare occasions when it might (you need to drive again in the evening after arriving home with a dead battery), tap the “override” button on your car’s charging display when you plug it in, and it will charge immediately.

The charge works as follows: LPEA calculates which single hour of a billing month you used the most electricity between 4 and 9 PM. It then charges you a high rate ($1.50/kwh) for that hour. Note that LPEA’s power supplier (LPEA has an electricity bill to pay too, for purchasing bulk electricity from Tri-State) charges 460 times more for the one hour of highest usage per month than it does for power used at other times. LPEA is passing a tiny fraction of this surcharge along to the consumer in an effort to nudge residential customers into shifting their usage to other times of day (https:\\lpea.coop/rates#collapse-accordion-173-4). Note that this extra charge does not apply to residential users that have already adopted time-of-use billing. Most EV users that do not have their own generation (e.g., photovoltaic [PV] panels) are likely to benefit from time-of-use billing. Most residents with PV panels with not benefit from time-of-use billing.

To automate your car’s charging schedule, open the charging options screen on your car’s dash and set the hours of 4-9 PM to be a “peak electricity” billing time, set the charging schedule to prioritize charging during off-peak hours, and then set the other options to ensure that your car will be charged by the time you are likely to next need it (typically 7 or 8 AM). All EVs have some menu choice to easily override this charging block-out, on specific occasions when overriding is desired. For example, on my Volt, a window pops up when I open the charging port, and the button across the bottom of the screen allows me to “override this time.” EV owners’ ability to shift electrical use to non-peak hours is one of the primary reasons why electric utilities love EVs.

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