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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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