Two Years with My Chevrolet Bolt EV!

by Steve Schaefer

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Today marks two years of my life spent with my Bolt EV. It’s been a great ride, so far since that rainy January 8, 2017 when I took delivery (below).

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At this juncture, the three things that stand out for me are:

  1. It’s done exactly what I wanted, with virtually no problems
  2. Time has flown
  3. I really do love my car

As a longtime automotive writer (27 years), I approached Bolt ownership as a very long-term test. I remembered my wonderful three-month test of a Fiat 500e in the first quarter of 2016, and assumed that I’d take an analytical approach once my new car arrived.

What I’ve found is that unlike the standard week-long evaluation, living with a car for years makes it really “yours.” I now have to deal with dust on the dashboard, used kleenexes in the cupholder, and the light gray and white leather seats need cleaning. But as an EV, the car has needed exactly zero maintenance. I’m planning to take it in soon for belated tire rotation and a general inspection.

The main reason to have an electric car of my own was to truly experience life with one. I assumed that if I was going to prescribe switching to EVs to my readers, I had better “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” It’s easy to have a car for a week and give it a glowing report. But this was meant to be a long-term relationship.

I leased my Kinetic Blue Bolt for three years at 10K miles a year, assuming that there’d be better choices down the line and also that that number of miles made sense with my periodic testing. As it turns out, I hit 20,000 miles on December 27 on my way home from work. Perfect.

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I’ve tested 34 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles since my Bolt arrived. I always use my car as a comparison vehicle. Is it as easy to drive? How are the seats? How much range is available? How does the regenerative braking work? Especially these last two questions are crucial for electric vehicles.

Regarding range, my Bolt’s EPA 238 miles of range eliminates most of the problems that early LEAF drivers experienced, with around 80 miles available. I only experienced a couple of times where I couldn’t use my car and instead opted for an alternative. In one case, I had to attend a chamber music workshop last summer that was 300 miles away, with few charging stations of any kind on the way. I opted for a gasoline-powered test car.

Recently, I drove my car for a few days without a recharge and I found myself with 50 miles range. Based on that, I chose to go to a nearer destination than I originally intended because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to charge up where I was headed and make it home. Oddly, it was at a shopping center that had NO charging stations. Seemed odd, since they are often located there. Easy access to charging is still an issue for EV drivers, although it is improving, and many more stations are coming. I normally can do fine charging at work or at home.

Regenerative braking is the way that hybrids like the Toyota Prius get all of their power, since they have no plugs. For EVs, it’s a way to extend range, and also enables one-pedal driving. When I put my Bolt into “L” mode (instead of “D”) using the shift lever, I can press down on the accelerator to move forward and release it to slow down. With the Bolt, you can literally come to a complete stop in this mode. I’ve honed my skills to where I can see a red light ahead and ease off on the pedal and arrive right at the line without touching the brake pedal. You can imagine how long my brake pads should last!

Some cars have adjustable amounts of regeneration, and some release the regen at a few miles per hour, necessitating the brake. But my Bolt lets me stop on a dime.

One requirement for getting an EV was I had to be able to travel the 85 miles to my granddaughters and back without having to charge. With 238 miles, this is no sweat, but I’ve noticed that in colder winter weather, my car’s range goes down a bit. It’s now closer to 200, and that means it’s a little dicier. On Christmas day, I arrived at my family destination with about a half battery of charge left. Just to be safe, I plugged into my son’s household current (level 1 – 120 volts) and partially refilled the battery overnight.

During the two years, most of my charging has happened at work, at the row of ChargePoint chargers. It takes a couple to several hours to fill the battery, depending on how much it’s depleted. I sometimes just skip charging, since there’s plenty there, but it’s nice to keep it topped up. Starting in April, I’ll charge at home using my new solar panels.

I’ve gotten the official 238 miles of charge that the EPA gives the Bolt, but in colder temperatures, and if I’ve driven on the freeway a lot, it averages more like 200 or so, which is normally plenty. Right now, it’s saying about 185 or 190 when it’s “full,” so I’m going to have my dealer check it when they look over the car at it’s “two year inspection.” Of course, there will be no oil change or radiator flush (there aren’t any). They’ll rotate the tires, which is an overdue service (at no charge).

The Bolt has cost me zero dollars and time in maintenance. The electricity I’ve bought at work costs less than half the price of gasoline. I’ve also saved half off my bridge tolls by getting my stickers to drive in the carpool lane alone ($22/year). Just before the new year, I stuck new red ones over the original white ones, so I can continue saving time and money. The stickers last until January 1, 2022.

With my own EV, I’ve participated in a bunch of electric car events, including a couple I hosted at my office for National Drive Electric Week. These events give prospective owners a chance to sample EVs without salespeople or pressure. We usually let the people ride in and sometimes, even drive our cars so they can understand how great EVs are. I’ll be doing more company things this year, looking toward the first annual Drive Electric Earth Day events.

Some people tell me that they’re waiting for an EV that looks like a “regular car” before they’ll consider one. I agree that the Bolt is proportioned like the Nissan LEAF hatchback–the pioneer–and the odd-looking BMW i-3. As for me, I really like the way the Bolt looks, and my affection for it has grown over the years. When I see another one drive by, I holler, “Bolty!”

But manufacturers have a whole fleet of new EVs coming in the next few years that will make choosing an EV easy. The Hyundai Kona small crossover EV should be on sale now. I’ve driven the gas version and seen the EV at the auto show, and it’s the kind of small, usable car I like. It’s compact, but unlike the Bolt, it’s a crossover, not a tall hatchback (a fine but important distinction) and with an EPA-rated 258 miles of range and a lower price than the Bolt, it should make a big impact.

The Tesla Model 3 has been the big EV star in 2018, selling a whopping 145,846 cars, which dwarfs EV sales by the other companies and is a big number for almost any  model. Maybe it’s the Tesla magic, or the fact that it looks like an attractive sedan. It’s more expensive than a Bolt, but that doesn’t seem to have prevented it from proliferating.

My car’s hatchback configuration has proven to be exactly what I need to carry my musical gear. An upright bass slides right in. I even found a way to carry the big bass plus two bass guitars, an amplifier, and my cords, cables, stands, etc. When not hauling gear, there is plenty of room for two adults in the back (and room for a kid in the middle, if necessary).

The low window line up front gives the Bolt a spacious feel, as does my car’s light gray and white interior. I chose the brighter dash, seats, and doors when I placed my order without knowing exactly what it would look like. The car I saw at the auto show that year had the black and dark gray interior, which I believe is the standard one. The only downside is the tendency of the light gray upper dash panel to reflect in the windshield, but with polarized sunglasses, it’s never a worry.

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Electric cars have great torque, and my little car can really take off when I step on it. I rarely push it, as it’s a waste of battery charge, but accelerating up an on ramp is fun. The 6.3-second zero-to-60 time is equivalent to a sporty Volkswagen GTI. With 900+ pounds of battery below the floor, the Bolt boasts a low center of gravity, which means stability in curves.

I now have a year to enjoy the Bolt before it’s time to turn it in. What should I do? I know there are lots of new cars on the way from VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and others. The Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro crossovers are compelling (and affordable), as is the third-generation Kia Soul (if you like boxes). GM may have another all-electric available in a year–the concept images look impressive. The MINI EV is due by year’s end, too. Further upscale, the all-new Mercedes EQC–the first of the brand’s new EQ lineup of electrics–was introduced today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Should I see what kind of a deal I can get to just buy the Bolt? I have time to think about it.

I never expected to drive a Chevrolet, frankly. Although my family had Chevys when I was growing up, including a few Corvairs, I always owned old VWs and new Hondas and Toyotas. Domestic vehicles didn’t have high quality years ago, although I did try the first year Saturn. The good news is, today the domestic brands have quality parity with the leaders. Other than a couple of minor electric glitches (that didn’t affect driving) and one loose plastic clip in the rear cargo area, the Bolt has been rock solid.

Yes, the interior isn’t luxurious, but I still appreciate it’s flowing design every day. The 10.2-inch center screen is great to work with. Apple CarPlay is sublime, as is the Bose sound in my upgraded audio system. The seats, which some buyers complained about, work fine for me.

I’ll continue to write about my Bolt this year, and as 2019 winds down, I’ll share my thoughts about the future with you. Please continue to check here for stories about going green. You can read all of my EV stories at www.cleanfleetreport.com.

 

 

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2018 in Review – Going Greener!

By Steve Schaefer

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My Bolt EV hit 20,000 miles of trouble-free driving.

For me, 2018 was a busy year for auto writing, and also for climate action.

In a normal year, I’d have 52 week-long test drives, a bunch of short tests at the annual Western Automotive Journalists event, and maybe catch a few more at some manufacturer’s event, too.

This year, I tested only 28 cars for a week each instead of 52. I did have some quick sample drives at the WAJ event–mostly EVs. The biggest change has been my moving away from gasoline-only cars over the last couple of years, and stopping my testing of them entirely in September.

When I wasn’t testing a car, I was driving my own all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. My Bolt EV just turned over 20,000 miles, and with 10K/year on my lease, that’s perfect. Its two-year anniversary is January 8th. Maybe I’ll take it to the dealership for a check-up, since it’s never been back!

Why the the complete end of ICE cars? That’s because on August 28-30, I attended Al Gore’s three-day Climate Reality Leadership Training in Los Angeles, where I became a Climate Reality Leader. As an electric car advocate and now, a climate activist, I have to put my efforts towards guiding people to what’s most important for the long-term health of the planet. And, I want to explore and provide guidance about all the great new EVs that are coming in the next few years. We know that petroleum-fueled cars will not disappear overnight, but there are lots of other fine journalists who can take care of reviewing them.

Most of my auto writing, since it’s green cars only, is happily housed these days on www.cleanfleetreport.com, but I also run stories regularly in my original venue, the San Leandro Times (my first story appeared on February 8, 1992), as well as monthly in the Tri-City Voice out of Fremont, California.

Steve Goes Green may have been home to fewer car reviews in 2018, but it has featured some new material on “going green” in other ways. Some stories came from attending talks at Acterra, a Palo Alto based organization that’s educating people and acting to fight climate change. See recent stories, such as Teaching Kids about Climate Change with Green Ninja and Ertharin Cousin – We Need a Food System for Human and Planetary Health.

Of the 28 cars I tested this year, only seven had no electric motor, and they were all in the first 2/3 of the year. Naturally, with the limitation I’ve set, I can’t and won’t review everything, but that’s OK. Many of the best, most efficient gas-burners are featured on Clean Fleet Report, so it’s worth checking them out there.

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The most unusual EV this year was a 1967 MGB GT that a work colleague spent a year convering into a pure EV. The most exciting EV was the Jaguar i-Pace, which was an all-new crossover from a brand that’s looking toward the future. I expect lots of new models and electrified versions of current cars to appear in the next couple of years.

In September, I planned and hosted the second National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) event at my company. I also attended the Acterra NDEW event and it was very busy! I let people drive my Bolt EV there, and I hope that experience led some of them to go out and get their own EVs.

The NDEW event is an important way for people to learn about EVs directly from owners, not salespeople, and it’s fun for us EV owners to collaborate and share stories. In 2019, the first ever DEED (Drive Electric Earth Day) will take place, presented by the same folks who do the NDEW, and I plan to participate at work and elsewhere.

In October, I attended one day of the three-day VERGE conference in Oakland, which is put on annually by GreenBiz as a coming together of green businesses. There are lots of them, and my busy day generated three stories (two published, one on deck). Here’s a general article on the day itself, and another on what GM is doing to purchase clean power for its plants. I look forward to attending events in 2019 and writing more of those kinds of articles.

Clean Fleet Report gave me lots of quick news assignments over the year–26 were published–which brought my annual story total to around what I’m used to. These are quick takes based on press releases and other information. See my story on a new VW-based electric Meyers Manx. I also contributed stories on different subjects from personal journalist experiences, such as my visit to the Manheim Auto Auction.

In November and December, I spoke with four solar companies, and a few weeks ago, signed up for solar panels on my roof! They’ll go on in April, and when they do, I’ll start charging my car at home. I’ll report more about my solar adventure right here.

2019 will have more EVs and more ways to go green! I plan to learn more about the way our food system affects the climate–from reading, studying, and interviewing folks, and also by slowly changing how I eat.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

National Drive Electric Week 2018

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Since 2011, a national electric car event has been held every year. Originally called National Plug In Day, it later expanded to become National Drive Electric Week. It’s actually nine days long, as it includes weekends on both ends.

This year, I participated in two events. First, I hosted one at work for fellow employees, and later, I attended another, larger event, where I let people drive my 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV to experience electric motoring firsthand.

Marketo Event, San Mateo, CA

Marketo hosted its second annual National Drive Electric Week event on Thursday, September 13th. The weather cooperated, and the event went off without a hitch, although attendance was lower than anticipated. It’s understandable, though—people are working!

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Me with my Chevrolet Bolt EV–now an NDEW show veteran.

Display cars included three Tesla Model 3s, a Tesla Model X, my freshly washed Chevrolet Bolt EV, a Nissan LEAF, a Volkswagen e-Golf, a BMW i3, and a Chevrolet Volt. One of the Model 3s was available for rides.

Allyson Gaarder from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project showed attendees how they could receive California rebates for buying a variety of electric cars.

Vehicle owners gave attendees a tour of their cars and enjoyed talking with each other about the pleasures of electric motoring.

Nissan supplied some swag, including water bottles, mini backbacks, pens, and tiny fans that attach to your phone. Attendees received a red token good for a $5 discount at the adjacent food trucks.

Acterra Event, Palo Alto, CA

On the last Sunday of Summer, Acterra, the Palo Alto environmental nonprofit, hosted its third annual National Drive Electric Week event. Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet, and they always put on a great show.

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Nissan brought a fleet of LEAFs for show and driving.

EV enthusiasts shared their favorite electric rides with eager attendees. Booths provided information about rebates, vehicle charging, and a solar energy vendor presented solar options. Allyson was there with her booth and California rebate information. Event sponsor Nissan brought a small fleet of new LEAFs for show and drives.

I watched the parking lot fill with Chevrolet Bolt EVs, BMW i3s, Nissan LEAFs, Tesla Model 3s, and even a low, sleek Fisker Karma. One guy brought his now rare Honda Fit Electric, and there was at least one tiny Chevy Spark EV and a cute little Fiat 500e.

This was a popular event. Altogether there were 70 vehicles, representing 15 makes and models. More than 260 people registered and vehicle owners and fleets conducted more than 520 rides or drives!

The beauty of these events, which Acterra hosts year-round, is the chance to learn about and sample multiple EVs in the same location, away from aggressive salespeople. With EVs, the owners are often more knowledgeable about the cars than a typical dealership employee, and they can certainly talk about day-to-day life with a plug-in vehicle.

This event is both a car show and a ride-and-drive. Although it’s a little annoying to have to to readjust my seat and mirror settings when the day’s over, and having strangers drive your car can be a little nerve wracking, I like to let attendees get a personal feel for what driving an electric car is like.

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Luckily, all the people who took the wheel of my car were competent, responsible motorists, so I didn’t have any worry the entire afternoon. With high demand, I was busy non-stop.

In most cases, I took the people for a ride around the short test loop, and then had them drive it. I felt it would make them more comfortable, and it let me explain the features first. Luckily, the Bolt itself is pretty straightforward and controls are where you expect them.

People were surprised at the Bolt’s spacious interior, especially the generous headroom. One 6-4 gentleman pulled the seat all the way back and then forward a little! My drivers were also impressed with the video camera rear-view mirror, which gives a wider, clearer view than a regular mirror.

When driving, my guests were fascinated by the low or high brake regeneration. If the transmission lever is in “D,” when you lift your foot off the accelerator, you keep rolling along, like with a normal automatic. In “L” mode, as you lift up your foot, the electricity flow is reduced, slowing the car. This lets you do “one-pedal driving.” It’s a wonderful way to maintain extra control of your car while generating extra battery power and saving your brake pads.

At 4 p.m., we assembled inside the Acterra offices for the official launch of the newly renamed Karl Knapp Go EV program. Knapp, a beloved Stanford science professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, promoted electrified cars and motorcycles for many years, and has been an inspiration to many. We had some food and drinks and watched a short video about Karl. Sadly, Professor Knapp is ill and was unable to attend.

After the reception, I gave three more people rides, so I was one of the last to leave. It’s fun to share your EV, and I hope all of my drivers will go out and get their own! Electric cars are the future, and soon there will be many more choices.

National Drive Electric Week is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. Sponsors include the Nissan LEAF (Platinum), Clipper Creek (Silver), and eMotorWerks (California Regional).

The Last Gasoline Car

Someday, somewhere, the last car powered by gasoline will roll off the assembly line. It should be taken directly to a museum to mark the end of the an era.

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Ford Model T

Cars have been part of our lives for more than a century, and most of them have been powered by gasoline. Now that we know that their emissions are a major source of the carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution that causes global warming, we must switch to electricity–or other options, such as hydrogen fuel cells, bicycles, car sharing, or even not driving at all.

Although the U.S. is not setting a timetable to cease producing gasoline cars, after the Paris Agreement, some other countries stepped up, particularly in Europe. In 2016, Germany said they’d ban new gas cars after 2030. In 2017, Norway, already a major EV-adopting country, said 2025 for them. India says it’s going for 2030, too. France and the UK are talking about 2040. China has a big incentive to clean up their smog, and is moving quickly to EVs, but has not stated a year yet. Naturally, there are some caveats, as items like heavy-duty trucks and buses will not hit 100% as early as passenger cars.

In the U.S., it’s going to take something else. People will have to want electric cars. We will need to provide long-range batteries, convenient charging, plenty of model options, and most of all, a friendly price. From what I hear and read, the day the electric car becomes a better deal than a gas car is coming soon, as battery prices drop and production volume makes manufacturing cheaper per unit.

Of course, we need to have political support for these kinds of limits, but that is neither the policy of the current administration nor the general sentiment of Americans who value freedom of choice. I believe that when electric cars are more appealing and cost no more, a massive shift in the market will take place.

I am doing everything I can to encourage people to check out EVs and see the benefits. I’ll be hosting an event at my office on September 13th and participating in another one on September 16th as part of National Drive Electric Week. These low-pressure parking-lot meetings let people check out the cars with no salesmen and learn more about the smooth, quiet, quick-accelerating EVs from the owners themselves. I enjoy sharing my Kinetic Blue 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, and people are often amazed at what they see and experience.

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My Chevrolet Bolt EV at the 2017 National Drive Electric event in San Mateo, CA

For me, the last gas car just happened. After 26 and a half years of automotive writing, I have finally said “The End” to testing cars that run only on gasoline. The final car is the new Hyundai Kona small crossover. An electric version with an amazing 258-mile range is on its way, but I wanted to sample the car now, so I drove the gasoline version for a week. The car’s shape, size, styling, and driving feel are what buyers want, so an electric one will be a great choice. It could even be my next car when my Bolt EV lease ends on January 8, 2020. And look at that Lime Twist paint!

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Although I would really prefer to limit myself to testing only pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs), there simply are not that many out there yet, and there are reasons to encourage some folks to opt for hybrids. So, my compromise is–if it has an electric motor, I’ll give it a test, even if there’s an engine in there, too. If it’s a plug-in hybrid, I’ll try to minimize gasoline consumption.

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids still offer significant environmental benefits over traditional cars, and may be the only viable option for some people with limited access to charging. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still a bit of a science experiment, but, if you live near a hydrogen station, they can do the job.

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The latest Prius

The hybrid car has had a good run, thanks particularly to Toyota, who introduced the first Prius at the end of the 20th century. They’ve sold millions of them around the world since. Hybrids can as much as double your fuel economy and half your carbon emissions by pairing a gasoline engine with an electric motor. Sometimes, they enable driving without the engine–while requiring zero effort from the driver.

A plug-in hybrid, with a chargeable battery on board, allows some pure EV miles, often in the 20-30 mile range. This means you can plug it in–even at home in your 110-volt socket in the garage–and get to work–and maybe even back–with no gas.  But with the engine and gas tank still in the car, you can hit the road and go anywhere you want anytime. Downside? When you’re driving it as an EV, there’s still a lot of extra weight with that idle engine in there.

A pure electric car is great, but you need to consider how and where you’ll charge it. Sale and lease prices are a bit higher than gas cars today, mostly because of the high price of batteries, and there aren’t that many model choices yet. But that’s changing as batteries get cheaper and more models are introduced. The lower price of electricity versus gasoline and the lack of significant maintenance both help reduce the costs of driving an EV.

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Of course, hanging over this entire discussion is the issue of where the electricity is coming from. If it’s from the solar panels on your roof, that’s about as clean as it gets. Some communities have plans where you can sign up with your energy provider for sustainable energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal, which is a step forward.  If your power comes from coal, your EV is not going to be as clean, but it will get better over time as the electric grid moves to renewable sources.

It’s taken a century to set up our electrical grid and it’s not going to change overnight. But we need to do what we can, as fast as we can, to move to renewable energy.

For a quick explanation of the climate crisis, please read A Dose of Climate Reality

My Chevrolet Bolt EV at a Year and a Half

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Today marks the exact halfway point of my three-year lease on my 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, and the report is positive. I’ve accumulated 13,920 miles and have seen consistent range of 200-plus miles through the whole 18 months. Most of the time it’s between 220 to 230 miles, even with the heat/AC turned on. Other than a couple of minor glitches in the entertainment system, which haven’t reappeared appeared lately, the car has been trouble- and service-free. It has never gone back to the dealer, although I’m supposed to get the tires rotated.

What’s also been completely consistent is the silent, smooth trips I’ve taken, and the ability of the car to accommodate whatever I want to carry. That means an upright bass, two bass guitars, an amplifier, and multiple stands and cords for gigs with Fault Line Blues Band. I do not frequent places like the Home Depot or Costco, but if I did I’m sure I’d have no problem carting home loads of whatever I bought.

I did run into a situation a couple of weeks ago where the Bolt’s 238 miles of range was insufficient. I needed to drive 300 miles (each way) to Arcata, California to attend the Humboldt Chamber Music Workshop at Humboldt State University. For a story on my happy week there, please see this story on Medium.

In any case, I surveyed the route online and found nothing much available for charging, so I borrowed a vehicle from the press fleet and pressed on. It was the gas-powered Ford EcoSport, a small crossover that occupies the bottom slot of Ford’s six-vehicle SUV menu. It did the job fine, but so would my Bolt–if the charging infrastructure was more developed. Here’s the EcoSport story

What I recommend for anyone considering an EV is to think carefully about how often you need to take a trip of more than the range of your car. In my case it’s perhaps two, maybe three times a year. That means that I can still drive all-electrically nearly all the time and then just borrow or rent a hybrid or gas-powered vehicle for those rare times when it won’t do the job. It sure beats burning fuel all year long just so you can have one car that does everything.

If you can’t do this, then a plug-in hybrid is still a reasonable choice. Just look for the most electric range you can get. The Bolt’s sibling, the Volt, does a fine job of enabling local driving with its 53-mile EPA battery range and carries an engine that kicks on when it’s needed to change the battery. That way, you’re free to go anywhere. The downside is that you still have an engine, radiator, oil, etc. to deal with like in an ordinary internal combustion engine (ICE) car. But driven mostly within the battery range, it’s essentially an electric car.

In summing up, as I’ve stated before, the Bolt EV has filled my needs so perfectly and pleasantly that it has become “my car,” rather than an object of journalistic attention. I keep a notepad in the car but only use it to write down interesting music I hear on my SiriusXM channels and custom license plates I see that I think might amuse my wife. This is good news, because other than the range limitations mentioned above, and availability of a place to plug in at home or work, there’s no reason why you can’t live happily with an EV.

Note: You may wonder why I haven’t posted a story here since April 16th. Other than my Bolt being completely familiar (nothing new to report) I have written seven stories on other vehicles and published them in the San Leandro Times, Tri-City Voice, and Clean Fleet Report. Please visit these sites if you want to read me regularly (All the EVs, hybrids, and alternative fuel cars end up on Clean Fleet Report).

More soon.

 

Acterra Shows How to Go EV

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On a beautiful Spring day in Palo Alto this Saturday, April 14, EV owners offered test drives and showcased their vehicles to attendees of the 2018 Earth Day Festival in Palo Alto. The event was put on by Acterra, a Palo Alto-based group that brings people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. As an Acterra EV Ambassador, I brought my Kinetic Blue Bolt EV, and was joined by owners of Nissan LEAFs, Volkswagen e-Golfs, BMW i3s, Fiat 500Es, Teslas, and other popular electric vehicles.

I was one of the folks who left their car parked, and had many interesting conversations, answering questions and demonstrating features of the car, while helping people understand how much fun it is to drive an EV, and how we deal with their few shortcomings.

My car (the Blue Bolt EV) was first in line of the staged vehicles, next to a VW e-Golf and Nissan LEAF–two direct competitors.

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We owners had fun chatting when no visitors were around. Everyone has a story. The VW e-Golf next to my car was a late ’16, so the lease deal was amazing, after a significant down payment, just $75/month!. The white ’16 LEAF behind it, owned by my friend Greg, was purchased used, at a significant cost saving over a new one. And that’s a good example of how to get into EV driving without a huge initial outlay.

Not only were cars on display, but a number of them were also available for test drives, as seen by the orange Bolt, black BMW i3, and silver 2018 Leaf driving through the area in the photo below. This gave attendees a chance to get behind the wheel and viscerally sense the smooth, quick, quiet EV benefits. There were three Bolts available, as well as the two stationary ones, so we were well represented.

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There were information booths, including Acterra, charger manufacturer ChargePoint, and the City of Palo Alto. I spoke with Hiromi Kelty, City of Palo Alto Utility Program Manager, who told me that 20% of Palo Altans drive EVs compared to 3% statewide. She also told me about the EV Charger Rebate that organizations in Palo Alto can receive when they install EV chargers – up to $30,000. For more information, go to cityofpaloalto.org/electricvehicle or call (650) 329-2241.

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I showed my car to dozens of people, and had some interesting conversations. I allowed one 6-foot-5 man to adjust my seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to see if he fit in the car and could see if he was driving. The good news is that he did fit! The bad news is that it took a while to get my driving position back to normal. But I was glad to do it.

One man, who was sharing rides in his new Tesla Model 3, brought along a battery-powered skateboard. At $1,500, it an expensive toy, but could be useful for traveling between mass transit and your workplace, or for good clean fun. I declined a test ride.

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When the session was over, around 1:30, we put away our signs, folded our tents, and drove our EVs home. It felt like a worthwhile experience. I only hope that someone we spoke with will decide to get their own EV.

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Mazda MX-5/Miata – My Indulgence

Mazda_MX-5_IPM1_SRC_US_2017_CUT42_019_FrontqtrIt’s great for your health to eat lean chicken and sautéed vegetables every day. But sometimes you want a big, juicy hamburger. The MX-5 Miata is an automotive treat that I’ve loved for 26 years.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing my automotive attention on cars that are easier on the environment —hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and particularly, all-electric vehicles. I even ordered my own Chevrolet Bolt EV, which has been my personal car for more than 14 months. I believe that electric transportation is the future, and I’m eager to be part of it and promote its adoption.

Sometimes, however, a car has a special place in your heart, and even if it’s powered by petroleum, you have to get some time behind the wheel. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is mine. I’ve driven fourteen of them since I started testing cars as a journalist back in 1992. They are shown in chronological order in this post.

My first Miata test car came, like the others, through the automotive press fleet. This was a revelation, because although the car had been out since 1990, I hadn’t had any contact with one. The moment I sat in it and then took it out on the road, I remembered the wonderful British sports cars of my childhood. I was riding in my father’s Austin-Healey again, on a warm summer evening with the sun still out, going to get some ice cream. Sigh.

When that first Miata arrived in my driveway, I had already started my habit of photographing myself with each of my test cars. My first test convertible, this is also the first car photo that showed me in the driver’s seat—the best spot to be in.

1992There’s nothing quite like driving an open car, and in the Miata, all you do is drop the top and go. Ever since day one, you can unlatch the top and just flip it behind you. Although later models have introduced power tops and a couple styles of folding hard tops, you’ve always had the open-air option.

1995It’s amazing how many things there are to smell as you drive—most of them interesting or pleasant. Yes, there are diesel buses, livestock, and trash fires, but I also remember food from restaurants, freshly baked bread, and newly-mown grass. You also get to sample every possible kind of music blaring out of fellow drivers’ windows—or they may be driving topless, too.

1997Mazda’s little million-selling sports car provides direct connection to the road, with steering, close-ratio manual shifting, and responsive braking. I’ve tested models with the manual six-speed and the automatic, and vastly prefer the former. With its short little lever and feeling of being connected to actual gears, you can’t beat it. In my most recent week-long test car, I was stuck in a 2 hour and 10-minute traffic jam on the way home from work, and even in those conditions I’d rather sample the silky manual six than an automatic.

1998It takes some dexterity to get yourself into the low driver’s bucket set, and some strength and care to extricate yourself. I can still maneuver OK, but at nearly 65, I take it easy. My wife has no love for these roadsters, but that’s my fault. When I had test Miata number one, I insisted she climb into and out of it late in her pregnancy with our son. She’s never forgotten it, and she was equally unimpressed with the 2018 model.

2001Miatas have their fans—lots of them. There are race series for them, and I have spoken with many owners over the years. In fact, while testing this new model, I ran across a colleague with a green-and-white ’91 that was still rolling along. Another colleague, who owns a nicely-preserved ’94 in the limited-edition Laguna Blue, asked for a ride, and I was only too glad to oblige. He was impressed by the new car’s acceleration from the little 155-horsepower 2.0-liter engine (with 148 lb.-ft. of torque). With the manual six, the soft-top Miata weighs in at just 2,332 pounds, so that’s enough to generate excitement, if not speed records.

2002Riding low takes a little getting used to. Once you’re inside, there feels like enough room, but when you look out either side window, it’s likely directly at someone’s wheel. When you look out the windshield, you’ll see rakishly canted fenders, in the latest Kodo Design theme. The hood cut lines are cleverly hidden beyond the curve, so you don’t notice them from the cabin. The hood gently rises at its center over the engine compartment.

2006The original Miata featured a simple, plain interior, with the right proportions but no attempt at luxury touches. Its black plastic was well crafted, but not fancy. There were silver rings around the gauges, though, a tip of the hat to the cars of yore. There was a tachometer in the middle of the instrument panel, where it resides to this day. Cloth seats were standard.

2010The car has grown more and more elegantly designed over the years, with sculpted door panels and the neatly trimmed interior fittings. Beautiful metallic accents on the steering wheel, transmission surround, air vents, and door handles lend an upscale air. The Kodo Design theme blends a flow of soft curves and edges across the doors and dash. The center console not only gives your arm a resting place but sits above the driveshaft that conveys the engine’s power to the rear wheels—just like in those old-fashioned MGs, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys.

2011My 2018 test car, as mid-level Club model, had some significant extras. The Machine Gray paint, a serious shade, added $300 to the tab. I personally would prefer red or blue. The car has come in a variety of colors over the years. One especially nice setup one combined British Racing green paint with a tan leather interior.

2014My tester flaunted a dark red cloth top—a no-cost option. The big upgrade, however, was the Brembo BBS Recaro package, at $4,470. It transformed the car inside and out, with gripping Brembo disc brakes, black BBS custom wheels, and gorgeous and supportive Recaro racing seats in a soft alcantara suede. These buckets are heated, and feature speakers in the headrest, which aids hearing while on the road with the roof lowered. I took a phone call using Bluetooth and was a little surprised to hear my caller’s voice behind me, but it was certainly easy to understand him.

2016The little roadster is economical, with EPA numbers of 26 City, 33 Highway, and 29 Combined. I averaged 31.4 mpg in a week that had much too much commuting and too little back road running. The EPA Green numbers are a disappointing 3 for Smog but a solid 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

2017You’d think a little car with a cloth top would be a drag in the rain, but I felt cozy and safe, and the raindrops on the insulated top created a great atmosphere. And, unlike its European forebears, the MX-5, assembled in Hiroshima, Japan since its birth, doesn’t leak.

2018 softIn an era of basic cars starting close to $20,000 and mid-level Toyota Camrys approaching $30,000, the Miata’s price doesn’t seem out of line. My Club-level test car started at $29,155, but with extras and delivery, hit $35,240. A 2018 MX-5 Sport with no extras will set you back just $26,185. The original car debuted at $15,000, but had a lot fewer features, and that was 28 years ago! Interestingly, demand was so high at first that early adopters were paying $5,000 or more above sticker to get the cars.

2018 RFConsumer Reports has given the Miata high praise over the years and ranked the 2017 model at 79 – a fine score. Owners have reported better than average reliability, and with the amount of affection the little car generates, they care for their babies. You’ll see plenty of all four generations on the road. The car magazines love it.

At the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days (photo above), I had the chance to drive my 14th MX-5 Miata. It was an ’18 RF, with the folding hardtop. In my brief drive, I never dropped that top, but I enjoyed the same feeling of intimate control as I looped down from the starting point – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – and took the car up the Laureles Grade. Hard or soft top, top up or down, it’s a joy to row through the manual six-speed’s ratios. And this car flaunted the new Soul Red Crystal paint, which shows up on the inner door panels, too. Lovely.

So, while I happily focus my testing on cars with batteries and plugs and motor along in my smooth, silent, clean Chevrolet Bolt the rest of the time, the MX-5 Miata holds a special place in my heart. It has remained great—and even improved over the years, becoming (by far) the most popular sports car ever.