Earth Day 2017 – Driving My Electric Car

IMG_8417This Earth Day comes at a time of significant concern for our home planet. Our new president, continuing in his belligerent, ill-advised way to work against the needs of our children and grandchildren, has appointed climate-denier Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. He’s approving pipelines, reducing regulations, and we hear rumblings about backing out of the Paris accords. What can a concerned person do?

At times when the government isn’t cooperating, you need to act on your own. One of the things I do is to drive an electric car. On January 8, just weeks before the election of our frightening new leader, I took delivery of my  Kinetic Blue Chevrolet Bolt EV. As a journalist, I sometimes drive other cars to review them, but my goal for 2017 and forward is to test and promote cars with battery power–full electrics and also the many hybrid options for folks to drive electric part of the time.

Hybrid cars offer a way to slip into EV driving without risk, because you have a gas engine and an electric motor in the same car. Some come with a larger battery for storing some power to drive in a pure electric mode for a while. For example, the plug-in Chevrolet Volt has an EPA range of 53 miles in pure EV mode before a gasoline engine comes on to charge the battery. The hybrid Ford Fusion sedan delivers great fuel economy by blending its engine and motor to stretch out your fuel about twice as long. There’s a plug-in version that gives you about 27 petrol-free miles. Nearly every car manufacturer offers one or more hybrid today.

Until recently, driving a pure electric meant being constrained by battery range. Cars like the pioneering Nissan Leaf, despite their virtues, couldn’t make it past 80 or 90 miles before requiring a time-consuming recharge. Tesla turned that equation on its ear with its offerings, but they remain out of the affordability range for most people.

My Bolt EV, with its EPA-rated 238 miles of range, eliminates most, if not all, of that worry. Unless you’re planning a cross-country or California trans-state trip, you’re gold. I’ve proven that this winter by using my Bolt for commuting, visiting, and errands all over the San Francisco Bay Area–my home.

Now if I wanted a compact five-door hatchback and was OK with using gas, I may have selected a worthy car like the Honda Fit. It resembles the Bolt EV, but without the 964 pound battery and other amenities, it is a very modest investment, starting at under $17,000 including shipping. I also read yesterday that the new Alfa-Romeo Giulia sports sedan is the same price as the top-level Bolt EV–nearly $44,000. Which one would you pick?

There’s an element of sacrifice to spending that much on a compact (but roomy) hatchback from a mainstream manufacturer, but driving and living with the Bolt EV has been a real pleasure. It’s high enough to slide right in. The back seat is roomy for passengers, and it folds down to provide lots of space for the upright basses and Costco visits. The dashboard is friendly, colorful, and provides a wealth of the information you need. And I really like the interior and exterior styling, even if it attracts virtually no attention on the road.

But if you asked me, I’d say the best part remains the nearly silent, buttery smooth powertrain. I cruise down the freeway at 65 mph and listen to the Bose stereo on the way to work and the feeling is sheer bliss. Without the reciprocating pistons, you won’t feel vibration or hear any of the typical engine sounds. Slide the one-speed transmission into Low (L) and you can use your right foot to do “one pedal” driving that provides some of the feeling of control you used to get  from manual transmissions. Just touch the brake when you need it for sudden stops.

I like knowing that my car is contributing less to global warming than internal combustion engine-equipped cars, but doing it without sacrifice is even better. We Bolt EV drivers have an active Facebook page, too, with more than 2,500 members!

We have a long way to go–and not a lot of time to get there–but individual choices, regardless of what our temporarily derailed government says, can make all the difference. Today, I drove my EV on Earth Day. Driving it every day will help make every day Earth Day. Please join me.

Happy Earth Day.

Why I’m Driving an EV

Today’s news: 2016 was the hottest year on record, for the third year in a row.

Driving electric is only one small step, not the whole answer, but as the earth continues to heat up, we need to do whatever we can to make a difference.

Over time, as our power plants all use renewable energy, every EV will become cleaner. And when we learn to consume less, that’ll make a difference, too.

Meanwhile, the arrival of climate deniers in our new president’s cabinet is not going to help us cool down. Do what you can, now.

 

My Chevy Bolt EV – Day 3

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I don’t think the sun has come out yet on me and my Bolt EV, but I’ve enjoyed motoring around in it anyway.

I’m used to adjusting to a new car every week, so this one is no different–except that it’s staying with me for three years. I got my phone hooked up at the dealership, so that was easy. Now, I’ve got my favorite FM and SiriusXM stations all set up on the audio screen. I’m using the little up/down paddles on the left side of the steering wheel to move between them. I’m a big fan of controls you can operate without looking. This is the best system I’ve had since Chrysler/Jeep/Fiat’s system on the back of the steering wheel.

That wheel in the Bolt, by the way, has controls all over it, as it should, and it’s nice and fat and the leather wrapping feels comfortable in my hands. Like some of the interior working areas, it’s dark gray, but the rest of the interior is light gray and white, so it’s airy and pleasant in there, even with rain outside.

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I’ve charged the car up to full now. It read like this today, with the climate control turned off, getting about 10 more miles of range.

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Of course, this is an approximation, but the range shows that with careful driving, achieving what the EPA got in its tests is a reasonable possibility. The Bolt EV shows the estimated range based on your driving (only 106 miles on my car so far, so not much to go on). The Max and Min are what’s possible. While driving home today, I had the Max up to 286 miles–thanks to some sloggy stop-and-go in the rain.

I’ve tried out all three of the versions of the instrument panel. This is the Enhanced one, with more information on the sides. There are two others, Classic and Modern. Classic has the least detail. The Modern one uses a little ball on the right side. Keeping it centered makes you drive more efficiently. The Enhanced panel shows if you’re using or regenerating power–a typical, and useful stat to have in an EV.

I’ve noticed that I’m comfortable in the tall, firm, seats, but they are a little firmer than most others I’ve experienced in my hundreds of test cars. Since the car has a firm suspension and the tires are highly inflated, it’s already a firm ride. But that makes the car feel responsive and sporty–up to a point. We’ll see how the chairs feel during longer trips–although I doubt if I’ll ever spend five hours straight in the car unless I know I can charge it up on the other end of that trip.

With all this rain, I’ve seen a lot of my wipers. They are the kind that are mounted on the outer ends of the windshield area and cross each other. This leaves a little “v” of uncleared window in the upper middle, but the mirror and the cameras take that up anyway. They clear almost to the windshield pillars, so that’s great. I’ve used them in the standard two settings and a variety of intermittent settings–and the occasional mist cycle. Totally standard.

I carried my upright bass in the car tonight. It worked perfectly, as I expected. I removed the feather-light cargo cover and flipped down the seats. With the hard panel in place in the back, I had a nice, flat surface for the bass. The scroll lay on the center armrest. Perfect. My fellow orchestra member has ordered her own Bolt EV–in the same color–so she was very excited to see mine tonight.

That’s all for now–but there’ll be much more. I’ve got more screens to view, for example (although I’ve already gotten to know about the Energy ones).

 

Flashback: Fiat 500e Video Review from Last Year

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On the eve of the arrival of my long-awaited Chevrolet Bolt EV, here’s the finished version of a video review I did on the Fiat 500e EV last April. Unlike my normal one-week test period, I got a three-month loan of this cute little all-electric car. Thanks again, Scott Brown of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Little did I know when I got my Fiat test car on January 19, 2016 that a year later I’d be starting a new, longer-term EV adventure. But driving this car for three months gave me an appetite for gasoline-free motoring. I named the little blue hatchback Fidelio, and he was a faithful ride.

There are lots of posts on Fidelio on this blog from January through April 2016 to read. Enjoy my wrap-up in this video.

 

Farewell to My Old Plymouth Van

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To make way for my brand new, all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV, I’m sending my old reliable standby car to the crusher as part of California’s Vehicle Buy Back Program. Yes, my 1993 Plymouth Voyager is not long for this world.

I’m not really sad about it, but I do feel a little twinge of nostalgia. My older son drove this car in college, and it was his mom’s and stepdad’s family car before that. I have all the records to prove it was purchased brand new with 43 miles on it on April 30, 1993. They took good care of it so I could neglect it and it would still run fine in 2017.

Of course, the Bolt EV is a great upgrade for me–tomorrow’s technology in place of yesterday’s, with all of the latest safety, entertainment, convenience and planet-preserving features. I’ll be cruising in the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year–the 2017 Green Car of the Year, and likely the North American Car of the Year (we’ll find out in the next few days).

But this dirt cheap old van doesn’t really deserve to die. As long as I drive it once in a while to keep the battery charged, put in a few gallons of gas and add air to the tires, it’s a fine fill-in car for when my upright bass won’t fit in the test Mazda Miata. It was invaluable the time I needed to haul a 4 x 4-foot oil painting from the gallery to my living room. Registration is about as cheap as it gets and insurance costs are negligible.

As someone who’s always testing a new car, for me to drive around in a 23-year-0ld minivan with a rusted roof and hood and visible spiderwebs on the mirror supports is a different experience. Nobody smiles at you at the traffic light. I feel like Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies.

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But despite its neglected exterior, the metallic blue van, with only 92,000 miles on it, is actually pretty pleasant inside. Sure there are some stains on the rugs, but the tall, chairlike front buckets are very comfortable in blue plush cloth. The look is 1990s utilitarian, but it seems appropriate here. The bulky pull-out cupholders, the temperature sliders on the climate system, the tiny buttons on the aftermarket FM radio. And there’s room for seven people!

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The 3.3-liter V6 under the hood of this Sport model hums contentedly when you press the accelerator–it doesn’t buzz like a four-cylinder. The low window line, compared to today’s tall crossovers, provides a panoramic view of traffic around you.

As an SE model, my Voyager has a leather steering wheel – and  check out that classic set of full gauges (working oil pressure and battery charge meters on top)! Airbags were still in their early stages, so the pads are big, too. Like those little horn buttons in thumb position?

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My Sport Wagon shows off its subtly styled alloy wheels and high-profile tires (yeah, the rims aren’t big or fancy, but they ain’t hubcaps, either).

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I took my van out for a few errands today. It zipped along just like usual. You can’t see the rust from this angle. The paint on the vertical surfaces is actually pretty decent.

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Colorful bumper stickers date from my son’s college days. I’ve enjoyed retaining them on my car.

This is a second-generation Chrysler Corporation minivan, an enhanced version of the original ’84 model. Chrysler invented the minivan in the early 1980s and dominated the field for years. Now, Toyota and Honda do. But, of course, today is also the era of the crossover SUV, so minivans are less hip, anyway. Although, as it turns out, the next “cool” minivan is the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid–my car’s descendant–which is the first of its kind.

But it’s time to move on. Sacrificing our funky, high-polluting old cars is what we need to do en masse to cut CO2 to moderate the effects of climate change. I know that sacrificing an old gas burner for an EV will make a very tiny impact, but we need to do it everywhere. And we need to have clean power plants, too. And we need to share rides. And we need to do a lot of other things. But now, it’s time to say goodbye to an old friend, and welcome a new one.

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Chevrolet Bolts are In Production!

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Finally, the assembly line is running at the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant in Orion, Michigan, and Bolts are moving slowly down the line.

The news story I found mentions the sad news that only California and Oregon will get cars before the end of the year, but luckily for me, I’m in California, and my order is in, so I am hoping to see my car something before the end of the year.

It’s an interesting experience in 2016, when instant gratification is the norm, to have to wait for anything. I knew that I wanted an EV, and I knew that the Bolt was the only realistic choice, since it’s (relatively) affordable and has a great range, with its big 60 kWh battery. So, I dashed down to place my order.

But nearly a month in, waiting feels as interminable as the conclusion of the 2016 election. While the latter event is literally right around the corner, I’m not sure when I’ll see my Bolt. And, I’m not sure exactly how much it’s going to cost me on a monthly basis.

Figuring that my car would be with me at least 30 months, I went for the nicer Premier model, with a few upgrades, like leather seats, and upgraded the stereo and safety features, so it’s $43,000 or so before they take the $7,500 off for the Federal tax credit. Then, there’s California money coming to me too, $2,500 worth, as I understand it. But I’ll have to decide how much to put down to keep those payments reasonable.

I’m also turning in my ancient 1993 Plymouth Voyager minivan, my occasional car that will now go to gas car heaven. I plan to put it out to pasture when I’m assured of my Bolt delivery date.

I haven’t bought myself a new car since November of 1990, when I got my Saturn. It was exciting to sell my Honda and buy a new car that was a brand new brand, too. I was the first guy on my block to have one, and I got some attention. I even got noticed by Hal Riney and Partners, who had the Saturn account, so I ended up on the cover of the 1994 Saturn brochures!

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Look at all that nice dark hair. And I’m posing with my first son, who’s now a grownup father of two. 🙂

My Chevy salesman says he’ll keep me posted on the progress, so I will, at some point, know the status of the build and when it gets put onto a transporter truck for its western trip. Watch this space for updates.

And, visit my new venue, Clean Fleet Report, for my EV and hybrid writings.

 

 

Chevy Bolt – Clean Car from a Green Factory

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I’m waiting  for my Chevrolet Bolt to be built. As of October 24, the order is submitted to the factory and accepted by production control, according to my salesman, Don Mays.

So–what kind of factory does GM have in Orion, Michigan? Well, the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant gets more than half its energy from methane from decomposing trash, and has a 350-watt solar array. That’s pretty impressive!

One of the arguments is, why not just use your old car–it’s already built? Why spend all the energy to make new ones? If the factory runs efficiently, there’s less cost to driving a new electric car. It’s a complicated story, and we’ll keep following it.

Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for the next installment from Chevy.