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.

An Apartment, not a Hotel Room

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As an auto writer, I’ve been driving a new car every week from press fleets for  a quarter century. But on January 8, I took delivery of my new 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. It was my first new personal car since I acquired one of the first Saturns in November, 1990.

Well, there’s something about having your own car. In more than 2,600 miles over nearly two months, I’ve bonded with my Kinetic Blue baby. I’ve realized that driving a car a week, as exciting as it may be (and sound) becomes impersonal. It’s a treadmill. It’s like being on the road with a Jazz band, staying in one hotel or motel after another with a steady stream of weekly gigs in towns across America.

But  I know my car now. I like changing Sirius XM and FM stations with a flick of my left hand on the button on the steering wheel column. Apple CarPlay lets me text by talking to Siri. I enjoy studying every flowing line of the dashboard and doors. I feel at home in the firm bucket seat. I can look through the little window in the otherwise enormous windshield pillar as I turn left. I’m grateful that I opted for the upgraded Bose stereo.

It helps that the Bolt EV is exactly the car I need. I can commute 36 miles round trip every weekday with no problem, and charge at my workplace. I need to carry a tall upright bass and it slips in with nothing more than dropping the rear seats and removing the delicate cargo cover. The rear compartment has a flat floor, making it easy.

The electric motor zips my Bolt ahead at a 6.5 second zero-to-60 pace, nearly silently. Freeway merges are easy and passing is no problem. As an EV driver, I try to conserve battery power, so I roll along at 65 tops on the freeway, which is kind of relaxing. What’s the hurry?

I select “L” on the transmission lever to use one-pedal driving. It provides much more regeneration than the “D” setting, which replicates a normal automatic. I’m hooked on “L” now.

In-town driving is fun with the firm, flat handling and precise steering control. The “L” driving feels a bit like downshifting when you come to a stop–the car helps you slow down–so it’s fun to position yourself accurately in the traffic flow that way.

I’m still testing cars for the newspapers and blogs that use my column, and I’ve got some fine hybrids on the menu. I’m even sneaking in a few significant internal combustion cars. But I know that when I want to, I can slip into my Bolt EV and feel at home anytime.

My Chevy Bolt EV at One Month

One month ago today, I got a ride down to the Chevrolet dealership and picked up my first new car since my 1991 Saturn. I knew I wanted it as soon as I heard about it–for numerous reasons, including its size, its shape, and especially, it’s long driving range. Today, on the 25th anniversary of the starting of my automotive column, I celebrate a month and 1,641.1 miles of joyous gas-free travel with my Bolt EV.

Fixing My Windshield

Two things happened today. At 9 a.m. I drove to the Safelite Auto Glass in Redwood City, CA to repair a dime-size chip in my windshield that I picked up last Saturday. I was greeted warmly by Tommy, and then Robert, an expert technician, who made the tiny rose on my car’s front window virtually disappear. It’s sad when something new starts to take on the scars and marks of living in the real world, but just as the front rugs aren’t pristine any more, my car has shed its perfection while retaining its goodness.

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Blogging in Plug In America

The second Bolt EV event of this anniversary day was the publication of my one-month wrap-up story in Plug in America as a guest blogger. The post starts like this:

As an auto journalist, I’ve driven nearly 1,200 cars over the last 25 years. I’ve sampled pretty much every electric and hybrid car you can get, from the Mitsubishi i-MiEV to the Nissan Leaf to the Cadillac ELR. I even took a short drive in the ill-fated GM EV1. I liked the smooth, quiet ride and loved the environmental benefits of driving an EV, but none of the cars had enough range to make me feel like I could use them most of the time.

To read the rest, please go to Plug In America’s In the Driver’s Seat blog.

Moving forward, I’ll be looking for highlights in the ongoing story of me and my Bolt EV–and the growing world of electric and hybrid cars.

 

Chevy Bolt EV Easily Makes a 165-Mile Trip

Not long ago, owning an EV meant you were strictly limited on how far afield you could roam. The typical 70 to 80 miles per charge was a real issue.

That’s why, when I heard the Chevrolet Bolt EV had an EPA range of 238 miles, I knew it was the only choice for me. I couldn’t afford a Tesla, but really needed decent range.

I have a particular reason–my granddaughters live about 80 miles away and I wanted to be able to go visit them in my new car without stopping to charge. So yesterday, nearly three weeks after taking delivery, I made the 165.6-mile round trip.

My driving experience since getting my Bolt EV gave me confidence that I could do it. The driving range display gives estimated range, with “Max” and “Min” brackets above and below it, and the estimate appeared to be close to my actual mileage. But you never know until you try.

I filled my battery up on the Level 2 ChargePoint charger at work on Friday, and topped it off with my little 120-volt charger at home on Friday night. On Saturday, just before we left, the display looked like this:

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Note: That 203-mile figure is with the climate control on. With it off, the number would be about 10 miles higher.

We headed north and plugged in my wife’s iPhone to use Apple CarPlay to enjoy the James Taylor Greatest Hits album No. 1. It provided a soothing experience for a projected hour and a half on the road. I limited myself to 65 mph on the mostly freeway trip. I used the cruise control part of the time, and drove in Low, too. Low, with its greater brake regeneration, adds about 5 percent to the total.

We encountered some traffic in the MacArthur Maze in Oakland and around Petaluma (as usual), and inched along for a little while. Those two sections of the trip regenerated more energy than flying along unobstructed, and made the trip take a little longer. But I was encouraged that as we made progress, the projected range was staying higher than I expected it would.

After we pulled up in front of my son and daughter-in-law’s house, I examined the gauge:

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At an hour and a half, we had driven 82.8 miles, but the range indicator only moved from 203 to 144–or 59 miles. We had nearly three quarters of the battery charge left. That was fantastic!

We spent about four and a half hours with the family, and after a pleasant meal and much animated conversation and some hugs, we climbed back into the Bolt EV and headed home. I wasn’t worried about running out of charge on the way home.

This time, it was later, and traffic flowed steadily at 65 mph the whole way. That meant less opportunity to regenerate electricity, and we took more of a hit in the range. The final screen looked like this (darker because it was nighttime when we arrived home).

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This time, the 82.8 miles reduced the range by 91 miles–about 50 percent more than the trip up there–but not that far off from the actual traveled distance. We had less recharging ability, but saved a quarter of an hour of road time. 53 miles was a fine cushion. Our 165-mile trip showed up as 150 miles of range used. The Bolt EV passed my test.

The silence of the motor and smooth ride made our trip pleasant, the upgraded Bose stereo and Apple CarPlay kept us entertained, and I now know my Bolt EV will do the job!