Green Mobility in Portland, Oregon

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On a three-day trip to Portland, Oregon this week, I had a chance to witness some ways that the Rose City is moving toward a cleaner transportation future.

To start out, my trip into downtown from the airport was on the Trimet electric train system. The Trimet Max Red Line docks steps away from the baggage claim area, and for $2.50, you can sit in a clean, comfortable chair and look out the picture windows at the Oregon scenery. It was clear and beautiful my first day, but, naturally, became gray and rainy later. But that was pretty nice looking (and smelling) too.

Once I stepped off the train onto the street, I walked the several blocks to my company’s Portland office. Along the way, I passed four things that told me that Portland is working hard on going green.

I walked past the Forth Mobility showroom. Forth is set up to give people a chance to learn about and test drive electric vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt. On my way out of town, I dropped in and chatted with Sergio, who showed me the displays, which included a sample of wall-mount charging stations and a screen folks can use to determine which EV would work best for them.

A couple of blocks further, I spotted Electric Avenue (see photo, above). This brightly painted spot at PGE (Portland General Electric) headquarters, sports six charging stations–Level 2 and Level 3. Located near Forth, it’s a good one-two punch for EV awareness and use.

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Along the tree-lined streets, which were beginning to display some autumn-colored leaves on the ground, I spotted two ways to drive around without owning your own car. ReachNow is BMW’s car-sharing service. I saw the logo on the sides of Minis and BMWs wherever I went.

Tucked into other spots were the Car2Go vehicles, which feature cars from BMW’s German rival–Mercedes-Benz. I spotted numerous Smart EVs, along with the smaller Mercedes-Benz crossovers and sedans.

In 10 minutes and six short blocks, I got a sample of Portland’s efforts to reduce traffic and greenhouse gases.

On my first night in the city, I rode in a car on the way to my old friend’s home in suburban Gresham, and there was lots of traffic. These efforts in Portland should help congestion, as well.

To top off my trip, on my return to the East Bay, I rode BART’s airport shuttle and the regular BART line most of the way home. The electric vehicle future is now.

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My Chevrolet Bolt EV – A Six-Month Update

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Today, I’ve had my Chevrolet Bolt EV for six months! Here’s what it’s been like living with an all-electric car with few limitations.

With a 10,000-miles-a-year lease, I’ve been careful to not drive my car every day.  The odometer stands at 5,113 today, halfway through the year, so I think I’m in good shape. Note: The 201-mile range shown below reflects my trip home from work after charging, so it’s not at the 225 that it was when I started out.

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During this time, I’ve tested a number of other electric and hybrid cars, which you can see by going to Clean Fleet Report. I have more on the way, including the latest VW e-Golf and BMW i3, both of which have greater ranges (but are still not in the Bolt’s territory).

I recently had a chance to interview Brett Hinds, Ford’s Chief Engineer for electrified powertrain Systems. It was connected with a screening of the new film, The Third Industrial Revolution, about what we need to do over the next two generations (and on) to help preserve life on Earth from climate change. It’s based on a 2011 book by Jeremy Rifkin. I proudly presented Brett with my card, with a photo of my Bolt on it.

Regarding electrical range, in the cold early months of 2017, I was getting 205, maybe 210 miles on the range meter for a full charge. I was a little disappointed. Now, however, I consistently see 230 or 240 miles, or around 4.0 miles per kWh. And, I’ve noticed that the estimates the car gives me are pretty close to real-world.

Of course, I drive conservatively (it’s the only thing I do that way). I don’t stomp on the accelerator (don’t call it “the gas”) and I use the Low (L) setting all the time, with strong regeneration, so much of my braking happens without the brake pedal. “One pedal driving” is a real thing with an all-electric car, and it’s great fun when commuting. You can place yourself exactly into the available space without any braking at all. It’s a skill–perhaps even an art.

The car certainly looks the same. No significant wear and tear to the outside that I can tell. I did pick up a chip in the windshield quite early, but with a quick fix at Safelite it hasn’t become more than an occasional sparkle in the corner of my eye when the sun shines a certain direction.

Inside, the floormats are no longer pristine, and the rear cargo area has proven to be easily marked by amplifiers and guitar cases. I use a little pad I made out of a workout mat if I feel like lugging it from my downstairs office. But the rear hatch is easy to access for musical instruments and various stuff. The gossamer-thin rear cargo shield works great for hiding my “trunk” but comes off in a flash and takes up virtually no space. The rear seats fold down easily, and when they are in place, hold adult passengers comfortably.

My Bolt has passed the granddaughters test. Before I ordered it, I needed to be sure I’d be able to drive 85 miles to my granddaughters’ house and back. When I’ve done so, I’ve returned with 40 to 50 miles left to spare!

I drove my car to the Western Automotive Journalists annual Media Days event in April in Monterey–about 100 miles away. I was able to use one of their generator trucks to fill up for the trip back. I didn’t need to visit any charging stations there or along the way.

The only negatives I’ve had are electrical and intermittent. A few times, the audio display has simply refused to come on when I start the car. I found that turning the car off and back on (sometimes a few times) has cleared this. I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a software fix for this issue in early Bolts, but I haven’t had time to swing by my local dealership. They, on the other hand, have sent me multiple offers for service (that I don’t need)–including an oil change! Also, it sometimes takes three pushes to lock all the doors.

I joined the Chevy Bolt EV Owners Group on Facebook. I was one of the first members–there are now more than three thousand! There’s a local San Francisco Bay Area page and a Chevy Bolt Interest group too, but they have a lot fewer members. We share the joy of getting our cars and discussing the various pleasures and occasional issues.

I see Bolts on the road fairly frequently. Yesterday, I was following one on the way home and snapped this shot. I flashed my lights, but the young woman driving it didn’t respond.

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One of the most interesting things for me is that as I drive and enjoy the Bolt, I’m finding that I no longer feel like a journalist with it–I feel like an owner! And that’s a very different experience. Driving test cars weekly can be exciting and interesting, but it’s like living in a hotel. When I’m in my Bolt, I’m at home, and I feel like it’s a step into the future.

I ordered a ChargePoint level 2 home charger when I first got the car, but I haven’t installed it in my garage yet! Besides being an expensive job (I’ve been quoted many hundreds of dollars to install the $500 charger), I don’t really need it. I normally fill up at one of the dozen chargers at work, and if I need to top it off, it’ll give me about 50 miles overnight at home on household current.

Like every electric car, to varying degrees of course, the Bolt is quick off the line, and although it’s tall, it stays level on turns and has a supple suspension. Although I’d love to have a manual transmission, none are available–or needed–with an EV.

I still love my choice of Kinetic Blue, but I’ve seen the other colors and they all have their charms. The white is actually quite nice on the car, and the bright orange really makes a statement. I chose the light gray interior with white accents–in the top-level Premier with every option–so it feels very pleasant inside. The leather is wearing well, but, like the rest of the interior, is good but not at the exquisite level of, say, an Audi. For nearly $44,000 (minus fed, state, and PG&E rebates), it doesn’t feel like a luxury car. But the smooth, silent running is a joy, and the premium Bose audio system is very capable.

I’ve used Apple CarPlay a lot, which means I get my navigation from my phone. I also can use Bluetooth, but Apple CarPlay (with a USB cord) gives me the ability to do hands-free texting. Siri and I have spent a lot of time together (I’m mainly texting my wife.)

I’m excited about finally receiving my carpool lane stickers! Now, as an EV driver, I can use the carpool lane with a single occupant–and save half price on my bridge toll! Yesterday, this saved me perhaps 20 minutes on my commute to work, and the cheaper toll is always welcome.

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One annoyance is the small, short sunvisors that do not slide back to cover the side window. You can get blinded when the sun is to your left. I also am surprised that there isn’t adaptive cruise control, although I wouldn’t use it much.

For the National Drive Electric Week (September 9-16 this year), I will be participating in a local event, where I can show my car and give test rides. I’m also hoping to put together something at my office, where we EV enthusiasts number more than two dozen.

One real surprise for me is the lack of attention I get driving my Bolt. Nobody seems to notice that I’m in a multiple-award-winning, brand-new car. I think that Chevrolet intentionally went with mainstream styling, although it is certainly up-to-date. Perhaps folks think it’s another compact hatchback, such as the gas-powered Honda Fit. But I was hoping for more, since I love to talk about my car.

I’m looking forward to two-and-a-half more years of Bolt driving, but with a lease, I’ll be ready to trade it in for one of the many new BEVs that are coming from Audi, VW, Volvo, Ford, Jaguar, MINI, Nissan, and other brands. Or I may just keep it!

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.

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!

 

Busy Bolt EV Weekend–Plenty of Juice

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I picked up my Bolt EV last Sunday, but really just drove it home in the rain. I’ve commuted all week, but this was the first weekend to really stretch out. And the weather was dry. (Above: 2017 Bolt with 1965 Eichler house. I lived there as a teenager).

I filled up my battery on the ChargePoint Level 2 chargers at work on Friday, then drove home. With 177 miles available (middle number on the left, I felt confident.

Saturday morning was local errands–the auto supply store for new car washing tools, the florist, and the health food store. Then, I took my wife out to lunch. Normally, we park right behind the restaurant, but this time, we parked three blocks away so I could use the charger. I didn’t mind–it added steps for my Fitbit–one of the many things I plug in to charge these days.

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It was Blink Network station, and I was unhappy  to find that my card didn’t work! It has been a while, I guess. I ended up using the guest method, with its convoluted method of sending you a code, but I had to pay Guest prices. I later found out that if I used the app on my iPhone (which I already had) I could have done the same procedure, but gotten the member rate. I ordered a new card, just in case.

The charge pushed me up to 184 miles. At the Blink charger, I met Wayne, a Leaf owner who was fascinated by my Bolt EV. Finally – an eager person to talk  to. Of course that’s what we early owners want, isn’t it?

Next, I drove 33 miles eastward to visit an old friend who was having an 80th birthday celebration. I kept it to 65 mph and drove mostly on the freeway. The range dropped 24 for the 33-mile trip.

After that, I drove south for about a half hour to hear my friend and his daughter play some Jazz. That trip flew by, too, with the Bolt EV at night showing off its colorful screens and cruising near silently down the freeway. After the show, I drove home. My 94-mile trip in the afternoon and evening showed a 91-mile change in the range. This is good to know, since I plan to make other freeway trips, and the numbers are pretty accurate so far.

I put my car on the slow charger at home, since my new level 2 home charger isn’t installed yet. But, it didn’t add more than about 25 miles overnight. I learned today from one of my new friends on the Chevy Bolt EV Owners Group Facebook page that I need to move my charging amps from 8 to 12. That’s supposed to double the charge. I did it, so we’ll see! I’ve been following the progress on my MyChevrolet app.

Sunday’s adventure included my first use of Apple Car Play. It works wonderfully, with big, bright screens for the navigation I needed and for playing music from Spotify. I also sent a hands-free text message using Siri. Plugging in my phone and tucking it under the armrest makes it an out-of-sight out-of-mind experience. I did notice that the screen in the car allowed a lot of functions, including searching for types of destinations, but didn’t let me enter a specific address. For that, I had to use the phone itself–presumably while parked, before starting out. Must be a safety feature.

On the way home, I stopped at Whole Foods, thinking I’d hang out and use their fast EVgo quick charger. But there was a car parked there, so I pulled into the only Level 2 spot there was.

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I walked over to look at the quick charger. I discovered that some jerk had parked his white second-gen Volt in the spot–but wasn’t using the charger! How RUDE. I had about 50 miles left, so it wasn’t an emergency.

As I pondered this state of affairs, a guy pulled up in a black Fiat 500e, hoping to charge up. He parked in a non-EV space and came over. He’d only had his car for a week (like me), but had no EV experience. He’d set the Fiat to charge overnight but the car didn’t cooperate, for some reason. In any case, 500e’s don’t have a quick charge socket, so he wanted a Level 2 slot. I decided that he needed it more than I did, so I told him to pull around and gave him my spot. I felt I had to make up for the goofball who parked in the Quick Charge spot without using it.

After making a small indentation in the false floor panel in the rear area a couple days ago, I decided to protect the entire cargo area. I bought a workout pad at Big 5 for $19.95 and cut it into shape for my hatch area (with seats folded down). Now I can carry my musical gear without damaging the surface. Besides smelling a little odd, it did a great job.

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Wrapping up this rambling monologue, I had no problem with range–my biggest goal with the Bolt–and enjoyed lots of very pleasant driving all weekend. I  used all three major charging companies in the S.F. Bay Area, and my house, too.

The Bolt EV is turning out to be everything I’d hoped for. My only regret is that I didn’t get around to washing it yet.

 

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.

 

Nissan Leaf – EV Pioneer

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The Nissan Leaf was designed from scratch to be a gas-free all-electric model. They’ve sold more than 185,000 of them since its debut in 2010 as an ‘11, and a pioneer in mainstream EVs.

The Leaf hasn’t changed much over the years, though, until now. The 2016 model looks the same, but you now can get one with a 30 kWh lithium-ion battery. Adding just 46 pounds, it’s got higher power density, so it earns a 107-mile driving range from the EPA, versus 84 for the old 24 kWh battery, a 27 percent improvement.

For most driving, and many people, 107 miles is plenty. I drove my Deep Blue Pearl Leaf back and forth to work every day, in quiet comfort, the Bose audio system pouring out music from the standard Sirius XM radio and Bluetooth-connected selections from my Spotify stream.

The problem comes when you want to drive further. I got home one day with 85 miles on the range meter, and we had to take a quick trip that was about 70 miles. Because I wasn’t sure that was enough, we took our internal combustion engine car.

Although its design is aging, the Leaf feels smooth, solid, and friendly. With its virtually silent and vibration-free 80 kW motor, you fly along, almost by magic. Torque is available from the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, so there’s plenty of hustle from the 107 horsepower and 187 lb.-ft. of torque moving the 3,391-lb. car.

The EPA rates the Leaf at 124 MPGe City, 101 Highway, and 112 Overall. The Smog and Greenhouse Gas numbers are perfect 10s. The Leaf also gives you a miles-per-kWh rating, which was 4.1 for me. With 30 kWh, that looks like about 120 miles per charge.

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The one-speed transmission is controlled by a “palm shifter,” which, with its bright blue plastic front edge, reminded me of a Duncan Imperial yoyo. Just slip it back into Drive or forward into Reverse or push the Park button on the top.

The battery below the floor means a low center of gravity, so the Leaf is stable, and you feel secure darting around through traffic. But you are encouraged to drive gently to preserve charge. Nissan gives you a little Eco indicator at the top of the instrument panel, which assembles a little tree. The completed tree shrinks and moves to the lower right and you start on another one. I normally grew two on my 18-mile commute.

Unlike some other EVs, the Leaf is rated as a midsize car, and fits five adults, while providing 24 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up. Drop the rear seat for an additional six cubic feet. I hauled my upright bass with ease, although the storage area isn’t flat—it’s deeper at the rear.

To charge the Leaf, a panel flips up on the car’s nose. In there, you’ll find the standard plug for using a Level 2 (240-volt) charger or a cable to charge (slowly) at home at 120 volts. A Level 2 charge takes about 6 hours. Upper level Leafs include a Quick Charge plug, which lets you refill the battery to 80 percent capacity in half an hour.

The Leaf is so quiet that Nissan provides an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians.” It’s a low-volume beep, which emanates from a speaker under the hood at speeds below 16 mph. I only heard it when backing out of my driveway.

The three models start with the S, the price leader, at $29,860. It comes with push-button start, electric windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, and a decent audio system, but gets only the 24 kW battery.

The mid-level SV starts at $35,050. It has the 30 kW battery and the Quick Charge plug. It also features the NissanConnect system with Navigation, a larger 7-inch display screen, two more audio speakers, and 17-inch alloys in place of 16-inch steel wheels.

The SL, at $36,790, is distinguished mainly by its comfortable leather seats. You also get a photovoltaic solar panel on the rear spoiler, heated rear seats, a cargo cover, and a couple other items. My SL tester came with the Premium Package, with an upgraded Bose 7-speaker audio system and the Around View monitor (it gives a bird’s eye view). It topped out at $39,390. All prices listed include the $850 delivery charge.

Retail prices are perhaps irrelevant, since many EVs are leased at bargain rates, and there are government tax credits that can significantly reduce your costs. Figure in that electricity is much cheaper than gasoline and EVs require much less maintenance, and it could be a real bargain.

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The Leaf, built in Smyrna, Tennessee, has been the most popular EV out there, and if you’re not budgeted for a Tesla, is still a good option.