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

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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.

 

EVs, Hybrids and Green Events of 2017

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For 2017, I decided to focus my attention on hybrid and plug-in vehicles. Over the 12 months, I tested 35 cars, of which more than half – 20 – were either full EVs, plug-in hybrids PHEVs), or hybrids. About half of the cars were hybrids, and a quarter were EVs or PHEVS. This was a big change, as for the last 25 years, I’ve driven a car a week (52 a year).

My EV focus was enhanced when I began submitting content to www.cleanfleetreport.com in addition to my newspapers in 2016. I also rejuvenated this blog, which I had originally filled with impressions of the Fiat 500e that I borrowed for the first quarter of 2016.

The centerpiece of this new EV emphasis was my 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which I leased on January 8 and have put nearly 10,000 miles on over the year, much of it during those weeks when I wasn’t driving a test vehicle.

I also ventured into covering events, including National Drive Electric Week, during which I hosted an event at my office and I attended two other ones. At the Cupertino NDEW event, I met Greg Bell, who introduced me to Acterra, an organization that promotes EV use and other environmental efforts. I attended two Acterra events where important speakers delivered valuable content, which I captured in two articles that appeared both in my blog and in Clean Fleet Report—and on Acterra’s website as well. At the end of the year, I sampled Gig Car Share, a ridesharing service that uses Ridecell software.

While reading An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, Al Gore’s second book (and movie), I saw a story about a man who changed careers in order to work in the green industry—and learned he was local. I later met with Wei-Tai Kwok over lunch and toured his company, Amber Kinetics, which manufactures energy storage devices.

I plan to continue my green vehicle and industry focus in 2018, with additional expansion into anything that contributes to a greener future—interviews, research, and more vehicle drives, of course.

Here’s an alphabetical list of the EV and hybrid vehicles I tested in 2018, with brief summaries. 

Note: These stories, except for a couple that aren’t written yet, are available on Clean Fleet Report.

Acura MDX Hybrid – A big cruiser, this car has significantly improved fuel economy, an incremental improvement over the regular gasoline model.

BMW i3  – Still odd looking (it grows on you), this car is a pure EV, but can be had with a small “range extender” gas engine. My tester had the extender, but I never used it. The ’17  upped the estimated range from 72 to 114 – a much more useful proposition.

Chevrolet Bolt EV – The Bolt is the first “affordable” pure EV with a truly usable 238-mile EPA range. I love mine, and have achieved more than 200 miles of range with no problems, other than an occasional glitch to the entertainment system (which recovered automatically). Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, among other honors.

Ford C-Max Hybrid – This European design is a comfortable and usable car, but lost some favor when its initial fuel economy numbers turned out to be overly optimistic. Its EPA numbers are 42 mpg overall, about double what the gasoline version of its sister vehicle—the Fusion—gets. The Energi model, which I didn’t test, has a plug and a larger battery for local all-electric motoring.

Ford Fusion Hybrid and Energi – This handsome sedan uses the same drivetrain as the C-Max, and offers both hybrid and Energi (plug-in) versions. I tested both. The hybrid averaged 41 mpg while the Energi got 101.4 MPGe, using nearly no gasoline at all.

Honda Clarity PHEV – This plug-in hybrid sedan is a brand-new effort from Honda. Initial impressions (I’ve had it two days) are it’s handsome on the inside, despite plastic wood trim, but a little weird on the outside. I got 43 miles of range with the initial charge, which was enough for a Saturday’s worth of errands. The Clarity also comes as a hydrogen fuel cell version (I drove it briefly at an event), and a full EV version with a disappointingly small 89-mile range. I plan to test these other two Claritys in 2018.

Hyundai Ioniq – I drove the full EV and the Hybrid versions of this all-new car. If you want a Prius or a Leaf but hate the wacky styling, this is your car. The EV has a stellar EPA rating of 136 MPGe combined. A plug-in hybrid is due in 2018.

Kia Optima PHEV – This handsome large/midsize sedan has a 27-mile EV range, so I used no gasoline all week to commute. Only when I ranged further did I dip into the tank, so I averaged 99.9 mpg during my test week.

Kia Niro – This attractive and right-sized crossover makes sense as a hybrid, and is now coming out as a plug-in hybrid. I drove the entry-level FE and top-of-the-line Touring. I got 43.8 mpg in the Touring and 48.2 mpg in the FE. There was about a $7,000 difference between them. A pure EV version would be a game-changer.

Lexus ES 300h – This traditional sedan adds a bit of luxury to the hybrid package. I earned 33.1 mpg during my test week, a bit below the EPA estimates. My option-packed tester listed at more than $48,000.

Toyota Camry Hybrid – I drove both the 2017 version and the all-new 2018 model. The ’17 scored a disappointing 28.9 mpg, but the ’18 hit 37.9 mpg, and is all-new, inside and out.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Toyota put its hybrid platform under a family-size crossover, and added some efficiency to it. I averaged 25.0 mpg; the gasoline model I tested a few years ago hit 20.6, so that’s a nice improvement.

Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel Cell – Odd looking, but drives like a nice big sedan, although it’s not as big inside as it looks. Essentially an all-electric car you never plug in, you do need to fuel it, and hydrogen fuel is pricey and hard to find! But, if you lease one now, Toyota picks up your fuel tab for the three-year term (up to $15,000).

Toyota Prius Prime – This is the plug-in version of the latest Prius, and it slightly tempers the radical styling front and rear. Its 25-mile range is useful for all-electric commuting, while its hybrid personality lets you drive wherever you want to with no problems. I averaged 70.5 MPGe during my test week.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – As a compact crossover SUV, the RAV4 is positioned at the center of the car market now. As a hybrid, it has 28 percent better fuel economy numbers than its gasoline version.

VW e-Golf – The Golf is a wonderful driving car, but the original e-Golf’s range was a paltry 83 miles. The new one, with minor styling enhancements and larger battery, is boosted to 125 miles, which is much more usable.

These are the events, interviews, and services I covered in 2017.

Western Automotive Journalists Media Days – This writers group, which I co-founded in the early 1990s, has a wonderful annual event that combines on-road driving, a day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and a festive banquet. Auto scribes and manufacturer representatives connect and renew their assocations. I tested a number of EVs at this event and as always, had lots of fun.

Brett Hinds (Ford) interview and Third Industrial Revolution screening – Ford Motor Company sponsored a screening of Third Industrial Revolution, a film based on the book by Jeremy Rifkin. The film features Rifkin himself making the important points of this visionary tome to a young audience. Hinds is the Chief Engineer for Electrified Power Systems, and in our 1-on-1 interview he described what Ford has planned for the future.

National Drive Electric Week – This annual event’s purpose is to expose more people to the virtues of electric motoring by having owners show off their cars. As a Bolt driver, I hosted one at my company during the week, and attended two Saturday events, where I participated and networked like crazy. Sponsored by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, the Electric Auto Association, and the Nissan Leaf.

Silicon Valley Reinvents the Wheel – This annual event, cosponsored by the Western Automotive Journalists and the Autotech Council, is jam packed with speakers, booths, cars, and a lot of excitement. It’s a great place to network and learn what’s coming.

Opening of New Hydrogen Station in San Ramon – Hydrogen fuel cells in electric vehicles are an exciting but complicated technology. A big issue is infrastructure, so the opening of station #29 (of a planned 100) is a step forward. I used this station later when I tested the Toyota Mirai.

Steve Westly Acterra event – The former California Controller had a lot of positive things to say about the growth of sustainable power generation and the rise of EVs.

Carl Pope Acterra event – On his book tour for Climate of Hope, which he co-wrote with Michael Bloomberg, Pope spoke of the many challenges and successes of the move to a sustainable energy future.

Gig Car Share test – I heard about Gig Car Share while researching Ridecell, and sampled a vehicle while I was out getting a haircut. If you only need a car occasionally, it’s ideal. Just download the app and you’re on your way. And the cars have bike racks!

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!

Going Green at the 2017 WAJ Media Days

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Every spring for the last 25 years, the Western Automotive Journalists (WAJ) has brought together its journalist members and manufacturers (and their cars) at a scenic location with a racetrack. The goal is to evaluate a variety of cars on the road and the racetrack, network, have fun, and get a good story, too.

As I have for almost every year since the first event back in 1993, I attended with anticipation. And, as I have for at least the last dozen years, I roomed at the hotel with my buddies Jon and Carey. However, as I’m increasing my focus on green vehicles, I tried to concentrate my energy on environmentally responsible options.

I Drove my All-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV to the Event

For the first time ever, I drove my own car to the event. My 105-mile trip to Monterey, California was in my own Chevrolet Bolt EV. With my two pals in tow, what could be more environmentally sensitive than to carpool in an all-electric vehicle? It kept one old gas car and one motorcycle off the highway entirely.

The Bolt EV is a roomy compact hatchback, and it fit us and our gear without a problem when I folded down one of the rear seats.

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Always interested in checking the accuracy of the car’s range, I took before and after photos of my instrument panel.

In my driveway, it looked like this, with 251 miles of estimated range (about the best it’s ever looked, by the way):

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When we pulled into the hotel, it looked like this:

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The 105-mile trip lowered my estimated range by 113 miles–pretty nice for an all-freeway trip at 65-70 miles per hour. And, of course, the ride was smooth and quiet all the way. We had similar mileage on the return trip.

PG&E’s New Plugin Electric Hybrid Charging Trucks

138 miles should allow a return trip without a recharge, but that would be cutting it close. And, I planned to drive out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and back, too. So, I was very fortunate to get to use PG&E’s new portable charging truck to top off my battery the night I arrived.

These amazing new trucks are completely self contained and can charge multiple vehicles at a time. The one I used was the smaller one, which required setting up charging stations, but the larger, 19,000-pound model we used at the event locations had direct cables from the truck to the vehicle, and included quick-charge capacity. The trucks, which themselves are Diesel/electric hybrids, will save a lot of energy as they’re used for their normal duties (see below), and with their onboard generator, can power up vehicles that need it. Here’s the smaller truck I used at the Monterey Tides hotel:

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Note the charging bollard standing there. The orange item is a grounding sheet that Jim Larson of PG&E installed underneath it.

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Here’s the control panel.

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At the racetrack, the trucks charged multiple cars at a time. Here the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan (the only one on the market!) and a Chevrolet Bolt EV get charged up.

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Here are more details from PG&E’s press release about these fantastic new trucks:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and Efficient Drivetrains Incorporated (EDI) will showcase the utility industry’s first plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain Class 5 work bucket truck featuring 120kW exportable power that can be used to shorten or eliminate planned and unplanned outages.

PG&E partnered with EDI and Dixon-based Altec Industries, to develop this vehicle, which was designed, built and tested in the heart of California at EDI’s plant in Dixon. The vehicle features up to 50 miles all-electric range before switching to hybrid mode and 120kW exportable power, capable of powering 80% of the transformers in PG&E’s service area. The truck also features Altec’s electric worksite management system, which allows all onboard equipment including the boom, climate control and tools to be operated off of battery power, eliminating the need to idle the engines of the trucks while at job sites. These vehicles will reduce emissions by up to 80% when compared to conventional fuel vehicles.  PG&E estimates that each EDI truck will save the utility over 850 gallons of fuel per year. PG&E has deployed this technology in class 3, 5 and 6 platforms and currently operates 12 of the units.

I Drove Two Hydrogen-powered EVs Back to Back

Eager to start out green, I drove the two hydrogen cars right away–the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. The third hydrogen vehicle on the market, Hyundai’s Tucson, wasn’t there, but these two midsize sedans represent the bulk of today’s very small segment, and are quite similar. Both feature weird styling, hundreds of miles of range, a reasonable lease price, and an undramatic driving experience. They feel like Toyota and Honda versions of the same car.

I drove the Mirai first. I had spent an hour with this vehicle before, driving a limited course in residential San Francisco. I was eager to get it out onto the highway and let it loose a little. The Mirai was introduced in 2014, while the Clarity goes back to 2008. However, this second-generation Clarity came out just a few months ago.

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The Mirai wears exaggerated versions of Toyota’s current styling elements. The front scoops help direct lots of cool air to the components under the hood that convert hydrogen to energy (and water) and the electric motor. The tail of the car is somewhat sad looking. However, the interior, featuring the sweeping panels seen also on the Camry and Prius, feels more conventional.

The Mirai runs quietly, but unlike battery-powered EVs, lacks the wealth of torque you’d expect, so performance is leisurely. But the main story here, as in the Clarity, is that the technology is futuristic but the driving experience is ordinary. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The new second-generation Clarity, my second ride of the day, is also an odd-looking beast.

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The giant scoops up front, sliced semi-skirted rear wheels, and overstyled tail continue the hydrogen car strangeness. But–this car does look like a Honda, so maybe the assumption is that both of these cars reflect “the future” of their respective brands, like vehicles in a movie set in 2035.

As in the Mirai, the interior is less strange than the exterior. My main memory is of artificial plastic wood trim and alcantara on the dash and soft seating. Nothing else really stood out.

Both test cars had more than 200 miles of range on the odometer when I drove them. Range isn’t as much as an issue with hydrogen cars, since you can fill them up and drive like a gas car, and they can have 300 or more miles of range on a five-minute fill-up. The issue is finding a place to do it. There are very few hydrogen stations in California right now. If the infrastructure isn’t built out, it will likely remain a very marginal technology.

You can help promote  this new technology by leasing one these cars. Toyota’s deal is $349 a month with three years worth of free fuel. You also can buy the car for $57,500. The Clarity leases for $369 a month; there’s no purchase option. They also have a free fuel offer.

There are many differences between these two cars, and I’d like to cover them in a separate article. The bottom line is, you can drive either for essentially $350 a month total–and be part of the future.

Chrysler Pacifica is the Only Hybrid Minivan you can Buy

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I got a chance to spend 20 minutes or so driving and riding in the new Pacific hybrid minivan. While I’ve tested the regular model recently (full story soon for my newspapers and websites), this one provides more than 30 miles of pure EV driving. As a new model, it’s really nice to drive in any case, but with electric power, it’s much more efficient–and, of course, quieter. It climbed the hills of the Laureles Grade test run without getting breathless, although the engine did have to chime in to get it done. I’m looking forward to a week-long test soon, and that story will appear here in stevegoesgreen.com.

Zero Motorcycles – Green on Two Wheels

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I am not a motorcycle rider, but I spent time talking with three of the friendly and knowledgeable people from Zero Motorcycles, purveyors of electric two-wheeled transportation. I also heard a presentation from the company’s new CEO.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to test one–I don’t have a motorcycle license, and even off the street, you needed one to ride. I’ve always thought that part of the “fun” of driving a motorcycle was the sound, and watching other journalists test these gave an eerie sense of somehow not having the soundtrack on. But not only are these bikes apparently great fun, but they are a lot more comfortable without the vibration. The company builds a portfolio of models for different purposes in a range of prices, so best to check out their website for details. I’m half tempted to get my M1 license so I can give one a test ride.

Automotive Steel is Evolving for Efficiency

At the formal dinner on the evening of Day 2, our keynote speaker was Dave Anderson, Senior Director – Automotive Market from the Steel Market Development Institute. Dave told us about modern steel and how it’s changed over the years in automotive applications. I learned a lot. We hear a lot about “high strength” steel these days, but what does it all mean? Apparently there are hundreds of kinds of steel, and depending on its chemical makeup and processing, it can be extremely strong or very flexible–or possess other qualities, as needed. Making auto components out of different types can reduce weight while enhancing safety. Although the steel industry is smaller in the U.S. than it was years ago, It’s still a big factor in automotive industry–and the SMDI wants to keep it that way.

The Rest of the Cars

With dozens of cars available, I had to sample some others, and I did burn some petroleum doing it.

The Jaguar F-Pace is the brand’s first crossover SUV, and it was impressive and powerful.

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On the other side of the equation, the Toyota CH-R, originally meant to be a Scion, was small and quirky on the outside and drove like a nice small Toyota should.

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One of the hits of the day was the Alfa-Romeo Guilia, in powerhouse Quadrifoglia form. Out on the Monterey County back roads, it was a force, and many of my colleagues got to ride in it on the racetrack.

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I drove the unusual topless Range Rover Evoque convertible on an offroad course. Concentrating on moving slowly and deliberately over the uneven terrain was a nice palate cleanser from driving on the highway.

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I sampled the new, larger MINI Countryman, and it still felt like a MINI–but more luxurious. There’s a plugin hybrid version coming later this year that I’m eager to spend time with.

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A quick run over the hills in the sleek new Volvo V90 was a nice contrast to the MINI. Volvo has its act together, with premium amenities and beautiful styling. This is a wagon version of the new S90 sedan, which I recently tested.

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I found the new Honda Civic hatchback with a six-speed manual and had to take that one for a spin to row the gears. Although much larger than my 1986 Civic Si hatchback, it felt more like those old, fun Hondas of yesteryear. And it was white on the outside and black on the inside–just like my old ride. Note the gorgeous well-watered springtime countryside.

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I tested two Infinitis–the potent and luxurious Q60 coupe and the small, Mercedes-Benz-based QX30 crossover. The former was perhaps the best-looking iteration of Infiniti’s molten styling I’ve seen so far, and the silvery carbon fiber interior trim and white seats were a knockout. The little QX30 felt taut and fun during my brief ride.

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QX30

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Two compact crossovers that have been thoroughly updated got my attention–the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. These direct competitors show why this segment is taking over from sedans. Solid, attractive, and relatively efficient, they were both steps up from their predecessors.

Honda CRV

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Mazda CX-5

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Lastly, I experienced the Navdy Augmented Driving device in an Audi Q7. This little marvel sits atop your instrument panel and provides a wealth of information and options through a head-up device.

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Controlled by a little wheel and button attached to the steering wheel, I could make phone calls, see map directions, read text messages, make musical selections, and much more. Easy to install, the unit attaches magnetically to its base, so you can tuck it away in a little cloth bag in your glove compartment when you park. The goal is to keep you connected without taking your eyes off the road.

Not Driven but Important

I didn’t drive it (mine is identical except for color), but the white Chevrolet Bolt EV went out a lot, and I talked with folks after they drove it to get their reactions.

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As always, the chance to meet and mingle with my old friends and our longtime and new automotive PR colleagues was invaluable. I look forward to following up my new relationships and taking some of the vehicles for week-long evaluations.

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.

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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