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!

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Triple Play for National Drive Electric Week

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National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) is an annual celebration of electric cars, which has grown larger and more popular each year since its inception in 2011.

This year, NDEW ran from September 9 to 17. I attended three events—one of them hosted by me. The photo above is from that event, at my workplace (photo: Candice Tandiono).

I’d always wanted to be part of this, but it wasn’t until I actually had my own car–a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt–that I felt I belonged.

Please read my report, published in Clean Fleet Report.

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.

Chevy Bolt EV Sighted in the Wild!

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Yesterday, as I walked out of the sandwich place where I had just finished my chicken cobb salad, I saw a familiar roofline cruise by. It was a silver Chevrolet Bolt EV, and it turned left into the parking lot. It looked like the car pictured above.

I followed it with eyes and when it parked nearby, I walked up to it. It was an LT model, with the temporary plates from the same dealer where I got my car. I waited a couple of minutes, and when the driver stepped out, I asked, “How do you like your car?”

He was a friendly, white-haired guy named Dan. We chatted about how it was enjoyable to drive, and he mentioned a couple of previous vehicles, included a tired Camry. He volunteered that he wasn’t enamored with the Bolt’s styling (“an angry fish”) so much but liked the way it drove. I showed him a photo of my own Bolt on my phone, because I had walked over and it wasn’t there. We parted after a minute or two.

On the way back to work, I was happy that I’d finally met up with another Bolt EV owner in person, but realized then that I hadn’t asked him the big question:

Why did you get an electric car?

That’s always the big question. The Bolt’s 200+ mile range mitigates most issues, but there’s still a question of cost, and which EV to get. Did the person get the car because of environmental awareness, to save gas, or some other reason? I’ll have to remember that for next time I run into a new Bolt owner. I hope it’s soon.

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.

 

My Chevy Bolt EV is Finally Here!

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I ordered my Bolt EV on October 11, 2016. Today, January 8, 2017, I picked it up and drove it home in the rain. A little water wasn’t going to stop me from getting my blue baby.

Sometimes, when you get something you’ve been waiting for, there’s a letdown, but today things went fine and turned out exactly as I hoped they would. And thanks to Don Mays and the folks at Boardwalk Chevrolet in Redwood City, it was painless, too, although I was there for over three hours.

It’s a funny story, really. On Friday, I took my 1993 Plymouth van to the junkyard to be crushed for California’s old gas car buyback program. You can read about it here. On the way home, I got a call from Don, my Chevy salesman, letting me know that he wasn’t exactly sure when the Bolt would land at the dealership–but it would be soon. I had been hoping that by finally getting rid of my ancient ride, I’d clear cosmic space in the universe for the Bolt. And–it turned out I was right. At around 4 p.m. Friday I got the call. The truck carrying my car had just arrived (it’s one of those blue ones).

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I knew that Sunday was going to be stormy, but we got up and waited for the phone call. At 11:12 a.m., just after the dealership opened, Don called and said my car was ready for pickup. So off we went–my wife kindly offered to drive me over.

When we arrived, we saw two Kinetic Blue Bolts in front. I checked the window sticker and identified mine. It was on the charger. Apparently, when they brought it over from the service area it had just 90 miles on the battery–not full–but it gathered some more while it sat there waiting for us.

Of course, there’s paperwork to do when you lease a car, but it was easy enough. Interestingly, they ask you to sign an agreement regarding whether to mount a front license plate bracket or not. Apparently this is a big deal to Corvette buyers (who don’t want the holes drilled). I personally expect to wear my plates like the law requires, so I just said, “sure.”

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The lease process was straightforward. They give you a $2,500 “lease cash” payment, and then take off the Federal $7,500 off the lease price (since I’m not the buyer). You can request what you want the monthly payment to be and how much you want to put down to get it. As it turns out, I had planned to put down a substantial cash amount to lower the monthly payment. I ended up giving them $9,000 ($10,000 minus my $1,000 deposit) and ended up with a $335 a month payment, including taxes. Of course, there’s no January payment–it’s included. I’ll be receiving a $2,500 rebate from the State of California (eventually), and I’m getting $1,000 from junking the van, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Don brought my dripping wet car into the dealership so we could get pictures (like the one at the top). The car was nicely prepped–shiny and clean. The interior was spotless and with just 3 miles on the odometer. There were even a few pieces of protective plastic still on the door handles. I’ve smelled a lot of new cars as a journalist, but this is the “freshest” of them all so far.

I’m glad I chose the lighter interior. All cars receive the white band across the dash and onto the doors, and white console trim, but mine is light gray on the doors and light gray and white on the leather seats, so it feels bright and airy in there. The other choice is dark gray and light gray. Here’s a cool design element–at night, a blue line outlines the lower dash.

New cars have a lot of electronics in them, and EVs especially require some explanation. I sat in the car while Don showed me some features. While he installed my temporary registration and removed my window sticker, I set up my OnStar account–a GM benefit for safety and turn-by-turn directions, among other things. The SiriusXM radio came right on, as you’d expect.

The Bolt EV has bright, colorful displays in the instrument panel and dash center, so it’s easy to know what’s going on. They put on a little video celebration when you first touch the glowing Start button. Then, the screens appear. They are certainly more interesting to look at than the Ford Sync3 system, which works fine but is more of a monochrome blue. The instrument panel has a large digital speedometer, and the slim typeface is quite stylish.

The steering wheel has some controls on the back, like Chrysler/Fiat products, with volume on the right. You can select audio presets on the left side of the wheel. The front of the right side of the wheel has a set of arrows to make selections from a complex menu of inforation and settings, too.

The back of the left side of the steering wheel contains a paddle to initiate regenerative braking–kind of like putting your foot on the brake. This can add to your range and give your foot a rest.

When the lease process was done, I pulled away, and everything felt right. I cruised along the freeway and through the city of Hayward on my way home. I then took my new car on a couple of errands around town. Nobody noticed it, as far as I can tell, but it was dark and rainy out there.

So, my new Bolt EV is finally parked in my driveway, and my adventure has begun. Stay tuned.

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