Bill Mattos, One of the First Three Bolt Owners

There’s a lot of excitement over Chevrolet’s award-winning new Bolt EV. Chevrolet promised to begin deliveries in December of 2016, and on December 13, in Fremont, California, three lucky customers drove their Bolts home. One of them was Bill Mattos, a retired law enforcement officer, who happens to live right there in town.

It turns out that Bill has been an EV enthusiast for a long time, since he got a rare opportunity to drive GM’s EV1 back in 1999.

“I was taking my Saturn to the dealership and saw this strange-looking car plugged in there,” said Bill. “It was the EV1. They let me drive it and we burned up a lot of electrons. I was blown away.”

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Bill couldn’t buy or lease one—the waiting list was long, and GM notoriously cancelled the EV1 program—but he decided then that as soon as GM offered another EV, he’d be one of the first people to get one.

He got his chance when the diminutive Chevrolet Spark EV came out.

“I really liked the Spark’s acceleration, and it was easy to get in and out of,” Bill said. “But there was the 85-mile range, and while I enjoyed riding in the HOV lane, I sometimes felt a little intimidated by the big cars.”

Bill’s next EV was the larger Chevrolet Volt—a hybrid. He got the second-generation 2016 model. But not long after, he read about the upcoming all-electric Bolt and got excited.

“It sounded like a Spark on steroids,” he said. “I read everything I could find about it.”

And, Bill told the folks at Fremont Chevrolet to let him know immediately when they started taking orders so he could be the first one on the list. And that’s just what they did. On October 2, Bill drove down to Fremont Chevrolet and placed his order.

As it turns out, Fremont Chevrolet is the top EV seller in the Bay Area (and Fremont also happens to be where EV rival Tesla’s plant is located). So, when GM decided to deliver the first three Bolts there, Bill got a call to come on down and pick up his car. The dealership sent a car for him, since he would be driving his Bolt home.

“They had a whole lot of Bolts there, but most were going to other dealers for demo cars,” said Bill. “I originally ordered a silver one, but since I was getting to be first in line, I chose the red one, which included the fast charge port.”

The dignitaries presented Bill with his car, showed him how the features worked, and he was on his way. (Photo courtesy of Fremont Chevrolet. Bill Mattos, left, with Ron Meier, Chevrolet Western Regional Manager.)

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Bill really likes the car so far.

“It feels bigger inside than it looks on the outside, and it’s easy to get in and out of,” he says. “And the acceleration is great, although all EVs have that.”

Bill likes the ergonomics of the new Bolt, and how, with its 238-mile range, he doesn’t have to plug it in every night.

He’s had a few challenges using the new displays, but Bill knows it’s just an initial adjustment—and part of being an EV pioneer.

If you’re in the Fremont area and have a hankering for a new Bolt, contact Kurt Mietz, Fleet and Commercial Specialist, at Fremont Chevrolet. Call 650-766-7777 or email to: kurtm@cacargroup.com.

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Chevy Bolt Gets a 238-mile Range!

Today, Chevrolet released the official EPA range for the new Chevrolet Bolt all-electric vehicle. It’s 238 miles–more than what was advertised earlier, and enough to put all the other EVs in the dust! Yeah, you can spend three times that amount for a Tesla, but in the world of regular earth-loving folks, the Bolt is set to change the story. And, with the newly updated website, you can now see the models and colors available and a lot more information.

Price is still not official, but they’re talking about $37,500 before the Federal and California rebates, so it could be a $30K car.

I personally can’t wait to order mine in brilliant blue!

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Now, we also know that the Bolt, like the Volt, will come in two levels–LT and Premier. Want leather seats and shinier wheels? The Premier it is. You also get roof rails, heated front and rear seats, various life-saving alerts, and more. The website lists the differences.

Based on my experience with the Volt, the upper level car will look and feel better, but will cost several thousand dollars more. I just hope that I like the LT and that I can get it with DC fast charging. That method of charging lets you add about 90 miles to the battery in the time it takes to have a relaxing cup of coffee and a snack on the way somewhere.

In a related piece of good news, Volkswagen, BMW, and ChargePoint (the largest car charger company) have teamed up to build 95 Level 2 and DC charging stations as part of the  Express Charging Corridors Initiative along the East and West Coasts. For me in California, that means Highway 5 and 1 between Portland and San Diego. Back east, it’s between Boston and Washington, DC. That’ll go a long way to helping folks with EVs with 90 mile ranges get out and see the country. Of course, the Bolt, Teslas, and upcoming 200-mile cars like the next Leaf, will become even more worth owning.

Chevy now has a new EV-themed site, Chevyevlife.com, that explains about living with an electric car. After all, they are going to have three models to sell soon, including the Bolt, the fine new 2016/2017 Volt plug-in hybrid,and the Malibu Hybrid. The tiny Spark, having blazed the modern EV trail for the brand, has quietly exited the building.

Chevrolet Volt – The Perfect Compromise

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The all-new Chevrolet Volt may be the best solution today for moving to greener driving to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. It’s an electric vehicle (EV) without the drawbacks.

The many advantages of driving an EV include smooth, quiet motoring, minimal service requirements, and the feeling that you’re part of the solution and not the problem.

The downsides of EVs include limited range and the long time it takes to recharge the batteries.

Regular hybrid vehicles combine gas engines with electric motors to extend your fuel out over more miles, but you never plug in. Plug-in hybrids provide a small all-electric range before becoming regular hybrids.

The Chevrolet Volt, which debuted for 2011, was designed as an electric car with a range extender: The Voltec electric drive system. You could charge it up, drive about 35 miles, and then its small gasoline engine kicked in to generate electricity to keep the motor moving the car along.

The totally redesigned 2016 Volt continues on this path, with huge upgrades. Generation one owners gave GM plenty of feedback. Gone are the hard plastic panels with haptic touch controls. The styling is in line with current Chevy gasoline vehicles, like the midsize Malibu. The new car looks great inside and out, with colors and metallic trim befitting a fancier vehicle.

What’s most important, though, is that the new Volt offers an electric range of 53 miles. In a week with my Mosaic Black Metallic test car, I drove in silent, serene full-electric mode for all of my commuting (18 miles each way to work and home), and all of my normal errands. On only two occasions did I need the extended range. The combined range for gas and electric is 420 miles.

When my Volt switched over to gasoline, the instrument panel indicated I had moved from battery power. I could hardly hear the engine when it engaged, and even when the battery was depleted, the car sometimes used it with power generated from braking.

An electric car is rated for MPGe. MPGe assigns a comparative value to the efficiency of different EVs, but it also stands alongside MPG. My week with the Volt generated 118.1 MPGe. The EPA’s ratings are 106 MPGe for electric mode and 42 MPG for gasoline (combined city/highway numbers). Green scores are 8 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas.

Compare that to a standard Prius, which gets 52 combined MPG. The Chevrolet Cruze, the Volt’s gasoline cousin, earns 35 MPG combined, itself a laudable number.

The electric motor puts out 149 horsepower (111 kW), and a strong 294 lb.-ft. of torque. The gas engine generates only 75 horsepower, but it’s meant to charge the car rather than drive it. Chevy claims an 8.4-second 0-60 time. I felt confident in it driving uphill on a winding road in the rain.

The Volt comes in LT and Premier levels. My Premier tester flaunted attractive two-tone interior with tan inserts and silvery trim winding around the dash. The center screen is nicely rendered and there’s a jaunty blue plastic top on the “shift” knob. The rear seat now offers a center position, but there’s not a whole lot of legroom for that person. The hatchback is convenient, although it’s a high liftover.

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The Drive Mode switch lets you configure the Voltec system. Use Normal mode for maximum efficiency, Sport mode to take advantage of the bountiful electric motor torque, or Mountain mode for maximum power on steep upgrades. The fourth mode, Hold, lets you preserve your battery charge and use only gasoline.

Regenerative braking is crucial for hybrids and EVs, but the Volt lets you prime the pump with a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel for “Regen on Demand.” Use it like a brake, while banking charge. With practice, you can drive almost without using the brake pedal at all.

The Volt has its own personality, with a greeting sound and a “wind down” tone it makes when you turn it off. Because the electric motor is silent when you start the car, the blue Power button is more like turning on your iPhone than turning over your engine.

The LT starts at $34,820 and the Premier, with heated leather seats, a Bose stereo system, and more, starts at $39,270. My tester listed for $39,850. Various leasing options, plus some Federal and State rebates, can make these cars easier to drive home.

While an all-electric car may be the ideal way to go, it’s not practical for everyone today. But if you want a compact car that’ll do pretty much everything and let you drive electric most of the time, the Volt is a great solution.

EVs and their Sociable Drivers

Call it a cult, but EV drivers, I’ve found, are a sociable bunch. We love to talk about our cars, look at each other’s rides, and learn more about the EVs we don’t have yet, such as the Tesla Model 3, which has received more than 325,000 $1,000 deposits in just a few days.

I like to group my little Fiat, Fidelio, with other cars, too. Then, I talk with the owners. Sometimes, I just park him near the other EVs and snap away. Here are a few recent shots.

This one just happened – One Fiat, two Nissan Leafs, in repose.

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And for good measure, here’s Fidelio with one  of his Tesla friends–also at the office.

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And, tonight, three members of the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra brought their cars together for a photo after a two-hour rehearsal. From left to right, Esteban’s 2016 Tesla, Bev’s 2016 Chevy Volt, and Fidelio, my 2016 Fiat 500e.

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They’re lucky. Although we all just started driving these shiny new cars, they get to keep theirs. But Fidelio has to go  back to the fleet in 10 days. I’m sad. When you live with an EV for months, it grows on you. The smooth, quiet ride, the silent cabin where the radio plays so clearly. The never stopping at the gas station. The torque.

The Tesla and Fiat 500e are pure electrics, while the Volt–in the center above–is a plug-in hybrid. But the Volt will go up to 53 miles on a charge, so if you don’t travel too far, you can use it as an electric car virtually all the time. In fact, Bev tells me that the new Volt will burn off the gas automatically if it gets too old!

The Electric Car Club

When I started testing my little blue Fiat 500e a couple of months ago, I thought, that as part of my EV awareness, I’d attend meetings of some electric car enthusiast organization.I pictured meeting in a place like an old Hof Brau, and standing in the parking lot before going inside for beers and roast beef, looking over each others’ cars in the fading sun.

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What I was picturing was the car club of the past. I met the Corvair owners club years ago that way.

Today, the action is in three places, for me. The first is at work, where I’ve created the Electriccars channel on Slack–our company instant messenger application. We have 12 members–most of the electric car drivers in the company. We post photos, talk about range and what we want to buy someday, and we’re pretty well represented. We have drivers of Teslas, Leafs, Volts, A Ford Focus Electric and a Fusion Hybrid, BMW i3s, and a couple of us with Fiats. Here’s our charging array. Fidelio, my blue Fiat 500e, is at the top of the picture, because my battery is full, and I’ve moved aside to let another driver charge up. With 15 EVs and 6 spots, it’s the only way to make it work.

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I’ve had numerous conversations in the hallway and in our “Cantina” food and party area. One guy proudly showed me his Volt app, where he could get lots of stats on his mileage and driving efficiency. Another wanted to talk about the differences between the different EVs on the market–or the difference between living with a plug-in hybrid versus a pure electric. Another is eagerly awaiting his opportunity to put money down on a Tesla Model 3–that he’ll receive in two years. That’s patience.

The second way I meet EV drivers is at charging stations. While most of my charging happens at home or at my six-slot office charger, I had a fine conversation with two Leaf drivers in front of the Whole Foods recently. A fellow auto journalist drove to meet me for lunch in his EV test car, and showed me where he went to plug it in while we were eating.

There’s lots of EV action online. I belong to the Fiat 500e group on Facebook. For now, I have a car to show photos of, and stories to relate. So do they. There are proud new car photos, oddball charging shots, and interesting customizations. One guy installed new, more powerful, but less energy-consuming, headlamps. Another posted a shot of his little Fiat next to a giant Chevy Suburban. I had recently taken a very similar shot of my colleague’s orange 500e next to the same kind of behemoth, and posted it in reply. We have fun.

Of course there are numerous websites to visit, too. And on Twitter, I post links to this blog, and have picked up a bunch of folks to follow–and who follow me–by going there.

I was expecting more camaraderie between EV drivers on the road, but so far, no-one has waved to me from their car. I, of course notice all of them. Maybe they just like not buying or burning gas and aren’t the social type. More (electric) power to them.

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I did look around for an actual car club, and found the Electric Auto Association. They have various chapters, but from what I can tell, they are the old-fashioned kind of organization. These are the techie guys who used to install dozens of regular car batteries in an old Honda Civic years ago. They are hands-on, and less of a purely consumer group–although I bet that’s changing.

If it were September, I could participate in National Drive Electric Week, but who knows what I’ll be driving by then? I may own my own EV by the time any local events start on September 10.

I love the social part of  being an EV driver. Perhaps it’s the excitement about doing something special that brings some folks together like this. When you drive an electric car, you fit right into the flow of traffic, and especially if you own a model that also has a gas version, you may be invisible to the other drivers. But YOU know you’re battery powered, and that it all makes a difference. Someday, it’ll be the norm.

What’s MPGe? Why Should I Care?

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When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began measuring the fuel economy of cars decades ago, they created a miles-per-gallon (MPG) rating. It was designed to be posted on the Monroney (window) sticker, so consumers could compare different cars when they were shopping.

However, what happens when you have a car powered completely or partially by electricity? How do you measure a “gallon” of volts? The agency had to find a way to measure all energy, as a “measure of the average distance traveled per unit of energy consumed.”

So, in 2010, in response to the arrival of the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicle, the EPA came up with the MPGe rating–miles-per-gallon-equivalent. See this Wikikpedia entry for more detailed information.

I went to my favorite comparison/information hangout online–fueleconomy.gov–and set up a comparison between four kinds of cars, including my Fiat 500e. The Fiat represented a pure electric vehicle, I listed the Chevrolet Volt as a plug-in hybrid, the Toyota Prius as a regular hybrid, and the popular Honda Civic sedan as an efficient “regular” internal combustion engine (ICE) car.

Here’s what I got. Check it out for yourself. There are lots of numbers there, but here’s what I take away from it all.

  1. Electric cars have only the MPGe/MPG score, and it’s much higher than the MPG scores. The Fiat was tops in this comparison, with the Volt just below, with the two non-plugin cars way below. Use this number to compare all-electric cars to each other (and check the range, too).
  2. Hybrids are much more fuel efficient than regular cars. Keep in mind that the Prius has the best fuel economy of any hybrid car, and the Civic is one of the most fuel-efficient ICE cars.
  3. Driving the Volt in electric mode–keeping your trips within the battery range and recharging regularly–delivers nearly as good a rating as the Fiat. Driving it long distances using only gasoline isn’t much better than the ICE Civic. But if you’re the typical driver, and make sure to charge up regularly, and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
  4. Hybrids, like the regular Prius, don’t plug in (there is a plug-in version too). They’re given an MPG number based on overall performance, because they switch back and forth between gasoline and electricity, depending on driving conditions. The numbers look pretty good, though.
  5. The Prius, in this four-car comparison, saves the most per year compared to the average car. Remember, there are lots of other factors, though. Still interesting.
  6. Notice there’s a “per 100 miles” measurement in the same box that contains the MPGe and MPG number? That’s where the “equivalent” comes in. The Fiat, for example, shows 30 kWh per 100 miles while the Honda shows 2.9 gallons per 100 miles. The question then comes–how much does it cost for 2.9 gallons of gas or 30 kWh of electricity? My experience, using a public charger at work, is that I can get around 15 kWh (about 50 miles worth) for a couple of bucks. Gas, in California now, is currently running about $2.25 a gallon. Doing the math, the Honda costs roughly $3.50 for gas for the $2.00 the Fiat runs. Charging my car at home, at night, would likely run a bit less.

Are you enjoying that comparison chart? Good. Now, click the Energy and Environment tab and you’ll see where electric cars come out on top for greenhouse gas emissions. The Fiat gets a lovely zero grams per mile. The Volt is mighty good at 51. The Prius more than triples that to 170, while the Civic gets 256. Many larger cars can emit 400 or 500 grams per mile. So even downsizing from a large to a smaller ICE car is an improvement.

Yes, it’s true that an electric car must use electricity that’s generated someplace using some method that could cause an environmental impact. And there’s the fuel that went into the tank of the transporter truck that delivered your EV to the dealership. Ideally, you generate power from solar panels on your roof, although remember, some energy was consumed to produce the panels. If your power is generated using hydroelectric, wind, or a giant solar farm, you’re good. Natural gas–not as good. Coal–not good at all. Here in California, there are no  coal-powered plants (as far as I know), but PG&E, the utility, could  buy power from another company that used coal to generate it. We have some nuclear power generation here, too.

Still, at this point, there are many fine reasons to drive an electric car, if it fits your lifestyle. But even driving a Prius cuts your carbon footprint down significantly. If you work it right, a plug-in hybrid, like the Volt, would be even better than the Prius (the more you use the electric and the less you burn fuel). And if all else fails, you can still drive a Civic instead of a Cadillac and reduce your environmental impact a bit.

Until we have affordable electric cars with a 300-mile range, these other options–plug-in hybrids, hybrids, and highly efficient regular gas-burners, will have a place in the automotive market.

 

 

 

 

Seeking Green at the San Francisco Auto Show

As always, I made time during the Thanksgiving long weekend this year to attend the San Francisco Auto Show. The 2015 version was no different than last year’s event. It’s essentially a huge showroom without pesky salespeople–where you can look at all the cars, sit in them, grab a little information, and get exhausted.

This year, I focused on electrics, hybrids, plug-ins, and alternative fuel vehicles, while looking at what’s new, too, and strolling nostalgically past some classic treasures.

The first thing I noticed in the far-ranging Moscone Center was that most cars are none of the above. If you’re lucky, there’s one per brand. Some, like Ford, offer multiple options, but you still have to seek out the environmentally friendly models, and the areas around them were generally not busy.

The big news this year comes from a new Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius. Both were there in multiples.

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The Volt (above) has been totally redesigned, and is both more attractive and more efficient. While the old model was loosely based on a radical concept car, this new Volt looks more like other new Chevys–which is better. It’s also has a bigger range in pure electric mode.

I first saw the Volt as part of the PG&E display, and wore its logo on the side. PG&E wants consumers to understand what buying and living with an electric car means, as the friendly utility that supplies their car-charging juice, and they featured some helpful displays and take-aways.

The company also got a chance to display their hybrid Ford work trucks. According to the PG&E spokesman, who actually works on one of the trucks, the guys just love them.

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Over in Toyota land, several Prii (Priuses) sat next to one Toyota Mirai, the company’s entry in the hydrogen fuel cell segment. The Mirai, for lease to a tiny group of early adopters willing to be beta testers for a car with virtually no places to fill it up, is one of the least attractive vehicles I’ve ever seen, but if and when hydrogen becomes a viable fuel to power automobiles, Toyota hopes to lay claim to the “Prius” of hydrogen cars by starting now.

The new Prius still looks something like the generation two and three models, but has gone wild, much as the latest Camry has, in an effort to refute any accusations of being boring.

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Mind you, the Prius is fabulous for getting there on minimal fuel (an honest 50 miles per gallon), but has never been a sporty ride. The new car, with floating roof, head- and tail lamps that are splattered across the corners of the car, and a dash panel that hides the information away from your eyes, will be polarizing. According to reports I’ve read before getting my hands on one, it is more fun to drive, intentionally. I can’t wait to find out.

If you simply want to save fuel by driving a tiny car, the all-new Smart is here. Looking a bit more substantial, but still like half a car, it is not the highest in fuel economy (although an electric is offered). It is simply the best to park, and is still very cute.

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Where it gets more interesting is in places like Volvo, that now offers a hybrid version of its handsome, all-new XC90 crossover. Winning Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year competition places it more directly in front of potential buyers. The young woman showing it off told me that a pure electric is in the future, pending availability of more powerful batteries for longer range.

The Porsche 918 was there, as was the BMW i8, proving that you don’t have to drive a regular car to conserve fuel. The Porsche will set you back at least half a million dollars, while the BMW is a more “modest” $125K or so. Both surely occupy some teenage boys’ walls next to the Ferraris and Shelby Mustangs.

One note on regular cars. The new Honda Civic was there, and I was looking forward to seeing if it is as huge in person as in photos. The answer is Yes. The sweet little CVCC of 1973 has ballooned into a big sedan that looks like an Accord. Its styling is so bold and carefully rendered to not look cheap that it appears overblown and is hard to remember.

We need Honda to not just give us the Fit (pun avoided), but an even smaller model to compensate for this scary development. Of course, they’ll sell the usual 300,000 Civics to Americans in 2016, anyway. And, if it’s more efficient than an Accord, great! There isn’t a hybrid or electric model available yet.

With my family in tow, we wandered through other areas, including a huge ballroom full of customs, which included late-model BMWs and Subarus as well as a glorious low-riding 1959 Buick and some exquisitely customized muscle cars. Also, on the main floor, behind the Chryslers and Jeeps, the selection of new and historic Aston-Martins was dazzling. The Academy of Art University brought a fabulous assortment of fine classics, from a Stutz worthy of film royalty to a sweet Austin-Healey that looked exactly like one treasured by my dad in the 1960s.

And that is what makes it so challenging, and exciting, to be searching for an automotive answer to our climate problem while appreciating the beloved old internal combustion vehicles. When will a new car show include no more ICE models? Will we still love a 1941 Lincoln Coupe or a 1966 Porsche 911 25 years from now, even if they are part of what’s got us into this mess in the first place?