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.

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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.

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?