Farewell to My Chevrolet Bolt EV

By Steve Schaefer

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Today, I said goodbye to my Chevrolet Bolt EV, affectionately named, in the style of Pee Wee Herman, “Bolty.” My Kinetic Blue 2017 all-electric hatchback served me well for three years and 26,490 miles, but a lease is a lease and I had to return it by January 8th.

Origins

I’ve driven and tested cars for nearly 28 years, mostly with weekly test vehicles. As I learned about and drove electric cars, I became very interested in them. I sampled a Nissan LEAF when it arrived in 2011 and a few other EVs, but the real turning point was when I convinced the generous folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to lend me a baby blue Fiat 500e for three months in early 2016. My happy time with that little car, whom I named Fidelio, convinced me that I wanted an EV of my own.

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Fidelio I.

I began to focus on only electrified vehicles in my auto review column and blogs. I started www.stevegoesgreen.com to write about my adventures with Fidelio, and it’s since expanded to cover other climate-related topics.

The Bolt EV was a revelation—with its 238 miles of range it would be able to handle almost anything, including the 165-mile round trip to visit my granddaughters. I ordered my car in October of 2016 without ever driving or even seeing a real car. I was hoping I’d like it.

I impatiently waited for delivery, and finally, the very first week of 2017, I got the phone call that my Bolt was on the truck and being delivered. In a day or two, I was down at Boardwalk Chevrolet in Redwood City, CA to pick it up.

Taking delivery 1-8-17

Exactly What I Needed

I took to my new car immediately, and it proved to be exactly what I needed and wanted. It may look compact, because it has almost no front or rear overhangs, but the Bolt is spacious for 4 or 5 passengers and the hatchback folds down easily to carry lots of gear, including an upright bass or two electric basses, amps, and the works. The high roof means abundant headroom, even for tall folks (I’m only 5-8).

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One of the wonders of EVs is how quickly they accelerate, and the Bolt, while not Tesla fast, is as quick as a Volkswagen Golf GTI – about 6.3 seconds zero-to-sixty. The weight of the 960-pound battery means a low center of gravity, for taut responses and level handling.

And it does it all virtually silently. If you turn off the audio system, you’ll hear a very low hum from the motor, and wind and tire noise are muted. And, since there’s nothing reciprocating, like pistons in a gas engine, there’s no vibration. You get used to it, and gas cars then feel rough.

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Visiting my old house where I lived as a teenager.

Electric cars don’t need transmissions, since maximum torque is delivered from the first moment the motor spins, but the Bolt has an “L” (Low) setting on the one-speed transmission’s lever. If you use D (Drive) it feels like a normal automatic transmission, but in L, when you lift off the accelerator pedal (not the “gas”) the car slows down quickly—even to a complete stop. When you get used to this “one-pedal driving,” it feels natural, and you can barely tap the brakes as you slide into a red light and stop on a dime. It feels like downshifting a manual transmission. The regenerative braking helps charge up the battery, too.

I ordered the light interior—white and light gray–which felt airy, but by the end of three years, the white leather on the driver’s seat was looking grayer. But other than that, and one little hook for the rear cargo cover that occasionally popped out, everything in the interior was solid and worked as it should.

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Of course, the best thing of all is that my Bolty didn’t use one drop of gasoline for three years! At first, I plugged it in at work, but last April I finally installed a Level 2 (240-volt) charger in my garage when my solar panels went up (on Earth Day). So, for more than half of 2019, Bolty ran on sunshine.

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Solar array went up on Earth Day 2019.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Bolt embodies all the strengths and weaknesses of EVs. The obvious strengths are the low environmental impact, quick acceleration, and quiet operation. There’s essentially no service, either, except tire rotations—no oil changes, no radiator flush. There are a lot fewer moving parts to have problems. And when you use regenerative braking, the brake pads last practically forever.

So, what about weaknesses? The most significant is the range issue. Although today’s EVs easily top 200 miles between charges, and some can go more than 300 miles, it still takes time to charge, and you may not be able to find a public charger when you need it. Even fast chargers take longer than a stop at the gas station. It may not matter in most situations, but on a long trip it requires some careful planning and willingness to be flexible. I avoided it, because the couple of times when I knew it would be an issue, I took a gas-burning vehicle. Yes, I feel a little guilty, but that’s a good way to drive an EV 51 weeks a year.

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Charging at work.

I expect the charging problem to be solved as charging stations proliferate and fast charging gets really quick.  And actually, most charging can and should be done slowly at home or at work while the car sits parked. I know this won’t work for everyone, which is why I test and recommend hybrids and plug-in hybrids for those situations. Someday, the subscription model may become popular, where you no longer own a car, but simply reserve the kind you want as you need it, from a fleet. Then, you could select a long-distance vehicle for a trip and use a less expensive, smaller low-range vehicle when you stayed local.

Another issue with EVs is that initial costs of purchase or lease are higher, mainly because batteries are still expensive, even though prices have come down. My upper-level Bolt Premier with options had a sticker price of nearly $44,000. With $5,500 in rebates and financing assistance, I put down $10K and paid $332/month for three years. This price disparity will go down over time, but it can be intimidating. However, if you look at the total cost of ownership over several years, EVs come out ahead, with much cheaper fuel (electrons) and virtually no service required.

A third concern is choice. The Bolt has company now, as more and more EVs and plug-in hybrids are appearing in showrooms. But there still is no all-electric pickup truck, for example (but there will be soon). In the next few years, manufacturers will fill in their lineup with many more EV and hybrid models, from hatchbacks to sedans to SUVs.

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Enough range to travel–we drove to Bodega Bay and back.

Only One Significant Issue

The only notable problem with my Bolt happened last year, when, after what the dealer told me was a routine software update, my car’s battery suddenly charged only to about 100 miles and not the 200+ it should. I tried running it way down and charging, but it wouldn’t move past 100. That made my car like one of the older EVs, such as a LEAF, Kia Soul EV or VW e-Golf. I complained to my dealer, but they were unresponsive. I tried another Chevy dealer closer to my house and they checked with GM headquarters and got the OK to do a battery swap for me, at no charge. It restored my range and happiness.

Sharing the EV Love and Information

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National Drive Electric Week at Marketo.

As an EV driver and auto writer, I valued the Bolt for giving me a way to experience the EV life firsthand, so I could share my car and my knowledge in my columns and blogs. I could participate in events, such as National Drive Electric Week (each September) and Earth Day events in April. I hosted National Drive Electric Week events for two years at my workplace, where EV driving employees parked their cars in rows in the parking lot and talked with other employees. I am an EV Ambassador for Acterra, a Palo Alto-based environmental organization. And I now work at Ridecell, where we develop and sell software for carsharing and ridesharing fleets, including the 260-Bolt Gig Car Share fleet in Sacramento.

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You can rent a Bolt by the minute or the hour in Sacramento.

As an EV person, I began phasing out gasoline-only test cars in 2018, and in 2019, I tested only one—the short-term Chevy Cruze rental I had when my Bolt got its battery swapped.

What Next?

I considered buying Bolty at the end of the lease, but even though the bring back value was barely more than half the initial price, it would still cost more per month to finance than my lease. I looked at other EVs, including the worthy Hyundai Kona Electric (258-miles of range), but I was hoping to lower my monthly costs.

I researched used EVs, and It turns out there are some screaming deals. Second-hand early Nissan LEAFs can run as little as $6,000. I ended up buying a little Fiat 500e, just like Fidelio, my 2016 test car. I got it at Rose Motorcars, in Castro Valley, CA. They specialize in the secondhand EV market, and I like the way they do business.

My new Fiat is the same color as the first one, too, so I’ve named it Fidelio II. A 2017 with 23,000 miles on it, it feels like new, and cost just $10,000 (under $200 a month). It’s smaller, and most significantly, has a third of the Bolt’s electric range, but I plan to use it for my local errands. There will likely be another EV in my future, but for now, Fidelio II should work fine.

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Fidelio II is taking over for Bolty.

What I’ll Miss

I’ll miss some of Bolty’s features. Fidelio II doesn’t have the high regenerative braking (L) transmission setting, so no one-pedal driving. My Bolt’s inside rearview mirror was a video camera—much better than a regular mirror.

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And, the backup system, with multiple cameras, provided a birds-eye view of my car in the big 10.2-inch center screen—so parking squarely in a spot and avoiding curbs was a snap.

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My Bolt had the upgraded Bose stereo, for premium sound, with Apple CarPlay, so I could hook up my phone and play my music. It also used the phone for navigation, which meant I could set up a destination before I got in the car and it was projected onto the dash screen. I’ll miss the ability to send verbal texts (through Siri) as I drive.

For safety, I had blind spot monitoring, a very worthwhile feature, and cross traffic alert told me if there were cars on the road behind me when I was backing out of my driveway.

Last Thoughts

I like the styling of the Bolt—inside and out—but I’m an old hatchback guy. I had a 1986 Honda Civic Si back in the day. Apparently the gently sweeping interior was designed by a woman—unusual in the industry. The use of white accents gives it a certain sparkle.

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I loved the rich blue exterior paint—and enjoyed seeing my car across the parking lot. I took photos of it in various scenic locations, just for fun.

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The Bolt is a product of GM Korea, the former Daewoo, but it’s built in Michigan. That’s the way the auto industry works these days. The LG battery is Korean, as well. In any case, quality is high.

My personal goal, as a Climate Reality Leader and car enthusiast, is to spread the word on the joys and benefits of electric motoring. We need clean cars and clean energy! I will continue testing and reviewing every new EV I can get, but I’m going to miss my Bolty.

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Turning in Bolty after a great three-year run.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles — A Different Path to Clean Driving

By Steve Schaefer

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When people are thinking about “clean” cars, I suspect their minds picture hybrids, like the uniquely styled and long-established Toyota Prius. Or, they may be aware of pure EVs, such as the Nissan LEAF, and certainly Tesla’s glamorous suite of offerings. But who thinks about hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)?

The technology is not new. Toyota’s been working on it since 1992, and debuted their first concept FCEV in 2011. Mercedes-Benz has been experimenting with their “F-Cell” cars since 2002, and just introduced a new model for the German market. Honda offers a fuel-cell version of its Clarity. Hyundai recently brought out the all-new Nexo, its second fuel-cell car (after its fuel-cell version of the Tucson). It’s the only FCEV shaped like a crossover in the U.S. market, which seems like an advantage.

Most recently, I spent a week with a 2019 Toyota Mirai. See the full review in Clean Fleet Report.

The essence of a fuel-cell vehicle is that it doesn’t have a conventional engine. It processes compressed hydrogen fuel through a sophisticated device that creates electric energy by blending hydrogen fuel and oxygen to charge a battery and power one or more electric motors to move the car. Although the only byproduct is harmless water (H2O), the process of creating the fuel itself can be less “green.”

Although hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles are sold in other countries, in the U.S., most live in California. That’s supported by the California Fuel Cell Partnership, which has been slowly building out a network of stations. But once you cross the state line, you could be out of luck.

Bottom line? For someone who wants to have an environmental impact and is willing to put up some inconvenience, it can be a very satisfying choice.

 

Clay Collier Talks Smart Charging at VERGE 19

By Steve Schaefer

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Electricity charging industry veteran Clay Collier spoke in a panel at VERGE 2019 about electric vehicles and connecting them to the grid. Afterwards, I caught him for some insights on what’s going on and where we’re headed.

Collier has a BA in Physics from U.C. Berkeley, co-founded Akuacom – where as CEO he worked with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and electrical utilities to connect cars to buildings and the grid using Automated Demand Response (ADR).

He sold the company and started Kisensum, a company that developed a suite of software for bidirectional V2G (vehicle-to-grid) applications. Again working with Lawrence Berkeley Lab and also the Department of Defense and California Energy Commission, Kisensum found a way to use “load shaping” to optimize vehicle charging assignments and also to limit and equalize the vehicles’ state of charge.

Kisensum participated in the four-second utility market. To meet the market requirements a resource must adjust the amount of energy supplementing the grid on a four-second basis, up and down, based on a signal from the utility.

“That just doesn’t pencil out,” Collier found. The costs of the vehicles, equipment, schedule coordination, and the rest make it too expensive. “Someday, with scale, it may become profitable,” he said.

For a project at the Alameda County Parking Facility, Kisensum enabled vehicle smart charging using an optimizer engine to flatten out power peaks, which achieves demand charge savings on the utility bill. They monitored the cycle changes and moderated the level – what’s known as “smart charging.”

When ChargePoint bought Kisensum, Collier became their VP of Energy Solutions.

Smart charging uses sophisticated software to coordinate charging. It works especially well with fleets of buses and trucks.

“It turns out that 80 percent of delivery truck routes are less than 100 miles—perfect for electrification,” said Collier.

The yard trucks that never leave the site are even easier, since they can be charged while the other trucks are out working.

Smart charging provides two main benefits to balance loads on the electrical grid—Adding capacity and grid balancing.

  • Capacity – The goal is to get as much power on the grid as possible at the times it’s needed most
  • Grid Balancing – Software monitors the grid to charge vehicles during lower usage periods and stop charging during peak usage periods.

Microgrids have an application for smart charging, too. For example, in a vehicle charging system you can balance the grid load by using battery power during peak usage periods, such as 6-9 p.m., and allowing charging directly from the grid when electricity is abundant.

Flattening the Duck Curve

In utility-scale electricity generation, the peaks and valleys of electricity usage are commonly depicted on the Duck Curve.

The Duck Curve is a graph of power production over the course of a day that shows the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production. The belly of the duck is overgeneration and the neck is the peak load. The term was coined in 2012 by the California Independent System Operator (Wikipedia).

The problem is that there is a mismatch as the highest demand for electricity is in the early evening, but solar generation is highest in the afternoon. Electricity storage is one solution to that discrepancy, and a major goal of setting up a two-way EV-to-grid connection is to use electricity stored in EV batteries to help “flatten the curve” as needed.

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What’s Coming

Collier sees mass electrification coming in two waves. The first is in commercial fleets. Electrification of fleets can save a lot on operation expenses. This will be especially relevant as cities start charging fees similar to existing “congestion charges” specifically to internal combustion engine vehicles ($50/day). Regulations are driving this change, and with competition, EVs are cheaper to operate.

The next electrification wave will be when passenger EVs take off. This will happen as people understand that with larger batteries and a built-out charging infrastructure, range anxiety isn’t really an issue. Autonomous fleets will help move people away from individual vehicles, too. The more these vehicles can be linked to the grid, the more they’ll help to balance electrical generation and flatten the Duck Curve.

Climate Reality Leadership Training–One Year After

By Steve Schaefer

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August, 2018 in Los Angeles

The certificate on my wall from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training carries today’s date—August 30—from 2018. One year ago, I spent three powerful days in Los Angeles with Al Gore and 2,200 other people learning and bonding. I left with a mission. What have I done this year? What’s changed? What should I do better or more of in the coming year? Here’s what I said then.

In the last 12 months, I’ve met and worked with the local Climate Reality chapter, put solar panels on my roof, given four climate presentations, performed 30 Acts of Leadership (including writing blog posts), attended an important clean energy conference, built up my reference library, focused my auto writing on EVs, and even changed jobs to work at a company focused on sustainable mobility.

Local Climate Reality Chapters

I had already met my climate mentor, Wei-Tai Kwok, and joined the Climate Reality Bay Area chapter before my training.  When I returned, I continued my participation, along with my training mentor and chapter co-leader, Steve Richard. As part of the drive for more climate action, local Climate Reality Project chapters bring people together. Some of us from the Los Angeles training have continued to work on events and actions, and we have brought in others, including interested people who have not yet spent three days with Mr. Gore. The Bay Area chapter is now one of the largest in the country, with more than 600 members.

After I got back from training, I proposed a monthly chapter newsletter, and as part of the Operations team, I have produced them monthly since November 2018. It’s a focused bit of information gathering, editing, and processing in Mailchimp once a month, but it does get read, and helps move people to action, so I’m glad to do it.

Solar on My Roof

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Immediately upon returning home, I got the first of four quotes on solar panels for my roof. After four bids, I chose one and signed a contract in November. On April 22, 2019—Earth Day—my panels were finally installed. Now, the electric car I’ve driven for more than two-and-a-half years is powered by sunshine. My utility bill has dropped to next to nothing, too (by about the amount of my solar panel bill every month).

Climate Presentations

Former Vice President Al Gore began the Climate Reality Climate Leadership Corps in 2006 to train others to present his famous slideshow. Adding thousands of trained leaders makes it easier to spread the word, since despite his award-winning films and bestselling books, Mr. Gore can’t be everywhere at once. When Gore delivers the training, by the way, he’s with you nearly the entire time.

Besides presentations, trained Climate Leaders perform Acts of Leadership, which can include writing a blog, attending an event, contacting political leaders, and other efforts to move the climate crisis dialog along.

I’ve given four presentations, with varying degrees of response. I believe that more is always better, but I understand there is also a ramp-up. I attended a helpful chapter-sponsored bootcamp session where I learned about presenting and also about seeking out opportunities.

Presenting is not difficult for me. I’m not nervous in front of an audience and am a total extrovert. I just wish that the crowds could be bigger. In September 2018, not long after the training, my first talk was to people at my company, to introduce the National Drive Electric Week (NDEW) event I was hosting for the second year in a row. The 20-25 people seemed to appreciate the message, and I gained some practice in front of a friendly crowd. I’m attending the NDEW event in Cupertino, CA this year, but not hosting one.

Because my special focus is electric vehicles, I have added a little “infomercial” at the end of my climate talks, and that’s the section I delivered when I co-presented with a very experienced fellow chapter member, Gary White, to a nice big roomful of college students.

My third presentation was at a church in Palo Alto, where my message was familiar and appreciated—somewhat preaching to the choir, as that community is in the forefront of green energy adoption.

The fourth talk was at my local public library. Despite fliers in the library and a listing in the local paper, I got fewer than 10 attendees! I did give them a good show, though. You have to be a pro and learn something from every talk.

My next scheduled presentation will be on November 21st as part of the 24 Hours of Climate Action.  That’s Mr. Gore’s special project this year. He usually does a 24-hour show, like a Jerry Lewis Telethon. This year, he’s asking climate leaders across the world to present at the same time, making it the largest climate education event ever.

I’ll be addressing my company—a different one since last year. My new employer, Ridecell, develops and sells software to power carsharing and ridesharing fleets, and also has an autonomous vehicle division. I’m finally working in a business that moves towards electric and shared mobility.

Acts of Leadership

I’ve performed 30 recorded acts of leadership this year in addition to the four presentations. My acts have included attending events, writing climate-themed blog posts, and contacting leaders. I have certainly done more than the required minimum, but I would like to do more. I don’t count my normal electric vehicle reviews, since I would do them anyway, but any of my blog posts that are directly climate-related I do. I’ve attended events with speakers at Acterra in Palo Alto and written up those stories, which helped spread the word on various climate issues, including the food system and electric car adoption.

Working toward Sustainability

Last October, I attended a day of the VERGE sustainability conference in Oakland, put on by Greenbiz. While there, I attended panels, but also interviewed three industry executives, which led to three published articles. This October, I’m signed up again, and will hope to attend two or even three days. It’s an amazing event—in its own way as powerful as the Climate Reality training.

I have continued my vigorous recycling efforts, but also found a few items that represented reuse. I ordered new glasses frames made from sea plastic from www.sea2see.org. I also bought a hand-made bass guitar crafted from recycled Brazilian teak wood from a deck. These are small ways to help clean up our mess and also reduce energy use.

Building a Reference Library

I already had some books in my library when I attended training, but I now have more than 50. I have read many but not all of them. I’m currently in David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth—a truly sobering treatise on what we have to look forward to in the 21st Century. I have recently read Bill McKibben’s Falter, about whether mankind may be not only ruining the climate, but meaningful life. Books like Acorn Days, about the founding and growth of the Environmental Defense Fund, were easier to take.

My library includes a textbook called Power Driven Technologies that I started when I got back from the training last year and plan to complete to further educate myself on the realities of the way we generate power in the world today. I have books on eating clean, recycling, and much more. Of course, I have both of the An Inconvenient Truth books, as well as two other Al Gore books. On my Kindle, I have Earth in the Balance—Gore’s first groundbreaking book, which came out before he was elected VP. My Kindle books also include Jeremy Rifkin’s The Third Industrial Revolution and Justine Burt’s excellent The Great Pivot from this year.

Electric Vehicles Only, Please

As a weekly auto columnist since early 1992, I’ve tested more than 1,300 vehicles for a week at a time. After the training, I gave up on gasoline-only cars. I now test only EVs and hybrids, and I will drop the hybrids at some point. However, that means I get fewer test vehicles and write fewer stories now, as the journalist fleet is still mostly petrol-based cars. I am not interested in promoting gas-burners anymore. See my auto writing at www.cleanfleetreport.com.

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I have driven my Chevrolet Bolt EV now for most of its three-year lease period, racking up about 25,000 miles when I’m not testing another car. It has been wonderful, with only the need to have the battery replaced (at no cost) marring the perfection. Now, I’m seeking its successor. There are more choices now, but in the interest of cost saving, I’m considering picking up a used EV. That will limit my range, unfortunately, but the low cost of even a 2016 model EV makes them great entry points for anyone to move to electric.

New Friendships

I’ve built some new friendships this year. The Climate Reality Bay Area chapter has more than 600 members now. About half of them are not trained, and I wonder how “sticky” their membership will be, but at this point, whoever raises a hand is welcomed to the group.

The Sad Truth

It’s exciting to be part of this crucial and historic move to save our planet from the climate crisis. But this is not just some hobby or fraternal organization. The truth is, the climate crisis is deadly serious, yet despite increased climate crisis news coverage and awareness, most people are not doing much of anything about it.

Even I, who have attended Climate Reality Training, read at least half of my dozens of books, absorbed innumerable news reports, read the digests of the IPCC and EPA reports, and truly believe we are in a crisis, often find it hard to act on what I’m hearing. As I look around, I see that we are very busy with our families, jobs, personal interests, and cell phones. I have a wife, two grown sons, and two granddaughters. I also have musical passion, playing bass in bands and orchestras. I enjoy a good beer. I better understand now why Mr. Gore called it “An Inconvenient Truth.” Although I may understand the situation, sometimes I don’t really want to accept it.

How can we all work together to make the impact we need to keep the temperatures from climbing to where they kill us? I have considered this as I work on my presentations and as I talk with people about the climate crisis. I usually wear my Climate Reality logo cap and my green circle pin on my jacket, and the subject comes up. But, truly, even If I am aware and trying to make a real effort, much of the time I’m not. Why can’t I give up all my distractions and focus exclusively on saving the world? I don’t know, but I can’t—at least now.

At 66 years old, I plan to continue working on climate matters, aiming toward the time when I can “retire “and spend all day writing and working with organizations that directly influence the climate crisis. My current company is doing that, but eventually I will do even more. I’ll contact my elected leaders (and do whatever I can to get rid the denier in the White House!). With children and grandchildren who will bear more of this problem than I will, this is no longer about me. And it’s not just my family—it’s everyone. I can’t sit idle while the earth burns.

America, at 243, is Slow to Adopt EVs

By Steve Schaefer

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Red Generation 1 LEAF

Two days ago, I received an email from Plug In America, inviting me to join in the First Annual Independence Day EV Count. Modeled after the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, it’s meant to be a non-scientific study of what’s going on around you.

I’ve hosted and attended the group’s Drive Electric Week events and they’re a great organization, so why not?

Today, July 4th, after lunch, I decided to join the EV count. I needed the exercise anyway, so  I grabbed my trusty pad and a ballpoint pen and headed out into my Castro Valley, California neighborhood. It was clear and in the low 70’s–perfect.

The rules of the EV Count are simple:

  1. Walk or drive in your neighborhood and count all the cars you see
  2. Note the all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids
  3. Tally it up, fill out the online form, and send it in

The group doesn’t include regular plugless hybrids (their name is Plug In America, after all), but I noted them anyway, just to satisfy my own curiosity.

I walked a loop that I often take to add a couple thousand steps to my Fitbit. I started out well, as I could count my personal Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid I’m currently testing right away. However, as I walked and wrote, the bad news piled up.

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White Generation 2 LEAF

When I returned home and tallied up the numbers, I had:

  • 118 cars total
  • 3 EVs (my Bolt and two Nissan LEAFs)
  • 2 plug-in hybrids
  • 7 regular hybrids

That’s pretty disappointing.

Perhaps Castro Valley is a little behind–I know I see more EVs in San Francisco, where I work. And it wasn’t a scientific study–just a small sample. But it means that I need to work harder to get the word out on the many benefits of EVs–and the necessity of stopping using fossil fuels now to help control the effects of the climate crisis.

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My Blue Bolt EV

In 2019, as the U.S. turns 243, we have a long way to go to significant EV adoption. At least in my neighborhood.

 

 

Two Years with My Chevrolet Bolt EV!

by Steve Schaefer

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Today marks two years of my life spent with my Bolt EV. It’s been a great ride, so far since that rainy January 8, 2017 when I took delivery (below).

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At this juncture, the three things that stand out for me are:

  1. It’s done exactly what I wanted, with virtually no problems
  2. Time has flown
  3. I really do love my car

As a longtime automotive writer (27 years), I approached Bolt ownership as a very long-term test. I remembered my wonderful three-month test of a Fiat 500e in the first quarter of 2016, and assumed that I’d take an analytical approach once my new car arrived.

What I’ve found is that unlike the standard week-long evaluation, living with a car for years makes it really “yours.” I now have to deal with dust on the dashboard, used kleenexes in the cupholder, and the light gray and white leather seats need cleaning. But as an EV, the car has needed exactly zero maintenance. I’m planning to take it in soon for belated tire rotation and a general inspection.

The main reason to have an electric car of my own was to truly experience life with one. I assumed that if I was going to prescribe switching to EVs to my readers, I had better “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” It’s easy to have a car for a week and give it a glowing report. But this was meant to be a long-term relationship.

I leased my Kinetic Blue Bolt for three years at 10K miles a year, assuming that there’d be better choices down the line and also that that number of miles made sense with my periodic testing. As it turns out, I hit 20,000 miles on December 27 on my way home from work. Perfect.

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I’ve tested 34 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles since my Bolt arrived. I always use my car as a comparison vehicle. Is it as easy to drive? How are the seats? How much range is available? How does the regenerative braking work? Especially these last two questions are crucial for electric vehicles.

Regarding range, my Bolt’s EPA 238 miles of range eliminates most of the problems that early LEAF drivers experienced, with around 80 miles available. I only experienced a couple of times where I couldn’t use my car and instead opted for an alternative. In one case, I had to attend a chamber music workshop last summer that was 300 miles away, with few charging stations of any kind on the way. I opted for a gasoline-powered test car.

Recently, I drove my car for a few days without a recharge and I found myself with 50 miles range. Based on that, I chose to go to a nearer destination than I originally intended because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to charge up where I was headed and make it home. Oddly, it was at a shopping center that had NO charging stations. Seemed odd, since they are often located there. Easy access to charging is still an issue for EV drivers, although it is improving, and many more stations are coming. I normally can do fine charging at work or at home.

Regenerative braking is the way that hybrids like the Toyota Prius get all of their power, since they have no plugs. For EVs, it’s a way to extend range, and also enables one-pedal driving. When I put my Bolt into “L” mode (instead of “D”) using the shift lever, I can press down on the accelerator to move forward and release it to slow down. With the Bolt, you can literally come to a complete stop in this mode. I’ve honed my skills to where I can see a red light ahead and ease off on the pedal and arrive right at the line without touching the brake pedal. You can imagine how long my brake pads should last!

Some cars have adjustable amounts of regeneration, and some release the regen at a few miles per hour, necessitating the brake. But my Bolt lets me stop on a dime.

One requirement for getting an EV was I had to be able to travel the 85 miles to my granddaughters and back without having to charge. With 238 miles, this is no sweat, but I’ve noticed that in colder winter weather, my car’s range goes down a bit. It’s now closer to 200, and that means it’s a little dicier. On Christmas day, I arrived at my family destination with about a half battery of charge left. Just to be safe, I plugged into my son’s household current (level 1 – 120 volts) and partially refilled the battery overnight.

During the two years, most of my charging has happened at work, at the row of ChargePoint chargers. It takes a couple to several hours to fill the battery, depending on how much it’s depleted. I sometimes just skip charging, since there’s plenty there, but it’s nice to keep it topped up. Starting in April, I’ll charge at home using my new solar panels.

I’ve gotten the official 238 miles of charge that the EPA gives the Bolt, but in colder temperatures, and if I’ve driven on the freeway a lot, it averages more like 200 or so, which is normally plenty. Right now, it’s saying about 185 or 190 when it’s “full,” so I’m going to have my dealer check it when they look over the car at it’s “two year inspection.” Of course, there will be no oil change or radiator flush (there aren’t any). They’ll rotate the tires, which is an overdue service (at no charge).

The Bolt has cost me zero dollars and time in maintenance. The electricity I’ve bought at work costs less than half the price of gasoline. I’ve also saved half off my bridge tolls by getting my stickers to drive in the carpool lane alone ($22/year). Just before the new year, I stuck new red ones over the original white ones, so I can continue saving time and money. The stickers last until January 1, 2022.

With my own EV, I’ve participated in a bunch of electric car events, including a couple I hosted at my office for National Drive Electric Week. These events give prospective owners a chance to sample EVs without salespeople or pressure. We usually let the people ride in and sometimes, even drive our cars so they can understand how great EVs are. I’ll be doing more company things this year, looking toward the first annual Drive Electric Earth Day events.

Some people tell me that they’re waiting for an EV that looks like a “regular car” before they’ll consider one. I agree that the Bolt is proportioned like the Nissan LEAF hatchback–the pioneer–and the odd-looking BMW i-3. As for me, I really like the way the Bolt looks, and my affection for it has grown over the years. When I see another one drive by, I holler, “Bolty!”

But manufacturers have a whole fleet of new EVs coming in the next few years that will make choosing an EV easy. The Hyundai Kona small crossover EV should be on sale now. I’ve driven the gas version and seen the EV at the auto show, and it’s the kind of small, usable car I like. It’s compact, but unlike the Bolt, it’s a crossover, not a tall hatchback (a fine but important distinction) and with an EPA-rated 258 miles of range and a lower price than the Bolt, it should make a big impact.

The Tesla Model 3 has been the big EV star in 2018, selling a whopping 145,846 cars, which dwarfs EV sales by the other companies and is a big number for almost any  model. Maybe it’s the Tesla magic, or the fact that it looks like an attractive sedan. It’s more expensive than a Bolt, but that doesn’t seem to have prevented it from proliferating.

My car’s hatchback configuration has proven to be exactly what I need to carry my musical gear. An upright bass slides right in. I even found a way to carry the big bass plus two bass guitars, an amplifier, and my cords, cables, stands, etc. When not hauling gear, there is plenty of room for two adults in the back (and room for a kid in the middle, if necessary).

The low window line up front gives the Bolt a spacious feel, as does my car’s light gray and white interior. I chose the brighter dash, seats, and doors when I placed my order without knowing exactly what it would look like. The car I saw at the auto show that year had the black and dark gray interior, which I believe is the standard one. The only downside is the tendency of the light gray upper dash panel to reflect in the windshield, but with polarized sunglasses, it’s never a worry.

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Electric cars have great torque, and my little car can really take off when I step on it. I rarely push it, as it’s a waste of battery charge, but accelerating up an on ramp is fun. The 6.3-second zero-to-60 time is equivalent to a sporty Volkswagen GTI. With 900+ pounds of battery below the floor, the Bolt boasts a low center of gravity, which means stability in curves.

I now have a year to enjoy the Bolt before it’s time to turn it in. What should I do? I know there are lots of new cars on the way from VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Volvo, and others. The Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro crossovers are compelling (and affordable), as is the third-generation Kia Soul (if you like boxes). GM may have another all-electric available in a year–the concept images look impressive. The MINI EV is due by year’s end, too. Further upscale, the all-new Mercedes EQC–the first of the brand’s new EQ lineup of electrics–was introduced today at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Should I see what kind of a deal I can get to just buy the Bolt? I have time to think about it.

I never expected to drive a Chevrolet, frankly. Although my family had Chevys when I was growing up, including a few Corvairs, I always owned old VWs and new Hondas and Toyotas. Domestic vehicles didn’t have high quality years ago, although I did try the first year Saturn. The good news is, today the domestic brands have quality parity with the leaders. Other than a couple of minor electric glitches (that didn’t affect driving) and one loose plastic clip in the rear cargo area, the Bolt has been rock solid.

Yes, the interior isn’t luxurious, but I still appreciate it’s flowing design every day. The 10.2-inch center screen is great to work with. Apple CarPlay is sublime, as is the Bose sound in my upgraded audio system. The seats, which some buyers complained about, work fine for me.

I’ll continue to write about my Bolt this year, and as 2019 winds down, I’ll share my thoughts about the future with you. Please continue to check here for stories about going green. You can read all of my EV stories at www.cleanfleetreport.com.

 

 

National Drive Electric Week 2018

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Since 2011, a national electric car event has been held every year. Originally called National Plug In Day, it later expanded to become National Drive Electric Week. It’s actually nine days long, as it includes weekends on both ends.

This year, I participated in two events. First, I hosted one at work for fellow employees, and later, I attended another, larger event, where I let people drive my 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV to experience electric motoring firsthand.

Marketo Event, San Mateo, CA

Marketo hosted its second annual National Drive Electric Week event on Thursday, September 13th. The weather cooperated, and the event went off without a hitch, although attendance was lower than anticipated. It’s understandable, though—people are working!

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Me with my Chevrolet Bolt EV–now an NDEW show veteran.

Display cars included three Tesla Model 3s, a Tesla Model X, my freshly washed Chevrolet Bolt EV, a Nissan LEAF, a Volkswagen e-Golf, a BMW i3, and a Chevrolet Volt. One of the Model 3s was available for rides.

Allyson Gaarder from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project showed attendees how they could receive California rebates for buying a variety of electric cars.

Vehicle owners gave attendees a tour of their cars and enjoyed talking with each other about the pleasures of electric motoring.

Nissan supplied some swag, including water bottles, mini backbacks, pens, and tiny fans that attach to your phone. Attendees received a red token good for a $5 discount at the adjacent food trucks.

Acterra Event, Palo Alto, CA

On the last Sunday of Summer, Acterra, the Palo Alto environmental nonprofit, hosted its third annual National Drive Electric Week event. Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet, and they always put on a great show.

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Nissan brought a fleet of LEAFs for show and driving.

EV enthusiasts shared their favorite electric rides with eager attendees. Booths provided information about rebates, vehicle charging, and a solar energy vendor presented solar options. Allyson was there with her booth and California rebate information. Event sponsor Nissan brought a small fleet of new LEAFs for show and drives.

I watched the parking lot fill with Chevrolet Bolt EVs, BMW i3s, Nissan LEAFs, Tesla Model 3s, and even a low, sleek Fisker Karma. One guy brought his now rare Honda Fit Electric, and there was at least one tiny Chevy Spark EV and a cute little Fiat 500e.

This was a popular event. Altogether there were 70 vehicles, representing 15 makes and models. More than 260 people registered and vehicle owners and fleets conducted more than 520 rides or drives!

The beauty of these events, which Acterra hosts year-round, is the chance to learn about and sample multiple EVs in the same location, away from aggressive salespeople. With EVs, the owners are often more knowledgeable about the cars than a typical dealership employee, and they can certainly talk about day-to-day life with a plug-in vehicle.

This event is both a car show and a ride-and-drive. Although it’s a little annoying to have to to readjust my seat and mirror settings when the day’s over, and having strangers drive your car can be a little nerve wracking, I like to let attendees get a personal feel for what driving an electric car is like.

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Luckily, all the people who took the wheel of my car were competent, responsible motorists, so I didn’t have any worry the entire afternoon. With high demand, I was busy non-stop.

In most cases, I took the people for a ride around the short test loop, and then had them drive it. I felt it would make them more comfortable, and it let me explain the features first. Luckily, the Bolt itself is pretty straightforward and controls are where you expect them.

People were surprised at the Bolt’s spacious interior, especially the generous headroom. One 6-4 gentleman pulled the seat all the way back and then forward a little! My drivers were also impressed with the video camera rear-view mirror, which gives a wider, clearer view than a regular mirror.

When driving, my guests were fascinated by the low or high brake regeneration. If the transmission lever is in “D,” when you lift your foot off the accelerator, you keep rolling along, like with a normal automatic. In “L” mode, as you lift up your foot, the electricity flow is reduced, slowing the car. This lets you do “one-pedal driving.” It’s a wonderful way to maintain extra control of your car while generating extra battery power and saving your brake pads.

At 4 p.m., we assembled inside the Acterra offices for the official launch of the newly renamed Karl Knapp Go EV program. Knapp, a beloved Stanford science professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, promoted electrified cars and motorcycles for many years, and has been an inspiration to many. We had some food and drinks and watched a short video about Karl. Sadly, Professor Knapp is ill and was unable to attend.

After the reception, I gave three more people rides, so I was one of the last to leave. It’s fun to share your EV, and I hope all of my drivers will go out and get their own! Electric cars are the future, and soon there will be many more choices.

National Drive Electric Week is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. Sponsors include the Nissan LEAF (Platinum), Clipper Creek (Silver), and eMotorWerks (California Regional).