Going Green at the 2017 WAJ Media Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PG&E’s New Plugin Electric Hybrid Charging Trucks

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

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

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

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Here’s the control panel.

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

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

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

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

I Drove Two Hydrogen-powered EVs Back to Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysler Pacifica is the Only Hybrid Minivan you can Buy

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

Zero Motorcycles – Green on Two Wheels

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

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

Automotive Steel is Evolving for Efficiency

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

The Rest of the Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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QX30

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

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Mazda CX-5

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

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

Not Driven but Important

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

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

Earth Day 2017 – Driving My Electric Car

IMG_8417This Earth Day comes at a time of significant concern for our home planet. Our new president, continuing in his belligerent, ill-advised way to work against the needs of our children and grandchildren, has appointed climate-denier Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. He’s approving pipelines, reducing regulations, and we hear rumblings about backing out of the Paris accords. What can a concerned person do?

At times when the government isn’t cooperating, you need to act on your own. One of the things I do is to drive an electric car. On January 8, just weeks before the election of our frightening new leader, I took delivery of my  Kinetic Blue Chevrolet Bolt EV. As a journalist, I sometimes drive other cars to review them, but my goal for 2017 and forward is to test and promote cars with battery power–full electrics and also the many hybrid options for folks to drive electric part of the time.

Hybrid cars offer a way to slip into EV driving without risk, because you have a gas engine and an electric motor in the same car. Some come with a larger battery for storing some power to drive in a pure electric mode for a while. For example, the plug-in Chevrolet Volt has an EPA range of 53 miles in pure EV mode before a gasoline engine comes on to charge the battery. The hybrid Ford Fusion sedan delivers great fuel economy by blending its engine and motor to stretch out your fuel about twice as long. There’s a plug-in version that gives you about 27 petrol-free miles. Nearly every car manufacturer offers one or more hybrid today.

Until recently, driving a pure electric meant being constrained by battery range. Cars like the pioneering Nissan Leaf, despite their virtues, couldn’t make it past 80 or 90 miles before requiring a time-consuming recharge. Tesla turned that equation on its ear with its offerings, but they remain out of the affordability range for most people.

My Bolt EV, with its EPA-rated 238 miles of range, eliminates most, if not all, of that worry. Unless you’re planning a cross-country or California trans-state trip, you’re gold. I’ve proven that this winter by using my Bolt for commuting, visiting, and errands all over the San Francisco Bay Area–my home.

Now if I wanted a compact five-door hatchback and was OK with using gas, I may have selected a worthy car like the Honda Fit. It resembles the Bolt EV, but without the 964 pound battery and other amenities, it is a very modest investment, starting at under $17,000 including shipping. I also read yesterday that the new Alfa-Romeo Giulia sports sedan is the same price as the top-level Bolt EV–nearly $44,000. Which one would you pick?

There’s an element of sacrifice to spending that much on a compact (but roomy) hatchback from a mainstream manufacturer, but driving and living with the Bolt EV has been a real pleasure. It’s high enough to slide right in. The back seat is roomy for passengers, and it folds down to provide lots of space for the upright basses and Costco visits. The dashboard is friendly, colorful, and provides a wealth of the information you need. And I really like the interior and exterior styling, even if it attracts virtually no attention on the road.

But if you asked me, I’d say the best part remains the nearly silent, buttery smooth powertrain. I cruise down the freeway at 65 mph and listen to the Bose stereo on the way to work and the feeling is sheer bliss. Without the reciprocating pistons, you won’t feel vibration or hear any of the typical engine sounds. Slide the one-speed transmission into Low (L) and you can use your right foot to do “one pedal” driving that provides some of the feeling of control you used to get  from manual transmissions. Just touch the brake when you need it for sudden stops.

I like knowing that my car is contributing less to global warming than internal combustion engine-equipped cars, but doing it without sacrifice is even better. We Bolt EV drivers have an active Facebook page, too, with more than 2,500 members!

We have a long way to go–and not a lot of time to get there–but individual choices, regardless of what our temporarily derailed government says, can make all the difference. Today, I drove my EV on Earth Day. Driving it every day will help make every day Earth Day. Please join me.

Happy Earth Day.

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.

 

Fun with the Tesla Model X

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I’ve wanted to spend some quality time with a Tesla for a long while. Sadly, Elon & Company don’t hand out their electronic keys to just anyone, so I didn’t get any significant seat time until my good buddy and colleague Rob K generously lent me his recently acquired bright white Tesla Model X P100D for half a day.

The Model X stands tall and sits wide, making a big impression. The shape is nicely rounded, and while the rear lamps seem almost generic, the nose, with its pert little pout and no grille, is still a little emotionless to me.

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After sending the falcon-wing doors slowly upward and removing the unnecessary child seat from the middle row, Rob attempted to show me the latest holiday Easter egg Tesla provided. Sadly, the car didn’t respond, but I got to see an amazing video of lights flashing and doors wagging on Rob’s phone. Because Tesla can update your software any old time, changes in displays and vehicle functionality can occur regularly. I did learn that Tesla will warn you it’s coming, so you can stop and not drive the car while it’s going on—a safety precaution.

We chatted about the ingenious Matchbox car sized Model X key, which locks, unlocks, opens, or closes the area on the model you touch.

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With a little simple guidance on the controls, Rob sent me off. My goal was to ride through the local curvy roads, and hit the freeway, and head south to my see my other friend, Michael C, with whom I’d have a relaxing lunch. Then I’d take him on a ride so he could sample the X too.

The X feels like a room on wheels, with seemly acres between you and the opposite side door. The surfaces wear real carbon fiber, leather, suede, and high quality plastic. The simple fold of the interior door grip is kind of a Scandinavian Design touch.

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The windshield is humongous, reaching way up overhead. Tinting keeps you from getting fried, but what about sun visors? Tesla folds them in half lengthwise and tucks them up next to the windshield pillar. They attach magnetically. When you need sun protection, you pull it out and position it where the sun is. That may be in the center of the glass in front of you or at some other angle—you decide. It was still a habit to reach for it and be disappointed—but I settled in after a while.

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The controls are not too hard to figure out. The shifter feels familiar in a modern German sedan way. Steering is smooth and assisted, and the electric motor is nearly silent, so moving out at a light is like asking the magic carpet to please hurry along. I noticed aggressive regenerative braking, so that you can essentially do “one pedal” driving. The brake pedal is a nice place to rest your foot when you’re sitting at a light.

Much has been made of Tesla’s enormous 17 -inch capacitive touch screen—sitting there like a huge iPad—but it’s not just a sea of undifferentiated icons. The stuff that fills an ordinary 7- or 8-inch screen becomes the top half of a screen twice that size. The climate controls, looking clean and logical, are arrayed along the bottom. I saw mostly audio settings and the navigation map and instructions sharing the remaining real estate. So, no squinting required. When I requested directions—using voice commands—the system misunderstood the name I gave, but got it right the second time.

When you request a map, it fills the ENTIRE panel, so it’s easy to follow. The narration was completely familiar.

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The combined 532 horsepower from the front and rear electric motors, and awesome 713 lb.-ft. of torque propel the 5,594-pound Model X along like you’re being launched out of a slingshot, and that’s not even including the expensive Ludicrous mode. Car and Driver clocked a 3.3-second zero-to-60 time.

With the electric motor taking up little space up front, the Model X offers a “frunk” to hold some smallish things.

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I decided I’d better visit one of the famous Tesla Superchargers. So, I asked for directions to the nearest one using the voice button. I was directed a few miles away, to the lot at the Computer History Museum. I saw a collection of mixed Teslas parked there, along with something else—a waiting line. Mike, the patient attendant, said that this was one of the busiest Supercharger locations, and lines were normal. I think that some of the more remote locations would be easier to simply pull into. Because I had plenty of charge, I decided that I could wait for next time to sample the charging experience.

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I got a chance to sample the car’s semiautonomous driving skills. It’s stone simple to operate. Just pull the little cruise control stalk twice and a blue steering wheel icon pops up on your screen and the car stays in the center of its lane, follows the curves of the road, and stops safely behind the car ahead.

You’re not supposed to let go of the steering wheel, although you can. But after a few seconds, the perimeter of the instrument panel flashes and a message pops up – Put Your Hands on the Wheel! We’ll be having no lawsuits here, thank you very much. I did ride a few times with my hands on my knees and it felt odd but safe. I’m sure the full autonomy mode will seem like no big deal when it arrives—probably sooner than you think.

When I arrived at my lunch destination, I found a place around the corner and parked. Then, I wondered how I was supposed to turn the car off and lock it. After searching fruitlessly for the “start” button, I phoned Rob. He said, “Just put it in park. When you step out of the car and walk away, the doors will close automatically and the car will lock. Who would have thought of that? It goes against my 47 years of dutifully locking my car every time I leave it. When you walk up to the car, with your key in your pocket, the doors pop open a little, swinging fully open when you draw near.

Those expensive, trouble-prone, but awesome rear falcon-wing doors are fun. I opened and closed them with the door switches. All the doors open and close on their own with just a hum and a gentle electric pull. You could get used to this.

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The big audio half of the panel temped me to sample things I don’t normally listen to. Rob mysteriously didn’t have my favorite—SiriusXM Radio—hooked up, but I touched an icon to hear a podcast about porta potty maintenance and some unfamiliar musical selections on the Tesla Top 20 Music channel.

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The biggest surprise for me was that after a few minutes, I felt relaxed and at home in the Model X. It’s so pleasant and the electronics work so simply and subtly, that I wanted to just park it and hang out, like a relaxing little hotel room. The driving experience, especially in a P100D model, is super brisk, but the exclusive amenities are what make this a six-figure car. See the website for details.

 

 

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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