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).

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Chevy Bolt Gets a 238-mile Range!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nissan Leaf – EV Pioneer

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The Nissan Leaf was designed from scratch to be a gas-free all-electric model. They’ve sold more than 185,000 of them since its debut in 2010 as an ‘11, and a pioneer in mainstream EVs.

The Leaf hasn’t changed much over the years, though, until now. The 2016 model looks the same, but you now can get one with a 30 kWh lithium-ion battery. Adding just 46 pounds, it’s got higher power density, so it earns a 107-mile driving range from the EPA, versus 84 for the old 24 kWh battery, a 27 percent improvement.

For most driving, and many people, 107 miles is plenty. I drove my Deep Blue Pearl Leaf back and forth to work every day, in quiet comfort, the Bose audio system pouring out music from the standard Sirius XM radio and Bluetooth-connected selections from my Spotify stream.

The problem comes when you want to drive further. I got home one day with 85 miles on the range meter, and we had to take a quick trip that was about 70 miles. Because I wasn’t sure that was enough, we took our internal combustion engine car.

Although its design is aging, the Leaf feels smooth, solid, and friendly. With its virtually silent and vibration-free 80 kW motor, you fly along, almost by magic. Torque is available from the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, so there’s plenty of hustle from the 107 horsepower and 187 lb.-ft. of torque moving the 3,391-lb. car.

The EPA rates the Leaf at 124 MPGe City, 101 Highway, and 112 Overall. The Smog and Greenhouse Gas numbers are perfect 10s. The Leaf also gives you a miles-per-kWh rating, which was 4.1 for me. With 30 kWh, that looks like about 120 miles per charge.

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The one-speed transmission is controlled by a “palm shifter,” which, with its bright blue plastic front edge, reminded me of a Duncan Imperial yoyo. Just slip it back into Drive or forward into Reverse or push the Park button on the top.

The battery below the floor means a low center of gravity, so the Leaf is stable, and you feel secure darting around through traffic. But you are encouraged to drive gently to preserve charge. Nissan gives you a little Eco indicator at the top of the instrument panel, which assembles a little tree. The completed tree shrinks and moves to the lower right and you start on another one. I normally grew two on my 18-mile commute.

Unlike some other EVs, the Leaf is rated as a midsize car, and fits five adults, while providing 24 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up. Drop the rear seat for an additional six cubic feet. I hauled my upright bass with ease, although the storage area isn’t flat—it’s deeper at the rear.

To charge the Leaf, a panel flips up on the car’s nose. In there, you’ll find the standard plug for using a Level 2 (240-volt) charger or a cable to charge (slowly) at home at 120 volts. A Level 2 charge takes about 6 hours. Upper level Leafs include a Quick Charge plug, which lets you refill the battery to 80 percent capacity in half an hour.

The Leaf is so quiet that Nissan provides an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians.” It’s a low-volume beep, which emanates from a speaker under the hood at speeds below 16 mph. I only heard it when backing out of my driveway.

The three models start with the S, the price leader, at $29,860. It comes with push-button start, electric windows, locks and mirrors, air conditioning, and a decent audio system, but gets only the 24 kW battery.

The mid-level SV starts at $35,050. It has the 30 kW battery and the Quick Charge plug. It also features the NissanConnect system with Navigation, a larger 7-inch display screen, two more audio speakers, and 17-inch alloys in place of 16-inch steel wheels.

The SL, at $36,790, is distinguished mainly by its comfortable leather seats. You also get a photovoltaic solar panel on the rear spoiler, heated rear seats, a cargo cover, and a couple other items. My SL tester came with the Premium Package, with an upgraded Bose 7-speaker audio system and the Around View monitor (it gives a bird’s eye view). It topped out at $39,390. All prices listed include the $850 delivery charge.

Retail prices are perhaps irrelevant, since many EVs are leased at bargain rates, and there are government tax credits that can significantly reduce your costs. Figure in that electricity is much cheaper than gasoline and EVs require much less maintenance, and it could be a real bargain.

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The Leaf, built in Smyrna, Tennessee, has been the most popular EV out there, and if you’re not budgeted for a Tesla, is still a good option.

Should I Get My EV Now or Wait?

Recently, with lease deals on EVs running at around $79/month (with a few thousand dollars down), I’ve been thinking about picking up one to use when I’m not testing other cars. After my three-month loan of a sweet little Fiat 500e earlier this year, I want to drive electric today, both because  it’s the right thing to do for the environment, but also to practice what I preach. Advocating for a move to carbon-free transportation is fine, but sometimes you have to walk the walk, too.

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I believe that the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, with its 200-mile range, vast dealer network, and attractive purpose-built EV design, will be a game changer for the non-wealthy like me. But I suspect that there will be no deals on Bolts, at least a first. There’s plenty of pent-up demand and they’ll have the only game in town–for a while, at least.

So, I’m focusing on the Volkswagen e-Golf again, as well as the Fiat 500e and maybe the Kia Soul EV.

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The process of elimination removed Tesla from consideration right off the top. It’s way out of my price range, and there are no cheap deals to be had anyway. Others cut from the list include the Ford Focus. It’s a regular car that’s been electrified, and has only a 76-mile range. There’s the worthy and pioneering Nissan Leaf, which was built as an EV from scratch, but is looking long in the tooth with minimal changes since its 2011 debut. The availability of a bigger battery with 107 miles of range in the 2016 model is a small consolation. The Chevrolet Spark EV is cute and has great torque, but it’s kind of tiny. The Mercedes-Benz B250e and BMW i3 are appealing, in different ways, but are not as affordable as the three vehicles I mentioned at the top of this paragraph, if low price of admission is the goal.

In any case, is it time to grab something now or to wait? I’m struggling with impatience but also with the knowledge that as with all things technological, the next improvement is right around the corner. You know that when you take home that new laptop, next week there’ll be one with a better screen or more memory or some amazing new feature.

Here’s what you get if you wait. The new Focus is going to jump to 107 miles of range with the ’17s. The all-new Hyundai Ioniq is arriving this fall with 110 miles of range. The Bolt looms ahead appealingly. The Kia Niro will offer a hybrid in a crossover shape–and perhaps a pure EV someday. What will the next Leaf be able to do? We’re on the edge of a whole new generation of attractive options.

To top it off, as I entertain a deal on the ’16 e-Golf with its 83-mile range, I just read that the ’17 is supposed to get about 125 miles of range with a new, larger battery. So, suddenly waiting a few months seems like a great idea, as long as I don’t need the car right now.

The only down side is that the cheap lease deals may dry up once the next gen cars are out. Who really believes that a $79/month lease is realistic in 2016, anyway? It’s just a way to sweeten the deal on a car that retails in the $30,000-plus vicinity and has limited range. The  companies are willing to move them out at a loss or minimal profit just to comply with regulations and maybe pick up some green cred for doing so.

Perhaps, if you’re really eager, you could take advantage of a deal now on the shortest lease term you can get (24 months?), and save up for the big transition two years from now, when you may be able to snag a Tesla Model 3 that someone ordered on spec or that fell through the cracks. Or, grab a second- or third-year Bolt with the all the bugs fixed. And the new Leaf will be out by then.

As an EV cheerleader, and soon-to-be participant, that may be the best way to get in now at minimal outlay and plan for a long, enjoyable electric car future.

But I remain perplexed. It does feel like sooner is better for the earth, but I want to have the best car for me, too.

EVs and their Sociable Drivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Electric Car Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Public Charging Adventure

Today, my wife and I took a trip about 11 miles away to a familiar shopping center. Her goal was eyebrow plucking. Mine was sitting and reading, and investigating a new charging station situated in front of the new Whole Foods grocery. I’d seen it before while shopping and felt it was a good use of my wait time.

I drove up to the nrg eVgo charger and stepped out to see what it wanted for me to use it.

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I’m most familiar with the ChargePoint charging stations, as they’re located at my office, and the Blink Network, which I’ve used occasionally. This new one had two boxes with charging cables hanging on them. The one I approached had two next to each other, one being a quick charge and the other looked like a level 2 charger. Based on that impression, I called the number posted there and tried to set up an account.

I gave the man my name and specifics, and he told me I could use a number he’d provide via email to log in to their website and finish the process. He also said he could give me access right away for today. Great.

I reached for the cable, and when I pulled it out, saw that it was the OTHER kind of quick charge plug–the SAE Combo (CCS) type. The other one was a CHAdeMO version. Because my car didn’t have a quick charger, I was out of luck.

Luckily, I was just doing research and didn’t need the charge to get home, but I never got that confirming email from eVgo, so I guess we’re not going to be doing any business for now.

I understand that a quick charger is great for visits to the grocery store, rather than a slower Level 2 style, but it pays to check carefully before parking and hoping. I did learn from the company’s website that they have other  locations nearby with (they say) Level 2 chargers available as  well. It’ll be interesting to see if this company grows and become handy quickly. The other two charging cables, by the way, were plugged into the noses of Nissan Leafs, which do have the CHAdeMO charger.