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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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.