National Drive Electric Week – Cupertino 2019

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My Chevrolet Bolt EV

National Drive Electric Week is a nine-day celebration of the electric car. Now in its second decade, it grows annually, and spanning two weekends and the days between in the middle of September, offers EV enthusiasts a chance to meet and compare notes as well non-EV drivers a chance to look at, and sometimes even drive, the current crop of plug-ins outside of a dealership environment.

I attended the Cupertino, California event on Saturday, September 14–the first day of NDEW 2019. I brought my Chevrolet Bolt EV, which I’ve enjoyed–and showed–since I got it in January of 2017. With its three-year lease running out on 1/8/2020, it’s likely the last chance I’ll have to share it before switching to another EV next year.

The Cupertino event has a long history, and there is where you can still see some of what EVs used to be–labor-of-love science projects. I’ll talk about a few shortly.

EVs You Can Buy or Lease Now

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Hyundai Kona  Electric

With a bit smaller number of display cars than it was last time I attended, and a thin crowd, it was a little disappointing, but many of today’s pure EV options were there. I saw three Chevrolet Bolt EVs, including my own. A compelling new entry, the Hyundai Kona Electric (shown above), was there, sporting a white top over its jaunty blue-green.

The Kona, with a 258-mile range, is the next-best thing to a Tesla for range, and probably today’s best deal for range. This base model, at about $36,000, sat mere steps away from a 2019 Jaguar i-Pace, which starts about about twice that price. The Jaguar offers great style and luxury, and with 220 miles in the big battery and all-wheel-drive, has its own, different, buyer.

Nissan brought a new LEAF to show, and from its booth awarded prizes throughout the six-hour event. It was the one chance you had to ride in a car. Some NDEW events are more experience-oriented, but this one was more of a show and meet-up.

I saw a BMW i3 down at the far end, and a couple of Tesla Model 3s. Also nearby was a plug-in hybrid Ford Fusion, flanked by two Ford Focus electrics. These EVs, with just 76 miles of range, would make cheap used cars if you wanted a stealth EV.

At the other end was a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid. It’s actually a significant vehicle, since it’s the only PHEV minivan available in the U.S. Its 33 miles of electric range is plenty for local soccer practice shuttles and commuting. This one sported a little extra flair.

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EVs are not just cars, of course. I saw some electric motorcycles and bicycles there, too, but as I stayed near my car much of the time, I didn’t spend time with them. I have ridden a few, and they are a fine option for some people under particular circumstances (good weather, short trip, no baggage, etc.). I did hear one motorcycle zoom past a few times with its electric whine. I’ve considered getting my motorcycle driver license just so I can test these in the future.

Here’s Roberta Lynn Power with her folding Blix electric bike from Sweden.

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Historic EVs

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EVs have been available in major manufacturers’ showrooms since 2010, when the 2011 Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt came out. But before that, besides the conversion projects, there were few. One model that had two representatives there at the show was the Toyota RAV4. Built just around the turn of the century, it put Toyota ahead of the crowd. Too bad they didn’t keep building them, because the RAV4 is a very popular body style now. You can get a new one as a hybrid today.

A pair of cute little Corbin Sparrows sat together. Not much more than shrouded motorcycles, these little pods would make perfect little errand-runners or last-mile transit connection vehicles.

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The tiny German 1993 City-EL weighs a mere 575 pounds and can shuttle one person for about 40 miles at up to 45 miles per hour. This one is nicknamed “Lemon Wedge.”

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Pioneers, Projects and Conversions

As long as there have been cars there have been tinkerers–people (mostly, but not exclusively, men) who enjoy a tough project. While some folks like to make a classic Mustang faster and louder, others enjoy electrifying an old gasoline car. The man displaying the Jaguar i-Pace had converted a Mazda Miata before.

I spent some quality time with George Stuckert, a retired engineer who also serves as secretary of the San Jose chapter of the Electric Auto Association. This group, a major sponsor of NDEW, was founded way back in 1967. They used to host a Cupertino event that was all project cars. George is glad that you can buy a new EV at a dealership today, but his pride and joy at this event was his 1996 Volkswagen Golf, which he converted ten years ago. It looks like an old Golf, but has a clever pinstriped design with a plug along the side (that I somehow managed to forget to photograph). It’s filled with electronic tech.

George proudly displayed a large card with photos of the project, and showed me his notebooks of carefully documented steps and the book that got him started.

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It was not a smooth process, and included a few spectacular explosions, but he showed the grit and determination that’s what I admire about people willing to get their hands dirty and triumph over failure to ultimate success. The fact that you can buy a used 2015 VW e-Golf that is superior in every way to George’s car is completely missing the point.

In the front corner of the exhibit were two fascinating displays that, along with George’s Golf, gave a look at what a Cupertino Electric Auto Association event was like before the NDEW and mass market EVs. Bob Schneeveis, a local legend, showed off his two-wheeled inventions, including a prototype steam-powered bike.

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Yes–you read that right. Although it’s not quite in the “drive it around the lot” stage, it is a beautiful piece. His electric motorcycle featured a fascinating front fork that made the ride soft and smooth. As a novelty, he had a “chariot” with a horse up front with “legs” made from brushes that capably gave rides to lucky attendees.

I enjoyed an extended conversation with Jerrold Kormin, who brought two displays: his converted Honda Insight and his prototype solar panel trailer. The former, besides swapping its engine for a motor and batteries, had new fiberglass nose and radically changed tail (and just one rear wheel). These design changes, per Kormin, gave the car a 15 percent improvement in its coefficient of drag.

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The car was being charged by Kormin’s fascinating portable solar generator. The inventor’s goal is to replace dirty, noisy Diesel generators. He is renting his prototypes out now. One appeal of replacing Diesel, Kormin told me, was that companies can avoid the major inconvenience of refueling Diesel generators, which adds complexity and expense. He claims customers can save $500 a month in fuel costs with a solar generator working just a 40-hour week. The trailer folds up for easy towing and takes about 5-6 minutes to open up. Learn more at his website.

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I met Joseph, an entrepreneur who was showing his Cirkit electric bike prototype. Looking clean and simple, it reminded me a bit of early minibikes, that you would assemble from a kit and the engine from your lawnmower! Click the link above to go to his website for more information.

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Vendors and Services

EVs need to be charged, which is why you’ll always find a friendly ChargePoint booth at EV shows. ChargePoint is a leader in chargers (I have one in my garage).

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I also met Shane Sansen, the owner of DRIVEN EV. His company works directly with manufacturers to acquire their lease returns and sell or lease them directly to customers. A great idea, and one I’m considering for my next EV. You can learn more at their website.

Besides seeing the vehicles and booths, I had a chance to network with some other folks who are working on EVs and climate action. I met up with my friend Greg Bell, who told me about his exciting new job working with Home Energy Analytics. Offering the Home Intel program, Greg meets with homeowners and shows them how they can reduce their energy consumption and save money. It can be as simple as replacing incandescent bulbs with LED ones, or more. Find out more at their website.

So, having consumed 3-1/2 pints of water and all my snacks, I packed up and drove home. It was a good day.

You can attend an NDEW event in your area through Sunday, September 22. Check their website for details.

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California’s Climate Leadership and the Future of Transportation

A Conversation with Annie Notthoff and Max Baumhefner

By Steve Schaefer

On May 14, 2019, two leaders from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) spoke to Acterra members and guests at The Foster, a gallery in Palo Alto filled with the beautiful paintings of Tony Foster. The topic of Acterra’s final segment of its Spring Lecture Series was the future of transportation in California, the U.S., and the world.

ann-notthoff-300x343Annie Notthoff is the Senior Western Advocacy Director of the NRDC in San Francisco and Sacramento. She has spent her long career working on a broad range of initiatives to promote climate action, public health and environmental protection.

 

 

Max-BaumhefnerMax Baumhefner is a Senior Attorney with the Climate and Clean Energy Program at NRDC, based in San Francisco. His focus is moving our nation’s cars, trucks, and buses to zero emission vehicles and accelerating the transition to a smarter, more affordable electric grid powered by renewable resources.

 

 

The NRDC was founded in 1970 by law students and attorneys at the forefront of the environmental movement. Today’s leadership team and board of trustees make sure the organization continues to work to ensure the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. And today that also means tackling the climate crisis.

Ms. Notthoff spoke first. She began by mentioning she was a Bay Area native and talked about how California’s size means that standards set here are often adopted by other states, so the state’s impact is magnified. Other nations have adopted California standards, too.

What has made this possible in California is “a combination of political will and the courage to act,” she said. “You need to elect people who will take action on climate. Over the years, these people, being held accountable, have helped raise the percentages of voters who vote for climate issues.”

Notthoff noted California’s 40 years of energy efficiency and air quality standards.

“If the other 49 states followed California’s Star standards, the U.S. would have about 25% less carbon emissions today,” she stated.

In California, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation—41%, in fact—so moving to 100% renewable energy is essential—and is planned by 2045 in the state.

Notthoff said that that even though many of us know what the problem is, we’re not doing enough fast enough. And with the U.S. government not acting on climate change in the current administration, it falls to the states and cities to make the efforts now. They, along with businesses, will work to meet the United States’ Paris Agreement terms.

Notthoff said climate progress was especially likely in “trifectas,” where the state governor and the legislature agree on climate change urgency and get laws drafted and passed. For example, in Colorado, several new laws have recently passed. And the NRDC is partnered with the Bloomberg Foundation to work with 25 selected U.S. cities on building and transportation measures.

Of course, if we elect a more climate-aware chief executive in 2020, in 2021 we can use what was developed at the “subnational” level to move quickly. If the 25 cities meet their goals, then the U.S. will almost meet its Paris commitments.

Notthoff then turned the microphone over to Max Baumhefner, a tall, slim man with a youthful bush of curly hair. He started out by saying that we know what we need to do to reduce emissions in the transportation sector, but we can’t just order consumers to do things, like you can with the electricity generating companies.

Transportation has now surpassed power generation as the highest source of carbon emissions. He says we need to power everything we can with electricity, and use clean electricity to power our vehicles.

Baumhefner described the “three legs of a stool” needed for success:

  1. Reduce the need to drive – provide other options
  2. Massively improve vehicles
  3. Develop low-carbon fuels

He travels to other states and meets with leaders there to bring what’s working in California to them. One big success in California is SB 350, which as originally written required 50% renewable energy by 2030, mandated that the electricity industry make plans and invest in accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles, and cut petroleum use by half. The oil industry stripped the last section from the bill.

There will be a $1 billion investment in changing the infrastructure, and another $1 billion has been proposed. This kind of action in California is getting attention from other states.

“There are 10 to 20 proceedings in other states now, and the regulatory commissions are glad to see you, and want to learn to do the right thing,” Baumhefner stated, striking a positive note. “But because utilities are not risk takers, sometimes they need a legislative kick in the pants.”

In Oregon, leaders are working on a bill to get utilities to use 50% renewables and to electrify transportation. After three tries, it just got done in Colorado. It’s happening in New Mexico, too.

“This is a tangible example of aspirational leadership,” he said.

Baumhefner mentioned a 1995 program in China for a coal cap, when the NRDC worked with them on reducing emissions. China is serious about electric vehicles, and EVs are now 50% of their market—the largest market in the world.

The speakers then took some questions. One audience member asked about carbon taxes. Baumhefner replied that they were not sufficient to force a market transition, but that could have a “complementary role.” Notthoff added that there wasn’t enough time to get them to work—and that they were divisive—so better to get other policies in place.

A question was asked about phasing out gasoline cars by a certain date. Notthoff said that California’s phase-out bills were stalled in the legislature. Baumhefner said he’d rather see it stated in the affirmative – a certain percentage of EVs by a particular date.

Someone asked about the gas tax and EV user fees. Baumhefner said that because the gas tax hadn’t risen for inflation, it was now too low. He stated that a user fee based on mileage might seem like a solution, but that the gas tax itself was serving as a price on carbon, so there were advantages in keeping it in place. Better, he said, to tweak it and extend it in some way to EVs. High EV fees, like those being considered, are not addressing the real problem, he added.

Continuing on EVs, a question was asked about setting up a “cash for clunkers” type of program for gas-powered vehicles. There are swap and replace programs giving up to $9,000 for old cars in some places, Baumhefner said. He supports finding ways to get EVs into the hands of more Californians, “not just some ZIP codes.”

It was a valuable hour of learning about how California leads the nation, the valuable work the NRDC is doing, and what we can do to contribute.

Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet.