Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Driving Electric

A major shift in personal transportation is coming with the wide availability of electric cars and the promise of the development of autonomous vehicles. Are electric cars only for “early adopters”, or should we all be rushing out to the dealer for test drive? Have you considered buying or leasing an electric car? I am still driving a more than 10-year-old Subaru and am dreaming of something a little more eco-friendly. I would love to go electric, but like many people, I have a number of questions about whether this would be a viable choice for me. I decided to ask Save The Bay’s Facilities Manager, Mike Russo, about his decision to lease a Chevy Volt.

Q: So Mike, why did you choose the Chevy Volt?
A: The Volt is American/Detroit made, and after the recent market collapse, it seemed like a good time to help GM advance the ball. GM has thought out the technology and the Volt was definitely ready for prime time.  (Note: the Volt is powered by an electric motor that is always operating on electrical energy.  Once the battery has exhausted, the power to move the vehicle forward comes from a gasoline engine that generates the electricity to power the motor. This feature had enormous appeal from a practical/engineering perspective). Also, it felt like a good time to be as petroleum-independent as possible, and the Volt's battery "range" of + 40 miles fit my commute so well gas stations are something that are now easy to avoid. 

Q. Did the fact that the Volt has a range extending engine help with this decision? Do you think you could get what you need from a car that was only electric with no back-up?
A. Without many convenient charging stations in RI, at this point in time a range-extending motor/engine combo is critical.  Ultimately, the range of the Volt's lithium batteries and the overall technology will exceed what we are looking at today. Driving a vehicle that seamlessly gets 40 MPG after it goes beyond its electric range makes a lot of sense, and I am willing to be a bit of a guinea pig.

Q. Did you notice a change in your electric range in the very cold weather?
A. During the winter months, the Volt's display, when fully charged, says the vehicle's range is 38 to 40 miles.  That is down considerably from the summer range of + 48 miles. One thing that doesn’t normally come up in conversion is the fact that, in winter conditions, you see the "engine running due to temperature" message come up on the display.  That is on for 20 to 30 seconds every few miles and I presume the Volt's engine is running to keep the vehicle's lithium batteries "happy."  
Q. Is the low cost of operating the car (electricity/vs. gas) a good incentive? Have you ever used a public charging station?
 A. I am new to this type of driving and am still getting used to it.  My normal gas mileage is between 115 MPG (winter) and more than 150 (summer).  Overnight, a normal "full" charge costs approximately $1.00.  That is the cost of recharging the battery that was drawn down about 30 "miles" using only the Volt's electric motor. There are many ChargePoint stations out there, but not that many in RI and I have yet to make use of one. 

Q. What are your favorite things about driving an electric car, and would you recommend it to our members, supporters, and readers of the blog?
A. Hands down, the best part is being able to ignore gas stations. The Volt took some getting used to, but I am all in now. Obviously, there is no "free lunch" here. If we want to move ourselves around, trade-offs are required. The concept of all those individual internal combustion engines, spewing who knows what into the environment, does freak me out a bit.  Not being a part of that is my preference. 

Recommendation-wise, the more the merrier!  If an electric vehicle fits someone's driving "style," they need to find one they can live with for three years. Consider leasing this kind of progressive technology and give it a go. Right now I am generating my own set of numbers and will let them tell me what I can/want to do when this transportation "experiment" is over.  But if you ask me now, my initial impression of this technology is positive as heck and I am looking forward what the future holds!     

Thanks, Mike for sharing your thoughts! I may just take a harder look at this new technology.