Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who are you? Who, who, who, who? 'Cause I really wanna know

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – my plan is for our household to always have an EV.  Of course, I have no idea which EV that will take up residence in our driveway when my ActiveE lease expires.  The reason being is that at the moment it doesn’t look like a single manufacturer will be building and selling the EV that I want by 2014.

Lamborghini 350 GTV
One thing’s clear about participating in this field trial, you quickly learn what you do and don’t want in a production EV (in fact, there’s even a Learnings for BMW i subforum in BMW’s ActiveE Forum so that Electronauts can publish their likes and dislikes for BMW to utilize for the i3 and future EVs).  Clearly this situation is that same for anyone who buys anything – you determine what you do and don’t like about your current product, and next time you’re in the market you look for one that best meets your needs.  In this case, for a product that is relatively new and for which manufacturer’s are still guessing what the consumer wants, it’s quite possible that nobody makes what you do want.  Since I’m not one of the Ferruccio Lamborghini's of the world, I don’t get to tell Carlos Ghosn how to build the Leaf, and then form my own EV company when he scoffs at me.  I pretty much have to settle for what’s out there if I want to continue driving electric. 

Me - when it comes to EVs
So when it comes to an EV, who am I?  Oddly enough, I’m a pretty simple creature.  Sure there are plenty of minor things I’d like to see improved upon from the ActiveE but would live without just to have an EV – ability to charge to a pre-specified battery percentage rather than just ‘filling up’, tweaks to the digital displays related to energy useage, adjustable regenerative braking, memory seats, etc.  Ultimately though, there are those things I want or need that I’m not [currently] willing to compromise on.  Some are technical aspects of the vehicle, while others are more about the ‘essence’ of the vehicle. 
Of the things I’m not willing to compromise on, all are currently included on at least one of the EVs that are already on the market, or planned to be marketed by 2014 - its just that none of them have everything I want.  Well, sort of.  From a technical aspect there are only three musts.  A 7.2 kW charger, minimum (to ensure minimal charging time), a large battery capacity (one that would be expected to deliver 140 miles of pure highway driving) and ability to charge from a DC Rapid Charger.  You might argue that the Chevy Volt and the upcoming BMW i3 have range extenders that would meet my range needs, and technically you would be correct.  In this case, however, my ‘must’ is battery capacity.  I have no interest in having to put gas in my EV.  Why?  Because infrequently used gas engines are a PITA.  How easy is it to get that snow blower running at the beginning of the winter, and how much maintenance does it need?  Thanks, but I’d rather have extra battery capacity in my EV than having to deal with that in my car.

From an ‘essence’ standpoint, I want a driver’s car that looks like a driver’s car – are you listening, Carlos?  I don’t want to be driving around in a bubble on wheels, even if it performs like a BMW.  Technically, the Telsa Model S meets all of these EV musts – but there’s one requirement that isn’t EV specific that it doesn’t meet – proven track record for the company.  I prefer not to buy the first model year of a vehicle, let alone the first of its kind vehicle from a company that to this point has hemorrhaged money. 

So where does that leave me?  I know who I am, but I’m pretty sure that today’s EV manufacturers don’t know me and are catering to a different audience.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Welcome to the Dead Zone

dead zone
Pronunciation: /ded zōn/

1. Ecology. an area in a body of water, especially an ocean,  having oxygen levels that are not adequate to support life: e.g., shellfish threatened by an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
2. an area where a mobile phone does not receive a signal
With this being a blog about the 100% Electric BMW ActiveE, odds are you’re wondering why I’ve started this post with a definition of oceanic and mobile phone dead zones.  Perhaps he’s lost his mind or forgotten which blog he’s posting in, you might be thinking.  Contrary to what others might tell you, nope, I still have all my faculties.  Assuming that’s the case, then why a dead zone definition?  Because I’d like to add a third option to this definition.

3. A geographical area, typically a less densely populated area, having no or few publically available EVSE that are not adequate to support appreciable travel outside 50% of the EVs range from the owner’s home (if this ever ends up in Webster's, I expect at least a footnote giving me credit).
Much like definition #2 has over the past decade, this should slowly get better with time.  EVSE infrastructure is increasing as we speak, but unfortunately for me (fortunately for those that live in SoCal or NNJR/NYC), most of the public EVSE installs are occurring in these and other metropolitan areas.  Clearly this makes sense, install the infrastructure where the need is.  This gives the EV drivers that live in these metropolitan areas the ability to venture outside their normal ‘range’, i.e., distances further from home than half the vehicles range.  In fact, in some areas there’s enough charging infrastructure that a Nissan Leaf owner is currently attempting to drive from Mexico to Canada.
Two Chargepoint EVSEs within range of my house
Here in Eastern Connecticut, however, there’s a dead zone.  To put it in perspective, there isn’t a single public EVSE within range of my ActiveE (other than the one at Cardi’s in West Warwick, RI – two big thumbs up to the folks at Cardi's) that is useful for my driving habits.  Sure, Norwich Public Utilities just installed four of them, but alas, they are too close to me to be of any use.  Further from home we have the EVSE at New Country BMW in Hartford where I got my ActiveE, but that location is generally only useful for when I have it in for service. 

I'm not complaining, however, just stating the facts.  I understood the situation when I signed up for the ActiveE - these are the early days and EV adoption and infrastructure installation will be slow.  Plus I knew the situation before deciding to participate in Phase 2 of Project i.  As a result, the lack of Eastern CT infrastructure hasn’t really impacted me.  I fully expected that unlike many of my fellow Electronauts, I would have to rely solely on charging at home – and so far it has worked out fine.
As we move into the future, this will be less and less of an issue.  More EVs will be sold, so more EVSEs will be installed at businesses, rest stops, and friends houses to accommodate the increasing numbers.  When that happens my EVs range will increase exponentially, and more and more people will be willing to consider an EV.
Until then, "can you hear me now?"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A chicken in every pot, and [an electric] car in every garage

While Herbert Hoover personally never made that famous promise, it’s hard to imagine that in the prosperity preceding the Great Depression that the premise of such a promise would need to exist.  Especially considering the world was in the throws the roaring 20’s – how could there not be a car in every garage yet (or ‘in every backyard’ as the Republican National Committee actually posited)?  Fast forward to today and most garages have not one, but two or more cars in them.  Chalk the need for two cars up to commercialism and increasing dependency in the US on individual transportation.  The fact that most garages have at least two cars in them nowadays is an extremely important point though as we move to the ‘Future of Mobility’.
 Two cars in every garage – why would that be important?  While price is still the primary sticking point, the second biggest *perceived* issue as to why an EV won’t work for people is driving range.  Most folks just can’t wrap their mind around a daily range of 35-100 miles that they feel is restrictive (unless of course you can afford a Tesla).  Even if these ranges cover their daily commute, people worry about those atypical days when they will need increased range – you know for things like picking up the kids at lacrosse practice after work.  This is where the second vehicle is so important – what are the odds in most families that both primary drivers in the family will need to exceed the EVs range on the same day?  In our case it hasn’t happened once in the three months we’ve had the ActiveE.  As Ed Begley said, "the electric vehicle is not for everybody.  Given the limited range it can only meet the needs of 90% of the population."  While that's likely a bit of an overstatement, it does beg the question of what percent of typical American households (rather than people) can have its needs met by an EV? 

This idea does require a fundamental change in the way many Americans think though.  In most households each person has ‘their’ car.  We were like that before the ActiveE.  I had an Audi A4 Quattro, and a certain someone had an Audi A6 Avant.  It was extremely rare for one of us to take the other’s vehicle unless I needed the cargo capacity of the Avant for something.  Today that dynamic has changed.  While the ActiveE replaced my A4, it’s not really ‘my’ car.  Having an EV and the benefits associated with its low cost per mile to drive has changed our behaviors.  If we both need to go somewhere at the same time, the person that has to go further (but still within the EVs range) takes the ActiveE.  In our case nothing has really changed (still two cars in the driveway), other than our perception of ‘his’ and ‘her’ cars.
In these early days of EVs before a charging infrastructure is built that reduces or eliminates the fear and anxiety associated with battery range, two cars in every driveway is huge.  As long as you can embrace the premise of ‘household cars’ that are selectively driven by whoever needs them each day. 
Sidebar – EVs are fun to drive (other than that lack of a manual transmission issue).  As a result you can expect to have debates about who gets it on days when you both have similar distances to drive.  Fortunately, the ActiveE replaced my A4 so those debates tend to be short in this household.

In the end, two cars in the driveway allows people the flexibility to do something they may not have otherwise done out of range fear – actually consider an EV.  When we signed on to get an ActiveE I’m not sure we actually understood there wouldn’t be ‘his’ and ‘her’ cars any longer.  Turns out that’s ok, though, and it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made - and that's why there will always be at least one electric car in our garage.