My challenge to you: make it your mission, that anyone you know who's planning to buy a new car in 2013, has at least seriously considered an EV or plug-in, and has taken at least one for a test drive.
Want to learn why and how? Please read on...
Before starting, I would like to express my gratitude to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse and the #NOKXL blogathon organizers - for putting together this amazing blogathon. I am humbled to participate. This diary has been rolling around my brain for literally months, and I feel extremely fortunate to eventually present it as part of this high-profile campaign.
Looking for "Path 2" of the Movement
Most successful movements against destructive, entrenched power structures have required the simultaneous pursuit of (at least) two major paths to victory.
The first is the direct struggle to take down the targeted system. Its importance in the Keystone XL case is paramount - without those activists who had sounded the initial alarms, many getting arrested in the process, the pipeline might have been a done deal by now. But we also need the other path. This path represents the positive alternative, giving the public hope that the future after we take down the current system (which is usually associated in the public mind with identity, safety, comfort, etc.) - the future will actually be better. And - no less important - a chance to participate without sacrificing everything they hold dear.
To make this more tangible: in the Civil Rights movement, Path 1 consisted of actions such as the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education, Rosa Parks' arrest leading to the Montgomery bus boycott, and various other marches, direct-action campaigns, etc. - as well as pressure on Washington DC to move Civil Rights legislation forward.
The most prominent symbol of Path 2 is Jackie Robinson. Once Robinson came onto the field wearing Dodgers uniform in 1947, the public saw firsthand how sports, and society itself, is better off when integrated. Over time and with more such personal examples, millions of mental barriers were broken.
This second path enabled millions of Americans to play a part, no matter how small, in their society's desegregation. Whether by organizing a new integrated activity, participating in one, becoming a Dodgers fan, or just cheering black athletes from the stands when their team visited your town, or any other gesture - eventually the tide of positive change in hearts, minds and the public sphere, could not be overcome. That particular battle, for ethnic-racial equality, is far from over. But the time is gone when expressing a racial-equality sentiment was considered deluded or even offensive. Nowadays, in nearly all of America, the opposite is true.
The change in perception on LGBT rights is a more recent, and even more dramatic example. With LGBT rights there have been far fewer prominent "Path 1" milestones involved. IMHO, what we've witnessed these past couple of decades has been a predominantly "Path 2" development: as our LGBT siblings, children, friends and colleagues have come out and presented themselves as they are, the only natural and human reaction for us - those who know, love and respect them as persons - was to toss out all the prejudice and bigotry we had been raised on, like the toxic garbage that it always was. One thing that really helped, was that the societal price for accepting LGBT equality was not very high, and then has rapidly dropped to the point that even leading Republican figures are not afraid of embracing equality.
To be clear: I have nothing against "Path 1", to the contrary. On my most frequent blogging topic (Israel-Palestine) I'm a classic "Path 1" person (as I write this, I realize that perhaps what we're missing there is a winning Path 1/2 combination). But the power and beauty of "Path 2", is that the opposition's immense power, so heavily concentrated on booby-trapping "Path 1" - is reduced on "Path 2" mostly to dishing out ridicule and marginalization at you. Those can only go so far; once you overcome them, you can march in and literally pull the rug from under structures that only a moment ago seemed unbeatable.
Ok... long intro. The question is: do we have a winning "Path 2" avenue, one that can bypass the opposition from its blind side, enter and win over the mainstream, recruit millions into the cause without demanding huge individual sacrifices, and undo not just the specific Keystone XL initiative, but the very concepts underlying Tar Sands oil and the oil economy itself?
Yes. We. Do. It is called Electric Locomotion.
The oil economy literally moves our world. Oil has a stranglehold on our very concept of movement. Take that monopoly away, even just on ground travel - and the entire malignant oil-politico-economic complex that generates global warming, wars and instability in many parts of the world, direct environmental destruction in many others, and disgusting government corruption everywhere - might collapse.
Now, in 2013, the ability to defeat oil's monopoly is at our fingertips. We can do this. All that remains, is to spread this change by example and by word-of-mouth.
We had a bit of money and looked to make an environmental consumer move (side note: we all commute by bus, and try to keep a small footprint otherwise). It was either install solar on our roof, or replace our aging 2001 Santa Fe SUV that does <15 MPG in the city. Living in Seattle, the car idea made more sense.
The most radical "green car" move we could imagine was "buy a used Prius". Then my wife started looking, and was surprised to see EVs that "look like normal cars". We ended up signing the Leaf lease on a whim, with about as much preparation as when buying a pair of sunglasses at a mall stand.
One of the best decisions we've ever made. We paid $4600 down (could have paid $2k less for a lower model). The $99/month payment is almost fully covered by the gas savings, and we don't drive much. Had we driven more, the gas savings would have been well over those $99/month. Meanwhile, our old Santa Fe moves barely once a month, when we go on a mountain hike or have a particularly messy haul job.
Best part, by far: in these 8 months, even though we've driven only 2750 miles in our Leaf, we've already removed nearly 5 barrels of gasoline from the Seattle oil demand column. Multiply this by thousands of consumers in every city - and believe me, the oil economy will feel it.
So let's go! Our goal is a not-too-distant future in which driving a petroleum-powered, internal-combustion-only vehicle will be looked upon as an outdated oddity - and using a car that spews emissions while not moving will be seen as downright offensive. Believe me, we are further along in this transition than people realize.
"Path 2" to Victory over Big Oil
Nowadays, Americans buy around 15 million new cars and trucks per year. We are now fast approaching a rate of 100,000 of these cars being EVs and plug-ins. Once we double or triple that, ridiculous projects such as Tar Sands will quickly become obsolete. It is not so much the direct 1-2% hit to oil sales from that year's models that matters, but the general direction and future outlook.
This is a true win-win. We are giving people an opportunity to hit oil companies on the chin, without giving up their cars. Almost no one likes the oil companies or the oil economy.
If the oil companies count on developing-world demand to hold the line, they're deluding only themselves. The rest of the world has always hated the oil-based society in the first place, because they need to pay for it with an arm and a leg. Global oil prices cater to the Western comfort zone, not that of poorer nations. If Americans hate paying $4/gallon, imagine the Chinese and Indian who pay 30-40% more, in absolute terms, on a salary that's a fraction of ours. The moment people in the developing world have affordable EV/plug-in options, they'll grab them off the shelves.
And the more EVs and plug-ins we buy here, the faster we accelerate the technology improvement and the price cuts that come with it - making them affordable to the rest of the world.
It's a classic "Path 2" to victory. Once a critical mass of EV/plug-in usage becomes mainstream and spreads around the world, all the oil companies will be able to do is sit and watch as their money and power dissipate.
All the Pieces are now in Place!
- The technology is there, and is still improving fast! (see below the fold)
- The production capacity is there! Nissan's new Leaf plant in Tennessee is ramping up to 100k vehicles per year, with 50k more produced in Japan and the UK. GM actually had to scale back Volt production last year due to disappointing demand, but it still sells at a rate of 20-30k/year and this should be picking up too. Toyota now produces plug-in Prius as a standard option, and of course their Prius production capacity dwarfs everyone else in the field. They've already sold >15,000 plug-in Priuses in the US.
And then there's the Tesla Model S - for the 1%-ers among us (ok, maybe 10%-ers). Its sales are skyrocketing, and they are reportedly making and selling over 500 a week. I was actually shocked to see the numbers; thought they are much smaller. The Leaf and S are now neck-and-neck for #1 in sales of the EV/plug-in market. Contrary to all the crap coming out of right-wing media, this particular 2009 Stimulus investment is shaping up to be quite the "anti-Solyndra." Before this is over, GOPers might be sorry they gave all this tax-cut money to top-earners - and then many of these "backstabbers" turned around and helped fuel the EV revolution with it and turn a green Stimulus investment into a success story...
And that's not the end of your options. Mitsubishi has temporarily stopped sales of its EV due to a battery problem, but once it resolves this, it too can make 10,000s a year of its 4-seater "i" (MiEV), which incidentally is the first mass-produced consumer EV. While Honda and Ford are behind the curve on capacity, they too might catch up once the demand materializes. Ford in particular seems to be laying down a solid line of plug-ins.
- The prices of enough models are affordable! The new Leaf starts at $21,300 for the base option (after the IRS rebate) and under $20k in California. Not a bad price for a brand-new, hi-tech 5-seat midsize. In Washington and other states, EVs are sales-tax exempt. And the recommended purchase option with EVs - as we have done too - is a lease anyway. Who cannot afford a lease when at least half the monthly payment, and possibly over 100% of it, is covered by gas savings?
We are already closing in on 100k cumulative standard sales of EV/plug-in cars in the US, and the growth rate is rather consistently exponential. Last month was a record month for EVs and plug-ins, with over 7,600 sold in the US (>1% of the non-truck auto sales). Let's make a conscious, concentrated effort to accelerate it.
All that is seriously missing, the final piece to fall into place: awareness and that fickle beast known as "a consumer trend." This trend was predicted to kick in a couple of years ago. Maybe we weren't ready. Maybe the technology and marketing were not all there. Well, they sure are now.
I know all about awareness. I was clueless about EVs until getting one. Owning a Leaf means serving as a full-time ambassador. People are totally ignorant about it! Recently someone asked me "so... does this thing have enough power to reach reasonable speeds?" This was a Prius-owning Seattle progressive, so I can imagine what middle America thinks of EVs and plug-ins. (the truth is, the Leaf can beat a Mustang in acceleration from complete stop. The steering and driving experience is far smoother than any combustion car I've driven).
I don't want to sell you BS. There is a degree of sacrifice and work and limitations involved, especially with EVs. But oh boy, it is worth it. And nowadays there are no more excuses. These vehicles have become a viable option for everyone.
Oh, have I mentioned the sense of family pride that comes with driving an electric-powered car? Our kids now know that we're not just paying lip service on global warming and the oil-industrial complex. We are taking a stand (or rather: a drive) and putting our money where our mouth is.
Here (again) is my challenge to you: make it your mission, that anyone you know who's planning to buy a new car in 2013, has at least seriously considered an EV or plug-in, and has taken at least one for a test drive.
Below the fold are some nitty-gritty details about the EV ownership experience, and a run-down of the leading EV and plug-in options.
Life with an EV: Range and Charge
I am basing this on our Leaf experience, but as long as you don't have the extra dough for the Tesla S payments (>$1000/month it seems, less the gas savings), this is more-or-less what you'll experience regardless of which particular EV you obtain.
Your driving limitations are determined by the range and the charging time. An improvement with either one can make your life easier. The range is how long you can drive on a full battery. This is no different from a gas car! For example, our in-city range of our 2001 Santa Fe SUV is well under 200 miles. A more economic combustion car can have a range of 300-400 miles.
The difference is, with a combustion car once you exhaust your range, there's usually a gas station at every corner (or every town on the road), and within some 10 minutes you've got a full tank again. With an EV, charging takes time, which you might not afford to wait; and the quicker charging options are less widely available than gas stations. On the plus side, overnight charging at home is essentially "for free" in terms of time lost. And you don't need to go to a gas station, just hook up your car at home.
Ok, the range. There's good news and bad news. First the bad: the actual range is usually far less than the manufacturer's advertised range. The 2011-12 Leaf's ad range is 100 miles - nice and round. But this is under ideal conditions, using the 'Eco' mode that limits acceleration. The EPA range, taken under a more realistic mix of conditions, is about 73 miles. EV efficiency is the opposite of combustion cars: we do better in-city than on the highway, where the need to maintain acceleration of a relatively heavy vehicle drains the battery faster. And even the EPA estimate does not account for seasonality. If you need to operate the AC (and both in the summer and winter you do), that takes off an additional 15-20%. Real life is not a "mix": on a given day, either you need the AC or you don't.
Bottom line: if you drive a 2012 Leaf down a deserted country lane in perfect weather, at 40-50 MPH, a 100% charged battery might get you pretty close to 100 miles. But take the very same 2012 Leaf, use the full-acceleration 'D' mode, go on the highway at 70+ MPH while having the AC on high, and you might strand yourself after only 50 miles.
This is not all: for routine daily use, Nissan (and all EV makers) strongly recommend charging only to 80% to preserve battery life. Since we are in this for the "green" reasons, and also since we don't want to hear from Nissan come lease-return time that we needlessly hurt the battery and need to pay a (say) $5,000 fine, we try to follow this on most days. So take another 20% off the range, to reach your actual routine-use range.
Bottom line: if your routine needs require a daily drive of >50 miles (one-way or round-trip) without any chance to charge, then the 2011-2012 Leaf (and also the Focus EV and Mitsubishi i) cannot be your main car for meeting these needs, year-round.
Now the good news: first, the 2013 Leaf adds 15% (so some 7-8 miles) to this cutoff range. So you can plan on some 57-58 miles from 80% charge, without recharge, for routine usage under (almost) worst-case conditions.
Second, any opportunity to charge improves matters. If you work full-time at a (say) small suburban office, with guaranteed parking and access to a 110V/15A outlet (that's just a standard electrical outlet), then you can probably commute with the 2013 Leaf, up to 45 miles each way without worry. The morning drive (assuming you use the `Eco` mode nearly all the time, it works fine on the highway) will deplete you from 80% to 15-30%. Then 8-9 hours of trickle charge will give you some 50% back, enough to make it back home. Assuming you have at least 12 hours to trickle-charge back, you should be up at 80% again the next morning. On days with extra detours, just charge to 100% the night before. You would need to carry your trickle-charger to work and back. Or - more likely and more recommended if your needs are so demanding - upgrade your charger for around $300-400, enabling you much faster charging times.
If your workplace has an L2 charging port (or there is one available to you near work), then just 2-3 hours or so on that port will bring your 2013 Leaf (or Ford Focus Electric) back to 80% for the drive back - meaning you can commute even up to ~55 miles each way (50 miles with the Focus), year-round. (with the 2011-2012 Leaf or the lower-model 2013 Leaf, you'll need 4-5 hours). And also not worry about carrying your charging cable every day.
By the way, we've never needed to install that pricey L2 charging station at home, the station that most superficial online article would have you believe is a must. Even had we driven twice as much as we do, an L2 station would not be necessary. This is because we spend the night at home, so there's plenty of time to catch up... Charging from a regular 110V/15A outlet, using the 'trickle' cable that comes with the car, is fully sufficient for our needs. And with the new 2013 Leaf, that expensive station becomes completely redundant for perhaps 99% of buyers; at worst, one can put down a few hundred dollars and buy that cable-upgrade mentioned above.
So you see, it's all about evaluating your needs vs. the range and charging options of the EV you consider. My numbers were Leaf-centric, but both the Focus EV and Mitubishi i are very similar to the 2012 Leaf (now the Leaf has a leg up).
Unfortunately, the Leaf and other "regular" EVs are not really road-trip cars. You can carry out a carefully planned day trip to a destination some 40-60 miles away (starting from 100% charge on the high end of this distance range), but you would need to know exactly where and how you charge at your destination. For "real" road-trips of the Hollywood-movie type, the main EV option is using fast-charge stations, which bring you back to 80% in under 30 minutes. With a 2011-2012 Leaf (or Focus, Mitsubishi, etc.) this means stopping every hour for a half-hour. We paid the extra $2k for a fast-charge port, and haven't used it yet. It's more of an emergency feature unless you routinely do highway road trips.
Of course, the 2013 Leaf again makes things better. For example, if we want to go to Vancouver BC, some 120-130 miles away, right now this would be just outside the "single fast-charge stop" range of our 2012 Leaf. With a 2013 Leaf, it falls comfortably inside the range (at least during reasonable weather). Stop for lunch in Bellingham while charging up, continue to Vancouver. Another example: I probably won't dare taking our Leaf up to Snoqualmie Pass, a skiing and outdoors destination some 60+ miles away and 3,000 feet up from our home (even though I believe there's a fast-charge port there). But with a 100% charged 2013 Leaf this becomes less of a gamble, provided you can recharge there before the trip back.
For most long-range or adventure trips (hiking in the mountains, skiiing, etc.), you would likely need another car. Either keep a combustion vehcile as your 2nd car (as we do; most American families have 2 cars or more anyway) - trying to make the EV your main car for in-town and commute needs - or, if you embark on longer drives rather seldom, just rent a combustion car for each such trip, or subscribe to a Zipcar-type service.
But as EV ranges crawl up over the next few years, these dilemmas and choices will become easier and easier. How do I know? First, the Leaf has just added 15% after 2 years. It's a fairly new technology, and we humans are particularly good at tweaking and improving technology once it's out in the mass market.
Last but not least, the Tesla S with EPA-sanctioned ranges of 200 miles or more is our Exhibit A. If you're not an East Coast auto journalist (with some undisclosed combination of ignorance, arrogance and ill-will), then the S can safely take you on pretty much any road trip you'll dream up. And with its range, anyone's daily commute needs become laughably easy to meet. It's just that price tag... With all the cynicism towards "vanity EV for the rich" etc., I would much rather see those who have extra $$ put it into a mass-produced viable EV sedan (eventually pushing its price down), than into plastic surgery and yachts. Thanks in part to the Tesla S, affordable EVs will eventually get to routine-use year-round ranges of >100 miles on an 80% charge - sooner rather than later.
A brief one on Plug-in Hybrids
I have no personal experience with these, but it seems straightforward and the daily sacrifices far smaller. All your range anxieties are obviated. It just needs to meet your capacity needs, and you need to squeeze as much electric locomotion (rather than gas-powered) out of it, by 1. Selecting the right car, and 2. Trickle-charging it on a regular basis.
The flagship right now is still the Chevy Volt. For me its most serious drawback is being a 4-seater. A 4 seater is not an all-round family car, no matter what. As leading environmentalist Kossack A. Siegel commented on my first Leaf diary, he inquired directly with a GM executive about this, and got a smug/clueless response that "this is what their consumer research suggested" or something.
This is exactly why the Japanese keep dancing circles around the American companies. The latter think like the rest of Corporate America (e.g. the "infotainment" networks or major league sports): they see the consumer as this dumb, captive "Middle American" whom they can manipulate without worrying about our real needs and priorities. The Japanese companies are not saints, of course. But they need to come up with cars that sell and perform well in America, Europe, Japan, the Middle East and other markets. So they know they must figure out what we really want and need.
Long story short: now the Volt needs to compete with the plug-in version of the 5-seater, name-recognized and proven Prius. The Volt's only advantage is its larger electric-only range (35 miles vs. only 11, according to EPA). The Volt qualifies for the IRS rebate, but the Prius does not. Smart money would bet on Toyota improving their range. Meanwhile, Ford is stepping onto the stage with its C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi plug-ins.
The downsides of plug-ins are
- They are some $5-10k pricier than equivalent EVs (the lease payments of the Volt are now $299/month, vs. $99-249/month for a Leaf)
- They still require some gas, especially the shorter-range ones (i.e., everyone except the Volt). But that depends on your needs and behavior: If you typical daily commute is ~10 miles and you trickle-charge at every opportunity, you might not need to refill your plug-in Prius gas tank, except when going out of town.
...Ok, long enough. Go and take part in the electric-locomotion revolution. And thanks again to the #NOKXL blogathon organizers.