Most major automakers are offering models that plug into the grid—cars that run on electricity alone, or a combination of electricity and gasoline. What’s it like to own such a car? What are the costs? What are the benefits? Why buy an EV? Greg Dalton, founder of Climate One and owner of a Chevy VOLT, put that question to the panel.
For Andrea Kissack, senior science editor, KQED Radio and owner of a Nissan LEAF, it was in part an environmental choice. Then, in test-driving EVs, she was drawn to the “smooth, fast, silent” drive. What’s more—Kissack lives in the Oakland Hills and often drives to San Francisco—purchasing an EV gave her an HOV sticker, which means she can get over the bridge faster.
John Kalb, founder of EV Charging Pros and owner of a BMW ActiveE, said that he’s been a BMW driver for years because of the performance. “I got involved in the EV industry about two or three years ago and test drove a lot of other models that were out there,” he said. They weren’t very satisfying against his BMW experience. But when BMW announced its Electronauts program, Kalb signed on as one of the selected 700 participants, leasing the car for two years. “They’re using us as a test to understand drivers’ experiences,” he said.
An early EV advocate, back in 2006 Felix Kramer—founder of CalCars and the upcoming DrivingElectric.org and owner of both a Chevy VOLT and a Nissan LEAF—drove a converted plug-in Prius. “My dream came true,” he said, “when the Chevy VOLT came to market.” He was the number nine buyer of the VOLT, and within two months, he bought a second plug-in, the LEAF. His family uses both the LEAF and VOLT around town, but they use the VOLT for longer trips. “The VOLT is a more sophisticated car… very high-tech,” he said. “It drives like any other car, but better.”
What about range? Dalton spoke of a recent trip to a concert from San Francisco to San Jose where his guests asked whether they should take Valium for range anxiety. Upon posting a query of Facebook, Dalton received many suggestions of where to go to charge-up along the way.
Regarding range anxiety, Kissack measures her trips by “bars” rather than mileage—she’s learned the difference between a three-bar trip and a seven-bar trip. “If I go outside my usual routine, it takes a lot of planning because the rollout of the charging infrastructure is slow.” She confessed that yes, she has gotten close to “empty,” and she’s shown up at stations that weren’t working. But she spoke of the many crowd-sourcing apps springing up to alert EV owners where to find available charging—often at people’s homes.
Fuel cost is not something Kissack worries about. She was spending $50-60/month on gasoline, and now she fuels up using solar power at home, giving back to the grid. “It’s very cheap to charge in the middle of the night at home,” she said, adding, “Your car gets cleaner as the grid gets cleaner.”
According to Kramer, when you purchase an EV, the initial cost is higher than the non-EV model, but you need to look at the total cost of ownership. Even at today’s fuel cost, you’re going to do better. The only time you need to take your car in for service is to get the tires rotated. On top of that, you get lots of tax credits.
What about leasing? Kalb stated that the lease amount of his BMW ActiveE was comparable with an equivalent BMW. The extra cost was in his decision to install a 240-volt charging station in his garage. “That’s a personal decision to be made according to the speed you want in charging.”
Kissack, on the other hand, got her home charging station for free by tapping into a government stimulus package that asks only that the EV owner trade information about vehicle usage.
Panelists agreed that the challenge in enlarging the EV community is to share the experience. “I let them drive it,” said Kalb. “I let them drive it fast, drive it hard, go around the curves, give it some speed.” And he added, “I call it the EV grin—the enthusiasm factor.”
– Lucy Sanna
August 20, 2012
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California