Thursday, June 11, 2015

Chevy Volt and the Summer of Electric Love


  So in May we replaced Becky's 65k miles Saturn Aura XR (with Moroccan leather) with a new Chevy Volt with all the options.  GM was offering a crazy good incentive deal since the 2016 Volt is hitting showrooms pretty soon, and the newer car isn't all that much better, really: a different restyling in the center console and about 5 miles more electric range supposedly.

2008 Saturn Aura XR with "Moroccan Leater"option

  We got ours triple-black and Becky promptly blacked-out the 6 exterior Chevy emblems with vinyl decals and we tinted it full-on. Triple-black comes-off like a Tron car and it looks pretty darn cool.

  I'm really into cars of all types (except German cars, which are soul-less and boring [mostly]) so any kind of electric vehicle is going to be under a lot of personal scrutiny.  I researched the current offerings as our commute is only 32 miles round-trip for electric cars as I strongly suspect a gas-price hike soon, though I recommended an Acura SH, Jaguar, or something elegant and prissy, we were on the fence between a Tesla and a Volt as a lot of Americans are (though some choose the un-cola Nissan Leaf, but more on that later).

Acura SH AWD 2012

  One of the real concerns is "range anxiety" on electric cars.  Once you're empty, you're empty.  That's it.  No hope.  You're stranded, and no one can help you.  You'll need a tow, and that's no fun.
Early electric-car owners with range-anxiety.  Electric cars have been around for 100 years, actually!

  So let's talk kilowatts.  Most Americans really have no idea what the technology is about.  Some get downright angry, even!  Change is change.  Some is good.  Here's the scoop from an all-American:  You'll get roughly 2-3 miles per kilowatt in an electric car, depending on a lot of factors. Tesla is doing a fine job creating an infrastructure to fix this "range anxiety" problem in case you can't round-trip back home and plug-in after 150-250 miles.  Tesla uses a 60-85kw battery.   The 2015 Volt has a 17.1kw battery and can go (from firsthand experience) 30-46 miles, the Nissan Leaf has roughly a 24kw battery and can go a maximum of 84 miles (though I suspect less).

  Problem with Tesla is price.  It's a pricey car.  Most will opt for the 60kw battery as they're not Scrooge McDuck with mountains of Jewish-Nazi gold.  The Tesla is RWD in this capacity and bare-bones costs about $65,000 before taxes, fees, and registration (which will add-up to an additional $11,000 here in Colorado, give-or-take).  If you go with the larger battery, your options (and price) will increase.  The 85kw battery will get you the AWD option (desirable in Colorado for year-round driving) but it also changes the price, bare-bones with AWD and 85kw to about $89,000.  FRACK!  Add a radio, leather seats, etc.  Now you're well into the $100k category.  Go for the "Sport" model P85-S and it gets to be closer to $140k out-the-door, loaded-up.  85kw (P85-S) will get you to closer to the 250 mile range total-distance, which is reasonable, AWD will take that back about to 220. 

Tesla Model S (sort of ugly)

  Lots of talk on performance on the Tesla models, and certainly that's very important to me as I still own (and love) my 2012 Corvette Grand Sport.  I terrorized Fountain today in "Rosie", switched to "angry-bitch-mode" with the Diablo-Tune to the music of Judas Priests', Halls of Valhalla.  Roaring-American bliss.   I must confess though, the silent and surprisingly powerful operation of electric cars make me think, "Why am I in the stone age?"  I feel like I'm falling behind technologically in the 'Vette.  Just a tad.

Note "looking to the left", aka: the Past here for propoganda-poster lovers!  I'm so smart to put this!  Self preen!

 The Tesla has been getting a lot of nods-of-approval on performance, but it's not stellar, truly.  Now don't get me wrong, electric cars get 100% torque immediately from zero.  No winding her out or getting "out of the hole" for muscle-car owners.  No-sir!  You get 5200 RPM power from ZERO, right off-the-bat!  It's jarring and amazing.  The Tesla to 30mph will smash you to the seat as good as Rosie ever could (with less fanfare audibly, of course).  By 60mph you're about done.  0-60 times for the Tesla-S (P85-S) is about 3.9 seconds in ideal conditions, full-battery-charge, AWD.  Few can afford $140k though.  A base-Tesla-S is about 6 seconds.  Not too shabby and livable enough, though a bit pallid for $65,000.  This is Honda Accord territory now, at twice the price.  0-100 is where it fails to excite at about 12 seconds or more.  This is 1990 performance.  Handling is just as poor at 0.86 lateral-g's for the P85-S Sport model (acceptable, and a bit lower than my Saturn Astra XR) though I've seen some better tests done with aftermarket-tires around the 0.9 lateral-g's which is V6 Ford Mustang territory.  Top speed is 134 mph (same as my Saturn Astra hatchback).  So, all the hype is a bit over-rated on the Tesla Model S.  It's not bad, it's just not super-fantastic for the money, it's decent if you got it to spend, plus there's some good street-cred in the sedan-category.  If you get the base-model, your results will be less awesome, and I'd warrant about as good as a full-blown Honda Accord EX loaded-up with a bit snappier 0-30mph, though ultimately a Honda would out-run you in a mile-long course since a Tesla would give-up at 134mph (at which point the battery would be 1/3rd drained anyway).  So the Tesla-S Sport has an equivalent of 413hp which is just shy of my Corvette, though weighs twice as much (almost) so it's a bit slow due to the battery-packs on-board.

Tesla Model S "Sport"

  The Chevy Volt is more humble than the Tesla in a lot of ways.  For one, ours cost us $28,500 for every option.  It's 0-60 times in "Sport Mode" (it has modes you can select on-board) is about 7.5 seconds (an improvement from the 2014 model's 8.6 seconds due to allowing more battery at-once through software-updates).  0-100 times.. well.. it tops-out at (supposedly) a perfectly gentlemanly 101mph.  I've been 100mph and it seemed to have more go-juice.  Shrug.  I think it's something like 16 seconds 0-100mph.  Lateral g's are about 0.9 for the 2015 Sport model (reasonable).  A lot of online data comes from the debut 2011 model which had a much smaller and anemic motor and performance stats.  I do not recommend the 2011.  So, though the car is not blisteringly fast, it accelerates at-once as stated before, though not as jarring as the Tesla.  Having owned over a dozen cars in my day, it's as-fast as my 1999 Firehawk, that is to say, it's as-fast as a 1990's LS1 V8 engine in a sports-car, such as a Corvette C5 or SS Camaro.  It has the same handling and acceleration feel up to 60mph.  From 60-100mph it's more like a Honda Civic EX.  It's mediocre but decent, and faster than my Saturn Astra XR or the Aura XR V6 we replaced it with.  Again, it's torque on-demand.  Ultimately, the Tesla wins.  I have no argument there, except it costs $100,000 less.. and the main point coming up..

  With the Nissan Leaf (which is about the same in speed and handling as the Volt) and the Tesla, you get "range anxiety".  The Volt uses electric power up to 30-45 miles or so, then you switch to electric-generator.  Yep, it takes good-old gas.  You have two fuel-guages, one electric-charge and one gas-powered-electric-generator-fuel.  Once you're out of electric-range a tiny electric GM motor switches on (you can't hear it) and seamlessly you just keep going for 300 more miles.  The generator adjusts itself to power an alternator on-board.  You hear none of this, nor do you feel it, it just comes-on.  You don't notice anything different.  If you stay in "Sport Mode" it just makes the generator power the alternator a little harder and your range goes down to about 280 miles (on gas).  What's nice, and here's the kicker, you can pull to any gas-station and "fill 'er up" and you get another 300 miles all-day.  With a Tesla or a Leaf, you have to charge at an electric station for 5 hours with a super-charger-station.  If you only have access to a 110 (normal) outlet, that changes to 90 hours.  90.. hours...

  We've charged the Volt and it takes about 9 or 10 hours at 110V, though if you select "Mountain Mode" while driving, the generator goes on double-duty and charges your battery for you and the alternator while driving (though your gas-range milage is more like 220 miles if you do this, and then you can hear the little engine giving all it can).  Ultimately, it's best just to use the gas when the electric runs-out as it's more efficient that way at 61mpg.  Running "Mountain Mode" charging storage and the ride itself simultaneously gets about only (only) 47 mpg.  We normally cruise at about 80mph.  Aww.  Only 61mpg at 80mph.

  So.. cost.  Well, to charge the Volt from empty to full-electric is $1 per-day.  The Tesla will need a 240V dryer-outlet to charge and will cost about $6 per-day.  The Leaf about $2 per-day.  If you only have a 110V outlet you're sort-of screwed with the Tesla.  Call your electrician and pay for an install (oh, and you have to buy their 240V charger for $1000 as well, it's not included).

The Cadillac ELR is the Cimarron of the Chevy Volt at twice the price for the same car!

Oddly phallic.
  So.. time.  Well, Volt charges in 10 hours standard (5 if you buy the universal 240V charger).  Leaf charges in 18 hours (10 in 240V charger mode if you have the charger), and the Tesla is ridiculous and pretty-much an over-nighter.  In all instances, the 240V charger is not included, nor the installation into your garage for a 240V outlet.  This should run anywhere from $1000 to $1500 to buy time.  A nice feature in the US infrastructure is that there are actually FREE chargers all over the place at 240V (and usually in good parking spots).  They're nearly invisible (you never notice them) but owning an electric you sure find out fast!  Doing some research it's a $500 fine to park a non-electric vehicle or not being plugged-into one of these while parked, and you're required by the DOT to have a special EV sticker just to park there.  Still, it's a free 240V charge and if you're there for an hour, you get about a free 10 miles range boost.  For a Tesla or Leaf, that's vital; for a Volt, it's a nicety.  Some places (very few) charge $1.  I suspect in-time, all places will charge desperate Tesla owners.  There's a Tesla Stage 3 (480V) charge station in Denver making the charge-time 2 hours, which is acceptable, but it's hard to find these "supercharger" locations.  The Volt cannot handle a supercharge rate (yet).  All chargers are universal fits.  The Leaf, Volt, and Tesla all take the same charger shape.  All of them work.  Walgreens, oddly, seems to have the majority of them.

 Factors affect driving range on all these cars.  Cold weather below 50 degrees cuts the range a third.  Below 40 and range is cut in-half.  Below zero and you're down to a quarter.  A Tesla would only have 60 miles range before it needed to charge for 90 hours in my house in the winter.  Not realistic.  A Leaf would have 20 miles.  The Volt gets 12 miles if below-zero but it can just run off of the gas-generator so you're back to 260 miles (just gas) in the winter.  Colorado gets cold.  Just makes sense.

  So, the Volt has a nice Bose (sigh) 7-speaker system with 2 subs, leather heated seats, an advanced info-tainment system that tells you current movie times in your area, weather reports, ski-reports, what the engine(s) are up-to currently, etc.  It uses "Gracenote" so your Bluetooth media is filled-in if missing on-screen, it's own WIFI and OnStar satellite-phone system (no dead spots, ever, except once in a deep canyon for a minute, understandably).  On my test drive, I took the steering wheel at 40mph and have it a 90-degree turn with no brakes and it complied.  I accelerated in Sport-Mode at full-throttle and was mashed.  Sold.

  For the price, and for practicality of plugging-in (or not if I choose not to) at home in a normal plug is great.  Handles almost as-good as a Tesla at 1/5th the price.  Is common and I can take it to any GM dealership for it's free 5 year service. Free XM and OnStar for 5 years as well as Pandora.  It's GM's baby.  It's got a Honda CRX rear window thing that's nice.  Rear camera has sensors to let you know proximity of people front and back.  Take one out.  Doesn't suck.

  Battery-pack life is expected to be 10 years.  Replacement is $1400.

  Ah, the good thing.  If you buy new then you get a Federal rebate of $7500 when you do your taxes.  Colorado offers a $6800 tax-rebate.  Ca'ching!  Gotta buy new though.  If you buy a 240V charger, there's a rebate too (I think..)

Sorry this time, Sammy!

  So we've had the car for 2 months.  We've had new cars before and it's best to let the "honeymoon" end before a good review.  The car is eerilly silent.  We whisper to each other quietly to ourselves when talking on road-trips.  When the electricity is gone, Mountain-Mode (double-duty charging) gets about 47mpg.  Normal-Mode gets about 61mpg.  Sport-Mode gets either-or, depending on your foot.  Putting the car in "Low" gear (it's only got 1 gear though) just has the regenerative engine brakes a bit more aggressive (which I love.. because from Alamosa to Pueblo with no electric charge left, we were able to go 80mph and charge downhill the whole way enough to break-even and use no gas OR electricity!)  

Pure, 100% gay Toyota Prius
The Prius really sucks, btw, in every way.  It's faggy and slow and unimpressive.  I have NO designs that I'm "saving the environment".  I'm an engineer.  I know what goes into making Lithium batteries.  The environment (even despite China) will work itself out (though a lot of non-scientists and non-engineers are fussing about Global Warming, it's part of the Milankovitch Cycle the Earth goes through every 800 years as the orbit wobbles about the sun, and currently we're in a close-phase historically.  Just go look at the mini-ice-ages timeframe and consider the Industrial Revolution carbon foot-print-stomp and you'll get it, and yes I've taken Meteorology, Oceanography, and other college classes in great study of Global Warming and without stratospheric interference, mankind cannot affect the atmosphere's mass, nor is all the ice in the world enough to raise the oceans by more than an inch, and the Earth is tilted so one side must have ice as it's minus 70 in Antarctica right now.. so.. ice.., etc.  Except for nukes, volcano-explosions, and rocket-launches, those do some interesting things..)  So yeah, I'm just looking-out for my costs.  The car is relatively cheap (these days), it's a dollar-a-day to drive (one gallon of gas at 30mpg is still $3.00)  I get 273 pounds of torque in the Volt (same as a 1999 TransAm V8) and the same lateral-g handling as a TransAm from the late '90s and all for a dollar.  Insurance is the same as a Honda Civic, so cheap.  CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP!  I like the car.  It's very good and sporty and cheap to operate.  It's GM's baby and reliablity is one of the best of all time.