Sept 11, 2012 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Our focus on CalCars has largely shifted to the extremely urgent project of building demand for all plug-in cars. Without that, their future is not assured. Here's an update on National Plug In Day and on the new DrivingElectric.org, the big news about Fisker, and wisdom from a panel of plug-in drivers.
NATIONAL PLUG IN DAY IS SEPTEMBER 23: It's a party across the country to celebrate the second annual event. Sponsored by Plug In America, the Electric Auto Assoociation, and the Sierra Club, it's scheduled so far in more than 60 locations nationwide. Parades, ride-and-drives, electric tailgate parties, press conferences, award ceremonies, informational booths, and more will build awareness about PEVs. Find an event near you and find out how you might win one of 10 iPads: http://www.pluginday.org
VOLT'S FIRST EMPLOYEE BECOMES CEO: Tony Posawatz, the engineer who worked at GM for 32 years became the Vehicle Line Director for the Chevy Volt. Along the way, he got an MBA at Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School, supported by a GM Graduate Fellowship, and he has served as chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Now he'll put both his technical and management skills to work as the new CEO of Fisker Automotive, makers of the high-end and beautiful looking Karma plug-in hybrid. My favorite pictures of Tony are of him meeting with plug-in advocates in 2008, and then offering me and others the first public Volt test drives at TED in 2010, both at http://www.calcars.org/photos-plugins-arrive.html ,
Fisker has raised over $1.2B from private investors, drew down $170M from a federal ATV loan, and has sold over 2,000 of the mostly-praised Karma at $100+K. But it has had its challenges, including a battery-coolant-related recall, a fire involving a fan, and the usual misinformation and disinformation plug-ins receive. (The owner whose car caught fire responded by buying a second car and investing in the company. There's a lesson about the role of drivers!) Because of development delays, its second-stage federal loan for its more affordable PHEV, the Atlantic (formerly the Nina), to be built in a closed auto factory in Delaware, was frozen. Good luck to Tony and the company!
DRIVINGELECTRIC.ORG: We announced this initiative in our last news posting. Our project, jointly sponsored by Plug In America and the Electric Auto Association, aims to become a tool for every owner or frequent driver of a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) to create a searchable profile and offer the personal touch -- explanations, a test ride, a test drive, a short vehicle swap -- with anyone who is curious about PEVs and might buy one. Our slogan is "Connecting Drivers To Drivers -- Because Life is Better Fully Charged."
Thanks to our heroic small team http://beta.drivingelectric.org/about , as we used to say in Internet startup days, "we've been building the plan as we go down the runway." We've begun alpha-testing with a small group of drivers. Watch for invitations to sign up and participate! We hope to launch everywhere on National Plug In Day, September 23.
EV RIDERS EVENT: Parallel to the focus of DrivingElectric.org, the Commonwealth Club's Climate One forum, so ably produced and moderated by Greg Dalton, hosted a panel in San Francisco on August 23 called "EV Riders," where PEV drivers, including Felix Kramer, shared their experiences. You can find a summary and a link to the podcast at http://www.climate-one.org/blog/ev-riders .
THE READER'S DIGEST VERSION: though everyone on the panel had great things to say, in a shameless self-promotion, below are excerpts, mostly from Felix Kramer's comments, which effectively "take the temperature" of the plug-in campaign and distill some of the most salient issues we've focused on in recent years. We've edited for readability and coherence...without the ellipses [or brackets] that show when and where we've cut or made changes. The full transcript is at http://www.climate-one.org/transcripts/ev-riders including a note that "Transcriptions provided by Climate One at the Commonwealth Club are provided as convenience and reference only. Please listen to the audio before quoting from the transcript to check for accuracy."
Greg Dalton: Welcome to Climate One at the Commonwealth Club. Most major automakers are now selling or leasing cars that run on electricity all or part of the time. Electrified and hybrid vehicles account for about three to four percent of new US car sales, a figure that goes up and down with gasoline prices. Today, we'll talk with owners of the new plug-in cars about their lives as early adopters. We'll discuss their new wheels, how they deal with range anxiety, and what it's like living in the transportation frontier. We'll also get in to the complicated world of charging electric vehicles at home and public locations such as garages, offices, and corporate -- and retail centers. Along the way, we'll include questions from our live audience here at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Our guests are three EV owners who have deep knowledge about the transition from petroleum to electricity to power our personal mobility. John Kalb is founder of EV Charging Pros http://www.evchargingpros.com, a consultancy and an owner of a BMW ActiveE. Andrea Kissack is Senior Science Editor at KQED http://science.kqed.org/quest/2012/02/10/clean-car-diaries-tesla-unveils-and-fisker-stops-production/ and a proud owner of a Nissan LEAF. Felix Kramer is the founder of CalCars and the soon to be launched website DrivingElectric.org and owner of a Chevy Volt and a Nissan LEAF. Please welcome them to Climate One.
Greg Dalton: Felix Kramer, you're a twofer. Tell us about your -- both of your plug-in cars.
Felix Kramer: Well, actually my story started as an advocate in 2006 when I got a plug-in Prius conversion. And the first thing I did was I wanted to find out how inconvenient it was to have this car. So I tested by going into my garage and plugging it in and driving and then coming home and unplugging it, and it added nine seconds either side to my day, my trouble. So it really was not much of an inconvenience at all. And that -- I've been an advocate for all this time and my dream came true when the Chevy Volt came to market in 2009. We got one, the first ones. And--
Greg Dalton: Number nine or--
Felix Kramer: Number nine, yeah. And Ron Gremban, the co-founder of CalCars, got an early one also. And we drove up to Novato and picked them up, and we were in heaven, because these cars were finally on the road. And then a month and a half later, we got a LEAF because we needed two cars.
Many people with the Volts are getting 150, 200-mile average, you know, miles per gallon. We're much lower than that because this is the car that we drive around in the neighborhood all the time, but we can take it up to Tahoe anytime we want. And so it was the first commercial mass-produced plug-in car to be able to tour around in Tahoe and get back and forth to the Bay Area. And then for everyday driving, we got the LEAF. That's the first car out of the driveway every day because it's a little more efficient. It's got a longer range. When we're both driving, we use the LEAF and the Volt; when we're going for a long trip we have the Volt.
Greg Dalton: Which one is more fun to drive?
Felix Kramer: Well, they're each fun in different ways. The LEAF is kind of like a colt, a sleek-down vehicle that's tremendously fun. All these cars -- the zero to 30 miles per hour acceleration is phenomenal, because an electric vehicle has instant torque. Zero to 60 can be pretty good. But off the stoplight, you know, if you wanted to, you can just charge out there. The Volt is a more sophisticated car. Some people actually say they feel it feels like a BMW. It's a very high-tech -- these are iPhone cars. They are super high-tech, but they also are just like real cars, and that's the most important thing about them. They just drive like any other car except better.
Greg Dalton: Let's talk about living with EVs and the Volt is a little bit different because it has that gasoline engine, so you don't have to worry about running out of juice.
Felix Kramer: One thing to know is that AAA now has trouble trucks just like for regular cars. They'll give you 10 to 15 miles when you call them. Another thing is the apps, you can also find an entire network of people who would say, my charging station on the outside of my house is available to all of you folks, just come, and I've used those sorts of things, drive-friendly community.
Greg Dalton: But if you go up to some stranger's house and plug-in, you're not worried about the dog or anything like that?
Felix Kramer: Well, it's all noted on the app, the information saying, you know, "Open the side door," or whatever it is. And people are really open to that. But beyond that, more fundamentally, the owners of the first cars are self-selecting. They are people who can do most of the charging at home. Because if you're charging at home, you're paying 3 cents a mile. And you can't come close to that with any other car. So you know, most of the people, they're saying, "I want this car because right now without any infrastructure, this car really works for me." And many other people have two cars. And for every family in America -- even though cars are marketed about "you can drive this car to the Grand Canyon if you want -- in fact, second cars are used locally. And so a 75-mile range LEAF is perfect as a second car for every family in the San Francisco Bay Area and places all over the country.
Andrea Kissack: But AAA, from what I understand, they have two trucks in the Greater Bay Area, the whole Greater Bay Area, that can actually handle that, to do that charging.
Felix Kramer: Yeah, they're just prototypes.
Felix Kramer: One other thing is that car-sharing has taken off in a big way, and that's an adjunct to this. So if you're a one-car family, you can always rent a car that can go further or you can swap your car with somebody else or you can go to GetAround or RelayRides or those kinds of places, and you can get somebody else's car and switch. And we've said to our neighbors "Hey, we're going away and we need a four-wheel drive vehicle, would you be willing to take my quiet, smooth, free-to-drive car for the weekend and lend us your big gas-guzzling SUV?" And we get a lot of people saying, "We'd love to switch with you."
Andrea Kissack: But -- And then they have to charge, they need a home charging unit.
Felix Kramer: They use their 120 charger. So [showing] this is the charger and people need to understand -- they call it a charger, it's actually a cable set. So this side is 120 volts, plugs in to any 15 amp outlet, and this is the J plug, this is universal. Every car has this and it goes right in there--
Greg Dalton: Except for the Teslas, but that's the standard right now, right?
Felix Kramer: Yeah, and Tesla has an adaptor for it. There may be some problems in the future, but as of now, there's universality in these chargers. So basically, you know, when I lend the car to someone, this comes with the car. And they can plug it in their garage and they can get about 5 miles in an hour of charging. So if they want 20 miles they can get it in four hours. But they only need it if the car is completely depleted, which it probably isn't anyway.
Greg Dalton: Let's talk about cost, because this is really complicated. Everyone knows what a gallon of gasoline costs. But converting this into kilowatt hour, I don't even know what a kilowatt hour is, how much it costs, that's really complicated.
Felix Kramer: If you do the math, I mean, a kilowatt for most people, is somewhere 8 to 12 cents a kilowatt hour. And you get about three or four miles on a kilowatt hour. So that's where you get the two to four cents a mile for driving electric. For a gasoline car, it's eight to 50 cents a mile, depending on what kind of car you're driving.
But there are other kinds of costs, too. There's the initial first cost, that's the one that a lot of people are concerned about, but your operating cost are going to be way lower. Your initial first cost, if you only look at that, the car is going to be more expensive than many other cars. They're not exactly comparable because they have many more bells and whistles.
But your first cost are going to be higher; it helps that there's $7,500 federal tax credit and some states like California have $2,500 local tax credit as well. Fleets are mostly the only ones who think about total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the car. And even at today's current gasoline cost, let alone much higher in the future probably, you're going to be better off with your total operating cost for the car. And just think about it: if you have your all-electric vehicle, the only time you're going to take your car in to get service is to rotate the wheels, because there's nothing else that needs servicing in that car. So you're going to save on that side--
John Kalb: The fan belt, oil change--
Felix Kramer: Spark plugs.
Greg Dalton: All that stuff, that's -- yeah. Right.
John Kalb: All gone.
Greg Dalton: Let's talk a little bit more about the clean electrons going into the car. Some of the auto companies are pairing with solar companies, is that a key part of this, you know, do you have to have solar, is that just a nice option to have solar on your--?
Felix Kramer: We found that about half the people who buy plug-in cars within a year or two go solar. And they're not directly charging the car, they're in a grid-tied system. So they're getting a lot of electricity in the daytime when the rates are very high. They go into a time-of-use rate. And then at night when it's cheaper they're charging their car. But effectively, they are offsetting the price of the car, and of operating the car, with free energy. And that's huge and because this is Climate One, we're talking about exactly what Andrea was saying, these cars get cleaner as the grid get cleaner. Even in an all-coal state, a plug-in car is better than a gasoline car. But in places where there's a substantial amount of renewables or a lot even of natural gas, they're better off. So these cars are a key element in the puzzle of getting the world off fossil fuels. And another thing it's important to say since we're all driving cars here: reducing the miles traveled by mass transit or bicycling or walking is even better than driving an electric car.
Greg Dalton: Well, let's talk about the sales so far -- this projection in terms of the adoption of electric vehicles.
Felix Kramer: Well -- the really early adopters have mostly gotten their cars now. So the question is how we're going to get to the early majority -- when will we even get to them? And what plug-in advocates are discovering is that the best people to make the case for a plug-in car are the drivers. And so this new project that we're doing, DrivingElectric.org, is going to enable people anywhere in the country to put in their zip code and connect with an existing driver who will show them the car and maybe give them a test drive and so forth. Because in my experience, when people get in the car, they suddenly -- all the preconceptions go away. The first thing that happens is they shut the door and they hear this solid metal closing of the door, and the first thing they almost all say is, "This is a real car."
Greg Dalton: Yeah.
Felix Kramer: And they don't really believe that until that moment. And then they drive around--
Greg Dalton: They're expecting a golf cart, right?
Felix Kramer: Yeah, and then if they borrow it for a day, they realize, "Hey, this car would work for me." And so there's a process here. And the car makers are building great cars, but they need the help of today's 40,000, 50,000 drivers who are the best advocates for this cars, they need their help to get these cars out into the marketplace.
Greg Dalton: I think your website is a good idea. But I also -- I often say that the audience here at Climate One is just as important as what happens up here on stage. So some of you out here with EVs are those who can give test drives to the people sitting next to you who want to look at an EV, we might have some good things going around in the audience today.
John Kalb: I'd like to say that that's a really true experience for me as well. I'm always giving people test drives, but I don't drive them, I let them drive my car.
Greg Dalton: Yeah.
John Kalb: And you know, I live out in West -- in Marin, and have easy access to the road to Point Reyes. And when you put somebody in an all-electric vehicle and say go to Point Reyes and drive it like you see on the commercials, drive it fast, drive it hard, go around the curves, give it some speed, frequently it's a mind-blowing experience to their drivers. I like to call my car a slot car on steroids, because it really handles incredibly well. It's very well balanced, the batteries are structured in the vehicle so that the extra weight -- my car weighs significantly more than a normal BMW, but the engineers really thought about that in this particular environment. And it drives like a champ. And the experience -- I call it the EV grin, it's really hard to let somebody else drive your car and they get out of it and they're smiling, they're like, "Wow, that was fun." And that's the enthusiasm factor that we're actually able to impart to other people. And I agree with you, that's going to be how they get it.
Greg Dalton: And there is -- September 23rd is National Plug In Day and Plug In America, the Electric Auto Association, the Sierra Club, they're cosponsoring events all over the country to give people these kinds of experiences.
Felix Kramer: I've also loaned people the car and seen that grin, and we should also mention that BMW has a new project here in San Francisco where people can rent these BMWs by the hour or by the minute.
Felix Kramer: One thing I should mention is the Ford Focus has a slightly longer range than a LEAF. And the Tesla Model S, which is out now and people are just saying it's the best car ever built, that has a choice for a 160-, 240- or 300-mile range on that car. It's an expensive car, but it's a five adult and two kids car, and it's got a rear trunk and a "frunk" in the front, because there's no engine it's got a front trunk, too. And so the range issue is gone with that car.
Greg Dalton: Right. Let's talk a little about people who live in multi-family buildings or renters. You know, if you got your own dedicated garage, that's one thing, but a big part of San Francisco and a lot of people in America don't have a dedicated parking space.
Felix Kramer: I've met some people who'd done a surprising turnaround on this whole thing. They don't have any place to charge at home and they charge only at work, and that solves the problem for them.
Greg Dalton: And their work can provide -- their workplace provides free or low-cost charging, these people who work at Electronic Arts or Google or something like that.
Felix Kramer: Yeah. And there are issues involved in that because if they're providing a benefit, there may be tax issues and companies are dealing with those issues.
Male Participant 1: Well, I'd like to add an important element to this discussion that somehow got passed over, but I just -- my background is that I was driving a Prius for 12 years and I was almost at the point where I was going to buy one of Felix's conversion kits and have a converted Hybrid. Then the Leaf came along and so that swayed me. I now own a Leaf. I sold the Prius. But you know what, all those 12 years, it really stuck in my throat that I had to buy petroleum products. You know, that really got to me, especially when you read the headlines about what we did in Iraq, what we're going to do and--
Greg Dalton: So now you got your EV and you're happy. Is this a first?
Male Participant 1: I sleep well at night because I'm not contributing to that and I didn't contribute a nickel to the last quarterly report for British Petroleum and the obscene profits that they make.
Felix Kramer: I sometimes wear a t-shirt that's called "Petrocide" which is a picture of a gas tank, and the nozzle, instead of going into cars, is pointing at your head. And I believe that fossil fuels are destroying the world and so anything we can do to reduce fossil fuel use is the most important thing we can do in our lives.
Felix Kramer: If you fast forward five -- probably 10 years from now, the people who spend $5,000 or $10,000 for back-up diesel generator for their house in case of power outages which are somewhat frequent in some parts of the country, including here, they will be able to power the lights in their kitchen and their refrigerator with their car. The device that enables that to happen is now on sale by Nissan in Japan.
We did a renovation in our house and we re-wired the house so we could do that and so that we will be able to, in case of an outage of power fuel part of the house by our rooftop photovoltaic system and recharge the battery of the car at that point, and then if it's a cloudy day, we can -- with the Volt, we can actually run the car and power the house.
Felix Kramer: In your situation [high electric use], you could get a separate meter for your electric vehicle and you could charge it at 5 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour, just the electric vehicle. But you're the kind of person who, in looking at the whole big picture, might decide to go solar. The other thing is that in terms of pricing, we're constantly asked about paybacks and so forth, but no one buys a car based on that kind of calculation. They buy it based on features and if it gives them what they want. It just happens you can do the calculation, but you never get someone to say, "I'm buying a V8," and the friend says, "Buy a V6. There's a better payback on it." Or you never get someone saying, "I'm putting stainless steel appliances in my kitchen," and someone says, "There's no payback in that. Why are you doing that?" People buy features in vehicles.
Greg Dalton:. All right. Let's look into the future. Is the success of electric vehicles assured, Felix Kramer?
Felix Kramer: Not by any means. There could be a big deal in Washington -- on taxes, which could kill the tax credit, and if that happens, I think that the future of the cars is very much in doubt at this point. They really need that boost to get traction in the marketplace. And the second thing is I think we've gotten by a lot of bad publicity, but there's still a tremendous amount of misinformation out there. And so the advocacy organizations and the automakers are doing their best. GM finally started a good ad campaign about people why they love their Volts. Instead of just having kind of strange ads, they still don't show people in the car is driving them. So the marketing can be a lot better, but we can't guarantee, we can't sit back and say this is going to happen automatically.
Felix Kramer: I do want to say one other thing because we're at Climate One. If we ever have the kind of crisis in the fuels, oil supply or real awareness about how we -- what we have to do in this world, at that point, we'll look around and we'll say, "Well, what can we do?" We can get cars off oil really quickly if we want to. We can get that cars off oil in 10 or 15 years, most of them, by building a lot of new electric vehicles, by converting a lot of vehicles and by cleaning the grid at the same time. And that's something that is not in the cards at this point, but it might be and I certainly hope it will be.
Greg Dalton: We'll have to end it there. Our thanks to our participants today, John Kalb, founder of EV Charging Pros and an owner of a BMW ActiveE; Andrea Kissick, Senior Science Editor at KQED and owner of a Nissan Leaf; and Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars and owner of a Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. I'm Greg Dalton, owner of a Nissan Leaf. Thanks to you all for coming to Climate One today.