Behind the purchase decision

So far, the blog has been a mix of posts about the vehicles we have and the vehicles that interest us.  I hope that you’re finding value in the stories about what life is like with an electric vehicle.

What might also be worth some attention is the thinking that goes on during the research into upcoming and already available EVs.  In other words, before the test ride, what do we think about?

1. Price

Unfortunately, price is still high for purchases.  Leasing is a good alternative if you want to avoid the steep depreciation for most mass-market electric vehicles that you face just driving off the lot.  Of course, gasoline vehicles have this problem, too.  However, electric vehicles–being a new technology and being a rapidly evolving one–currently face faster depreciation for a number of reasons that a gasoline car doesn’t face.  Battery technology is improving faster than gasoline mileage is improving, so even though EV range is less than gasoline range for the same price for now, I have no doubt that it will catch up soon enough.

Still, paying over $30K for a LEAF or i-MiEV, or over $60K for a Tesla Model S is still a stiff price to pay for a vehicle that doesn’t get you as far as a cheaper gasoline or hybrid vehicle.  Data points:

  • Nissan LEAF range: ~75 miles (city), ~45 miles (highway)
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV range:  ~60-90 miles
  • Tesla Model S range:  ~300 miles (highway)
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: 350-400 miles (highway)

This brings us to the next major consideration…

2. Range

Assuming that price is no object, range is next most complained-about feature of current mass-market EVs.  Tesla owners don’t seem to gripe much about range.

Americans seem to love having power to spare, range to spare, free refills, and extras, bonuses, and freedoms of every kind.  It’s exciting to know that there’s more of something good around the corner.  Scarcity and limitations are anathema.  People freak out about having to be careful about something, or to have external restrictions imposed upon their behavior.

When accustomed to plenty, a car that can barely go 100 miles feels strange.  Just the thought of losing the freedom to press the pedal and go anywhere is repulsive.  What they’re overlooking is that even without that safety buffer of hundreds of miles, most people’s daily routines fit within 50-100 miles.  Of course, that’s not enough for vacation travel, but for those once in a while trips, renting a gasoline car is an option.

Two other factors surprise even those people who think they can mange to commute and run errands with less than 100 miles of range, and both boil down to simple physics (who remembers their high school physics?):

  • Higher speed means lower range.  You use more energy going faster.  More than the time you save by getting to your destination sooner.  I learned this the hard way going full throttle on my electric scooter.  The scooter gets 40 miles of range at city speeds (~35 mph), but maybe 25 or less at top speed (55 mph).  To get your intuition behind it, walk somewhere and then run back.  Which tires you out sooner?
  • Climbing hills means lower range.  You use more energy climbing a hill than rolling over flat ground.  My wife and I learned this lesson climbing over the Cascades with help from more experienced LEAF owners.  The LEAF can get maybe 50 miles of range at highway speeds on flat ground, but only got about 20 miles of range at 60 mph when climbing 3,000 feet to a mountain pass.  To get your intuition behind it, think about how much more work it is to climb stairs than to walk the same distance on flat ground.

3. Refueling/recharging time

“Never stop at a gas station ever again.”  “Smile as you pass every gas station by.”

Early advertising about electric vehicles drummed this into your head, as if EVs could run forever without stopping to refuel.  But we’ve already talked about the general fear about EV range.  If the advertising really freed people from worrying about what makes the car go, then why is range still overshadowing the EV decision?

Let’s assume that we understand that a battery-powered car needs to be recharged.  What people new to EVs might be caught by surprise by is that an EV can’t be recharged as quickly as a gasoline tank can be filled.  Recharging an EV is often measured in hours rather than minutes, and is never thought of as a quick stop.  Even with DCFC (Direct Current Fast Charging) equipment or Tesla Superchargers, charging from empty to 80% takes ~40 minutes, which takes longer than filling a gasoline tank and cleaning the bugs off your windshield.

Because recharging takes no less than half an hour, each time you empty your vehicle’s battery, you have to add that to your travel time.  This gives you two more things to think about when planning a long distance trip: (1) what do you do to pass the time while recharging (especially if you bring children with you), and (2) how much closer together do your overnight stops need to be?

If you ride a motorcycle, unless you’re an Iron Butt endurance rider, you’re happy to pause after an hour or two on the road for a generous rest break.  On a gasoline motorcycle, you’d refuel your bike faster than you would be ready to get back in the saddle.  On an electric motorcycle, you’d likely be ready to go before the bike was fully recharged, even if it could recharge with DCFC equipment.

How do you pass the time?  If you’re hungry, you could easily get a meal while recharging.  If not, then you’ll want to plan your trips so that your between-meal recharging stops are somewhere interesting to explore.  Tesla Superchargers, for example, are located taking into account “where customers want to stop, such as cafes, restaurants, and shopping areas.

How do you schedule your overnight stays?  Depending on your route, the available charging equipment might not always include a fast charger.  If your vehicle’s onboard mapping system doesn’t include the location of charging stations, you can use PlugShare to see what’s available along your route.  Under ideal conditions, allow an hour for fast charging stations (DCFC/Supercharger), but no less than 3-4 hours for Level 2 (240V) charging stations.  If all that’s available is Level 1 (the same 110V plugs found in your home), you’re looking at an overnight stop (8-12 hours).

What would be a non-ideal condition to be on the lookout for?

  • The information about the charging station is out of date.  PlugShare’s information about a charger might come from the owner, but visitors who use the charging stations can leave comments, and some of those comments warn about broken equipment or delays between installation and activation.  If a charging station is critical for the success of your travel, use the station’s contact information to call ahead to ask whether the station is in working order.  Vandalism and malfunctions could ruin your day.
  • Someone who doesn’t need the charging station might be blocking your access to the charger.  Some chargers are located in desirable parking locations near the entrance to a business.  Unlike parking spaces for people with disabilities, parking spaces for EVs aren’t always clearly marked as for EV use only, and like parking spaces for people with disabilities some people who shouldn’t park there ignore the signs and park there anyway.  For example, you might find a gasoline vehicle parked there, obviously not charging, but not letting you charge, either.
  • Someone who does need the charging station might have gotten there ahead of you.  Just because a charger is in good working order doesn’t mean that it is available for use the moment you need it.  Other EV drivers could be making use of it.  They might even neglect to return to their car promptly when it has finished charging.  PlugShare doesn’t tell you whether a charging station is in use or not, so if you know the make of the charger, you can probably check that company’s web site for status information.

4. Accessories

Motorcyclists refer to these as farkle.  If you’re thinking about EVs, you’re probably someone who regularly uses one or more electronic devices, such as a cell phone, portable computing device, or GPS.  Electric cars, like gasoline cars, come equipped with a standard 12V cigarette lighter (accessory power) socket that can power and recharge your gadgets.  These are unlikely to have a significant effect upon the range of your EV.

The accessories that have the most significant effect upon the range of your EV are your heater and air conditioner.  Use them sparingly.

In summer, you’re likely to run the A/C.  How can you reduce the need for A/C?  The same way you would for a gasoline car:

  • Open the windows (which unfortunately slightly increases drag and reduces your mileage).
  • Choose cloth upholstery instead of leather.  Leather takes longer to stop sizzling your skin after the car’s been in the sun for too long.
  • Choose a model of EV with the most efficient heating/cooling equipment.  Some EV options packages use a more efficient heat pump.

In winter, you’re likely to run the heater and window defrosters.  An electric car can’t take advantage of the gasoline engine’s waste heat to warm the driver and passengers, so it has to go out of its way to generate that heat.  That takes power.  Lots of power that would otherwise move the EV closer to your destination.  To reduce power use by the heaters, you can:

  • Remember to turn off the window defrosters after they’ve done their job.  You might discover that only about 30 seconds of defrost is sufficient, once every few minutes.
  • Try treating the inside of your windshield with an anti-fog solution or wipe it with a squeegee, instead of running the defroster so often.
  • If your EV is equipped with heated seats and heated steering wheel, use those instead of heating the air.  That way, the heat goes directly to your body and hands instead of the air (and it won’t fight against the cold A/C air blowing from the windshield defroster).
  • Turn down the heater’s thermostat to the cooler end of comfortable, just like you would if you want to save money on heating your home, or to help you lose weight.
  • Remember to dress a little more warmly to compensate for a heater that can’t keep up.  Wear another layer.  I’ve heard some people keep a blanket in their EV in winter.  You might already be the always-prepared type who keeps an emergency blanket in the car, so why not?

For motorcycles, you’re not sitting in an enclosed cabin that needs air conditioning (unless you’re in a Lit Motors C-1).

For cooling off in summer, a simple solution is to keep moving to let the air cool you.  Some use evaporative cooling to stay cool.  A DIY method is to soak a scarf in cold water and wrap that around your neck.  Or soak your shirt.  Fortunately for electric motorcycles, there is no hot engine block to burn your thighs on.

For staying warm in winter, some motorcycle manufacturers offer heated grips and a heated seat.  3rd-party heating accessories also exist for installation on the bike or for the rider to wear.  If you carry passengers in the cold, check whether or not your heated seat also warms your passenger.  Unfortunately for electric motorcycles, there is no hot engine block to warm your gloves and thighs on.

5. Subjective factors

Now that you’ve got all of the facts and numbers out of the way, what’s left?  If you haven’t test ridden any of your choices, you owe it to yourself to visit a dealership and give each car or motorcycle a go.  Actually piloting the vehicle might teach you something about it that no brochure or web site ever could.  One vehicle might feel more peppy than another.  One might be easier to steer.  One might fit in your garage better.

6. Sales pressure

Now you’ve figured out which vehicle you want, and know who can sell one to you (or lease one).  Who do you give your money to?

For electric motorcycles, the decision is largely made for you because there are so few dealerships that carry electric motorcycles.  Even Zero Motorcycles, which seems to be in the lead in this respect, might only have one participating dealership in your state.  Most of the rest of the manufacturers sell direct.

The situation is better for electric cars.  Teslas are only sold directly by Tesla Motors, so you’re not able to haggle or threaten to visit another dealership to get a better price.  However, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, and Ford dealerships are pretty common, so you can get quotes from multiple sales people and have them compete for your business.

Don’t let what looks like the lowest price quote fool you, though.  Don’t let the fast talking salesperson try to add an unnecessary maintenance plan to the bill.  EVs have much fewer moving parts, so there’s less that can go wrong.  The Nissan LEAF for example has an annual battery checkup paid for by Nissan, so you don’t have to.  There’s no oil to change.  And if you lease for 24 months, you get the first two years of maintenance for free (under warranty?) anyway, so you should expect to pay $0 for maintenance during the entire lease.

Before you agree on a price with any salesperson, check to see if you qualify for any discounts.

  • Federal:  $7,500 tax credit on the purchase of certain electric cars.  Applies to first owner only.  Lease price is reduced somewhat by this, but the lessee’s payment obligation is not reduced by exactly $7,500.
  • State:  Each state sets their own incentives, so ask your state’s tax authority.  Some web sites (e.g. Plug-In America) attempt to collect this information, but at the end of the day your state’s tax authority’s decision stands.  Even if you find information about a favorable discount or tax break, check its expiration date.
  • Corporate:  Your employer might be large enough to have negotiated a discount with EV manufacturers or their dealerships, perhaps as part of an eco-friendly initiative to support electric vehicle use.
  • Club:  You might be a member of, or could become a member of, some kind of club that has negotiated a discount with certain dealerships or manufacturers.  For example, Costco offers a purchase program that negotiates lower prices on behalf of its members.
  • Dealership:  Some dealerships occasionally offer specials or discounts, especially when a model year is ending.  Some dealerships take pride in selling the most of a certain brand or model and will undercut other dealerships to reach a quota or maintain a reputation…sometimes at the cost of customer service, so beware!

Let me know if that helps,

This entry was posted in Car, Comparing, Comparison, Education, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Recharging, Shopping, Tesla. Bookmark the permalink.

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