Chevy Volt Pricing Announced at Plug-in 2010 in San Jose

This morning GM announced the pricing and packaging for the Chevy Volt. The base model costs 41,000 (before incentive) and includes a navigation system with 7″ LCD screen and other features. They also are offering it as a $350/lease with a minimal amount down. The Nissan Leaf is just $20,000 after financial incentives (in California, $25,000 elsewhere), and includes a larger battery (but no backup generator)

Would you choose the Volt over the Nissan Leaf? That may depend on whether you use it for a commuting car or regularly plan to use the car to take longer trips. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

See the video here

Plug-In 2010 Opens in San Jose – Announcements Await!

Chevy Volt Hybrid Electric Car

The Chevy Volt Series Electric Hybrid Car on Display at Plug-in 2010

I arrived at Plug-in 2010 minutes before the doors were swung open revealing a large exhibition space with large representation of electric vehicles charging equipment and firms like BetterPlace and Evatran who promise to do it all better and differently from the rest.

My request to pop the hood of the Volt to see the magic were firmly denied. I did get a description of the components and there location. Remember, that unlike in the Prius the engine is elecric only and uses a gas generator to power the vehicle when the charge is depleted. That gas generator DOES NOT charge the battery. So, whenever you are driving more than 40 miles range you need  to fire up the ICG (internal combustion generator).

If I purchased a Leaf, at a very reasonable price post tax incentives, it would work great for commutes and short hops, but what happens when I want to drive 110 miles? Do I try to go gentle on the accelerator and hope for the best, meanwhile counting on AAA to tow me to the nearest outlet, providing I found on in the case that drive a few one steeper hills than I anticipated and don’t make it the whole way back?

If, instead I purchase the Chevy Volt, I’ve taken care of my biggest fear — range anxiety, such what would come from the fear that  Can you imagine being on a hot date in your snazzy new Nissan Leaf and so worry about having enough power to make it that you forget to ask for your date’s phone number!

Ok, seriously, let’s say that you have to drive 82 miles round trip each day. Well we can’t even make it one way without burning fossil fuel. High tech and all but it doesn’t even have the combined range to go from SF to LA in one fueling. Couldn’t they have found a vehicle that gets better range than a traditional car even if it fell short of a hybrid?

So what do I recommend? Frankly if you are mostly commuting on local streets, I don’t see a need for either. Just ride your far less expensive, way more fun, and cheaper in every way electric scooter. You can even carry oodles of stuff on it. But if you are set on a electric car, either buy a smaller local rated vehicle, or go for the Leaf — it’s real, available and pure electric plus a great incentive program. And for the long drives use your other car, the Hybrid or even rent a car for the day or weekend.

Native Z6 with Givi 470 Case

Scooter with lots of groceries

When I decided to purchase a scooter I had already gotten rid of our second car and given my wife primary access to what was previously “my” car. With that in mind, I needed to be able to use my scooter to do as much as possible of what I would have accomplished with a second car and that includes grocery runs to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and anywhere else. After doing some research online I decided on the Givi e470 case. Not only can it hold 47 liters worth of goods, but it also lockable and comes with a quick release mechanism that I could attach to my scooter’s rack.

I purchased it online at Helmet Head for less than $200 with free shipping –a nice bonus on a largeitem. It was easy to install and works quite well. The only draw back is that when I load it too full, it can sometimes be tricky to open especially if something blocks the latching mechanism. I’ve found a trick that has worked in every situation, remove the case from the rack with the quick release and invert it. Then gravity does the work and it opens easily.

I can hold two large bags of groceries in the case and a third can be hung from the hook in the front of the scooter. The case is even tall enough to fit a bottle of wine standing up straight and/or several six packs of beer! It easily fits my XL Nolan N102 helmet and a smaller helmet at the same time. All in all, its been a great asset and has made the scooter quite practical.

Great Jacket Found for Half Price! Tourmaster Jett

Last week I decided to look again for a TourMaster Jett Series II Jacket, a very comfortable, good looking jacket with some great safety/visibility features. I almost purchased this jacket months ago but after a brief travel wearing, found that it was way too hot for me on a warm sunny day. it was a shame as it was the most comfortable jacket I had tried.

Leave it to NewEnough the discount shopping store to offer me a deal I couldn’t refuse. They made the same Tourmaster Jett available in last years model (the one I preferred) at half price! Only $65 for an awesome jacket with a zip in lining that makes it warm enough for the coldest Northern CA and is water resistant to boot. It was my first time using NewEnough so I did some research and everything seemed good. It arrived quickly and the price speaks for itself! It’s too bad I don’t get paid to say any of these as I wouldn’t mind the extra cash — but definitely wanted you all to benefit from this great find.

Importance of Charging and What I get per charge

Yesterday I used my scooter three separate times, including appointments, errands and social plans. It can be slightly inconvenient, but it is important to plug in to a charger every single time. This not only ensures the maximum range for the next ride, but more importantly prevents sulfation, a process in which crystallization of the lead sulfates forms which limits the future ability to charge fully. This is specific to the lead acid batteries I have in my Native Z6, and would be true for any vehicle that uses lead acids. You can read more about lead acid batteries here. The particular batteries used in the Native Z6 are B.B. batteries which are of the AGM (absorbed glass mat) variety and are pretty much as good as you can get without upgrading to lithium ion. These batteries don’t require any maintenance and are installed without any kind of BMS (battery management system).

Charging time can vary a lot. Last night I had ridden only a couple of miles so it only took a few minutes to charge the batteries back up. A full charge from completely dead would take just 3 1/2 hours with my fast charger. I use a killawatt meter when I charge so I can tell how much power I’ve put into the battery and can also access what percentage of its capacity I had used. The biggest charge I put in is just below 1 1/2 kWh (kilo Watt hours) which locally means less than 20 cents at the first tier of electrical rates! Given that I can go 22 miles on a charge, that puts the cost of use at less than 9/10 of a cent per mile. Compare that to gasoline at 3.20/gallon (not including all costs of providing gasoline that are paid by our taxes) and based on price along I am getting 361 miles per cost of a gallon! 361 mph! Now that is a great return on investment. Add to that the impact of using energy created through a combination of renewable sources, given that PG&E uses Nuclear, Large Hydro, Wind and Solar as a large part of its mix and compare that to having emissions from the tail pipe rather than in a more tightly controlled and monitored (when did you last monitor the emissions from your tailpipe?) power plant, and the impact to the environment is far greater yet.

Trade-off Completed, Power for Range

Today I rode for the first time after reprogramming the controller in my scooter. I had lowered the maximum power from 80% to 70% and reduced the maximum speed as well. Making the change was relatively easy once I properly configured my windows xp installation running on Parallels on my Macbook Pro. The application itself was a free download.

Most important, was testing the range, the issue which has been most difficult for me. I’ve previously attempted a 16 mile round trip only to complete the last couple of miles in “limp mode” when the maximum speed is only a few miles an hour. This time I fared much better, riding 22 miles before I limped the last few feet home. Twenty miles is enough for pretty much any ride I would undertake without having the opportunity to charge in the middle. i can now easily visit friends in Alameda without a problem, though the furthest points of Richmond might be pushing my luck, especially if steep hills are involved. For those who may be reading this and who are located in a less hilly region than Northern California, note that I had some serious hill climbing in these 22 miles. The most noteworthy was the steep climb up Pleasant Valley Road from Broadway up to Piedmont Avenue. In a less hilly region, it might be possible to squeeze a few extra miles. When time allows, I may try a flatter ride to see what difference it makes. In the meantime I’m grateful to have the extra range.

But how much did I give up in terms of power? My maximum speed at 80% power was 50mph which I only hit a couple of times. 45mph was a more realistic max. Now that has been reduced by 10mph to just 35. Fast enough to maintain the legal urban speed limit, but occasionally a bit slow to keep up with traffic. It’s a compromise for sure and I can always tweak the power setting a bit to 73 or 75% if I decide its necessary.