Bye Bye Volt

Alas, all good things, etc etc.

Tonight I returned the Chevy Volt I leased three years ago. In the intervening time I drove 54,000 miles, at an average of 98mpg, using 550 gallons of gas. Had I continued with the Passat wagon I had before that, which got about 28mpg, I would have burned 1928 gallons. That 1400 gallons saved 28,000lb (14 tons) of CO2 from being emitted. That’s about a years worth of emissions for a fairly efficient house.

Nowadays I work full time from home, so my daily mileage has gone from 70-75 miles a day down to about 6. In a sort of weird reversal of history, where in the above article I lamented trading in my Jeep for the Volt, I now have a 2000 Jeep TJ as my only personal vehicle. Of course Mrs. Geek has a Subaru wagon, which we use for most errands, trips, etc, but the Jeep is mine, and I adore it.

I did have a reservation in to buy a Tesla Model 3 when they were available (which is now), but given the low miles I’m driving, and that I’m spending more and more time out of the country, it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive electric vehicle just sitting at home.

So here I am in mid-life with “nothing but an 18 year old manual truck in the garage”.

I’m okay with that.

2016 New England Auto Show

Yesterday Zach and I went to the New England Auto Show at the Boston Convention Center. it was right next door to Arisia, so we thought “what the heck, lets take an hour or two to go look at shiny cars.” He’d never been to a commercial car show before, so we trundled over.

2016-01-1717.jpgOn the way in, we ran the usual gauntlet of free coupons, surveys, and other marketing nitwits. The line to buy tickets was super-fast (literally walked right up to the next person selling), but someone had already stopped me in line “Hey, I bought an extra, want mine?” er…. sure! That was $15 not spent.

Once on the show floor it was acres and acres of carpeting with shiny cars and trucks parked on them. I realized quickly that Zach knew more about modern car lines than I did, so I let him identify some things. I helped out with things like “Yes, that really is a Bentley, and yes, they really do cost a quarter million dollars, and no, I can’t tell you why.”

There were some important wins that made the show worth while. I was able to look at the 2016 Volt, and in particular, whether I could fit in it (spoiler: yup). I also love that Chevy redesigned the Volt’s center console, which was a mess. That plus the new battery layout and longer range (about 53 miles on battery, as opposed to the 41-ish I get with my 2015) makes me want to see about changing my lease over.

Two other high points of the show. Zach has decided that his dream car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I’ll admit that when it first came out as the Miata 25 years ago, I was pretty taken with it. No way I could sit in it though. 2016-01-1715.jpgZach had never had the opportunity to ‘try one on for size’, so now was our chance. He fit! The soft top closed comfortably over him, and he was over the moon. If you’re going to be in love with a car, at least he’s picking a stylish, not stupidly over the moon expensive one.

The one other bit of fun we had was Zach was able to climb into a real live Modified-class track racecar. We were gaping at it when the owner said “Want to try it on for size?” “Not me”, I said, “But could he try?” I pointed to Zach and he said “heck yeah!”. So after some wriggling in through the window, he socketed into the drivers seat (which was conveniently sized about right for him), and he got a feel for what real racecars feel like.

All in all, a nice 2 hours spent with my son geeking about cars. For me, it was also a chance to try out my lovely new Canon 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens. Here’s the full gallery. This was my first time doing any decent work with such a short focal length, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I like it!

Why You Should Drive an Electric Car

This morning, while getting ready to go to the Worcester Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive Event I put together a little placard to show next to my Chevy Volt to answer some basic questions. What is a Volt, how efficient is it, etc.

It got me thinking. How much is this really helping things? Am I really driving green?

Well, lets take a look at the numbers, purely from a CO2 emissions standpoint. I’ll use my current statistics since I bought the car May 1st. The spreadsheet is to the right.

My Volt numbers
My Volt numbers

If I were to drive all 9,546 miles on a gasoline engine at 40mpg, I would have burned 238 gallons of gas. Each gallon of gas burned releases 18 pounds of CO2. I would have released 4,295 pounds, or a little over 2 tons of CO2.

I only drove 2970 miles on gas, so I released only 900lbs of CO2.

Stark numbers, wouldn’t you say?

Now, there’s other factors. Even though I didn’t burn the gasoline myself, that energy had to come from somewhere. I purchase my electricity through National Grid and have signed up for their Green Energy program that makes sure my money goes to pay for green power, so one could argue there’s no emissions for my usage. But lets assume I get my power via normal channels.

According to the EIA, Natural Gas releases 1.21lbs of CO2 per kwh generated. I’ve used 2,389 kwh, totalling 2890lbs of CO2 if I sourced it from natural gas, bringing my total CO2 emissions to about 3790lbs. By that measure, I’ve only saved a few hundred pounds of CO2. We’re putting aside the other nasty stuff that’s generated by internal combustion engines.

But you cannot improve the cleanliness of an internal combustion engine just by checking a box on your power bill. You can do that with electric. With one checkbox (“Use green energy sources”), I cut 4tons of CO2 out of my carbon footprint every year.

Isn’t that worth it?

National Drive Electric Car Week

Tomorrow night I’ll take my Chevy Volt to WPI for National Drive Electric Week’s Worcester Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive Event. It looks like there’ll be about 35 EV’s there, so should be a great mix of technologies and equipment.

volt plugged in
My Volt plugged into the Level 2 charger at Curriculum Asssociates

My Volt has been a great addition to my daily commute, and it’s even more fun now that there are Level 2 chargers at work. I can go days without burning a single ounce of gasoline.

OwnStar – Vulnerability in OnStar Application for GM vehicles

Hack of OnStar Remotelink lets attacker unlock, remote-start, and track cars.

The OwnStar device can detect nearby users of the OnStar RemoteLink application on a mobile phone and can then inject packets into the communication stream to the phone, getting it to give up additional information about the user’s credentials. Those credentials can then be used to gain access to the vehicle’s OnStar account and the full functionality of the OnStar RemoteLink app.

Kamkar says the vulnerability is in the app itself and not the OnStar hardware in GM vehicles. He added that GM and OnStar are working to correct the flaw in the vulnerable mobile application. GM customers who use OnStar can protect themselves for the time being by not using the RemoteLink app.

Good thing I don’t have a GM vehicle that heavily uses OnStar remote services.

Source: ArsTechnica

One Week with the Chevy Volt

So a week ago I traded in my Jeep Wrangler for a Chevy Volt.  It was a hard decision, but made sense on so many levels.  I have a long commute (70 miles round trip), do other road trips, etc.  And while I’ll miss being able to bang around in the woods and romp through the mud, the Volt has been… all things are considered… pretty damned awesome!

chevy volt on charger
My 2015 Chevy Volt plugged in at the office

Lets start with the run down.  In the last week, I’ve driven about 450 miles.  In that time, I’ve burned a grand total of 2 gallons of gas.  And lets be clear, this isn’t because I drive carefully or anything – this thing is fun as heck to drive, and tearing along an on-ramp or powering around someone in traffic is a ton of fun.  This is just using basic energy management.  At night, I plug the Volt into an normal 110v outlet in my garage, which, by morning, means I have a full charge – a battery range of between 40 and 45 miles.  When I get to work, weather permitting and no one is in the parking spot near the outlet, I plug in there as well.  6 hours at work is enough to top off the battery and get me home again.

If I don’t get a chance to plug it in?  That’s okay… when the battery runs out, the Volt functions like a ‘normal’ car and runs on the engine, giving a respectable 40mpg.

That’s the basics.  Now lets get into the cool geeky stuff.

The car doesn’t look like an EV.  It’s not a Prius, it’s not a Leaf, it’s not an Insight, and it’s sure as heck not a Tesla.   On the outside, it just looks like your standard smallish sedan.  On the inside it’s modern as heck, with 2 color displays, schwoopie internal lines, and comfortable details.  I’m 6’6″ tall, and my son is 6’2.  We fit just fine, though if we’re hauling tall kids in the back seats, things can get cramped.  Having said that, even the tall kids find they have enough headroom in the back – it’s usually footspace gets a little tricky.  The trunk is certainly smaller than the Jeep (duh), but the car is a hatchback, and while I wouldn’t want to haul furniture with it, I can carry whatever project I’m working on in the back without much trouble.

Something I hear from other EV car drivers, I’ll pass on here.  If you’ve never driven an EV car, find a friend who has one, and ask to take their car for a quick drive.  There is nothing in my experience that compares with driving a modern, comfortable automobile under electric power.  It is almost silent, the acceleration is smooth and clean (and strong!!).  It’s almost impossible not to smile when pulling this car out of the garage and heading off down the road.  It feels space-age.  We may not have flying cars yet, but this sure feels like we’re getting there.

Too many people think of the Chevy Volt like a Prius or similar.  An extremely practical, un-fun car.  Let me tell you folks, this car is seriously fun to drive.  The acceleration is phenomenal when you ‘drop the hammer’ as they used to say.  According to the interwebz, the 0-60 time is 8.7 seconds, (compared with the plugin Prius at 10.5 seconds.  The Leaf zips at 7.4 seconds – it’s a much lighter car with no engine).  My Wrangler would have done that in 10.4 seconds, and burned half a gallon of gas doing it.

This brings up another point.  When I drive the Volt aggressively, I don’t feel like I’m doing damage to it, or to the environment, or anything.  I’m using more battery power, sure, but unlike a gas engine (which runs less efficiently when heavily loaded, ie burning more hydrocarbons), the Volt just runs the battery down a little more.  You can wildly vary the efficiency of an internal combustion engine based on driving style, and by efficiency I mean “how much crap you blow out your tailpipe”, but the Volt?  The only efficiency you’ll hurt is how long your battery will last until it needs a recharge.

Lets talk about some more geeky things.

onstar app
The OnStar app on my Android phone showing the status of the Volt

The Volt is an EV car.  I spend 95% of my time driving it on batteries only.  As such, I’m always looking for ways to not use the gas engine.  I’ve signed up on the ChargePoint network, which gives me a little RFID card, a mobile app, and a network of Level 2 charging stations where I can top off my battery while having some coffee.  A full Level 2 charge of the Volt takes a few hours (An hour on a level 2 charger adds about 10 miles of range to the battery).  So while electric ‘refueling’ is still a ways off, it’s nice to know I can stop off for lunch somewhere and plug in the Volt for a while while I grab a burger.

The other win is the OnStar mobile app.  While I’m skeptical of any of the ‘big manufacturer’ tools, GM’s Onstar stuff is pretty good, and their mobile app is super-handy.  From my phone I can check the status of the car – how the battery is doing, when it’ll be charged, how much gas is in it, heck, even what the tire pressures are.  More excitedly, I can remote start it.  In nasty weather, I can tell the Volt to power up and start warming the cabin.  It’ll do this purely on ‘shore power’ (drawing from the power connector, not the engine), so it’ll be nice and toasty when I’m ready to leave, without sacrificing range.

Conclusions

While I went into this change for purely practical reasons, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying the car.  It’s performance is great, it’s comfortable, and I can’t argue with the cost of operation.  One interesting side effect… I get bothered when I’m running on gasoline.  95%of the time I’m emitting zero pollutants.  No CO2, no hydrocarbons, not even making a lot of noise.  But when that engine starts (which is nearly silent, I notice it mostly because my dashboard changes configuration), I start feeling dirty.  I’m BURNING OIL!!!  I picture a bucket of gas on fire.  Ewwww.  Then I look around at all the other cars on the road and go “They’re all doing this right now.  Why?”

Maybe it’s the shiny… maybe people are afraid of EV cars, or just don’t understand them, but for me, I wonder why there isn’t a while hogged march toward everyone using cars like this.  There are a lot of hybrid cars on the market right now, but they’re in the ‘we use an electric motor to make the gas motor use less gas’ category.  Why isn’t this sort of design more prevalent?

Goodbye Jeep, Hello Volt.

Today I made a hard decision.

8 months ago my venerable VW Passat became unmaintainable. It required a new oil pump, which was going to run around $2000. It had been good for me for 4 years, but with 140,000 miles on it, I was concerned about shoveling more cash into it.

I’d always wanted a Jeep. Heck, what kid didn’t? So I shopped around and eventually bought a 2012 Jeep Sahara Unlimited. It had all the bells and whistles, and I had a blast with it. Romping in the woods, plowing through snow in the winter, it was a big Tonka toy.

Eventually though, that Tonka toy, while still fun, was getting impractical. I drive 70 miles a day for work, on a highway, with longer trips up to NH, RI, and out to the Cape. A big off road vehicle that gets 18mpg is not a commuter car. I was spending too much on gas, too much on the car, and it became apparent it wasn’t the right type of vehicle for my day to day ride. With a heavy heart, I realized it was time to switch.

Continue reading “Goodbye Jeep, Hello Volt.”