Bolting into the future

As we progress through 2022 we find ourselves at an exciting time for electric vehicles. Tesla has been building momentum for around a decade and has taken the world by storm. It is to the point where more than half of all the electric cars you see on the road are some form of Tesla, usually the Model 3. Tesla has a market cap higher than any other automaker and by a large margin. Yes, life sure is sweet in Teslaville. So, a couple of months ago I was finally ready to buy my first electric car. Wait you say… you didn’t have one before? Well, not my own. I made EVs for people, I drove company cars that were EVs but none of my own. Here I sit, having bolted into the future in… not a Tesla, but rather a Chevy Bolt EUV.

Tesla, eat your heart out?!

Wait, what?! What manner of sacrilege is this?! Surely I must be joking (or, dare I say, kidding? Such a kidder that one!) No, I assure you, I’m not. As the world embraces Tesla I went elsewhere. But, far from images of doom and gloom, I believe that this turn of events is actually good not only for the electric vehicle industry at large but even Tesla itself. They’ve won, electric vehicles are the future. With every passing day this becomes more and more cemented in not only reality but the minds and hearts of the general public. An industry dominated by only one vendor is not a healthy industry. Competition breeds excellence where monopolies breed complacency. Tesla has built cars that people want to drive. They’ve built a LOT of cars that people wanted to drive. They’re still building a lot of cars. But, increasingly they’re seeing an industry pop up in their shadow. The true measure of success is in how many other companies want on the boat too. Well, mission accomplished, they basically all do! And, this is good for us all. Tesla builds interesting cars but they’ve historically been a bit pricey for the average person. If I had $5 for every time I talked about electric cars and heard “yeah, they’re great and all… if you have $60k or more to buy one” then I’d be richer than Elon. Unfortunately, Tesla has done essentially nothing to quash this stereotype. It’s true, you can buy a Model 3 for in the forty thousands. But, quite often featureitis causes the price to climb much higher. The traditional remedy for this in the EV world has been the Nissan Leaf and a few other moderately priced cars. Here we see the interesting paradox in the situation – The Leaf was capable enough and cheap enough to be a viable car but it didn’t have that “sizzle” of a Tesla. The Tesla offerings have the cool stuff people crave but at a price point they don’t. Enter the new batch of offerings – the modern Leaf, the Bolt, the Ioniq 5, etc.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 Picture By M 93, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107034072

These tend to be available at a price point somewhat under a Tesla but simultaneously look kind of neat and have all the features someone might expect from a car. So, we come full circle to my fateful choice. I chose a 2022 Bolt EUV because it was much like the Equinox I used to drive and it was available at a price point I could stomach. Also, those who know me probably realize how much I don’t really enjoy Elon Musk. Rarely can one achieve all their goals at once. Featureful, Powerful, Cheap, pick any 2. But, the new batch of contenders tend to be “pretty featureful, pretty powerful, and reasonably cheap.” That’s a win for consumers. Will I ever win a drag race against a Tesla? Not a chance! But, can I drive as far as a Tesla? For the most part, yes. I believe this is the key to electric vehicles crossing over mainstream. Flashy and cool is nice but you will note that not everyone is driving around in a Mercedes or a Maserati. For electric vehicles to make it they’ve got to be available and affordable. I think we’re rapidly reaching the point where they’re affordable enough and powerful enough to totally supplant any need for burning the liquefied remains of the long dead.

What discussion of electric vehicles would be complete without prognosticating and grandstanding about charging? Well, certainly not this one! So, let’s get right to it, shall we? Inevitably, after accusing electric cars of being too expensive, the next thing people are worried about is how to charge. The mindset of the average driver is centered squarely on how to make it to the next gas station when the time comes. These days, this is like watching the guillotine as the blade ascends. Everyone these days seems to be dreading dropping $70 on gasoline… AGAIN! But, painful as the pump may be, it is also a comfort to the average driver. They can go basically anywhere. When they run low on gas it’s just another trip to drain your wallet and the tank is full again. Most painful, most expensive 5 minutes they ever spent since that last unfortunate trip to the dentist. But, you can’t do that in an electric car, can you? Well, sort of. There are approximately 115,000 gas stations in the US. That’s enough that you likely live within a 5 minute drive of at least one, likely several. A simple trip to the station, a harvesting of your spare kidney, and the vehicle is gassed up again and ready to go. There aren’t 115,000 charging stations in the US. But, how many are there? Well, the grand oracle (er… google…) says there are approximately 46,000 J1772 chargers in the US. But, is that the same thing? No, it is not. J1772 will get you charged within several hours. To get charging nearly as fast as a gas station one needs either a Tesla Supercharger or a DC fast charger. There are more than 30,000 Tesla superchargers and upwards of 21,000 fast charge stations. It is possible with either Tesla superchargers or DC fast chargers to drive from one end of the country to the other. So, if you own an EV today you can drive it more or less wherever you’d like. But, not all DC fast chargers are made equal in the eyes of God or your patience. Tesla superchargers are fast (upwards of 250kw) but some DC fast charge stations are only 20kw. This is the difference between waiting 15 minutes for your charge and over 2 hours. But, be honest, how often does the average person really travel across the country? Are superchargers useful? Most certainly. Did Tesla need to build them? Yes. Are you going to use one every day? Almost certainly not. Every week? Probably not. And therein lies the fundamental misunderstanding with EV charging. Let’s take my vehicle for instance. It has a 65kwh battery in it. If I use 50kwh then I’ll need to put that back in somehow. Charging at 2kw/h would take 25 hours. That’s no fun at all! I have places to be!

ChargePoint Flex wired with a 60A breaker for continuous 48A / 11.5kw service

But, I have an 11.5kw J1772 connector installed at my house. That only takes 4.25 hours to fill it up. People see 4.25 hours and get paranoid. “Will I have to wait 4 hours before I can go anywhere?” Well, probably not. The beauty of electric vehicles is that you *CAN* have a gas station at your house! And, if you do, then why wouldn’t you plug in every night? Of course you would! Now every day you get up and the magic energy fairies have deposited a fresh batch of electrons in your car and you’re ready for the day again. The average person drives around 14k miles per year. Breaking that down to driving only 250 days out of the year yields an average of 56 miles per day. Can you drive 56 miles in an electric car without charging? Yes, in basically every new EV you can. My Bolt will go around 250 miles per charge. I’ve been spending years driving a company fleet 2013 Nissan Leaf. Can it drive 56 miles a day without charging? Well, about that… I mean… well… no. Back then batteries were expensive and except in late spring to mid fall you can’t likely get 56 miles without being in danger of pushing it home. But, the magic of electrons still comes to our rescue! As it turns out, it’s possible to install chargers all over the place! As mentioned above, there are tens of thousands of J1772 chargers. They’re in parking ramps, on the sides of businesses and houses, and in parking lots all over the US. In the Grand Rapids, MI area where I live you are never more than about 10 miles away from a J1772 charger and never more than about 20 miles from the nearest DC fast charge. As time goes on the numbers just keep getting better. So, perhaps the largest change is one of routines. No, you probably cannot charge your EV in 5 minutes like you can at a gas station with an ICE car. But, 95% of the time you don’t need to. In reality, which is faster, spending 10 minutes in line at the gas station, then 5 minutes filling up, or reaching over to the side of your house and plugging into the car? When I plug in at night do I care if the charge takes 4 hours? Not at all! I’m sleeping the whole time. My total expenditure in time was about 30 seconds. Try gassing up in 30 seconds, it basically can’t be done. So, which really wastes more of your time on average? Surprise, it’s the gas station!

Also, while I may drive over 10k miles a year, I don’t do that evenly. I only travel around 25 miles per average work day. This is even well within the range of a very worn out 2012 Nissan Leaf. When you only drive 25 miles a day the battery in your car is no worry at all. I charge at work, I charge at home. Very rarely is there any need for range anxiety. Does it happen? Well, it did before I got a Bolt. But, when you have 200+ miles of range on a charge you needn’t worry that much about charging. I can drive all the way across Michigan on one charge and there are faster chargers at both ends.

Then, perhaps, we might discuss cost. I’ve already opined about the extremely pleasant experience of paying at the pump. It truly never gets old, does it? So, is driving an EV really that much cheaper? Let’s break out the ol’ abacus and find out, shall we? If you are driving a vehicle that gets 30MPG at today’s price for gas in Michigan (let’s call it $5.00) then it costs 16.67 cents per mile driven. A 40 mile trip to grandma’s costs you $13.33 round trip. Bummer, but grandma is worth it. Now, let’s compare that to an EV. My car with my driving tends around 3.6 miles per kilowatt. So, the same 40 mile trip over the river and through the woods takes 40*2/3.7 = 22.22 kilowatt hours of electricity. At night the local electricity provider will charge me 13 cents per kilowatt hour. If my charger is 90% efficient at turning electricity into other electricity then my total cost to drive to grandma’s house is $3.21. Is grandma worth $3.21? I believe so! She didn’t even tell me to say that! In fact, I find that I’m willing to drive to a lot more places in an EV because it is so stupidly cheap to do so. My wife and I drove on a 110 mile (one way) trip out to Frankenmuth Michigan and back. The total distance was around 250 miles. We found a free DC fast charger that was about 12 miles out of the way. We charged a bit at home beforehand and at another free fast charger when we got back in town. Total cost for electricity to propel us back and forth? About $3. This is less than the cost of one gallon of gas. How much did my wife spend at the shops while we were there? Nobody is willing to divulge such privileged information but I’m led to believe it might have exceeded $3. Now, it is worth noting that not all electricity is available for 13 cents per kilowatt hour.

How much I really pay per kWh

In fact, one can spend $0.45 per kwh at a fast charge station. How does that affect the math? That trip to get milk and cookies from grandma now costs you $10.81 which is still cheaper than gasoline at the current cost. So, electric vehicle charging wins. As time goes on, the price of electricity doesn’t raise that much. Pepperidge Farms and I remember when gasoline was around 80 cents a gallon. People around 20-30 years older than me can remember it being a quarter or less per gallon. Those days are not coming back. Meanwhile, solar and wind are allowing the grid to gain capacity without massive power plants that inevitably pollute and use finite resources that quite often we end up buying from countries we’re not besties with. However, sunshine is nearly infinite and near Washington DC the wind from politicians lying could power the whole Earth for centuries. I have it under good authority that some companies, including EVTV, might just sell you the means of producing your own power as well. It’s pretty tough to make your own fuel at home, other than garage chemists turning cooking oil, old shoes, and stuff they found under the fridge into diesel and people turning perfectly good moonshine into ethanol for their flex fuel car. Meanwhile, many people have achieved grid independence through the use of solar and wind. And so, electric vehicles truly are the option for those who wish a certain amount of self reliance. Russia cannot stop you from charging your car with sunshine (well, let’s not contemplate the one option they could use to actually achieve this…) If you drive an EV and charge on solar you don’t care so much what happens in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps one day, we’ll all be driving electric and all of our power will be solar, wind, and nuclear. A guy can dare to dream.

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