Juxt app wins Transportation category in NTx App Challenge

EVNT logoI regularly attend the Electric Vehicles North Texas (EVNT) meetings put on by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). From the EVNT site:

Electric Vehicles North Texas (EVNT) was developed to coordinate a partnership with utility companies, regional governments, school districts, transit authorities, and local businesses in an effort to promote adoption of and ensure adequate resources for electric vehicles.

These meetings are very informative and allow me to keep up with electric vehicle adoption in North Texas, as well as proposed plans for the future that affect EV owners. It also allows my voice, as an EV owner, blogger and EV sales professional, to be heard (boy, I bet they’re getting tired of my voice…). We all joke about the inefficiency and lack of dedication of government bureaucrats, but the NCTCOG people I have met are driven (no pun intended) to improve air quality and push EV adoption in Texas. I thoroughly enjoy the meetings and have met other EV-oriented individuals there, with whom I network.

At the August 13th meeting, I watched a presentation put on by Robert Kent, the Director of Public Policy for the North Texas Commission, a regional non-profit corporation in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. The presentation was about the NTx Apps Challenge. This challenge was a competition designed to promote app development in four sustainability areas: water conservation, waste and recycling, smart energy and transportation. The winning teams in each category would win $10,000 of up-front cash for their development efforts as well as an additional $10,000 for continued development on their app.

After the meeting, Robert asked if I’d like to share ideas with the teams working on transportation apps. I was invited to a brainstorming session, in which we all kicked around ideas for the teams to develop. One of the teams was interested in creating an app to help EV drivers find charging stations. Of course, there were already a plethora of such apps already available, so I was a bit dubious about their idea. However, we all did some out-of-the-box thinking, about what sorts of functionality we’d like to see in an app of this sort. The winners of the competition were announced October 17th and one of the teams I met created the winning app in the transportation category! The app is named Juxt. Team Juxt, working on the strategy, research and development of the app, was comprised of three members: Gerard Matthew,  Priyanka Sharma and Harish Upadhyayula. They developed an app that “allows drivers of alternative fuel vehicles to find fueling stations, parking spaces, and other points of interest along their route, and share this information with other app users.”Get the Juxt app!

The Juxt app is a very slick-looking app that, in addition to finding charging stations and EV parking spots, strengthens the EV community, by allowing users to leave tips on each charging station, as well as photos. I met with Team Juxt again, after their win, to brainstorm ideas for additional functionality to add in the future. The team was very accepting of ideas and there are functions planned in the future that will be truly amazing. I’m not sure if Team Juxt wants me to talk about future capabilities, so you’ll just have to trust me on that one… Here are some screenshots, showing the flow of using Juxt. Click on the image to see all the screenshots or download the PDF.

Juxt workflow

Click on image to view all the screenshots or to download PDF.

The moral of this story is that each of us can move the EV revolution forward by looking for ways to participate. I haven’t written a line of code in years, although I was a programmer for decades. That doesn’t mean I can’t help/contribute! There are developers out there looking for ideas for apps. They need your expertise as an EV owner. Find a way to locate and network with these developers and we’ll all benefit!

P.S. I am not compensated, in any way, by Team Juxt, the Juxt app, and did not receive any of the funds handed out by the competition. I’m just a fan.

Are we trading OPEC for OHEC? (Oh, Heck!)

Announcements of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles from Toyota, Honda, BMW are starting to gain more traction in the media, especially since Toyota announced availability of the Mirai in December of this year. Of course, like electric vehicles, infrastructure must be put in place to refuel fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

Well, it’s not exactly like electric vehicles.

Most EV owners refuel at home and do not depend on public charging stations, except when they’re on a drive long enough that their battery would be depleted before they get back home.

Therein lies one critical issue. Way back in 2003, long before the modern era of EVs, President Bush announced a program called the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. I remember hearing about this miracle of vehicles, powered by the most common element in the universe, but which generates no pollution and whose exhaust pipes only produce water. I just KNEW I would own one of these…someday.

My excitement and anticipation have started to wane, due to several factors:

  • I have acquired three plug-in extended range electric vehicles and have found that they serve my needs perfectly. I look forward to a day when I can rely solely on ‘green’ fuel, but in the meantime, I have an on-board generator to keep my car moving down the road. I see this type of vehicle as a stepping stone into a future with EV range extended and charging time greatly reduced.
  • I have become used to refueling my vehicle in my garage and dread the thought of traveling away from my home to stand in the heat, or cold, or rain to refill my fuel tank. Unless some relatively inexpensive device is developed, that can accumulate or generate and store Hydrogen at my home, I feel less inclined to explore hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The Department of Energy is offering a large cash prize for whoever comes up with this device first. Of course, whenever I think about storing highly compressed hydrogen near my home, the Hindenburg disaster comes to mind…
  • I look forward to a day when I will have solar panels on my roof, generating the ‘fuel’ for my vehicles. No longer will I be at the mercy of a corporation or consortium because I need their fuel. No longer will I have to keep an eye on constantly changing fuel prices or shopping for a fuel bargain. No longer will I have to wonder how ‘clean’ my fuel is (i.e. how my electric provider generates the electricity I use). Hydrogen may be the most common element in the universe, but it doesn’t rain down on me, in a usable form, like sunlight does. Even if I can generate hydrogen at home, I’ll need somewhere to store it in a compressed form (up to 10,000 PSI). I’m not very excited about that at all. In the meantime, I will have to buy my hydrogen from a company, so am I trading OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) for OHEC (Organization of Hydrogen Energy Companies)? That’s pronounced “Oh, heck!” Remember you heard that here first…
  • Once again, the auto industry is producing some very ugly designs to differentiate these vehicles from all who came before them. I’ve complained about this before. The Prius was/is (in my opinion) an ugly car. But it is recognizable, which is what Toyota wanted in the Prius’ infancy. Now they’re everywhere, so come on, Toyota, come up with an attractive look already! The Leaf, the i3, the i-MiEV, the 500e, the Think City, and the LiFE are all using quirky (I’m being generous here) looks to stand out from the hundreds of millions of vehicles in the world today. I understand the importance of branding (order a MEVJ cap and t-shirt today!) but this design approach gives the general public the idea that EVs, all alternative fuel vehicles in fact, have to be funky looking. Automakers: Take note of the Volt, ELR, i8, Model S, and Tesla Roadster to see how it should be done!
  • Finally, having mentioned the Hindenburg disaster previously, I am concerned about what happens when a car accident causes the hydrogen tank to be ruptured. What is the effect of suddenly releasing a 10,000 PSI gas? How flammable will the vented hydrogen be? Won’t someone think of the children?!?! (tongue in cheek) The OSHA website lists dangers associated with working around hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells here.

Now, before all you fuel cell fans and manufacturers dog pile on me, understand that I want the dream of a pollution-free vehicle to become reality. I am aware that producing batteries, using current methods, generates its own forms of pollution. I also know that the generation of hydrogen has ecological trade-offs and may depend on fossil fuels, like natural gas. I’m just saying, let’s keep our heads and evaluate the pros and cons of these new types of clean vehicles. Let’s keep looking for ways to increase battery range, decrease battery weight, decrease charging time and improve chemistry to have less of an environmental impact. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles: Welcome to the fray!

May the best approach win.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

There are only 37 car shopping days left in 2014. Now is the best time of year to buy a plug-in vehicle. Why? Well, here’s several reasons:

  • Stocking Stuffed

    Now, where can I find a mantle large enough???

    Dealerships, like all sales organizations, measure performance by sales goals, the most important of which is total annual sales. Every dealership likes to claim they’re the highest volume dealership in the city or state or nation (or universe). The owners of the top dealerships are fawned over by the manufacturers and there are financial rewards as well (not to mention those bragging rights, used in advertising).

  • Each salesperson’s performance is evaluated by their annual sales, among other criteria, such as customer satisfaction surveys, sales of accessories, etc. As the year comes to an end, some may be on the verge of reaching a threshold where the manufacturer or dealership rewards their performance. An example of this is the “GM Mark of Excellence.” Salespeople who achieve the Mark of Excellence can order business cards, clothing, etc with the Mark of Excellence logo emblazoned upon them. Those salespeople that are close to the goal, at the end of the year, may care a bit less about their commission and more about total unit sales, giving you a little more leverage when negotiating.
  • In the case of plug-in vehicles though, there is another much more important factor: The federal income tax credit for alternative fuel vehicle purchases. The U.S. government gives a credit of up to $7,500 for the purchase of certain plug-in vehicles. Currently, (no pun intended) there are twenty-two vehicles covered by this program. There are caveats (as with all government programs) including:
    • The vehicle must be a new vehicle, never before titled/registered by anyone else.
    • The vehicle must be purchased, not leased.
    • You get back up to $7,500. You can only get back as much tax as you actually pay in, up to the $7,500 limit. For example, if you’re retired and your total federal income tax due is only $4,000, that’s all you get. There is no roll-over into next year’s income tax. This is confusing to some people I’ve spoken with. It’s not the size of the check you send in with your income tax return. It’s the total amount of income tax you paid in all year long plus any check you have to send in (or minus any refund you would normally get) with your return. Take a look at your most recent paycheck stub and locate the federal tax withheld so far this year. Surprised by the amount you’ve paid in? How’d you like to get up to $7,500 of that back? I’m going to, because I bought our 3rd Volt back in October!
    • It is a tax credit, not a tax deduction. This is a big deal. If you’ve claimed a tax deduction in the past, for instance the deduction for mortgage interest, you may have noticed you only get a portion of that deducted amount back. The amount of a deduction is subtracted from your income, NOT from your taxes. For instance, you may have paid $10,000 in mortgage interest. When you deduct that from your income, it only reduces your tax burden by a portion of the deducted amount. For instance, if you’re in the 25% income tax bracket, you’d only get 25% of the amount deducted. Deduct $10,000 and you’d get $2,500 off your taxes. THIS TAX CREDIT IS DIFFERENT! You could get all of the $7,500 back!
    • When you purchase a qualifying plug-in vehicle, you file an extra one page form when you file your income tax return the following year. This is hugely important. If you buy a qualifying vehicle between now and December 31st, you get that cash back when you file your income tax return a couple months later. However, if you buy on January 1st or later, you’ll have to wait up to a year before you can file for the credit. (yes, I know dealerships are probably closed on New Year’s Day…)
    • Finally, after the last election, there may be attempts to dismantle the program, as some more conservative politicians see it as an entitlement rather than a way to get these important vehicles adopted quickly. The program is supposed to start tapering off, for each model of vehicle, once sales reach 200,000 units in the U.S. As of the end of last month, only 70,531 Volts and 66,804 Leafs had been sold in the U.S., since their inception in December 2010. Those two are by far the most common plug-in vehicles in the country. Without interference by our elected officials, this program should last several more years, but you never know…

So if you’ve been on the fence about getting a plug-in vehicle, NOW is the time to pull the trigger. Start saving money on fuel and maintenance right away and early next year the IRS may seem a bit more like Santa Clause than Ebenezer Scrooge!

October 2014 sales numbers

Plug-in vehicle sales, compared to the previous month, looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: very slightly up 3% (1,439 vs. 1,394)
  • Nissan Leaf: slightly down by 10% (2,589 vs. 2,881)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: UP 36% (479 vs. 353)
  • Cadillac ELR: UP 37% (152 vs. 111)
  • BMW i3: up 13% (1,159 vs. 1,022)
  • BMW i8: UP 252% (204 vs. 58)*
  • Ford Fusion Energi: slightly up 7% (686 vs. 640)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: slightly down 5% (644 vs. 677)
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: up 20% (2,959 vs. 2,467)

*The Tesla Model S has been dropped from my tracking and replaced by the BMW i8, due to Tesla Motors not publishing the sales figures for the U.S. Originally, I could find what appeared to be good numbers for this, but in recent months the various sources I use have had widely divergent figures.

My personal experience in October was a dismal first two weeks followed by a blow out final two weeks. It appears that the models with any significant increase in sales (by percentage) had nowhere else to go, with their recent monthly sales numbers below 500 units.October 2014 Sales Numbers

The battle for adoption, in the lower chart, shows most plug-in vehicles following along a similar adoption rate with the original Prius. The Prius waned around the 37th-40th months, which allowed the slander-recovered Volt surpass it for about 5 months. The story of late though, is the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf has consistently beaten the Volt in monthly sales for twelve straight months! During that time, the Leaf has enjoyed 43% higher unit sales than the Volt. That’s 721 more units sales per month for Nissan. At that rate, the Leaf’s total US sales, since its inception, would surpass the Volt’s total US sales by March or April of next year. That’s only 5 or 6 months away!

This is astounding to me for a few reasons:

  • First the Leaf is purely electric. I would have expected EV buyers to be cautious and figuratively dip their toe in the water by first acquiring a plug-in hybrid vehicle. Perhaps that first generation of buyers has passed and now we’re looking at buyers getting their second plug-in vehicle. Having gained experience with their first plug-in vehicle, they may be more confident in selecting a purely electric vehicle now.
  • The Leaf’s bad press over its battery’s heat issues. Perhaps those are far enough in the past that the topic never comes up anymore. I believe it definitely hindered sales for the first year or so, as is reflected in the lower chart.
  • In my oft-stated opinion, the Leaf is one of the least attractive vehicles in this group. How is it poised to surpass both the Volt and the original, albeit homely, Toyota Prius? I believe some potential Volt buyers are putting off their purchase until they see the 2016 Volt debut in January.

Sales, compared to the same month a year ago, looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 39% (1,439 vs. 2,022) .
  • Nissan Leaf: UP 43% (2,589 vs. 2,002)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 77% (479 vs. 2,095)
  • Cadillac ELR: (did not exist a year ago)
  • BMW i3: (did not exist a year ago)
  • BMW i8: (did not exist a year ago)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 37% (686 vs. 1,087)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 41% (644 vs. 1,092)
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: DOWN 25% (2,959 vs. 3,929)

Gas prices continue to decline with the end of the Summer season and do not seem to be helping EV sales at all!

P.S. It’s Election Day! Go vote!!!Waving Flag Stained Glass

Election Day

vote bannerYou know what I think we should all do this election day. I’ve made that pretty clear. Of course, It’s not going to happen, so we will have to muddle through with the ineffective politicians that our polarized electorate provides. If we can’t run off all incumbents, the next most important priority is:

VOTE!

The Senate is going to be controlled, albeit by a razor-thin majority, by one of the two major parties. Make sure your voice is heard. Your vote is one more drop of water in a bucket that is going to tip over one way or another. You never know. Your vote might be the one that tips our Senate (and our government, for that matter) in one direction versus another. Voting does not guarantee that you will get your way. It may even turn out that your voice is not heard. That being said, the one way you can guarantee your voice (and dreams for a better future) are NEVER heard, is to not vote.

Your vote, even if for a losing cause, can make a race closer than it would have been and may encourage like-minded people to vote in the future.

What is at stake is our direction regarding global climate change, funding for the EPA, and who knows, we may even see a challenge mounted against subsidies for EVs or renewable energy. Gasoline prices have plummeted recently and that could cause those who don’t believe mankind plays a role in climate change to question the logic of all the things being done to ameliorate it.I voted

Personalization priorities

In my entire life, I have never ordered customized or “vanity” license plates. I didn’t do it when I had my 1974 Triumph TR-6. I didn’t do it when I had Lexus ES300s (four in a row, between my life and myself). I didn’t even do it when I got my first Volt (and fell in love with it). Or when we got one for my wife.

Those were both leases.

Now, we’ve bought one and I caved.

Here it is:My New Volt's License PlateVolt Rox!

Oops, I did it again! Lisa R. Buyah?

It all started when I saw the advertisement. It had hit the streets a full 24 hours before, and a moment of panic set in.The AdZoomAs I perused the ad, in order to be ready for any incoming calls, I noticed the Volts. “Holy cow!” I thought (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). These are going to fly out the door! This is my very best chance to get another Volt. I can’t let this slip by!

67 Camaro Rally Sport & the gang

My goofy friends and me, on my Camaro. circa 1975

Wait a moment: “Why on Earth do you need another Volt?,” you may ask. “You have two already!” you may chide. Well, it’s like this: I have a daughter who’s going to turn sixteen in April of 2015. She wants a Camaro or Mustang. I work at a Chevy dealership, so nix the Mustang. My first car was a Camaro, (a sweet 1967 Rally Sport) but I knew how irresponsible I had been with that car and I didn’t think I wanted my daughter to succumb to the same temptations. Also, I really didn’t want to get back into the gasoline game. I had been spoiled by our Volts. I wanted to raise my daughter to be gasoline-free.

The Volts in the ad were service loaners, so they had a few miles on them, I knew, but I had loaned one of them to a customer, who had purchased a Volt from me. I knew it had been driven by another Volt enthusiast. (now that I think of how I drive my Volt, that may not have been a plus…) Anyway, back to your question: Why?

Darth Volt (the loaner)

Well, our first two Volts were leased, not purchased. We had set the leases up for 15,000 miles per year and I was going to go way over that. I had driven mine to Chicago and back, to attend the Chicago Auto Show, to Austin and back, for a battery technology conference, and to many evening engagements and eco-fairs to speak about the benefits of owning an electric vehicle. It appeared I was going to go over my mileage limit about six months before the end of the lease. My wife Bonnie was going a bit over as well, as she takes our daughter Zoe to lots of fencing competitions (swords & sabers, not picket & chain link).

To compound this, the new Volt design is to be shown to the world in January of 2016 at the North American International Auto Show. I plan to be there for the unveiling. I needed to be able to hold off, on acquiring my next Volt, until the redesign became available, which would presumably be later in 2015, after my miles would be costing me an arm and a leg.

Then I spotted the ad.

I literally ran into the Inventory Manager’s office, to make sure at least one of these Volts was still available. Fortunately, one was. I went back to my desk and kept switching hats between customer and salesperson. We haggled back and forth for a while. As a customer, I was tenacious about getting every incentive I was due. As a salesperson, I was tenacious about finding every incentive for my customer (as usual). In the end, we agreed to GM Employee Pricing plus another $1,500 in other incentives. It was quite a deal! We were…uh…I was quite pleased.

At the Saturday morning sales staff meeting, I let all the other salespeople know about the ad and that all the Volts were gone. I explained that we would probably get a lot of people coming in, only to find out there were no more Volts at that price and that they would probably be upset. When I mentioned I had gotten the last one, they all busted up, laughing. What’s up with that???

Lisa R. Buyah?

I have always recommended leasing the Volt, over buying, because the technology of EVs  changes so rapidly. Who wants to be stuck with an antique? Lower payments and protection against obsolescence seemed like an obvious plus for leasing. Over the year I’ve been in the car business, I discovered two things:

  • Leasing requires a better credit rating than buying.
  • Government incentives got a lot better for Texans in 2014.

The credit requirements are not an issue, but my steering people toward leasing has resulted in some clients being disappointed when they discovered their credit was not strong enough for a lease. In the future, I’ll be able to explain the pros and cons of each approach, based on a more complete experience. Why? Because this time we bought our Volt!

In May of 2014, the State of Texas introduced a $2,500 rebate program for purchasers of plug-in vehicles. This rebate, added to the $7,500 income tax credit offered by the federal government meant a cool ten large would be coming to you-know-who. As we were preparing our last home for sale, we withdrew large sums from my IRA, to pay for much needed updates. I’m not 59 1/2 years old yet, so I knew I would get a 10% penalty for any funds withdrawn. During that same time, I had tried commission sales of pollution-free electricity, with Green Mountain Energy and moved into a new career of automobile sales at Classic Chevrolet. Either I wasn’t very good at convincing people in Texas that they should be concerned about pollution caused by power generation plants or Texans just weren’t interested. Either way, I was going to starve! I struggled at Green Mountain and needed funds from the IRA to survive. Although I have had some level of success in the car business, (including a month where I made more money than any single month in my life) the ramp-up to success was a bit slow at first. (More funds needed) The bottom line is that my tax bill this year was very heavy. It would be nice to reduce next year’s tax bill by at least enough amount to offset this year’s bill, like say…$10,000. Yeah, that seems like a good round number…

So we decided to buy, this time around.

The new Volt will keep miles off our leased Volts, while our daughter learns to drive. It also serves as a carrot to persuade her to excel in school (come on, scholarship…). At the same time, it will allow us to keep our leases to the end of their terms, by which time the new Volts should be plentiful and many other EVs recently announced will have made it to market. And of course, the cash incentives will come in handy…

I have had the good fortune to be loaned other plug-in vehicles to review, including the Cadillac ELR and the BMW i3 (review soon…I promise). I have driven a Tesla Roadster and I’ve been promised a Tesla Model S by an owner. We have a Nissan Leaf set up to review and, believe it to not, I’ve never done a video review of the Volt! Lots of reviews to do and lots of EVs to consider, before our leases end. I’ll admit I’ve been tempted by some of the ones I’ve driven and have yet to meet an EV I completely hate (although some are fugly, IMHO). So far, I haven’t found one with the combination of range, style, price and performance that exceeds my 2012 Volt. At this point, we’ll probably re-up with a couple second-generation Volts.

For all you manufacturers out there: Want to show me a better way? Loan me your vehicle for a week and let me put it through its paces. I’ll do a fair and balanced (unlike you-know-who) review / video and who knows? Maybe, the next time around, I’ll be crowing about your vehicle. Warning: You’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.

For now, we’re gambling on the Volt and we’ve got a full house.Full house