Grab a share of the Texas Rebate before it’s gone!

Texas RebateI got a call from a friend, who was in Austin, reading the tea leaves regarding the “Light-Duty Motor Vehicle Purchase or Lease Incentive Program.” The news is not good. The mood in Austin leads him to believe the program will end, according to the original plan on June 26, 2015 at 5:00PM. For those unaware of the program, plug-in vehicle purchasers or lessees, in Texas, can get a rebate of up to $2,500 from the state government. I received a rebate check for $2,500 when we purchased our third Chevy Volt. Fittingly, the rebate check arrived on my birthday!

I’m still hoping the politicians see the value of the program. It is part of a strategy to improve air quality by supporting the purchase or lease of cleaner vehicles, both plug-in electric and CNG. Originally, the program was funded to the tune of $7.76 million and covered vehicles purchased or leased on or after May 13, 2014.

The sad thing is, many consumers are completely unaware of the program, as are many of the clean vehicle salespeople. If the program is allowed to come to an end, one major reason may be that, after 10-1/2 months less than half the allocated funds have been disbursed! The program may end, due to a seeming lack of interest! Out of the $7.76 million funding, $4.92 million has not been spent. That’s 63% of the money left in state coffers, and it’s a crying shame. Some interesting figures, including graphs showing funds dispersal by vehicle brand, are located here.

If you bought or leased a new plug-in electric or plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, in Texas, on or after May 13th of 2014, you still have time to claim your rebate. Program details, including the forms needed to file for the rebate, are here. If you’ve been on the fence about getting a plug-in vehicle in Texas, waiting a little longer to decide can cost you dearly.

Texas seems to be following a trend. Just today, Green Car Reports published an article about the Illinois clean car rebate program ending and a transportation funding bill that calls for an end to Georgia’s income tax credit program for clean car purchases.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted…

February 2015 Sales Numbers

As I’ve been expecting for some time now, the Nissan Leaf has surpassed the Chevy Volt in total U.S. sales since inception. Nissan has sold 74,861 Leafs since December 2010, while General Motors, whose Volt sales have languished lately, sold 74,592 over the same time period. That’s a difference of 269 units or 0.18% of the combined total. The Leaf, with Nissan’s aggressive lease programs, has been gaining ground for some time. Of course, in January GM announced the next generation Volt with more electric range, better gas mileage, better acceleration and a fifth seat (ok, ok. 4-1/2 seats). I have to attribute some of the Volt’s sales slowdown with the “new iPhone syndrome.” Some buyers are holding out on the Volt in order to buy the new generation, which will become available later this year (date and price not yet announced). I know this because I have three customers (so far) who want to be notified as soon as the new Volt can be ordered.

Across the board, in February 2015, vehicle sales were slightly higher for the plug-in vehicles I track, compared to the previous month, with the exception of the Prius Plug-in. It is my contention that the Prius is done. Stick a fork in it. The electric range is woefully deficient, when compared to the Volt and Leaf. All the newbies, who thought all plug-ins are the same, have been cleared out. I expect most Prius buyers to go back to the non-plug version, as the advantage of the plug-in version is insufficient to seduce buyers.

I have dropped the Corvette Stingray from the tracking. It was originally included to show that plug-in vehicles were being sold (at least some of them) at the same volume as a popular gasoline-powered car. I think the case is closed on that. Finally, the upper graph is now only showing the previous 24 months’ sales. It was just getting way too cluttered!

Overall, February’s sales looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: Up 28% (693 vs. 542 – the last 2 months have been the worst Volt sales since they were first introduced)
  • Nissan Leaf: Up 12% (1,198 vs. 1,070)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 1% (397 vs. 401)
  • Cadillac ELR: UP 38% (127 vs. 92)
  • BMW i3: UP 63% (1,089 vs. 670) Super Bowl ad paying off???
  • BMW i8: UP 33% (113 vs. 85)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: UP 42% (603 vs. 426)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: UP 26% (498 vs. 395)

The price of gasoline has risen for the first time in eight months, from an average of $2.07 in January to $2.26 in February (a 9% increase).February 2015 Sales Numbers

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

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 43% (693 vs. 1,210)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 16% (1,198 vs. 1,425)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 62% (397 vs. 1,041)
  • Cadillac ELR: UP 119% (127 vs. 58) **Don’t get too excited: very small numbers.
  • BMW i3: (did not exist a year ago)
  • BMW i8: (did not exist a year ago)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 23% (603 vs. 779)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 10% (397 vs. 1,041)

In the lower graph,you can really see the downturn in the Plug-in Prius’ sales (purple curve). Its sales have now fallen below the Leaf’s, at the same point, since their respective introduction. The importance of this? At that point in the Leaf’s history, it had been struggling under a barrage of news stories about permanent loss of battery capacity in hot climes. This was not a period, when the Leaf was selling like it is today. The two Fords, both plagued by short electric range, like the Prius, now have adoption curves tracking below the Leaf, back when the Leaf was really struggling. This does not bode well for either of them. I think this is a message to manufacturers: Plug-in vehicle buyers are not the newbies we once were. Just sticking an outlet on the car doesn’t do the trick anymore. We’ve become educated and want electric range sufficient to handle our daily commute, not just a small portion of it. If manufacturers want to compete in the brave new world, they can’t just put lipstick on a pig. They have to innovate and give real value or they’re wasting their time (and ours).

She blinded me with science!

Science: noun, the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Scientific method: noun, a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

We have seen the headlines over the last few years, about CO2 levels increasing to historically high levels. Of course, we’ve also heard how this increase in greenhouse gasses is predicted to have dire ramifications for the next several generations of humans. What’s been missing is observational science rather than predictive math-based science.

That has now been remedied.

A team of scientists, lead by the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have spent ten years gathering data through observation. Lots of observation. At a couple of geographically diverse locations. Using spectroscopic measurements to determine the contributors to the uptick in radiative forcing to the burning of fossil fuels and fire. As we’ve known, for quite a long time, greenhouse gases cause the Earth to retain more of the sun’s energy, causing temperatures to rise. This increase in energy retention is also called positive radiative forcing.

We’ve all heard that 2014 was the hottest year on record and that nine of the hottest ten years on record occurred in the last decade. We’ve been debating the root cause. Well, in all honesty, some are debating whether this is true at all. Recently the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, brought a snow ball to the Senate floor to prove it was unseasonably cold outside and to disprove global climate change. But, for those that acknowledge the “hottest ten years on record,” the debate has been the cause, with “solar cycles” and greenhouse gas increases as the cause.

Now, there is observational science backing up the culprit being CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. It also shows some lessening of the effect, during plant growth seasons, as plants absorb some of the CO2. (The link at the beginning of this paragraph will explain the science in greater detail.)

Also, on the environmental front, debate has raged over the role of fracking, (hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of fossil fuels), in the increase in the number of earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey has addressed this question on their website. Recently it was announced that fracking is, in fact, a causative agent in the increase in earthquakes. In Oklahoma, between 1978 and 2008, Oklahoma experienced about one earthquake per years that measured at magnitude 3 or higher. By mid-July 2014, Oklahoma had experienced 258 earthquakes of that magnitude or higher. Nothing shows this quite as effectively as a graph and there’s a doozy here. This debate boiled over in my neighborhood, when a fracking well was erected very close to our home. My wife has experienced several earthquakes in Irving Texas, where she works, describing one as “a sudden bang, like a car had hit our building.” Having grown up in Texas, I have never felt an earthquake myself, and was somewhat jealous of her experience. Perhaps my opportunity is in the near future…

Last week, focusing again on Oklahoma, a state representative introduced a bill to prevent municipalities from banning fracking within their jurisdiction. Why introduce this bill? Why to protect the financial interests of the state, of course! But what about damage to the state’s infrastructure? Isn’t that a financial interest as well, one that affects many more constituents? Oh well…

When the Surgeon General publicly linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer, there were doctors and scientists that claimed it was untrue. We now know many of those were funded by the tobacco industry. Today, each side in the climate change debate and the fracking debate has scientists to back up their position, although the number of scientists who believe the evidence points toward global climate change outnumber those opposed by about 97% to 3%. With that lopsided a majority, why is there still debate? Well, those opposed to the majority opinion have stated that money is the corrupting influence. Their belief is that scientists have to obtain grants to fund their research, in order to make a living. Grant applications are a pain, so if a scientist can obtain a grant for a climate study, which by definition would span many years, their problem is solved. Of course, the opposing side says that the billions of dollars reaped by oil & gas companies, is the reason the debate lingers.

There are real costs associated with stopping or slowing global climate change. Many of these costs would not be accepted by the voting public (fossil fuel price increases, possible oil shortages and the resulting lifestyle impact). Politicians fear the backlash of those angered voters and the loss of their jobs (another case of money muddying the waters).

Every time I think about these debates, a couple things come to mind:

Superman’s father, Jor-El, tried to warn the highest levels of government, on his home world of Krypton, that the planet was doomed. The politicians forced him to be silent about the threat, so as not to alarm the public needlessly. Of course, shortly after they sent their son to Earth, their planet exploded…

The movie, The Deer Hunter has a few scenes of Russian Roulette, played as a form of gambling. Of course, the bettors are not the people pointing the gun at their own heads. They are the people watching the competition and placing bets. How would you collect from the loser, if by losing they died? Anyway, I think about what the payoff would have to be, before I would place a revolver to my head and pull the trigger. If the bullet represents the one chance, that the people who believe that climate change is real and that humans are contributing to it are right, why do we want to pull the trigger? Is the payoff (keeping the status quo) so valuable that we should accept the risk of pulling the trigger? Yes, the global economy will take a hit, if we curtail the use of fossil fuels. But the new industries, that will come into being to fill the void, will bring new jobs with them. Renewable energy, battery production, etc. will be where the jobs will shift. If you believe the odds are only 1 in 100 the vast majority of the climate scientists are correct, it would be like having a revolver with 100 chambers, only 1 containing a bullet. Would you put that gun to your head and pull the trigger?

Just a thought…

Chevy Bolt to be built! It’s official.

Chevy Bolt Rear Passenger sideChevy Bolt Driver FrontGeneral Motors has announced official plans to build the Chevy Bolt (hope the name changes…). Although the production start date has not been announced, rumors seem to point to October 2016. General Motors is also sticking to the stated range of 200+ miles and a price (after the federal tax credit) of $30K. Public announcement here.

Bolt glass roofGeneral Motors also posted this photo, showing a cool, glass roof:

Also mentioned in the announcement is that the “…Bolt EV concept is also designed to support DC fast charging.” I’m a little concerned that it is stated that way rather than “The Bolt will support DC fast charging.” Nonetheless, this shows that GM is going to get behind the Bolt, which could really be disruptive. Bolt roof from insideAlthough similar in form factor with the BMW i3, the Bolt would be much less expensive, would lack some of the quirkiness of the i3’s appearance and challenge the Nissan Leaf, just as it is poised to top the Volt in U.S. sales from inception. If the announcement is followed up with a teaser ad campaign, the Bolt could delay Leaf purchases.

The announcement has me reevaluating my auto acquisition plans. My first Volt’s lease is scheduled to end in August of this year. I was planning on moving into another plug-in vehicle and was happy to see the newly redesigned Volt should be available then. My wife’s lease ends about five months later. I feel that at least one of our vehicles has to have a range extender, but we should be ready to make the jump to one of our vehicles being fully electric.

Do I lease my next Volt for a year to a year and a half? With the plethora of EVs coming to market, am I even sure my next plug-in vehicle will be a Chevy? I’ve been immensely satisfied with our Volts, but I’ve also driven some pretty sweet competitors (although usually, MUCH higher priced competitors.

Finally, I also believe that Chevrolet dealers need to start preparing for this now. Dealerships should start planning a plug-in vehicle section of their lot. Chargers should be abundant and ready to use. Perhaps Solar awnings or vertical wind turbines could be installed to reduce the dealerships’ electric costs while also promoting a “seriously green” image. The lounge areas that are equipped with televisions often plan slide shows or General Motors commercials. It is probably time to start showing EV videos, mixed in with the others, to start building interest in the next stage of automobile evolution. I’d recommend starting with the full 15 minute presentation of the Volt & Bolt, from the Detroit Auto Show:

What would you recommend Chevy dealers do to get ready for the new Volt & Bolt? Please leave comments!

January 2015 Sales Numbers

Across the board, in January 2015, vehicle sales were down for the plug-in vehicles I track, compared to the previous month, looked like this:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 64% (542 vs. 1,490)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 66% (1,070 vs. 3,102) **failing to surpass the Volt’s total sales to date by 236 units. That’s only training by 0.032%!
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 18% (401 vs. 492)
  • Cadillac ELR: DOWN 22% (91 vs. 118)
  • BMW i3: DOWN 34% (670 vs. 1,013)
  • BMW i8: DOWN 46% (85 vs. 158)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 46% (426 vs. 789)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 40% (395 vs. 659)
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: DOWN 40% (2,127 vs. 3,552)

Some of this downturn has to be the hangover from the end of the end-of-year deals and the fact that plug-ins bought after December 31st have a long wait before they’ll yield cash in buyer’s pockets from the Income Tax credit. The price of gasoline is continuing to fall, but it’s hard to say if that is impacting plug-in sales. Just take a look at the gasoline price curve (in white, top graph)! Finally, many new plug-in vehicles have recently been announced, including the redesigned Chevy Volt. This may have buyers adopting a wait-and-see attitude.January 2015 EV Sales Numbers

I mentioned three months ago that the Leaf’s total US sales, could surpass the Volt’s by March or April of this year. Then I said I thought it would happen well before then. It almost happened this month, but looks like the Volt is king of the hill one more month. That being said, the Leaf almost doubled Volt unit sales in January.

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

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 41% (542 vs. 918)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 15% (1,070 vs. 1,252)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 46% (492 vs. 919)
  • Cadillac ELR: UP 124% (92 vs. 41)
  • BMW i3: (did not exist a year ago)
  • BMW i8: (did not exist a year ago)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: DOWN 20% (426 vs. 533) **awaiting Ford’s numbers
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 16% (395 vs. 471) **awaiting Ford’s numbers
  • Chevy Corvette Stingray: down 6% (2,127 vs. 2,261)

The most notable item in the lower graph, is the adoption rate of the ELR and the BMW i8. Their adoption rate is well below all other plug-ins I currently track. I think we all get why the ELR is seeing low adoption rates, but the i8? Perhaps it is suffering from the price/performance comparison to the Tesla Model S, like the ELR. The ELR is probably being compared to a low-end Model S and the i8 to the P85D version. Time will tell…

The art of advertising

BMW and Chevrolet have posted advertisements about the i3 and Volt. BMW’s ad will be shown during the Super Bowl. Chevrolet’s ad is on YouTube. What are your thoughts on these two approaches? Comments please. In addition, I’ve added some other plug-in vehicle commercials, including the controversial ELR commercial, shown during last year’s Super Bowl. The older Volt commercials showed that Chevy was trying to explaining their previous ad efforts.

Chevy Volt:

BMW i3:

2012 Chevy Volt commercial

Probably my favorite Volt commercial so far

Cadillac ELR (1st commercial)

Kia Soul EV

Nissan Leaf

Volkswagen e-Golf (even though it’s in German, you’ll get it)

BMW i8 (odd they would focus on exhaust noise…)

Another 2012 Chevy Volt commercial

BMW even posted some outtakes from the i3 shoot!

Charger proliferation

Walgreens ChargerIn the Facebook group, “Chevy Volt Owners,” a member named Andrew Goodwin posed this question: “Any ideas on how to encourage businesses to install charging stations?” As my reply grew into several paragraphs, I realized it was time for, (you guessed it) a blog post!

Recently, I was asked for suggestions by a group of app developers competing to win a $10K contest. They were working on a charger locator app. Of course, I explained there were already lots of app that did this. We brainstormed and came up with some ideas to make their app more useful. They ended up winning the $10K and a follow-on investment of $10K. They are continuing to add functionality. One item I suggested is the ability to, while at a location that doesn’t have a charger, click a button like “charger needed here.” The app would find the businesses in the immediate area and send them a letter/email/etc, letting the business owner/manager know that EV drivers who want to do business with them would appreciate a charger at their location. The app is named Juxt. The developers are considering adding this function.

What’s even more important however, is that when you visit a business that already has a charger, that you ask for the manager and express how much you appreciate it being there, and how the charger’s presence is a major factor in why you go to that business, rather than one that may be more conveniently located.

Also promote the fact that there’s a charger there by letting everyone you know that has an EV, via social media like Facebook & Twitter. Make sure you get the business’ Twitter handle and use it in your tweet, so the business sees the free publicity. Ask those EV drivers to also contact the manager, if they use the charger, to express their gratitude.

Nothing succeeds like success. Why do these businesses install chargers? Some do it purely for the environmental impact, but rest assured, part of the reason they do, is to attract more business and increase customer loyalty. The problem for EV owners (and the business owner) is these businesses have no way to evaluate the success or failure of the endeavor. Make sure they know it matters to you. When they realize their charger IS attracting customers, perhaps they’ll add more prominent signage, ask those that don’t drive electric (or are not charging) to avoid parking in that spot, add additional chargers, heck, they may even put the fact they have a charger in their advertising! Back in the 60’s, many motels advertised “Air Conditioned!” Or “Color TV!” because it affected their income. Back then, there must have been other motels that didn’t offer those amenities, whose owner thought, “There aren’t that many shows that are in color. Any revenue generated by having those expensive color TVs won’t justify the cost!” Just like many are probably thinking today, “There aren’t that many electric vehicles. Any revenue generated by having those expensive chargers won’t justify the cost!”

It is especially important that we do this with businesses at which our EVs will be parked for longer periods of time. In my area, many Walgreens drug stores have chargers, but who wants to shop at a drugstore for an hour or more??? (sorry Walgreens) I used a charger at a Walgreens, but the reason was a) I desperately needed the EV charged, because I was taking it to a public demonstration and b) the was a dining establishment next door, where I could grab a quick dinner, while the EV charged. A much more strategic placement of chargers would be at hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, sport venues/stadiums, airports, nightclubs, public parks or any other place patrons could be reasonably expected to visit for prolonged periods. The next time you go on a road trip and book a reservation, ask if the hotel has a charger. If they say they don’t, just say, “Oh. I drive an EV and need a hotel with a charger. Thanks anyway.” If they say they have a charger, say, “Great! That’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll book a reservation with you.” If this happens enough, it’ll get things going in the direction we all want.

Finally, don’t complain if the charger does not provide a free charge! It’s enough that we want the business to install a charger, which can be very expensive. As EVers, we’re not looking for a handout. We all can afford to pay for the electricity (unless it’s offered at a ridiculous price (I’m looking at you, Blink!).

Statistics show that the vast majority of us charge at work or home. One reason for this, is that many of us drive plug-in hybrids and not having access to a charger away from those two locations won’t prevent us from reaching our destination. However, more and more purely electric vehicles are coming to market (like the recently announced Chevy Bolt) and we will eventually have a major chicken-and-egg situation. EVs need chargers and chargers need EVs. Let those of us who know where best to locate them, guide those that don’t.

Vote with your pocketbook. It’s the only vote that matters to businesses.