My apologies to Village People

YMCAV-O-L-T (to the tune of YMCA)

Hey there, don’t pollute our blue skies.
I said, hey there, you’re in for a big surprise
I say listen, ’cause there’s a sweet car you’ll see,
There’s no need to drive I-C-E.

Right now, there’s a place you can go.
Your Chevy dealer, to get a car you’ll love so.
You can drive it, without you spending much cash,
You won’t need to buy much gas.

It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!
It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!

It has everything all you people enjoy,
You can drive without making noise…

It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!
It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!

You can get the Earth clean, you can save a great deal,
You won’t believe how great it feels…

Hey there, are you listening to me?
I know you’ll love it, open your mind and you’ll see!
I said, I know it will be the car of your dreams.
But you got to know this one thing:

No one saves the world by themselves.
Those “coal rollers,” we will sure give them hell,
So just go out, and get this great Chevrolet.
I’m sure it will make your day.

It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!
It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!

It shows everything on its central display,
You will check it out all the way…

It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!
It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!

We can get the Earth clean, you can save a great deal,
You won’t believe how great it feels…

Hey there, I was once in your shoes.
I said, I was down from the gasoline blues.
I felt no one cared if this world survived.
I felt the whole world was so jive …

That’s when someone came up to me,
And said, hey there, drive this car up the street.
It’s so groovy, it’s from Chevrolet
You can save Earth in a cool way.

It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!
It’s fun to drive in a V-O-L-T!

It shows everything on its central display,
You will check it out all the way…

V-O-L-T….you’ll love driving a V-O-L-T

Young men, women, there’s no need to feel down.
Young men, women, spread the word all around!

V-O-L-T….you’ll love driving a V-O-L-T

Young men, women, there’s no need to feel down.
Young men, women, spread the word all around!

V-O-L-T….just try out a V-O-L-T

Young men, women, are you listening to me?
Young men, women, how do you wanna be?

Independence Day

Happy Fourth of July!Benjamin FranklinOn the Fourth of July, many Americans are thinking about grilling something tasty, enjoying a cool beverage and kicking back to watch fireworks in the skies above them. Certainly, some recall the bravery and sacrifice of the founders of our nation and of the 56 men who placed their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence. The words of Benjamin Franklin, spoken at that signing, were wise indeed: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Today, 238 years later, our nation is free from tyranny imposed by other nations… or are we? In October, 2004, Al-Jazeera aired a recording of Osama bin Laden stating, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing it too great for Allah.”

Did bin Laden think he would bring the U.S. to its knees by killing less than 3,000 of us? Of course not. However, it certainly looks like he had an economic, rather than conventional war planned. This strategy of death by a million cuts worked for Afghanistan, in their war against the Soviet Union. Today, the Soviet Union is no more. That former superpower was overthrown, from within, primarily by economic means. As the world began to shrink through the advent of television and later, the internet, Soviet citizens began to realize that the rest of the developed world was enjoying a much higher standard of living. Their government’s priority of arming their war machine meant less was available to raise their standard of living. They were on a treadmill, barely getting by.

When I was a young boy, my father built and refinished clocks as a hobby. Our family room and breakfast area had 10 clocks on the walls and shelves, each with a pendulum swinging to and fro. Over time, each of us tuned out the ticking of these clocks. One afternoon, when I was a teenager, I was in the family room, listening to the local rock station on my dad’s stereo. Suddenly, with great urgency, an announcer came on saying, “We have a very important announcement right after this!” Then the dissonant tone of the Emergency Broadcast System blared from my dad’s speakers. I turned down the stereo and suddenly, all those clocks’ ticking was all I heard. I knew what was coming. The Russian missiles were on their way. The city of Houston, a major port and oil center, was almost certainly on the target list. I was going to die in a few more minutes and there was nothing I could possibly do to change my fate. I was thinking about walking outside to make sure I had a quick, painless death, when the tone stopped and the announcer came back on to tell his audience that Led Zeppelin concert tickets would go on sale soon.

I didn’t find this prank to be funny in the least.

Dr. StrangeloveIn my early twenties, when I attended the University of Houston, I took several semesters of Russian language. Back then, my generation was certain that we would die in a nuclear holocaust, sparked perhaps by an error in reading the intentions of the “other side.” There were actually several close calls. That’s why “Dr. Strangelove” is considered a black comedy. Today, it’s a funny movie, back then, the laughter was nervous.

One day, while shopping in a JC Penney store, I overheard someone say, “Shto eta?” (What is that?) If I had taken Spanish, it would have been quite common for me to hear someone speak Spanish. I was living in southern Texas! But to hear someone speak Russian outside a classroom was unique. I looked for the source and found several men buying stacks of blue jeans. I approached and began trying, in broken Russian, to have a conversation with them. I explained I was a student at U of H and asked who they were. One of them said they were engineers visiting a Texas oil company to learn about drilling techniques. While we were speaking, a tall, slender man raised his head, looked in my direction and walked straight up to me, asking who I was and what my intentions were. He was their KGB watchdog, there to make sure no one defected and that everyone went back home to Mother Russia. It was an eye-opener for me. To this day, I believe this shopping trip (and probably thousands of others like it) are what brought down the mighty Soviet Union. These men went home with their stash of blue jeans, which they probably sold on the black market, becoming evidence of the rumors of plenty, in their implacable enemy, the United States. You see, at that time, if you shopped in a grocery store in Russia, you walked up to a counter and placed an order. A clerk fetched your items from the back, if they were in stock. They did not have aisle upon aisle of products you could throw into a shopping cart, like we did. I recall hearing of a Soviet defector, taken shopping near his safe house, convinced the mall was fake, a show put on to fool him. He could not accept that America had such wealth!

Al Qaeda could never bring down our country with weapons. All they could do, and perhaps all they ever intended to do, was provoke us. In the same recording mentioned above, bin Laden said it was, “easy for us to provoke and bait this administration.” “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘al Qaeda,’ in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.”

Today, after spending trillions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we watch it unravel before our eyes on television. The forces of Isis are taking Iraq piece by piece and perhaps will create a Muslim nation where we thought seeds of democracy would thrive. Even Fox News, the voice of the War on Terror and denier of global climate change, seems to have finally had enough. They’ve even had a host state on air that climate change is real, which caused Jon Stewart to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the vast majority of internet search results on this, are about Jon Stewart’s comedy bit, rather than a link directly to Fox News’ video… Imagine that.

Our economy has been in a shambles since 9/11. Yes, some of the worst damage was self-inflicted, fueled by real estate speculation and wild west financial wheeling and dealing. For an in-depth analysis of the real estate market collapse, read (or listen to) “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.”

Perhaps Wall Street (and real estate speculators’) greed would have brought everything down anyway, but in my opinion, we had been bled by our war spending, to a point where recovery became a much slower proposition.

In our rush to war, we seem to have fulfilled bin Laden’s dream. We are hurting. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and there’s plenty to go around. Look yourself in the mirror, and in that moment, when it’s just you alone, be real and assess your role in the current predicament. Watching people hurl themselves into the air to fall to their death, watching those towers fall, watching the smoke rise for weeks after, made our blood boil. We wanted justice and revenge. We were told the enemy hated our freedom. Seriously. The President said this on many occasions. What does that mean? Does anyone really hate someone else’s freedom? How did we fall for that line???

One of my strengths (and perhaps, weaknesses, of which I have many) is an ability to see things from the other guy’s perspective. One of the toughest moments on 9/11 for me was a video, shown on national news, which is burned into my brain. It showed a woman, wearing large, thick glasses, dancing in the streets in Palestine (the Middle East one, not the one in Texas) overjoyed at the strike on America. I immediately hated this woman and wanted her dead. Then, my strength/weakness kicked in and unconsciously, my mind went back to the feeling I had, watching Star Wars for the first time in a theater, when the Death Star exploded. I didn’t think of the tens of thousands of everyday Joes, in the Death Star, who had just lost their lives. I was elated that the evil Empire had been dealt a serious blow.

Wait a minute, I thought. Do they see us as the evil Empire? Yes, they do and with good reason. As Americans, we know our government does things around the world to preserve our way of life, by ensuring our access to oil. Sometimes these acts are terrible and cause great suffering for others, around the world. We don’t speak of these acts at polite dinner parties. We turn a blind eye. We become accomplices.

To preserve our access to oil, we have given weapons to terrible despots. We have overthrown democratically elected governments and installed our puppets. We have killed innocent civilians, both ours and theirs. Hell yes, this has caused the populations of other nations to hate us!

Big Oil buys our politicians off. They spread misinformation. They destroy our environment and get the government to silence those wanting to expose them. As I’ve mentioned before, corporations are like living creatures with a need for self-preservation. Realizing this, we need to look at all information presented to us by media, with a discerning eye. Trust no one. Get multiple views. Seek the truth.

And once you find the truth, act on it.

If you’re reading this blog, you have already declared your independence from oil, or are seriously considering it. Perhaps you’re also considering independence from coal, natural gas or nuclear energy, by looking into solar panels or wind turbines or selecting an electricity provider that exclusively generates energy from renewable sources. But what can one person do against such a determined foe? Well, consider the Death Star once more. What if one technician had left a circuit to the planet-destroying death ray disconnected? Perhaps Alderaan would not have been destroyed!

We can sit by and watch the Earth be ruined or we can choose to take a step in a new direction. We can talk with friends about what we’ve learned, not to say we’re smarter, but to share what we’ve learned through experience and by digging through propaganda to find truth. We can elect politicians who recognize the truth and speak it (or we can run in elections from home owner associations to national offices).

We’re all in this together. The world hangs in the balance. Remember Franklin’s words:

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

and the words of John F. Kennedy:

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Have a safe and happy Independence Day. Have a beer. Grill a burger or two. Enjoy the fireworks. Take a day off.

Then declare your independence and save our world.

June 2014 Sales Numbers

June just flew by and here we are in July, with last month’s sales numbers! It’s been interesting this month, so let’s get started.

The Chevrolet Volt showed an increase of 6%, over the previous month (1,777 vs. 1,684), posting their highest monthly sales level so far, in 2014. That was the good news. Compared to the previous June, sales have plummeted 37% (1,777 vs. 2,698). There have been rumors about the 2016 Volt’s changes and I’ve met people who are already discussing this, so perhaps part of the issue has to do with buyers holding off for the 2016 model year.

The news in the Nissan Leaf world isn’t quite as good. In June 2014, its monthly sales fell by 25%, compared to the previous month (2,347 vs. 3,117). Compared to June 2013 however, it showed a 5% increase in monthly sales (2,347 vs. 2,225).  Even the precipitous drop, from the previous month didn’t keep the Leaf from being the best selling plug-in, in June 2014, besting the Volt by 570 units. I recently competed for a customer who was looking at Volts and Leafs. The Leaf lease deal was pretty incredible and the client went with it. He said he thinks Nissan is “betting the company” on the Leaf.

The Toyota Prius Plug-in also showed a large 42% drop from the previous month (1,571 vs. 2,692). Compared to a year ago, its sales increased by 169% (1,571 vs. 584) as the first seven month’s of its availability were marked by sales of less than 900 units per month.

As usual, I have no Tesla numbers, but the rumor has it that the Model S is experiencing a slowdown in sales. The reason, I’ve heard, is they’ve burned through all the preorders and now are just making incremental sales each month. We shall see…

The Cadillac ELR, which I got to drive for two days, increased 87% over the previous month (97 vs. 52). It is in only its 8th month of availability, so there is no figure for the previous June. I was very impressed by the ELR and shot a test drive video with a good friend, Charles Mills. Charles is editing the video now, so I’ll post it here, with a detailed written evaluation, when the video is completed. Stay tuned!

The benchmark ICE vehicle, the Corvette Stingray outsold all plug-in vehicles in June but posted an 18% decline in monthly sales (2,723 vs. 3,328). Again, like the Volt, people are starting to look to the next year’s model, as production will begin on it next month.

The price of gasoline continued its slow, steady rise, increasing by 4 cents per gallon ($3.67 vs. $3.63). So far, gas has increased 44 cents since last November! Are you non-EV drivers feeling the pinch yet?

June 2014 Sales Numbers

Thinking of our next EV and “effective monthly cost”

2 Volts

As you may already know, my wife Bonnie and I drive Chevrolet Volts and love them. We lease ours and I recommend anyone, driving 15,000 miles per year or less, do the same. The current generation of electric vehicles is still in its infancy. There are many advances coming, and prices will continue to come down. This is great news for those who have not yet gotten an EV and for those who lease them. For those who buy, not so much. The year after we got our Volts, GM announced a $5,000 price reduction. If we had purchased our cars, we would have taken a pretty substantial hit in resale value. We would have bought, if we had intended on keeping the cars for eight or more years, because the difference in depreciation, when compared to traditional cars, would (theoretically) have been negligible by then. By leasing, we insulated ourselves from depreciation worries, knowing we would upgrade to the latest and greatest technology after a few years. This was also our first dip into the EV pool, and we wanted to be protected from any battery life issues. Fortunately, it appears battery life on the Volt is a non-issue. I have thirteen months left on my lease and Bonnie has eighteen months left on hers. So, we’ve been looking around at the new EVs and Plug-in hybrids, considering our next move.

Tesla RoadsterI’ve often said my next vehicle would be a Tesla. I have wanted the Roadster since I first saw photos of one. However, in speaking with owners of Tesla Roadsters, I have found a common complaint concerns the constant squeaking of the composite parts used in the vehicle. I’ve come to love the silence of the Volt and squeaking would be a deal killer for me.

Tesla PairOn to the next Tesla: the Model S. There are three versions, one with a 60 kWh battery, the next with an 85 kWh battery and lastly (and lustily), the 85 kWh “Performance.” I (of course) want the 85 kWh Performance Model S. The Tesla Model S Financing page shows the “effective monthly cost” of these as $678, $857, and $1,099 respectively. The devil’s in the details, and in this case it’s the “effective” in the “effective monthly cost.” Tesla arrives at this monthly cost by financing the Model S over 72 months with a 10% down payment.

After that, it gets a bit shaky.

On the Tesla site, the federal income tax credit is factored into the down payment, but that would be true of any EV or plug-in hybrid I would consider getting. So if that is used to reduce the “effective monthly cost” of the Model S, it would also do the same for any other vehicle I’m evaluating. In other words, it’s a wash. (Since the 10% down payment on the one I want would be $9,457, the remaining down payment creates an increase in “effective monthly cost” of $54.) Also, Texas recently implemented a $2,500 rebate incentive for EVs and plug-in hybrids. Tesla vehicles are not eligible for this, because they are not legally sold in this state. (Texas does not allow manufacturers to sell directly to the public, but that may change.)

Next, a large reduction in the “effective monthly cost,” comes from the reduced cost of fuel, electricity being the “fuel” used. The comparison used to calculate the savings is based on 15,000 miles per year, $4.90 per gallon of gas (where do they buy gas???), 20 MPG – the average fuel economy of premium sedans (I’m averaging 102 MPGe in my Volt), and electricity cost of 11¢ per kWh (we’re paying about 9¢). Tesla’s calculations result in a monthly savings of $261. However, once my real-world numbers are entered, the reduction is actually an increase of $10, as the Volt gets better MPGe than the Model S. I’ve already made the leap to an efficient vehicle, so I’ve already got the economic benefit of reduced monthly fuel cost. Lately, I have been charging at work (at no cost) and at home, cutting my electricity cost even further. In fact, the charging of my Volt at home for the month of May, 2014 was only $19.56.

Next up, reducing your commute time by being able to drive in the carpool lane, or as it’s called in Texas the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane. Texas is home to NASA, and we love our acronyms: ETA, EVA, LEM, ISS, etc… The Tesla site defaults the saving in commute time to ten minutes and the value of the driver’s time at $50 per hour. That hourly rate equates to approximately to $100,000 per year, in income. Perhaps the average Tesla owner is in that income bracket, but I am not. Regardless of hourly rate, Texas politicians have not deigned to grant HOV access to EV owners, so that’s a wash anyway.

Finally, time savings comes up again. This time the savings comes from not having to go to the gas station. The default savings value is based on 4 stops per month of 10 minutes each at the hourly rate of, you guessed it, $50 per hour. I’ve stopped for gas one time in six months, or .17 times per month, but the site won’t allow me to enter fractional stops per month. Manually calculating my time savings in a Tesla, compared to the Volt, I arrived at 56¢ per month. That’s not much of a reduction in monthly payment!

After all the machinations and gnashing of teeth, the “effective monthly cost” of my dream car, in each of its versions would be $933, $1,112, and $1,354 respectively. That’s an increase, from the defaults on the Tesla financing page of 38%, 30% and 23%, respectively. The dream, for me, is beginning to tarnish. As much as I lust for this car, there’s just so much I could do, with the monthly cost difference between the Tesla and the $330 per month I’m currently paying to lease my Volt.

One last thing: I thought I should calculate my Volt’s “effective monthly cost.” Here’s how I do it:

  • I average about 40 miles per charge
  • The cost of a charge is 12.8 kWh X 9¢ = $1.15 (including battery conditioning)
  • The cost of regular gas is at least 3 times the cost of a charge 3 X $1.15 = $3.45 (and increasing lately)
  • That means, when on electricity alone, I can go 120 miles on what a gallon of gas costs. In other words, 120 MPGe
  • When running on gasoline, my Volt averages 37 MPG.
  • My lease payment is $330.07

OnStar RemoteLinkHere’s the latest OnStar RemoteLink app screenshot, of my Volt.

79% of the time, my Volt is running on electricity:

(27,647 ÷ 35,107).

Using the formulas above, based on current gas prices, I’m getting 102 MPGe overall.

At approximately 1,526 miles per month, when compared to the average new car’s MPG of 24, I’m saving $167.75 per month.

My “effective monthly lease payment” is therefore: $162.32!!!! My very first new car was a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. At approximately $6,600 in price, the monthly payment was $170.61. (I’m not sure why, after 38 years, I remember the exact monthly payment…)

I’m saving more than 50% of the lease payment. Once again, good decision verified!

But what’s to be my next car? Well, the salesperson who leased my Volt to me, contacted me to see if I wanted to drive a Cadillac ELR for a couple days…

Stay tuned!Cadillac ELR

Walking the Walk: A Study in Contrast.

Steve & Elon

Would have been nice to hear these two debate patent strategy…

Game changing news: Elon Musk announced that Tesla Motors has “open sourced” its patent portfolio. They even went so far as to take down the wall of patents at their headquarters! (a bit of overkill, in my opinion) In other words, they will allow others to use their patents without charge or threat of legal action. This came as a surprise to many people, including me. The reactions I’ve seen from people are quite varied. One guy said, “Excuse me, but I’ve got to get to a computer and sell my Tesla stock.” People enthusiastic about the EV movement, were very excited by the news. They saw it as a huge leap forward for electric vehicles, allowing companies to stand on the shoulders of Tesla Motors, in their quest to bring their own EV to market, or improve their current EV offerings. This will potentially have the effect of lowering the cost of entry and therefore the risk of developing electric vehicles. I can’t help but wonder how the current employees of Tesla view this. They have the world by the tail now, and as I try to see this news from their perspective, I wonder if they feel their job security (and stock option value) may have been weakened by this.

Everything I’ve seen Elon Musk say publicly about his and Tesla Motors’ mission in life actually made this announcement inevitable. Still, it came as a surprise. Musk seems to genuinely want to leave the world a better place than he found it. He wants electric vehicles to become the norm, rather than the niche product it is today, in order to reduce pollution and (hopefully) stave off climate change. This is in sharp contrast to a couple of billionaire brothers who seem to be busy buying elections in order to try to preserve their fossil fuel empire for as long as possible. As much as you-know-who have been vilified over their behind-the-political-scene machinations, Elon Musk should be praised for this act of generosity.

Is this a completely charitable action? Of course not. Mr. Musk is a successful businessman and he’s already announced his intention to build “giga-factories” to produce the incredibly large numbers of batteries that will be needed for the electrification of the world’s vehicles. If a company decides to use the Tesla Motors’ patents to get a leg up in developing their own EV, wouldn’t it behoove them to purchase their battery packs from Tesla? This is especially true, if they become the only game in town that can produce the enormous number of battery packs needed. After the “giga-factory” announcement, there were rumors that several of these factories may be built. Unless Tesla Motors foresaw huge growth in their market, these factories would churn out many more batteries than they alone would require. Someone had to do this, if the EV revolution was to thrive.

If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you probably know I used to work for Apple. I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs and I couldn’t help but think of him, the iPhone and the Android/Samsung lawsuits when I heard the Tesla announcement. In my opinion, Steve Jobs was absolutely justified, when he said, “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” All it takes is a look at how mobile phones looked before and after the introduction of the iPhone, to understand why he was so angry.

But what did the thermonuclear war bring? Well, a lot of lawyers (on both sides) made lots and lots of money. Apple got judgements in their favor. Then there were retrials and reduced awards. Did it stop their competitors from making iPhone- and iPad-like devices? Hell no! The market was too lucrative. If the competitors did not build clones, they would already be in the dustbin of history. Although, the lawsuits may have caused trepidation, in the long run, the costs involved were seen as much as a “cost of doing business” as are real innovation and product development. It was a risk Apple’s competitors obviously felt they had to take for survival. This goes back to my analogy of corporations as living creatures. Mr. Musk has also hinted at this when he stated in the announcement that, “these days they (patents) serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”

Point, game and match to Elon Musk. (sorry Steve)

In the long run, it does not matter if the Tesla announcement references a completely charitable move or a savvy business transition to a more profitable business vertical. It will have the effect of moving electric vehicle production and adoption forward. For this, I thank Mr. Musk whole heartedly. Let the brighter future commence! Mankind has entered a new age. Just like the Stone Age, Iron Age, or Bronze Age, we have seen the beginning of the end of the Oil Age.

It’s about time.

**UPDATE** This morning, a friend posted an article from the Austin American-Statesman newspaper, about a new pilot project Tesla is running in California: namely, back up batteries for homes equipped with solar panels (another of Mr. Musk’s companies, SolarCity leases solar panels to homeowners). You may remember that is the company we selected to install ours. Many EV owners have expressed a wish for an inverter to allow their vehicle’s battery pack to be used as a back up power supply for their home, in the event of a utility outage. One proposed used for EV batteries, once their capacity drops low enough that the vehicle owner would want to replace them, is as a storage device for electricity, generated by residential solar panels or wind turbines. If this were done, the homeowner would not have to depend on utilities buying their excess electricity and then buying it back, at a higher price, after the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing. (It would also insulate them from the whims of politicians who seem to respond to the wishes of large donors, i.e. energy companies, instead of their constituents…) It’s an interesting article and seems to support my previous paragraph’s assertions.. I suggest you read it. One note: although the article date shows, “Updated: 6:51 p.m. Monday, July 14, 2014 | Posted: 6:25 p.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014,” I did not travel to the future to get it. ;-)

It is starting to look like several giga-factories may be needed.

May 2014 Sales Numbers **UPDATED**

Here’s how things shook out in May, 2014:

The Chevrolet Volt had a 9% increase in sales over the previous month (1,684 vs. 1,548) and a 5% increase in sales volume over May of the previous year (1,684 vs. 1,608). June of 2013 had a huge increase in units sold, so let’s see what happens this month. There have been tons of rumors about the next generation Volt, which will be the 2016 model year, and that may be keeping Volt fans from buying in a wait-and-see attitude. I saw this phenomenon with iPhones, iPads and new Macs when I worked at Apple.

The Nissan Leaf showed a 49% increase in sales over the previous month (3,117 vs. 2,088)!!! When compared to the same month a year ago, it was still a hefty 46% increase in sales. Nissan must be doing something right, but for the life of me, I’m not sure what it is. I haven’t noticed very many television ads for the Leaf (and virtually none for the Volt) except a MetLife ad that mentioned GM employees benefitting from their medical insurance (and had a Volt on screen.) **UPDATE** I stand corrected.

The Plug-in Prius also showed a huge leap forward with a 55% increase in units sold over the previous month (2,692 vs. 1,741) and a whopping 297% increase over May 2013! (2,692 vs. 678) This makes two months in a row that the Plug-in Prius has bested the Volt. GM: there’s this new thing called advertising…

As usual, Tesla did not announce sales figures for the previous month, but there are rumors that their sales had declined slightly.

The Cadillac ELR posted a decline in sales of 15%, when compared to the previous month (52 vs. 61). The ELR has been available less than a year. (more on the ELR later in this post)

The BMW i3, in their first month of availability in the U.S. posted sales of 336 units. This compares well to the first month of Volt sales back in December 2010 of 326 Volts. That being said, there was news that the i3′s sales were hindered by a U.S. Customs snag. Of course, their sales have undoubtedly been helped by the pioneers that came three years before, growing public awareness of EV benefits over that period. (I’m looking at you Volt & Leaf…)

Finally, our benchmark ICE vehicle, the Chevrolet Corvette posted a slight 5% decline in sales, when compared to the previous month (3,328 vs. 3,514) but a huge 268% increase over the previous March, probably caused by two factors 1) last year everyone was surely holding off purchasing due to the news about the new C7 version of the Corvette and 2) this year’s constraint on the Z51 performance package. Dealerships are still having a hard time keeping the Stingray in stock. Most are sold before reaching the dealers.

Now for the graphs:May 2014 Sales Numbers

As you can see on the upper graph, the Volt (green) lost the lead in sales volume in the 42nd month of availability to the historic performance of the original Prius (black), which showed a strong uptick, starting in the 41st month of its availability. The Leaf (blue) is slowly but surely closing the gap between it and the Volt and original Prius. The Plug-in Prius (pink), after starting off faster than any previous plug in electric for the first 15 months of availability, has started to close the gap with the two leaders, Volt and original Prius). Finally, the ELR is struggling, even with very nice incentives from GM. Part of this, I am certain, has to do with the ELR’s price appearing to be about the same as the Tesla Model S. This is unfortunate for GM and I’m surprised that they apparently didn’t see this coming.

IPI EVsThis week, I was a bit late getting the numbers to you. It’s been a busy week that included me taking a couple Volts to the International Parking Institute’s “Greening the Garage” gathering at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, Texas. IPI hosted a couple meetings in the Gaylord’s parking garage where select vendors (including yours truly) were able to show their products and speak to those attending. The only EVs present were the two Volts I brought and a Cadillac ELR. The ELR was brought by a GM Fleet Account Executive, Rick Maybury. He was gracious enough to let me test drive the ELR, which was the first time I had an opportunity to do so.The ELR I droveI was very, very impressed by the ELR. Rick also brought to my attention the fallacy of a straight-up comparison between the ELR and the Model S. The ELR has many standard features that are optional (i.e. an extra cost) on the Model S. These include (according to a GM presentation):

  • Leather seats
  • Navigation & Homelink (garage door opener)
  • Seat & mirror memory settings
  • Keyless access
  • Expanded leather trim (I’m not sure what this means, either…)
  • Premium interior lighting
  • Premium audio
  • Sueded microfiber headliner
  • Parking sensors

The same GM presentation that mentions the optional costs on the Model S also shows a list of options unavailable on the Model S that are standard on the ELR, such as:

  • Forward collision alert
  • Lane departure warning
  • Front and rear park assist
  • “Rainsense” wipers
  • Safety alert seat
  • OnStar (with turn-by-turn directions)
  • “Cadillac concierge” (again, I don’t know what this is…)
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Adjustable suspension
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Side blind zone alert
  • Rear cross-traffic alert

The ELR, although it shares its drivetrain with the Volt, is not just a “gussied-up” Volt. It has many refinements both in performance and information presented to the driver. For instance, Sport Mode in the ELR, not only remaps the accelerator, it modifies the suspension settings and tightens up the steering (an advantage of going to an electric power steering system). The ELR has something, on the back side of the steering wheel, that feels like paddle shifters, which are actually a way to increase regen when slowing. It has quite a pronounced effect and definitely captures more energy than a Volt (and yes, it has the “L” setting on the shifter that works like it does on the Volt). The driver’s information display also shows a constantly updated readout of energy use, similar to an current MPG display on many ICE vehicles. This readout also shows the energy being captured during regen which makes the advantage of those steering wheel paddles obvious. I’m going to have to do a video test drive of an ELR soon…

Have a great June everyone and help keep the revolution going. Tell all your friends how great your favorite EV is!!!

Not all the news from Texas is good… **UPDATED**

Guardian AngelYou know, I’ve always felt I had a guardian angel taking care of me. Of course, I’ve gone through hard times, as all of us have. But, I never got hit by a double-whammy of not having money and getting hit with a large, unexpected bill. It always seems to work like this:

  • I would have a financial windfall I was not expecting.
  • I would have an unexpected cost that took a large portion (but not all) of the windfall.

I am fine with this arrangement because it means I have the financial resources, when I need them, and if I have to pay the piper, better to do so when I have the money, right?

Today, I got a HUGE windfall: (albeit not financial…)

Of course, within a few hours, the piper came by to collect his due. How? In this instance, via email. First, a little background. As you may know, we’ve been planning for months to add solar panels to the new house we were building. Of course you remember my posts about it here, here, here, here and here  We told everyone, friends, the builder’s team, neighbors, and more. We were dealing with a company named One Block Off The Grid. They work with SolarCity to sign people up for solar arrays that are then installed by SolarCity’s designated contractors.

Today, I received this email from One Block Off The Grid:

“We have an important message related to the Texas rebate offered by Oncor.

Notice was give on Monday, 5/12/14, that Oncor’s solar rebate fund will close indefinitely at Friday, May 16th. The Texas rebate was the strongest in the nation and the most significant factor contributing to your historically low solar pricing. The last time Oncor’s rebate program closed, two years elapsed before reopening.

We will not generate new proposals in Texas after 12:00am PST on Friday, May 16th.

So, more than likely, the dream has been smashed. We did everything exactly the way we were told to go about it. We checked the HOA bylaws on solar panels and the procedure for submitting plans. We properly filed all the requested documentation. We asked the HOA to reconsider their decision, based on current events and the Texas law, which states we will be able to add panels once the neighborhood is completed. That, of course, depended on the rebates put in place to help the fledgling solar panel industry and early adopters, such as ourselves, to find a price where our needs and the revenue needs of the contractor are both met.

Finally, I also saw this breaking news today. Perhaps, this time, my guardian angel double-dipped. I only got one windfall but two whammies!

Slip sliding away...

**UPDATE**

Well this is truly odd. I received an email from Oncor’s Program Manager for Energy Efficiency. She stated to the 5 recipients of the email that Oncor still has lots of money in the program and that she has asked “this company” (One Block Off The Grid) to stop saying that the fund is closing. She said she has been contacted by many customers asking about this same thing. Maybe my Guardian Angel only did her usual thing after all…

 

The stars at night are big and bright…

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!!!!

TEXAS!I am proud to announce that my home state, the Lone Star State, the Great State of Texas has joined the ranks of states supporting the clean vehicle revolution. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is now accepting rebate applications.

“What rebates?” you say.

Why, the $2,500 in rebate for the purchase or lease of a light duty vehicle (under 10,000 lbs. GVW) powered by electricity, compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG)!

There had been rumors. There had been expected start dates that came and went. There was virtually no information on the web. Many had started to think of the rebate program as just another sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. But the day finally came!

Now there is some fine print…

  • The funding may get cut before all rebates are issued.
  • No more than 2,000 rebates will be given for CNG or LPG vehicles.
  • No more than 2,000 rebates will be given for electric vehicles.
  • If a qualifying vehicles is placed on order, the dealership may obtain a rebate reservation form so that, once the vehicle arrives, the purchaser may get the rebate.
  • How to apply instructions are here.
  • Application form (pdf) or (Excel).
  • Terms and Conditions are here.
  • Notice of Rebates document is here.

It appears the rebates are limited to manufacturers that legally sell their vehicles in Texas. Unfortunately, this may be a problem for those wanting to buy a Tesla…

…and let the guessing begin!

iPhone?Having worked for Apple for a few years before Steve jobs’ passing, I’ve become somewhat jaded on the “next release news engine.” As the days got closer to an announced product delivery date, the pundits would list the things the new Apple device would be able to do or the features the new device would have. People would come into my Apple Store to see what news I had and what articles I’d seen. This happened for iPhones, iPads, iMacs, laptops, Mac Pros, iPods, Apple TVs, (no, those other Apple TVs…) and the list goes on and on and on.

Some of the guesses were laughable. Some were thought-provoking. Almost every single one was BS.

iPhone?Everyone wants news to spread, even when it just does not exist. Everyone wants to be the pundit, to appear to be plugged in and to have advanced knowledge. This seemed especially true for Apple-centric websites. Everyone wanted to chat about America’s favorite gadget or favorite technology company. Even an obviously bogus, death-knell story about Apple would generate thousands of visits, pages and pages of debate and advertising dollars for the sharp-minded hooligans of the interwebs…iPhone?

But no, there’s a new sheriff in town and his name’s Reggie Hammond…er…uh…Chevy Volt.

Chevrolet Volt???With GM investing $450 million in two plants, everyone wants to guess what features will be on the new Volt. If GM is smart, it will remain completely silent on the issue. Nothing will get the public whipped into a frenzy quite like mystery. As we’ve come to realize, the EV community is already in a frenzy about their vehicles’ cool technology. All it will take is a tiny nudge to start the all-out drool-fest!

Chevrolet Volt???Nissan is starting to say a few things about the next generation Leaf. Tesla is always talking about the future with Gigaplants, Model Xs and the Everyman Tesla… There is a fine line between promoting your new, upgraded product and killing the demand for your current one. Apple definitely learned about this fine line. Apple Store staff gets a feel for impending change as demand for existing products starts to wane, then inventory levels fall, then cooperative marketing firms start the price slashing and then…BIRTH!

Cars, with their MUCH longer development cycles cannot afford for enthusiasm to dry up for existing models while the next is still in development. So, it is in their best interest to remain muted in their announcements of future vehicles.
Chevrolet Volt???Many have said extending the electric range of the Volt, is critical. Odd, because this appears to be where GM did a lot of research before designing the first Volt. They build a vehicle that would handle the commute required by 80% of us. Yes, once we made the jump to a plug-in hybrid vehicle, we wanted to do all our driving electrically. But that’s not the Volt’s mission. Battery range is arguably more important to 100% electric vehicles than it is for a hybrid. In a Volt, I can always pull in to a gas station to keep going.

iPhone?Some have mentioned charging time as a place for improvement. I would agree with this, as my percentage of electric driving increased when I got a high-speed charger. I believe GM was very, very conservative in the design of the battery as well as how slowly (or
gently) it is recharged. Obviously, GM wanted to kill any battery-life questions or issues. If the average Volt could be 100% recharged on a Level 2 charger in 2 hours or one 100V between 4 and 6 hours, do we even care about battery range? (answer: yes, we would, but maybe not as much…)

Chevrolet Volt???Some have mentioned the need for a charger network, similar to the Supercharger n
etwork being rolled out by Tesla. I actually think this is a major area of misapplied focus. Governmental groups, retailers and others are trying to figure out how to reach the “tipping point” for EVs. As I’ve mentioned before, I think charging away from home is too expensive. What I’ve recently come to believe is that it’s also too inconvenient! I regularly brag about how long it’s been since I’ve been to a gas station. Currently, it’s been about 5 months. The last time I went, I noticed how my Volt has changed me. I was ticked off that I had to be somewhere other than my home to refuel my vehicle! How odd it was to realize
what I’d been feeling. Most drivers are on the other side of the fence on this. They haven’t experienced what I have. In fact, I’ve had some people actually using refilling at home as an argument against EVs! We all became conditioned that rain or shine, hot or cold, hell or high water, we had to go somewhere to keep our vehicle fueled. What if, in the horse & buggy days, we had become convinced that we needed to take the family coach to a special field with “transportation grade grass” to feed our horses!

Chevrolet Volt???There has been discussion about Chevrolet moving to a 3-cylinder engine as the range extender. Who cares? Just keep me going between plugs and I’m happy.

iPhone?Some have mentioned the need for five seats. I would agree that this is a needed enhancement as I’ve seen people walk away from the Volt because they needed one more seat. I’d actually like to see GM extend the availability of the Spark EV nationwide. We need a “beginner electric vehicle,” to which the Volt would be the “next logical step.” I’d like to see a variety of EVs from a single manufacturer. There will be car buyers who go their entire lives without buying a gasoline-powered vehicle. It’s about time someone stepped up and grabbed that market segment. A Spark EV, the Volt and then perhaps an Electric Impala, Traverse, SS or (dare I say it???) an electric Corvette Stingray!

Finally, a convertible. Yes, I said it. Out loud. I want a topless Volt. I accept I may lose some electric range due to it not being a aerodynamic but I’m willing to accept that (unless you’ve got a bigger battery in the offing…If so, I want that too!)Chevrolet Volt???

April 2014 Sales Numbers **UPDATED**

A small bout of the flu can’t stop me…well, not for long, anyway. Here’s the update with the Tesla numbers. Tesla is not breaking out US sales as a separate line item. Do we continue to monitor it, using guesses? PUT AWAY THOSE KEYBOARDS! It was a rhetorical question. It’s an important enough vehicle that I think we have to continue to monitor it. I like that Tesla wants to change everything, but a nice, uniform (with other auto manufacturers) financial reporting scheme would be nice. Now Tesla knows what I want for Christmas…well, that and a new Model S 85 Performance Plus.April 2014 Sales Numbers

The numbers are in for April 2014. Gasoline prices have been creeping up since hitting a recent low around November of last year. I think it’s starting to hit the pain threshold for some people, as I am hearing more and more bring up the subject of gas prices. In fact, for the first time ever, I sold two Volts in one month. However, I think the price of gas is just beginning to have an effect. There hasn’t been a big rush on EVs in the previous month’s numbers.

The Chevy Volt’s sales increased just 5% over the previous month (1,548 vs. 1,478) and 19% over the previous April (1,548 vs. 1,306). The Nissan Leaf’s sales dropped by 17%, compared to the previous month (2,088 vs. 2,507) however, it showed an increase over April 2013 of 8% (2,088 vs. 1,937). The Plug-in Prius saw a hefty increase of 20% over the previous month (1,741 vs. 1,452) and a whopping increase of 191% of its sales the previous April (1,741 vs. 599)! Despite this jump, it’s obvious from the lower graph that the Plug-in Prius is not enjoying the same adoption rate as the original Prius, with its pink curve steadily losing ground to the black one. Notice the sudden acceleration of the black curve in the lower graph? The original Prius’ sales hit a temporary peak of 2,532 units sold in its 34th month of availability and quickly went into a severe decline (1,457 to 1,233 to 1,069 to 657 to 299 to 112) before suddenly rebounding to 4,085 in its 41st month. Once this rebound began, the original Prius’ monthly sales never again dropped below 2,900 in its first 67 months of availability. In fact, there were a couple months (#58 & #59) where its sales were over 10,000 units! I’m looking forward to a similar tipping point for plug-in vehicles… The Corvette, which I’ve used as an example of a successful vehicle posted a 1% increase in sales over the previous month, but it appears its sales are being hampered by availability. Every Stingray that has arrived at our dealership was sold within a week, with most of them sold before they ever got here. The Cadillac ELR posted a 25% decline in its meager sales numbers (61 vs. 81). Sales volume this low makes it easy for the ELR to show a precipitous drop or rise in sales. Even in its first month of availability, the Chevy Volt sold over 300 units, so I’m wondering if we’re starting to see the death of the ELR. Cadillac is definitely doing more on the marketing side of things than Chevrolet has done with the Volt, including a Super Bowl commercial that was widely panned as obnoxious or arrogant. In my opinion, the biggest issue with the ELR is its price. At around $75K, it competes with the Tesla Model S, which is currently considered by many to be the gold standard of EVs. Customers I’ve spoken with, who have actually driven the ELR give it high marks, so my thinking is the price tag is preventing most people from even going to a dealership to give it a try. Finally, Tesla has announced the date they will release the previous quarter’s Model S sales numbers: May 7th, after the close of the stock market. I’ll update this post with Tesla’s numbers that day.