Using the right tool and the 1% car

The Right Tool


The Right Tool

My office phone at the dealership rolls over to my iPhone, after two rings. In commissioned sales, a missed call is missed income and a tragedy at bill-paying time!

This morning, as I was getting ready to jump in the shower, my phone rang. The caller said she wasn’t sure why she’d been transferred to me, but she was interested in the Volt. Just to make sure I understood, I said, “Is the first letter of the car bravo or victor?” I always want to make sure we’re discussing the same vehicle. She affirmed that is was victor for Volt.

She said she had one question, “If I get a Volt, does the dealership have a charger, on site, I can use to recharge my car?”

I responded, “Yes, we do, but you won’t want to use it.”

“Why is that?” she asked.

I explained by asking, “Do you want to stay at a Chevy dealership 4-1/2 hours every day?” I explained how far you can go, on a single charge, and the time it takes to refill a depleted battery pack. I added that the Volt comes with its own charger that can be plugged in at your home for exactly that purpose. She asked, “Can it be plugged into any ‘normal’ outlet?” I explained that it plugs into a 110V outlet, just like an iPhone. The circuit would have to meet a minimum amperage, but basically, yes. She seemed very surprised. I went on to say that most Volt owners only recharge at work or at home, due to the time it takes to charge. I explained that there are apps for smartphones that locate public chargers, and some chargers are free to use, but that the Volt’s backup gasoline engine allows owners a degree of freedom that purely electric vehicles do not have.

At this point, she said she is an apartment dweller and doesn’t have an outlet near her parking spot. She asked if she could run an extension cord from her apartment to her car. I explained why that isn’t a good idea. I also mentioned that the Bolt EV is a better choice for apartment dwellers, because the average driver would only have to charge one a week or so. The Bolt EV also supports DC Fast Charging, which means the weekly “fill up” would take only about 2-1/2 hours. She was aware of the Bolt EV, but said her budget was only $14K, so she was looking for a used Volt.

I passed along something one of my managers once told me, “You don’t ever have to plug the Volt in. It can be run, exclusively, on the gasoline engine and would result in about 37 MPG. Then I told her that in her situation, I would recommend a “normal” hybrid, like the Malibu, Prius, etc. Since those vehicles don’t get plugged in, but get impressive gas mileage, they are also a good choice for an apartment resident and can be acquired, on the used market, within her budget. She thanked me and ended the conversation.

It amazes me, after 79 months of Volt availability, that people are unaware of basic things like charge time or that the Volt comes with its own charge cord, just like a smartphone. THIS is a failing I put at GM’s doorstep.

The 1% Car


I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while and the previous narrative seemed to make this time appropriate.

I’ve spoken with people who LOVED the Volt test drive. They needed the efficiency and could live with the limited seating capacity. However, they started asking about three-row crossovers, like the Traverse or SUVs, like the Tahoe. When I asked why, their response usually went something like this:

“Once a year, we have family come down to visit us and we need a vehicle that has the capacity to handle that.”

I am floored by this approach to car buying! The customer is deciding on the best vehicle, based on how it will be used 1% or 2% of the time! My response is usually along these lines:

  • You (the client) loved the silence and the acceleration of the Volt and know you’ll be giving this up, in the crossovers and SUVs, right?
  • Let’s look at the economics: The Traverse and Volt are in the same price range, but only the Volt gives you the $7,500 tax credit.
  • The Crossover/SUV gets 19 miles per gallon but the Volt gets the dollar equivalent of at least 80 MPG (conservatively)
  • Driving the crossover 15K miles per year, results in a fuel cost of $1,776 per year. (15,000 miles ÷ 19 MPG X $2.25 per gallon)
  • The Volt would have a fuel cost (electricity) of $640 per year, to travel the same distance. Assumptions: 11¢ per kWh, 20% charging loss, 0.31 kWh per mile, 41.1 miles per day: a VERY conservative estimate. (15,000 miles X 0.31 kWh ÷ 80% X 11¢)Rental rates
  • The resulting savings, of driving the Volt year round, just in fuel/electricity is $1,136 per year. This figure does not include at least three oil changes for the crossover/SUV per year or the convenience of refueling at home.
  • The image, to the right, was just pulled today, for rentals the week of Christmas 2017, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Just the fuel savings would rent one or two SUVs for the week!
  • Why not rent a really nice SUV, for the one week per year that the family visits, and thoroughly enjoy the driving experience the rest of the time?

Plug-in vehicle depreciation and the case for leasing

I often hear, as a potential objection to getting a plug-in vehicle, that they depreciate too quickly, when compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. I’ve been scanning used car prices, for the Chevy Volt, in Texas to try to evaluate this.

Of course, I built a spreadsheet, as I am a former manufacturing engineer and am a confirmed EV nerd. I pulled every invoice I could, by using the used Volts’ vehicle identification number, or VIN, to access the original invoice. Of course, I do not know what the original buyer paid for the Volt, so I used MSRP. I also do not know what a buyer will offer on the used car purchase, so I used the advertised price for the current value.

The original invoice, in some cases, could not be located. The newer the model, the better the chance I could locate the invoice. Also, I was only able to locate 34 pre-owned Volts, within 250 miles of my location, so the sample is fairly small. That being said, the percentage of MSRP that the asking price represents was pretty consistent in my sampling.

What I’ve found, is that when you take into account the Federal Income Tax Credit at its full value of $7,500, the depreciation appears to be very close to other vehicles. It is true that not everyone qualifies for the full $7,500, and those who lease do not get the credit. In the case of leasing, the leasing company gets the tax credit. However, leasing incentives put most of the tax credit back into the lease, to lower the monthly payment. For instance, this month, the leasing incentives start at $5,025.

Here’s the spreadsheet:Volt DepreciationI noticed that the 2014 vehicles, now three years old, have only depreciated 43%, whereas I expect most vehicles to depreciate 50% over three years, once the tax credit is taken into account. This may be optimistic asking prices or because this sampling seems to have low mileage per year. In any case, I am not trying to say Volts depreciate at a slower rate than other vehicles, just that they don’t depreciate faster than traditional vehicles. One interesting note: There was a $5,000 price drop on Volts, going into the 2013 model year. This should have had a disastrous effect on depreciation of the earlier model years. Based on the scanty evidence I could find, this did not seem to be the case.

As the disclaimer goes: “Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance.” The Bolt EV may have an impact on Volt resale values, going forward. Only time will tell. For that reason, I recommend my Volt clients lease instead of purchase their Volt. There are actually several reasons why I do this:

  • New, long range EVs (like Bolt) may hurt resale value.
  • Those who do not qualify for the entire tax credit, due to low tax burden (retirees and young buyers), will get better value by leasing and the leasing incentives.
  • Advancements in battery technology and faster charging will make today’s plug-in vehicles seem like antiques, for those of us who’ve been driving them for a few years. By leasing, we a future-proofing our EV experience by being able to move into the next generation of plug-ins more quickly.
  • The return of lease vehicles creates a market for preowned plug-in vehicles. This helps lower income buyers join in the transportation revolution. Although those of us with EV experience may want the latest and greatest, those new to these wonderful vehicles will still feel like they’ve stepped into a brighter future because, even a three year old plug-in vehicle seems like such an advancement over internal combustion engine (ICE) technology.

Of all of these reasons, it’s the last one that is most important to me. Once someone gets their first plug-in vehicle and enjoys the silence of electric drive, the exhilarating acceleration and the convenience of refueling at home or parked at work, the odds they’ll return to an ICE vehicle is negligible. This effect is called “butts in seats.” Until one experiences these things first-hand, they just don’t get it. In my day job as an EVangelist, I insist the EV curious go on a test drive. I tell them right up front, “No matter what I tell you, you won’t really understand, until you drive an EV.”

That’s what will accelerate the move forward, toward the future of electric transportation.

Solar Panel Generation: 150 day report

Solar Volt

My 2017 Chevy Volt (The Silver Surfer) being charged by the sun! This shows only one of the four groupings of panels on The Duck (what I call our house).

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

It has been 150 days, since our solar panel system went on line. We started generating electricity from solar energy, on December 21st. The 150 days ended on today. Our solar panels generated a total of 5,387 kWh or, in other words, almost 5.4 megawatts. These 150 days are not the most conducive to energy production, since they began with December 21st, exactly on the Winter Solstice of 2016. As you may know, the Winter Solstice is known as “the shortest day of the year.” It’s really the day with the shortest period of sunlight. You may also think that means the day of the least solar energy generation. That, it is not, as overcast longer days can result in lower energy generation. With this in mind, if we just divide the total amount of energy generated so far, by 150 days and multiply by 365 days (to get an estimate of annual production), we would arrive at a figure of 13.11 mWh per year. Since these 150 days are not average, over the year, we can expect our total annual production to be more than that. Our solar panel provider estimated that our annual production would be close to 16 mWh. I am not sure it will get that high, but if we average both these figures, a compromise estimate of 14.55 mWh is produced. More on this later…

Our highest single day of energy generation so far, was May 4th. On that day, our solar panels generated 60.41 kWh, which is just slightly more than the Chevy Bolt EV‘s battery capacity. The least energy generated in a single day, so far, was 4.4 kWh on December 23rd. Another low production day was March 5th, when 5.66 kWh were generated. As you can see, daily production can vary greatly, as is illustrated in the upper chart below.150 day solar energy production chartsAs you start to look at larger blocks of time, the pattern smoothes out. In the lower chart, by looking at weekly system output, you can see the trend toward higher energy generation. Weeks 21, 51 & 53, were obviously not a full seven days.

To see the pattern a little better, we can look at it by calendar month (below). The current month only shows the first 19 days, resulting in 1,090 kWh. Using the daily average generated in the month, I expect May’s result to be the highest on the chart at approximately 1,778 kWh, a total so high, as to be off this chart.Monthly kWh

How was last month’s bill affected by the solar panels? I’m glad you asked! We used 1,676 kWh total. Our average usage for this month, over the last 3 years has been 1,492 kWh, but this month has been warmer than usual. Of this amount, 433 kWh came from our electricity provider, Green Mountain Energy and 1,243 kWh came from the solar panels. We generated 74% of the electricity we used. Our Green Mountain Energy bill was $20.57. The payment on the solar panel system is $154.54. So, our total electric cost was $175.11 last month. If we didn’t have the solar panels, our bill would have been $133.96, so we overpaid by $41.15 last month. (this will vary, so more on that later)

Green Mountain Energy, currently 😉 charges us 11.6¢ per kWh, the “solar rate” we got, when we switched providers. They buy any overproduction at the same, retail rate in monthly (billing cycle blocks). Before we got on the “Solar Buy-Back Plan,” our rate was 8.5¢ per kWh. This means they are actually buying back at somewhat less than retail, since the rate was lower when we were on a normal energy rate plane. However, when I created a spreadsheet, to check the financial soundness of getting solar panels, we still came out ahead, when compared to a company that charged the lower rate but bought back overage at wholesale, instead of retail. It’s jumping through math like this that discourages people from getting solar panels, because they just can’t tell if it makes economic sense or not.

As you may know, I love making spreadsheets and performing analyses, so…yay!

Our solar panels (38 in all) cost $33,480, including permits and installation. The federal government’s tax incentive for solar panels is 30%, or in our case $10,044, leaving us with a cost of $23,436 in out-of-pocket expenses. One really cool feature of our solar financing plan, is that the first payment is due one year after the panels are installed and operational. This gives the buyer time to realize the tax credit and pay it into the loan, resulting is a monthly payment, based on the system price, after the tax credit is applied. We financed the panels over 20 years, resulting in a monthly payment of $154.54.

So, the big question is: Are we paying more for electricity + solar panels per month that we were for electricity alone? We still don’t know definitively, and won’t until we’ve analyzed a full year of data. However we can now start to make an educated guess.

If the solar panel company is correct, and our solar panel system generates 16 mWh of electricity over the full year (and that is still a distinct possibility), the total cost we’ll pay per month for electricity + solar panels, would be 13¢ less, than just buying electricity from our provider at the higher rate they’re charging now. However, if we compare the total amount we were paying on the previous plan, we could pay as much as $61 per month more, on average, than we were, which is about a 36% increase. We expected to pay more, during the first few years and reap the benefit of lower overall cost, as energy prices go up, over time. Again, only time will tell. The rate we’re paying now per kWh is approximately the same as the U.S. national average rate per kWh.

Here’s what we feel we are getting for this:

  • We generate ZERO pollution, for the energy we use during the day, because we generate it from the sun. Even though Green Mountain Energy provides “100% renewable energy,” during times of low winds or low solar generation, Green Mountain Energy has to buy energy from non-renewable sources, to keep the lights on, which do generate pollution. To make the claim that they’re 100% renewable, Green Mountain will purchase energy from other renewable energy companies, to offset the dirty energy they had to purchase during these shortages.
  • If we add a battery backup to the system, these benefits would continue after sunset, when the batteries would continue to provide electricity, after sunset, or during a blackout or brownout.
  • THIS IS PROBABLY THE BIGGEST FACTOR: On average, in Texas, solar panels add $15K of value to the home, when it comes time to sell. Once this is taken into account, the solar panels really only cost us $8,436, that $61 per month is eliminated. Our system is larger than the average residential system installed in Texas, so the actual cost may be even lower than that! This means that we’re really at break even now, with additional savings as energy prices rise, over time.

In late December, I will have a full year’s worth of data and will revisit this, but at this point I think we made a very good financial (and ecological) decision.

If you would like to contact our solar panel provider, click here to email them.

If you’re going to sling BS, don’t try it with a Texan!

I was lying in bed this morning, as it is my day off, when I heard the email ping of my iPhone.

In case you aren’t a long-time reader of this blog, I changed careers to become a salesperson, at the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world, because of my love for the Chevy Volt.

The email had been sent by my manager (and the guy who went out on a limb to hire me), Hank Gaylor. Hank had received an email from his father, after his father had seen a story claiming it took $18 to fill a Volt’s battery from empty. Here’s what Hank’s dad saw: (my added comments in red)

As a “joke”, my Chev dealer gave me a Volt as a loaner while my full-size pick-up was getting some attention.  He thought it was funny to give his energy company CEO (emphasis added) this thing here on Vancouver Island!  I live 30 kilometers outside of Victoria near Sidney.

The battery was dead – later he admitted they almost never charged it.  While the car was “OK”, on gasoline, it was pretty anemic.  So for the extra money, even taking into account Chev rebates and Provincial incentives, you get an under-powered, heavy car that felt “too small” for its actual size (battery has to go somewhere). “Underpowered”? PLEASE! I regularly out-accelerate 5-series BMW’s and pickups don’t stand a chance, against my Volt

Now the kicker: at a neighborhood barbecue, I was talking to a Neighbor, a BC Hydro executive.  I asked him how that renewable thing was doing.  He laughed, then got serious.  If you really intend to adopt electric vehicles, he pointed out, you had to face certain realities.  For example, a home charging system for a Tesla requires 75 amp service. I don’t know about Telsa’s charging requirements, but we have two 240V chargers, at our home. Each is on it’s own 30 amp circuit. Our A/C unit is on a 45 amp circuit. Perhaps Canada just recently started experimenting with electric service in their homes…

The average house is equipped with 100 amp service. So in Canada, I could have A/C, an electric oven and a few lights/electric outlets in use at the same time???  On our small street (approximately 25 homes), the electrical infrastructure would be unable to carry more than 3 houses with a single Tesla, each. Do Canadians have to take turns, with their neighbors, for cooking? watching TV?  For even half the homes to have electric vehicles, the system would be wildly over-loaded.

This is the elephant in the room with electric vehicles … Our residential infrastructure cannot bear the load. We have ample delivery in the U.S. of A., but it still needs updating. Smart grid is being deployed here.  So as our genius elected officials ram this nonsense down our collective throats, not only are we being forced to buy the damn things and replace our reliable, cheap generating systems with expensive, new windmills and solar cells, but we will also have to renovate our entire delivery system!  This latter “investment” will not be revealed until we’re so far down this dead end road that it will be presented with an oops and a shrug. Oddly enough, there is no fuel cost to renewable energy plants, but you keep paying for coal, natural gas, uranium, etc FOREVER!

If you want to argue with a green person over cars that are Eco-friendly, just read the below:

Note: However, if you ARE the green person, read it anyway.  Enlightening. This is a parody, right? Did they get it from The Onion??? (The Onion is a news parody site.)

Eric test drove the Chevy Volt at the invitation of General Motors…and he writes…For four days in a row, the fully charged battery lasted only 25 miles before the Volt switched to the reserve gasoline engine. He must have been driving through two feet of snow, UPHILL THE WHOLE WAY, on flat tires, towing a boat. 😉

Eric calculated the car got 30 mpg including the 25 miles it ran on the battery. “Eric is an “energy company CEO???” I won’t be calling him if I find a math error in my bill!  So, the range including the 9 gallon gas tank and the 16 kWh battery is approximately 270 miles. Actual Volt range is 370 miles (1st generation Volt 2011-2015) and 440 miles  (2nd generation Volt 2016+)

It will take you 4 1/2 hours to drive 270 miles at 60 mph.  Then add 10 hours to charge the battery and you have a total trip time of 14.5 hours. Why not charge the Volt while you sleep, the night before you leave and charge again, while you sleep, after your arrival? Also, why not use a 240V fast charger (I have two, myself) and reduce charge time to 4 hours?  In a typical road trip your average speed (including charging time) would be 20 mph. If you used the slowest charger possible and charged during your drive, instead of taking my advice above. Then again, on long road trips, I treat my Volt like any other car, just running on gasoline and only charging at the hotels.

According to General Motors, the Volt battery holds 16 kWh of electricity.  It takes a full 10 hours to charge a drained battery. The cost for the electricity to charge the Volt is never mentioned so I looked up what I pay for electricity.  I pay approximately (it varies with amount used and the seasons) $1.16 per kWh. If that’s really what Canadians pay for electricity, my average monthly electric bill there (1,980 kWh per month) would be $2,297. Yes, PER MONTH! 16 kWh x $1.16 per kWh = $18.56 to charge the battery. For these calculations, and to address both generations of the Chevy Volt so far, see my comments below.

$18.56 per charge divided by 25 miles = $0.74 per mile to operate the Volt using the battery.  Compare this to a similar size car with a gasoline engine that gets only 32 mpg.  $3.19 per gallon divided by 32 mpg = $0.10 per mile.

My Volt Display

My Volt’s actual display. Today

Volt status 17May2017

My Volt’s status 17 May 2017

The gasoline powered car costs about $15,000 while the Volt costs $46,000 No, MSRP is $34K (LT) to $39,500K (loaded Premier, no navigation, no $1K pearl paint). After you deduct the $7,500 Federal Income Tax Credit for a Volt purchase, it has dropped to $26,500 to $32,000. The Chevy Cruze Hatchback is close in size and functionality to the Volt, since the Volt & Cruze started on the same platform. It is also good for this example, as it gets 32 MPG average, as this Canadian uses as his example.

A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (LT, with remote start) lists for $24K ($2,500 less than an LT Volt). A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (Premier, without sunroof or navigation) lists for $27,500K ($4,500 less than the Volt (Premier, without sunroof or navigation). ……..So the American Government wants proud and loyal Americans not to do the math, but simply pay 3 times as much for a car No, it’s 10% more for the LT and 16% more for the Premier, that costs more than 7 times as much to run, and takes 3 times longer to drive across the country….. Again, if treated like a gas car, your travel time is exactly the same as any other gas car. Oil changes on a Volt, typically are done every 1-1/2 to 2 years, depending on gas engine usage. Try that on a gasoline-powered car! There’s a savings there, but wait! There’s more!

The Cruze gets 32 MPG (average) and has a range of 397 (city) to 520 miles (highway). The Volt has a 440 mile range (full battery and gas tank) and gets 42 MPG (on gasoline) and 82 MPG (on electricity, see below). Using my real world experience, over the 16,978 miles I’ve driven so far, I have bought about 18 gallons to go 706 miles (see image above) for an average of 39.2 MPG on gasoline. On electricity, I’ve driven 16,272 miles. Yes, I can charge for free at work and at many locations in the DFW area, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I paid for all the electricity I’ve put in my Volt, my cost of electricity for driving 16,272 miles is less than $400. That works out to a dollar equivalent of 96.8 MPG (dollar equivalent at current gas price) on electricity! ($400 ÷ $2.38 = 168 gallons. 16,272 miles ÷ 168 gallons = 96.8 MPG equivalent). Those same miles in a Cruze would have required 530.5 gallons of gas, at a cost of $1,263! Over the time I’ve owned my Volt, I have saved at least $820. That’s over 439 days of ownership. Over just one year that would be $682 saved per year. At that rate, break even on ownership is 6.6 years. Once you include the reduced frequency of oil changes in a Volt, break even is about 6 years, or the finance term used by most Americans, when purchasing a new car. The Volt is a far better car than the Cruze (which I like very much) and at 6 years, they cost about the same. After that point though, I save $682 per year by owning the Volt, as mentioned above.

**DISCLAIMER** In actuality, I only pay for about half of the electricity my Volt uses, since I charge for free, like many Volt drivers, at my job or when I find a free charging station. By the way, how many times have you found a free gasoline station? 😉  At 1/2 the electricity paid for, I’m really spending about $202 per year, in fuel (gasoline & electricity) and saving about $848 per year, or $71 per month. With half my electricity being free, I get the dollar equivalent of 166 MPG. Break even for me will be at 5.3 years.

The error, in the math provided by the Canadian above, is in the cost of electricity and how much it takes to fill the battery. Here’s how it really works:

NO ONE pays $1.16 per kWh. Average, in the U.S. is $0.11, or 11 CENTS per kWh. This should be shown as $0.11. Many Texans pay less than 9 cents per kWh. I’ll bet the person in the story meant to say 11.6 CENTS per kWh (or heaven help Canada!).

The 1st gen Volt battery had 16 KWh of storage, but you were never allowed to use all of it. Lithium Ion batteries should never be completely drained or filled. The 1st gen Volt allowed only 10.8 kWh to be used. Some electricity is lost in the transfer and the Volt runs fans (and sometimes A/C) to keep the battery in a good temperature range while charging. I averaged 12.8 kWh to fill the battery from “empty,” in our 2012 Volts, accounting for fans and transfer loss. Filling the battery 12.8 kWh X 11.6 CENTS ($0.116) = $1.48 per full charge, not $18.56 as this guy states above.

Once filled, the 1st gen battery, on average, would go 38 miles on a charge, NOT 25. $1.48 ÷ 38 miles = 3.9 CENTS ($0.039) per mile. Currently (pun intended), with gas in the U.S. averaging $2.38 per gallon (last month’s average), that’s the dollar equivalent of 61 MPG. ($2.38 ÷ $0.039)

HOWEVER: if you pay 8.6 cents per kWh, like I do, it only cost $1.10 for a full charge of a 1st gen Volt. $1.10 ÷ 38 miles = 2.9 CENTS ($0.029) per mile, which is the equivalent of 82 MPG. If gasoline prices rise, the Volt’s MPGe (dollar equivalent just gets better and better).

I personally have gotten as much as 52.7 miles on a single charge in my 1st generation Volt (2012, see image), but that’s not average. However, on that day, I got the dollar equivalent of 115 MPG.50 Mile ClubThe 2nd generation Volt goes an average of 53 miles per charge, with a lighter battery with only 2/3 as many battery cells. However, it stores 18.4 kWh, of which 16 kWh is useable add 2 kWh, for cooling during charging, and you get 18 kWh per 53 miles. Using the math outlined above, it gets the average dollar equivalent of 60.4 MPG (11.6 CENTS per kWh) or 81.4 MPG (at 8.6 CENTS per kWh, like I pay).

Not only does the Volt get fantastic gas mileage, it is very fast off the line. It is so silent, GM installs low speed noise makers (or pedestrians would get run over in parking lots). It generates ZERO pollution while doing so. If you get your electricity from renewable sources, like I do (wind generated from Green Mountain Energy and solar panels on our house), even the creation of the electricity you use generates ZERO pollution!

We have 3 Volts, in our household. If the example you presented were correct, it would have bankrupted us! THIS KIND OF B.S. HAS BEEN PRESENTED BY CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND OIL COMPANIES, SINCE THE VOLT CAME OUT. I BATTLE IT EVERY DAY. I can’t blame them. They’re just trying to survive. I just hope people stop falling for this bullshit. (Texas term. NOT cussing!)

Obama drives Volt

Why, on Earth, would conservative media hate the Volt so much???