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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Go Electric?

Why drive an electric car? Why bother with all the fuss of having to worry about where you can plug it in, how far you can go without needing a charge, how long will the batteries last and how much they cost? Who needs that? Gas stations are everywhere, gas isn't so expensive that it prohibits you from buying it and driving where you need and want to go - at least here in the States. So why bother with all this EV nonsense?

I talk to a lot of people about electric cars. Many of which are complete strangers that see me with my ActiveE, others are customers of my business that see my car plugged in and charging all the time, and still others are friends, family members and various acquaintances. Some people are really in to them. They know the current models, understand the benefits and the disadvantages and have obviously done a lot of research into electric drive, but that's the overwhelming minority. Most of the people I come across know very little to nothing about EV's, yet they seem to have a preconceived notion that they aren't really viable, and some actually believe they are worse for the environment than gas cars. I've even talked to people that claim EV's are some grand scheme by the liberal left to scam us into believing the "hoax" of global warming and take away our freedoms. To what end I don't know, but yes I have met people that have made that claim and actually believe it. I often wonder why so many people seem to have such negative thoughts about electric vehicles. Is it simply because they are different? I know we are creatures of habit and tend to prefer familiarity, but who actually likes going to gas stations? Nobody I know, yet many seem disinterested in considering an alternative that is available and has already proven to be viable option.

Tesla Model S is a top-of-class performer
I'm not advocating taking away anybody's right to choose what they want to drive or what fuel they can use. I believe once people get the opportunity to drive modern electrics, they will simply want to continue driving them as was the case with me. It's true some of the recently introduced EV's have been somewhat less than outstanding vehicles, but we are only seeing the first wave of electric cars now and have just scratched the surface of how good they will be. Just look at the recently released Tesla Model S if you want to understand how good electric cars can be. It has been showered with awards like Motor Trends Car of The Year, Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year, Popular Science's Innovation of the Year and many others. Yes, it's an expensive car, but it's in a class with other cars of the same price and beating them at their own game. It's actually a remarkable thing for a new automaker to enter the scene and sweep the years automotive awards like the Model S has. Still, we are a long way from widespread acceptance of EV's. Tesla has certainly helped open the conversation and with established automakers like BMW launching their own line of plug in electric vehicles soon, more people will start opening up to the possibility of plugging in instead of filling up.

Here's why I think people will eventually overcome the inertia of the status quo and transition to electric drive:

1) Electric vehicles ARE better for the environment. The long tailpipe theory doesn't hold water. For anyone that doesn't know what the long tailpipe theory is, it's the argument that because EV's don't have tailpipe emissions, you need to extend an imaginary tailpipe all the way to the power plant that made the electricity that powered the car, and count the emissions there as 'tailpipe emissions". This does have some truth. Grid powered electricity didn't come out of thin air and there are nasty emissions from coal powered power plants. This is an argument I hear a lot. Someone will say "You aren't accomplishing anything. Your electricity causes more greenhouse gas than my gasoline does." Of course they can't back up that claim, and they certainly don't want to hear that I power my car with renewable energy made by my solar array, they just want to blurt out something they heard somewhere and assumed it was true. However if I didn't have solar electric and plugged into the grid for all my electricity, driving my ActiveE would still be better for the environment than driving any gas car. Yes, depending on where you live in the US it makes a difference based on what fuel mix is used for electricity generation. However regardless of where, even if you use electricity that is made 100% from coal, an electric vehicle always generates less emissions than any gas car does.  The US Department of Energy has a great site that lets you plug in your zip code and it calculates your emissions based on the fuel mix of the electricity provided to your area. You can clearly see than in any case, driving electric emits less toxins into the air we breathe and that is better for us all.  Of course if you charge your car with solar electricity, then you do truly have a zero emission vehicle.

I'd rather give him my money!
2) Relying on foreign countries for our energy is dangerous and costly. We currently spend nearly $400 billion dollars on foreign oil annually. That's over a billion dollars a day and that money leaves our economy and doesn't come back. Every $10 increase in a barrel of oil costs our economy about 75 billion dollars. Can you imagine how much good that money could do if we were spending it on domestic energy? Electricity is entirely a domestic product. Every step of the supply chain keeps money circulating in our economy and that money gets reinvested time and time again and helps stimulate growth. When you buy gasoline, about 65 cents of every dollar leaves the US and the 35 cents that does stay is mostly for lower-paying service jobs like gas station attendants and truck drivers. Committing to electric cars that run on domestic energy will create thousands of jobs in infrastructure and grid related improvements, installations of EV charging stations and solar electric systems. Plus keeping the money in our local and regional economies will have an exponential effect as the money gets reinvested and spent locally, instead of being shipped overseas. No matter how much oil we pump out of the ground, the US can never dictate the price of oil. It's a global commodity and we are at the whim of the OPEC Board of Governors. If they decide to pull back production, prices will go up regardless of how much we supply. When we get sudden spikes in oil prices it destabilizes our (and the world) economy. We need to become less dependent on it. We will still need oil, but we can drastically reduce our need for it. The best way to do it as quickly as possible is to transition our personal transportation to domestic-energy powered electric cars.

3) Plugging in is more convenient than driving to a gas station. This is difficult for people that haven't lived with an EV to grasp, but it's true. When I plug my car in, I am usually home in my garage or at work and have just parked my car. I didn't need to go somewhere to refuel, it came to me. I was already going home or to work, I didn't go there to refuel. I simply take about 5 seconds to plug in once I arrived at my destination. Yes, I need to do it more frequently than you have to buy gas because the cars don't have as far a range as gas cars do - not yet at least, but it's so simple and quick it isn't a problem at all and I didn't have to go out of my way to refuel because it was already at the destination I was going to. Many people that have never driven electric can't get their hands around this because they have become so conditioned by the refueling process of gasoline because that's all they know. They assume you'll spend so much time worrying about where you can find a charger, whether or not it will be available and working, and how long you'll have to sit there and wait for your car to charge. That's just not how it works 99% of the time. The vast majority of the time you'll simply charge at home and that will be enough for your daily duty. If you need to drive a lot of miles every day, then perhaps an electric vehicle isn't the right choice for you just yet. Give it a couple years and there will be longer range EV's, EV's with range extenders, there will be quick charge stations that charge your battery to 80% in less than 30 minutes, all this will make electric vehicles a viable choice for even more people than they are today.

4) It's better. This is really the knockout punch. Even if there were no other reason to drive electric, the simple fact that it's a better driving experience is going to be enough to change the industry and the world. The silky-smooth linear acceleration, the instant torque, the quiet and vibration-less cockpit experience simply cannot be matched by an internal combustion engine car- any of them. When you hear someone talking about how they would never want to drive an electric car it's probably because they have never indeed driven one. Just about everyone that is open minded enough to give an EV a try walks away from it smiling and thinking "Yeah, that was pretty cool". I have let hundreds of people drive my MINI-E and ActiveE over the past four years and I can't remember a single one of them that didn't like it. Yes, there are still hurdles for mass adoption, quite a few of them in fact. The lithium-ion batteries are still expensive so that keeps the initial cost of the cars a little higher than a comparable gas car, although prices continue to drop at a rate of approximately 8% per year. This of course is off set by the lower refueling and maintenance costs but people have a difficult time looking at the long term cost of a car when they are buying it. They tend to look only at the purchase price and not the fuel and maintenance they will have to pay for. I think BMW should spend some time and make it a point to demonstrate the total cost of ownership when perspective customers are shopping for an i3. Show them that they may be paying a little more up front, but overall the car will cost them much less than comparable gas cars would. The best tool to selling them however is to let them take one for a drive, the longer the better. It doesn't take much to get hooked on electric drive.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Cars Were The Electronauts Driving Before They Leased Their ActiveE?

That's me driving along the highway in my MINI-E
It all started as a harmless question that Rick Oh posted on the ActiveE Facebook group page: "What were you driving before you got your ActiveE?" Simple enough right? Well sure, but it's probably not that simple for the automakers. In fact, I'm sure they spend millions to try to figure out where their customers for a new model will come from. Will they cannibalize their existing product line or can they take customers from competing brands? This is especially true for electric cars. Manufacturers have an opportunity to engage customers that were loyal to other brands if they offer the plug-in package that the customer wants and their preferred brand isn't offering.

So after the post got some answers, John Voelcker from High Gear Media (John is also a member of our ActiveE group even though he doesn't drive an ActiveE) decided to write a story on this topic for That was about a month ago. Now, Horatiu Boeriu the editor (and owner) of BMWBLOG also put up a post on his site posing the same question. Both posts received a good amount of attention and comments so this is obviously a topic that people are interested in.

I was obviously driving a MINI-E before the ActiveE, so I would then have to look back to what I got rid of when I leased the MINI-E to properly answer the question. That would be a Mercedes ML430 SUV. Yes, I confess I was a wasteful gasoline burner. Ninety-nine percent of the time I was driving alone in this huge SUV and getting about 17mpg. I really didn't need the utility of that size of the vehicle, I just liked it so I bought it. Back then I really didn't consider the efficiency or environmental impact of a the cars I purchased, and not many people really did here in the States. Times have changed though, for me personally and for many consumers. Environmental impact and sustainability is an important consideration for many more people now then it was ten or fifteen years ago, and I believe that trend will continue and even become more relevent. BMW evidently believes this also and recently Uli Kranz, the head of BMW’s sub-brand BMW i was quoted in an article in Forbes saying: “Sustainability is a very important point for us, because we believe that in the future, premium will be more defined with sustainability".

So I sold my Mercedes SUV to make room for my MINI-E, what about the others? Well it turns out that not many of them traded in or sold a BMW. There were definitely a few, but not as many as I expected to see. The ActiveE wasn't necessarily as much about brand loyalty as it was about offering electric drive. There was a pretty good spread of vehicles from Audi's to Toyota's, some being SUV's and quite a few hybrids mixed in there also. So I think there is definitely a great opportunity for BMW to expand their customer base if they deliver with the i brand. There are high expectations though, and the i3 cannot be just another plug-in car with leather seats and 'premium' features. It needs to be what BMW is billing it to be, and that's a groundbreaking vehicle. It needs to set a new standard in efficiency by incorporating the Life-Drive platform and being the first mass produced vehicle to have a passenger compartment made entirely of CFRP. It also needs to deliver the performance expected of a BMW, in other words it must be fun to drive. Highly efficient and a blast to drive - in my opinion that's what the i3 needs to deliver or it will fall short of expectations and most likely sales goals. If it does deliver the goods, then I think BMW can expect to add quite a few first-time BMW buyers to their portfolio.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Got Sun?

I recently read a report by the Federal Energy Information Administration that stated in 2012 gasoline costs took a bigger share of household budgets than they have in three decades. Well, not the people driving electric cars, that's for sure. Fueling an electric car costs much less than it does for gasoline or diesel cars. In fact it's actually anywhere between 25% and 75% less expensive depending on the car and your local electricity rates.

Add a solar array to the equation, and you've not only lowered the price you pay for your transportation fuel significantly, but you've also guaranteed you'll have a low-cost, stable supply of fuel for the next 30 years or so. You see, the sun doesn't raise its price based on supply and demand and the sun doesn't have a group of men in a room somewhere scheming how they can maximize the suns profits. 

The report claims the average American household paid $2,912 to buy gasoline in 2012 which is about 4% of the household's pre-tax income. That's just too much for gas, and do you think that's going to go down? Not a chance. Sure there will be short term price fluctuations and even years at a time when the price is lower but in the long run the price of gas always goes up, and will continue to do so now at a much faster rate then in the past since there is a greater demand for gasoline then ever before because of oil hungry, emerging markets like China and India.

Zero emission electric cars like my ActiveE are slowly entering the marketplace. You can buy plug in cars from Nissan, Chevy, Mitsubishi, smart, Tesla, Ford and Toyota right now that will either take you completely off gas or drastically reduce your need for it.  Gradually every manufacturer will offer 100% electric cars and also plug in hybrid vehicles. Independence from the radical fluctuations of the price of oil is a great thing. I have been living with electric cars for about four years and powering them with my home solar array for over two years now and I can tell you it's really a great feeling. Even if you don't have a solar array, the price of electricity is still much less expensive, electricity is entirely a domestic product and the cost is relatively stable, unlike oil where you can have a 26% increase in one year like we had from 2011 to 2012. Electric car manufacturers like BMW are also going to partner with solar installers and offer great deals on a solar installation when you buy your electric car. They'll ask you how many miles you drive in a year and can even size a solar array so it produces just enough energy to power your car. By doing so you don't have to purchase a huge system like I have on my roof, and therefore it won't be very expensive. You can finance the system so you only pay about what you were previously paying for gas every month. This way your monthly out of pocket expense won't rise and once the system is paid off you have free fuel from then on. Dump the pump and plug into the sun! So what does your future look like?


                                                            Or this?.....