Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Independence...

The picture above is a Chevy Volt, an electric car with a small gasoline engine that generates electricity to recharge the batteries while you drive. This allows the car to continue to drive for as long as you want, all you have to do is continue to fill it up with gasoline. Kinda goes against the whole electric cars have no tailpipe and don't use any oil thing, but it's not as bad as it sounds.

The Volt will be going on sale, in limited numbers and in limited states starting this November. For those of you that don't know how the Volt works you are probably scratching your head about now wondering why an electric car needs gasoline and oil products to run. Well it does and it doesn't. The Volt has a 16kwh lithium ion battery pack (8kwh usable) compared to the MINI-E's 35kwh with 28kwh usable. So obviously the battery is  much smaller so it wound not be able to drive the Volt nearly as far as the MINI-E can go on a charge. Actually, GM is saying the Volt will go 35-40 miles per charge in battery only mode. Battery only mode? Isn't "battery only" how electric cars drive. Until the Volt, yes that's how they worked, but GM has brought a new twist to EV's. After you deplete 8kwh of usable battery, the small ICE turns on and acts as a generator to sustain the charge so you can continue to drive. It will not fully recharge the battery, but simply allow you to continue to drive. It is called an Extended Range Electric Vehicle or EREV. GM is betting that people will not want to live with the fear that they will be left stranded by their fully electric BEV so they will opt for an EREV. They do have a point, people that have not experienced living with an EV like I have are concerned that they will run out of power and get stuck. I have said many times here that that fear is way overblown and that once someone actually lives with an EV they quickly realize they really don't have to worry about it. Still, there are some people that will definitely need the added comfort that the car can continue for as long as necessary if need be. Then there are people that live in rural areas that drive 50 miles just to go to the supermarket. a 100 mile BEV just won't work for them and until battery technology gets better an EREV will be a great choice. Plus for those that frequently drive less than 40 miles a day, they will hardly ever need to buy gasoline. There are drawbacks though, as you will now need to maintain the whole internal combustion drivetrain; meaning oil changes, fuel filters, air filters, fuel pumps, water pumps, spark plugs, tune ups, mufflers, etc. All those moving parts wear out over time, which is why BEV's require so little maintenance. They have almost no moving parts and are extremely simple mechanically. The long term costs of a BEV will be extraordinarily  lower than that of an EREV with with you need to maintain BOTH systems.

That being said I do like the Volt and I will considering buying one when they become available in my area and the supply increases. I fear the initial buyers will be paying a premium for these cars because of the limited supply and I'm not going to pay a dealer over MSRP for any car. I don't even want to pay MSRP let alone more. I would use the Volt as a second vehicle that my wife will drive and for the few times we need to travel further than my electric car will take us. From now on I plan on driving a BEV for all my commuting and personal use as I have found it to be a very enjoyable driving experience as well as very economical. Whether an EREV like the Volt or a BEV like the LEAF is better for you and your style of driving, to me it doesn't matter. Both will help us begin to reduce our dependence on oil. The LEAF and other BEV's do it more dramatically, but the Volt is definitely a big step in the right direction and can be driven by many who simply couldn't use the LEAF because of their driving demands.

This year I am celebrating my personal independence as well as Americas. I have been driving the MINI-E for almost 13 months now and have driven close to 35,000 miles free of oil! I am no longer dependent on oil for my personal transportation! I charge my car from the sunlight that I capture in my solar PV system so I don't even need the grid to provide my fuel either. Independence, it's a wonderful thing!


  1. Great post Tom. You have no idea how jealous of you I am. I want to be driving an electric car so much and you even have solar electric to charge the car from which makes it even that much better. I plan on getting an electric car in about three years. My car will be about finished by then and I think I'll have 3 or 4 different options to choose from in 2013 (maybe the BMW EV if it's not too expensive). I hope you enjoyed the 4th, and congratulations on your independence from oil. I'll get there someday too

  2. I agree the Volt will be a good choice for people that are afraid that a set limit will force them to change their lifestyle. However as more and more people are exposed to pure battery electrics, I bet more people will not want to spend the extra money the whole onboard generator costs. People will see their neighbors living with a 100 mile bev and realize they can too. I thing the EREV setup on the Volt will fill a temporary need as we transition to battery powered vehicles. Some people need to be gradually led to new and better technologies while some are ready to embrace them as soon as they become available like you did with the mini electric.


  3. I'm glad Chevy is making the Volt. It will allow many people that would be afraid of a pure electric car the chance to "get used" to them before they go out and buy an EV. I see the EREV as a bridge to full electrics that will help electric cars become accepted faster and by more people.

  4. I know you surf Lyle Dennis' GM-Volt blog, so you've probably seen the seemingly endless attempts on the part of some Volt fans to diss pure EVs, in particular the LEAF.

    In fact, as you underscore in your post, I don't even think they're that much in competition with each another. There are so many people -- like you (and me!) that want one pure EV for commuting, around-town, shorter trips, and one EREV for the rare occasions that we'll need to go more than 100 miles.

    Of course, if pure EVs start delivering 250+ miles per charge at a price that's within reach (the Tesla S is not within our reach), then maybe EVs and EREVs will be in direct competition with each other. Until then, it'll be one EV and one EREV for us.

  5. Yes Chistof I agree with your assessment. It seems that fans of both vehicles feel the need to continuously point out why the other car will never work. Both of these cars are great in their own right and will be used by folks with different needs. Of course there will be some overlap but there is no need to be so critical of them. They both help to reduce our dependence on oil and improve the quality of air we breathe.