Sunday, January 29, 2017

Electric Car Blues

Literally a Museum Piece
So, back in August, the Lovely Bride and I purchased an electric car. No, I haven't mentioned it before in this space. What, do you think I tell you EVERYTHING that's going on in my life?

The big reason for the purchase that the my 2001 Hybrid Insight, DOCBUNNY, was after 15 years of service, was on its last legs. The seats had been worn threadbare long ago, the radio was down to one speaker, the HVAC was spotty, there were some oil leaks with lash-up solutions, the transmission was getting mushy, and the hybrid battery was showing a sudden and shocking discharge rate, such that going up small hills could drain it completely. so the time had come to replace it.

After checking out a lot of vehicles online, we went for the sit test. We went to dealerships and sat in their cars. Test-drives were the second step of this but the big initial thing was whether I would be able to fit in the vehicle in the first place. While I am a bit wide, I can fit behind the wheel of most cars (Chevies in particular are a tight squeeze and off the table immediately), but I also have a long torso, so that for many cars, I cannot see out the front windscreen - the roof line drops down into my field of vision. Toyotas are like that, and so are the older Teslas (and I was not going to wait to see what was the case for new Teslas). We decided on a Kia Soul
Electric, blue with a white roof.

I'm a Soul Man.
And car purchasing is just as painful as it was fifteen years previous.Despite excellent credit, knowing exactly the car we wanted to purchase, and informing the dealership with 24 hours notice and filling out forms online, it was four hours of filling out forms, waiting for them to be processed, giving more information, waiting for THAT to be processed, checking options, agreeing to options that we didn't necessarily want but were on the car anyway (to be fair, the puddle lights have been rather nice), and then learning that the car that we had TOLD them the day before we wanted to purchase wasn't even at the lot (this was cheerfully reported as "We're preparing the car for you - it will be just a little while").

So, then, how is it? Well, it depends on what you're after. I am looking for a vehicle that will get me the 20-some miles up the Amazon and back to Panther Lake once a day, with the occasional side trip. It does that nicely But it does affect my ability to go to various locations in a single trip, so I'm finding myself planning more.

It is all about Ranger and Recharge: Range is how far you can go on a charge. The listed average range for the Soul is 90 miles. Tesla is talking about 300 miles with its new batteries, but they're still building them. Ninety miles is about 3 gallons of gas in a traditional car. So if you're not comfortable driving around with three gallons of gas, then you may want to wait for the future models,

Recharge is finding out where you need to go to get the charge back. The Soul came with a "trickle charger" which ran off house current but does so VERY SLOWLY. Such that you might not drain the battery to half and then not be able to regain the lost energy overnight, creating a deficit situation (plus by "overnight" I mean 12 hours, which means you bring the car home and let it sit.

This car magnet works on so
many different levels.
The Lovely Bride and I went the extra distance and installed a Stage II recharger, with the help of a state rebate plan. This brings me up to full charge in a couple hours, but it is STILL a couple hours. If you are on the road, you again have to plan for some downtime to recharge. Fortunately, my garage downtown has charging stations. Unfortunately, they just started charging for them. There is also a Stage III charger, which I have yet to use (the only one I know about is at the dealership), but then you are still at the mercy of the time it takes to recharge.

Let me add to that another challenge - cold is an enemy. The battery holds less of its charge during the cold weather. We have a spate of freezing weather in Seattle and the range plunged precipitously. Not that the weather has returned to typical Seattle winter (rainy and grey), the numbers have recovered, but it was a concern. This ALSO may mean you won't see as much of electrics in, say Chicago, for a while.

How does it perform? Nicely. There's no transmission, so it accelerates extremely quickly and smoothly. It is a bit boxy, but navigates and turns well. Downsides? Minor things like no CD player, so I had to download my books on tape and put it onto a USB drive. Oh, and the GPS is absolutely horrible. If you want to know at the traffic conditions an hour ago, it is more than suitable, but I found no traffic on roads that it claims are clogged and have been held stock still on patches of highway that are supposed to have clear traffic. But that's kinda minor.

Ah, yes, and the tire sensors are, in the terms of my mechanic, "sensitive", such that if they get even a little out of balance, a sigil lights up on your dash that is supposed to be a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point but really looks like the Eye of Sauron atop Barad-Dur. I've had it go off three times so far, but to be fair, one of them was the result of picking up a nail and really needing a patch..

The thing I tell people is that having an electric car is like owning a horse. You can't ride it too long without giving it a rest. You have to water (well, recharge) it when get there. And you're always checking out other horses to see if their owners are having the same challenges.

More later,