Saturday, March 05, 2016

Mr. Big turns 30k, and yes, EVs really are cheap

Jim and his spouse bought an EV back in 2013, a 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV. Jim is not ordinarily a first-wave technology fan, but he was pretty sure the costs were low and it could be a very green choice. They had done research on EVs for two months before making their decision. This was the first Spark EV sold in Oregon.

Source Wikipedia
They called their car "Mr. Big", after the Rocky & Bullwinkle character, not the "Sex and the City" character. In spite of his small stature, Mr. Big cast a large shadow, and scared the bejeesus out of Boris and Natasha.

Mr. Big recharging at work.
Just like Rocky and Bullwinkle's character, the EV Mr. Big is diminutive (it is a small four door, four passenger car), but, according to Jim, he casts a large shadow that scares the bejeesus out of the carbon lobby ("The Kochs Are Plotting A Multimillion-Dollar Assault On Electric Vehicles").

I  asked Jim about what it's been like to own and drive an EV over the last three years. Here is what he reports.

  • The marginal cost of  operation is extremely low, $0.0936/mi (insurance, recharging, tires, car wash, maintenance)
  • Maintenance costs are very close to zero, aside from replacing the tires
  • Regenerative braking makes power use very efficient and brake wear almost non-existent. Mr. Big has been averaging 4.65 mi/kWh, much more than other EVs.
  • Recharging is amazingly cheap and easy. The recharging rate on a 110V line is about a net gain in range of 6 miles per hour of charging time. On a 240 V line, the rate is 13 miles of increased range per hour of charging time. Jim averages a fuel cost of about $0.018/mi. Gas even at $2/gal is at least five times that.
  • Use of renewable energy for the power source makes the lifetime carbon footprint of an EV much less than that of a similar conventional vehicle. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that "A 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV charged in zip code 97219 using an average energy mix for Oregon produces about as much global warming pollution as a gasoline vehicle getting 111 miles per gallon," emitting 62 g CO2e/km, (98 g CO2e/mi), about one fourth of the net emissions from an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle of similar size. According to the US Energy Information Energy, Oregon has an average energy mix of about 349 lbs/ MWh. At Mr. Big's rate of energy consumption, this energy mix is  21 g CO2e/km (34 g CO2e/mi), so use of a green energy source reduces Mr. Big's lifetime carbon footprint to 41 g CO2e/km, (64 g CO2e/mi), one sixth of the emissions of an ICE. Those are total lifetime comparisons, not marginal comparisons.
  • Mr. Big has 10 CPUs!
  • Mr Big is very fun to drive, with great acceleration. Only another EV can pull away from a traffic light more quickly. And there is no traffic ticket for too fast an acceleration!
  • It is a great commuting car, excellent in the city, easy to park, and QUIET.
  • It is great for 95% of the driving that Jim and his spouse do, but...
  • Initial costs are substantial -73% of the projected 6 year total cost of $34,400 for Mr. Big (standard vehicle price, destination charge, paint and fabric protection, clear shield [protection against road debris], 6 yr warranty, less the federal tax credit, Clipper Creek charger).
  • The auto sales people will not tell you the bad news: you will probably not get a full tax credit of $7500. The $7500 federal tax credit is a non-refundable tax credit; that is, the credit is limited to the lesser of $7500 or the amount you paid in federal income taxes in the year of purchase. In Oregon in 2014, only the top 30% of income earners filing jointly would have qualified for the full amount of the federal tax credit. 
More Cons

  • Mr. Big has 10 CPUs! Since CPUs are known to fail, Jim and his spouse did the unthinkable - they bought the extended warranty, which added $2351 to the initial cost, and yes, Jim included that in his lifetime costs.
  • Electronic devices misbehave every now and then. Just once, and only that once, Jim was a few miles from home at the start of his 36 mile commute to work, when Mr. Big, who had started with a full 21 kWh charge battery pack,  reported that it had only two miles of range left! A very disappointed Jim drove Mr. Big back home. Jim is a chemist, so he knew that it was a first-year student exercise to figure how how much energy it took to vaporize a block of ice (Converting 1.00 g of ice at 0.00 °C to water vapor at 100.00 °C requires 3.01 kJ of energy). A complete discharge of the 21 kWh battery would have been enough energy to vaporize a 25 kg block of ice, and Jim had witnessed no such event. The next day at the dealer, a scan of the on-board CPUs revealed no errors, so it was a momentary glitch.
  • The standard portable recharging unit from the manufacturer failed two times in the first 10,000 miles, so Jim bought his own from Clipper Creek. It has worked flawlessly over the last 20,000 miles (and yes, Jim included that in his lifetime costs).
  • Mr. Big is a white car. White cars need frequent washing, especially in the rainy season in Oregon. Jim has spent more washing Mr. Big (at places that re-use their wash water, of course) than he has spent on maintenance.
  • The range really is limited, and you will get stuck if you exceed it. Jim scared his spouse once, but just that once, by driving Mr. Big on a long trip through the wine country, and they made it home with one mile of range left. Jim pointed out that they had in fact made it home, but that argument did not carry the day,
The bottom line: Leasing an EV is now inexpensive, as low as $200/month. These are great commuting cars. If most people knew how little maintenance an EV required, they would demand more EVs.


bike tourer said...

After talking to Jim about his car I looked into it more closely and ended up leasing one about one month ago. I love it so far and one thing to note is that if you are someone who would not qualify for the full 7500 dollar tax credit you can get nearly all of the credit by leasing the car for 3 years and then buying it at a preset price when the lease is up. The dealer takes the tax credit but my calculations are that 7000 dollars of that tax credit was passed along to me should I decide to purchase our spark when the lease is up.

David Appell said...

Nice little story: "The range really is limited, and you will get stuck if you exceed it. Jim scared his spouse once, but just that once, by driving Mr. Big on a long trip through the wine country, and they made it home with one mile of range left. Jim pointed out that they had in fact made it home, but that argument did not carry the day"