Sunday, January 19, 2014

Change of Heart

Dang, I must be getting old. It’s only been a few weeks, and I’ve already forgotten how to operate this newfangled electronical contraption.

My Focus Electric has been parked since the weekend before Christmas. Didn’t need to drive to work until after the New Year since the company shuts down the site for the holidays. And since traffic on the 405 was very light for the first couple of weeks in January, the benefit of using the HOV lane was diminished. Thus, I drove an ICE to work every day for the first seven work days of 2014 in an attempt to save a few bucks at lease termination – the Focus odo is already at 16000 miles after only 11 months. Combine that with a gross miscalculation on my part at a Ford dealership last February that resulted in my signing up for a 12000 mile/year lease instead of one with an annual allotment of 18000 miles  – back then I really did think that I’d have the discipline to commute in an ICE instead of an EV for 2 days/week – and the financial incentive to go back to driving an ICE every day for a month or so is compelling. So that’s what I did, sort of.

Weird thing was that during those seven days in an ICE, I did not miss the EV driving experience at all. Traffic was light, so my 2005 Mercedes C230 Sport Sedan was averaging 32 miles per gallon. Only one trip to the gas station over a 10-day period, not enough to annoy me quite yet. Twice in 10 days, that would be annoying. So I didn’t miss the convenience of “refueling” at home and work. I also didn’t long for the quietness of an electric powertrain. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I actually enjoy the sound of Mercedes’ 1.8-liter supercharged 4-cylinder. Music to my ears, and I do prefer music over silence. What I did miss are the bells and whistles on the Focus Electric that are standard nowadays on any well-equipped vehicle – SiriusXM, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton start, navigation, touchscreen controls, and so on. The decade-old Mercedes, which seemed luxurious when I first bought it as a lease return with 38000 miles in 2009, now seems like a spartan relic from a distant past. But at 117000 miles it’s still a hoot to drive… as surprisingly awesome as the Focus Electric is in the handling department, the C230 Sport Sedan still feels more connected to the road, perhaps in part because it’s so low to the ground. In fact, it’s so low that my wife doesn’t like driving it. She says it feels like her butt is dragging on the pavement, like a go-kart.

So I was planning on commuting with the C230 exclusively until the end of this month, but that plan came to an end on Monday morning after checking out the 405 traffic on… it said it would take almost two hours to get to work. I hopped into the Focus Electric instead of the C230, got in the HOV lane and whizzed by no less than four fender benders, arriving at work in just over an hour.

Seems like I forgot how to drive efficiently, though, particularly in maximizing regenerative braking. In an ICE, I tend to coast more and brake later, rather than brake lightly sooner for more regen so that binders don’t have to get into the act until we’re close to a dead stop. I also tend to brake less before a turn in an ICE, letting the tires scrub off the speed rather than braking before or during the turn; it’s a habit I picked up after reading something years ago on hypermiling… if you’re going to convert energy to heat, might as well use it to change your direction faster. Why waste gas by braking before a turn and taking a few seconds longer to travel the same distance? That all changes with regenerative braking since it captures the energy and sticks it in a battery rather than converting it to heat, dissipating it to the atmosphere. So when I got back into the Focus I had to retrain myself to slow down more, and sooner, when approaching a turn, since energy lost through heat generated at the contact patch of each tire is lost forever. It took a couple of days to get used to braking earlier and lighter to achieve 99% regen on a round-trip commute.

It’s become very hard to justify keeping the C230 around. My original plan to drive it to work twice a week has failed miserably after installing those HOV lane stickers on the Focus, so the over-mileage situation on the lease will only get worse for the next two years. I started taking the C230 to used car lots to see how much cash they’d turn it into, and am currently shopping for an HOV-qualified replacement to share commuting duties with my beloved Focus Electric and to cover the occasional treks that go beyond the FFE’s range. Top of the list? A 2014 Chevy Volt.

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