Monday, September 30, 2013

National Plug-in Day, Northridge CA

What a day!  Much thanks to Eric, the very young organizer that pulled this together in two weeks! For a moment I thought it was going to be just him and me with his Model S and my Focus Electric, but fortunately the registration picked up at a progressively increasing rate and it grew into a wonderful gathering.

Here are several pictures I took at the event. I was first inclined to caption each photo, identifying the vehicles captured in each image, but I think I’d rather talk about what captured me, which were the folks behind the steering wheels of some fine automobiles.

First and foremost, there’s Eric, the young man wearing a red Tesla shirt and a digital SLR camera. A man of action. I suspect many other EV enthusiasts, particularly over-tasked mid-life folk like me, living in the valleys north of Los Angeles, were wishing that there was an event in our area. Many of us have very busy Saturdays… be it AYSO games, little league, weekly foraging at the big box store, or in my case, all three. We needed a Sunday event close to home, and Eric made it happen. Thanks again, Eric!

Then there’s the owner of a beautiful white Model S that was tagged in the rear last Friday by a cargo van. No matter – he put his car on display anyway,  showing everyone how well one of the safest cars on Earth performs in a real-world freeway mishap. He also invited me to sit in the cockpit, then walked me through the controls and displays… I was simply in awe and am now convinced that the Model S is worth every penny of its asking price.

I truly enjoyed every story that fellow early adopters and soon-to-be early adopters shared with me. I learned so much about Teslas, LEAFs, RAV4 EVs, Volts, the 500e, and the Zeroes, much more than can be gleaned from a LED-backlit screen wired to the internet.

Naturally, I also enjoyed poring over every single vehicle at the show. I loved the fact that many were in their everyday state, not all were washed and waxed to perfection. The dirt bike had dirt on it. Trunks had files, boxes, and bags in them, which made it really easy to visualize just how much the back of a Model S or LEAF can swallow (a lot!).

In total there were over 30 vehicles and 100 people registered; actual turnout seemed to be on par with that. It was a low-key event… no media coverage, no goodie bags or free t-shirts, no sensational signage. Just a whole lot of sharing and camaraderie between enthusiastic owners, curious potential owners, and one awesome dealer rep from Woodland Hills Nissan.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

“It’s just a car.”

Utter those four words to any car enthusiast when they’re talking about their four-wheeled prized possession or object of deep desire, and I guarantee that you’ll raise the hair on their back. That is, if they have hair back there. I don’t (for genetic reasons, and no, I’m not a girl), but instinctively my nostrils flare and vision becomes focused and crystal clear. Ready to battle.

Not this time, though. After all, she is my wife. So when she said those four words, I had a different reaction. It just hurt. Left me speechless. For better or for worse, and that was definitely not one of the better moments. Why would she say that? She knows how crazy I  am about cars, that it is in fact because of such dementia that we met and married. We both shared the love for  racing against time,  mostly sideways and sometimes  airborne, through a forest or over mountains that offered spectacular views of the high desert, leaving a long plume of dust in our wake. We met at a rally school; she was learning to be a navigator and I was one of the drivers providing rides on the training course. She climbed into the truck, I got her airborne. The rest is history.

I was probably getting on her nerves, going on and on (and on) about taking my beloved Focus Electric to this Sunday’s National Plug-In event in Northridge, to be amongst other EVs of varying origins. A time to chat – in person,  just like the old days – with other enthusiasts about the trials and tribulations of being an early adopter. To learn about what it’s like to live with other breeds, perhaps adding one of them to the very short list of candidates being considered for joining the family fleet next year. After about five minutes of this self-indulgent babbling, she looks me in the eye.

“It’s just a car.”

Ouch. I just stood there for a moment, then walked away, baffled at why she would lash out at me like that. Then it hit me…  maybe she really thought the FFE was, well,  just another car. No big deal, just a means to get from Point A to Point B. But how could she think that of any EV? Others seem to think it’s special, not just me. When I first started driving my FFE, it garnered more attention than any other car I’ve ever had. More than the Corvettes, the AE86, the SCCA Rallytruck Series Mitsu, the ur-Quattro coupe, even the H3 (although that thing caused unwanted negative attention). In no other car have I been nearly sideswiped several times by other drivers trying to read a door emblem (yes, it's electric!). And I’ve been a minute or two late to a few meetings because someone in the parking lot wanted to know a little bit about my ride. I’ve even had some Hollywood-looking dude in a sleek 5-series stop me on the 405 freeway just to ask if it was pure electric, then give me an enthusiastic thumbs-up when I nodded in affirmation. So many others overtly express their appreciation or curiosity  for EVs, why can’t she? The rebirth of The Electric Vehicle, and this time it looks like it’s here to stay… isn’t that something worth celebrating at least once a year?

I now realize that my wife is already at the end state, after only eight months of having an EV as part of our family. Just like the ATM card, microwave oven, smartphone, and numerous other innovations, an EV has been seamlessly integrated into our daily routine and is just another technology that enables us to maintain our current quality of life. To her, celebrating electric vehicles is no less insane than celebrating laptop computers, wireless mice, or indoor plumbing.

I’m definitely not at that end state yet. I appreciate and enjoy life with an EV as if it is a journey into uncharted territory that very, very few others have chosen to take. So gathering and celebrating  is most appropriate, to share stories with fellow explorers and to help others gain the knowledge and courage to join us. Celebrate now, knowing that one day EVs will be as common as indoor plumbing, and there will be no reason to celebrate.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Trunk Wars

As Eric Cartman once said… “Well, I’m pissed off!”

I get a bit riled than when self-proclaimed experts make statements that are simply not true, or may be true but are completely irrelevant to a point they are trying to make, particularly when the intent is to just to rip apart some product that they seem to hate, especially when it comes to the Focus Electric or Volt, which in my non-expert opinion, are two well-designed plug-in electric vehicles for the masses.

Case in point… there’s a fair number of complaints about the trunk space of the Volt and Focus Electric, particularly from have-nots that bought something else or don’t own an EV yet. I guess there’s a price to pay for beauty, and both of these cars  are arguably  the best looking of the reasonably priced EV sedans currently available. Perhaps the sweeping roofline contributes to the visually appealing shape of both sedans, but does it really tax available cargo space, especially when a huge battery system needs to be stuffed somewhere?

Much of the incessant whining comes in the form of comparisons to the trunks of ICE versions of these vehicles. That’s because behind the rear seats, the Volt has 33% less cargo volume than the Cruze (10 cu ft versus 15 cu ft), and the Focus Electric has almost 40% less than  its ICE siblings (14.5 cu ft vs 23.8 cu ft). But really, who cares how much space is “lost” when we’re in the market for an EV? If I’m fixated on going electric, why should I give  a rat’s ass what can fit behind the rear seats some ICE vehicle that I have absolutely no interest in acquiring?  What I might care about is how trunk space compares between competing  EVs.

So here it is, reasonably-priced EV sedans ranked from first to last, based on cargo space behind the  rear seat. Data came from and manufacturer websites.
  1. Nissan Leaf            23.6 cu ft
  2. Ford Focus Electric    14.5 cu ft
  3. Mitsubishi MiEV        13.2 cu ft
  4. Honda Fit EV           12.0 cu ft
  5. Chevy Volt             10.6 cu ft
  6. Chevy Spark             9.6 cu ft
What surprised me is that I thought the Volt had more room than that; however that’s just based on looking at images on the internet and one in-person peek under the hatch. Looks can be deceiving, I guess, but it seems to be a highly usable space, since I prefer a shallow area with lots of floor space rather than a deep pocket that forces me to stack things up.  Also, for safety reasons, I prefer a space that provides some distance between the rear bumper and my kids’ butts when they’re sitting in the back seat.  But that’s just me.

In the end, the Leaf takes the cake on this one, thanks to its highly functional shape. What really got me laughing is that the Focus Electric has the most trunk space out of all the ICE-based EVs on this list, which is something those righteous, Ford-hating self-proclaimed experts should chew on for a few minutes. Also, note that the Focus Electric beat out the MiEV, which purportedly lost absolutely no trunk space in its conversion to an EV. Guess it didn’t have much to start with in the first place.

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t include the Prius plug-in because, in my opinion, its electric-only range makes it more of a hybrid than an electric. And I didn’t include that cute little 500e since it’s a two-door. Off the record, it’s got about 7 cu ft behind its back seats, which would put it dead last on this list, but to me that’s not a fair comparison.

Just for grins, I looked at different compact ICE vehicles other than the Focus, which seems to have a LOT of space back there…  Turns out the 3-series sedan and Corolla have 13 cu ft, a Civic sedan has 12.5 cu ft, the Sentra has 15 cu ft, a C-Class sedan has 12.6 cu ft,  and my old 2005 C230 Sport sedan has 9.9 cu ft. Bottom line… all the EVs in the above list have  a rear cargo capacity that’s similar to ICE counterparts; the Leaf and ICE Focus just seem to really excel when it comes to trunk space.

So anyway, I hope this helps clear the air on a trivial matter, especially for those looking to step up to an EV. I hope I’ve convinced you that trunk space comparison is truly trivial… these EVs give you as much space as comparably-sized mass-produced ICE vehicles. In other words, if you fit your daily routine into a small car now, you will have no problem fitting it into one of these fine EVs. All you need to do is figure out if you can live with the limited electric range.

PS – for a great little write-up on living with an EV trunk (with pictures too!),  see jamiegeek’s blog (, “Dude, where’s my trunk?”.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Virgin Territory

Okay, so I never thought I’d ever start a blog, but here I am, hoping to score a free L2 charger. Wish me luck.

This is real work… I’ve been sitting here for 15 minutes staring at a blank screen racking my brains for something, anything to write about that’s EV-related. My wife would be laughing her ass off if she knew why beads of sweat were forming on my temple. Fortunately she’s deep in conversation with her mother, talking about who’s going to win America’s Got Talent in a few hours. I’m rooting for that kick-butt Asian dude that dances with videos of himself, but I think the three tenors are going to get the million bucks. Chicks dig tenors, so like usual, my wife will have her way again. She always does, except when it comes to me picking cars for myself. So when I came home one night last January, telling her that I saw a Focus Electric in the HOV lane and that I had to get one, she just rolled her eyes with that “here we go again” expression on her face. “As long as I don’t have to go to the dealer with you,” she said. She hates car dealers. Which is fine with me, because when we went to a dealer together to lease a 2011 Toyota Sienna, she ruined my killer deal… I was working my butt off on a zero-out-of-pocket, low-payment lease, wearing the dealer down from their original $3500 out-of pocket (payment was not going to budge, I declared). After about an hour, the dealer still insisted on $2000 up front. “I have $2000!” my wife says. I shake my head. So in the end the dealer got what they wanted,  I got zero out of pocket (my pocket, at least), and my wife got a shiny new mothership. A win-win-win situation. Yet to this day I still carry with me a sense of defeat.

Leasing my Focus Electric was a much less painful ordeal. I called the dealer mid-week, let him know that I want a white one with leather, he said no problem. Let him know that I wanted zero out of pocket, 12k miles/year, and a lease payment based on a market rate discount (Edmunds said $1100 off MSRP was the going rate) plus all incentives. He said we’ll work it out.

So I finally saw him on Saturday, after he called me a few times during the week. Turns out he did a dealer trade to get my color, based on our phone conversation, and needed to make the deal. I felt sorry for him… what if I hated the way it drove?

When I got there, we made some small talk and learned a little about each other. “So you raced cars? You’re gonna love this!” he said, with confidence and enthusiasm. And he was right. Throughout the test drive, I felt like he was showing off his personal ride, egging me on to flirt with cornering limits and floor it past 70mph.  After the test drive I was ready to pay the corporate lease deal on the spot but I didn’t… I brought my homework with me (an Edmunds printout), said I want him to match the Edmunds discount and didn’t want to pay for the color (I wanted oxford white, and he traded for a platinum metallic – a $495 option). He came back with an offer that was several hundred less than what I asked, said that this dealer doesn’t like to dork around and just wants to cut to the chase.  A win-win situation.

Less than an hour later I was driving home on pure, sweet electricity. No regrets since.