August 10, 2011

EV Follies for August 10, 2011

As regular readers know, I've been following the fortunes—such as they are-of the two electric vehicles—EVs—currently on the market: The Chevy Volt, which is a very expensive pseudo hybrid rather than a pure EV, and the Nissan Leaf, which is a pure EV, running on internal battery power or nothing, and considering the range limitations of these vehicles on battery power, nothing is the rule rather than the exception. If you wish to probe about in the archives to read my scribblings, type "Chevy Volt" into the site search feature on the right hand side of the CY home page.

Presented for your approval: A round up of recent information on these vehicles. Consumer Warning: It will not tend to make you burn with a touchy-feely desire to rush right out and buy a Volt or a Leaf.

#1: Volt Sales Skyrocketing! Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard (here) tells us that Chevy sold 281 Volts in February and thus far, not quite 2700. On the other hand, Chevy is planning to ramp up production to 5000 per month to keep up with—demand? Did they say "demand?" So they did. On the other hand, in the Age of Obama, spending is saving, flushing money down the toilet is stimulus, we've had a "Summer of Recovery" that wasn't, and leadership is done from behind, so I suppose it makes sense to produce 5000 units per month of a car that is only selling 281 per month. I had no idea that's what demand was. Good thing we have people like Mr. Obama, Mr. Geithner and Mr. Bernanke to explain these complex things to us.

#2: A brief story in the Telegraph (here) outlines one of the most powerful reasons not to buy an electric car: battery replacement cost. Apparently only 680 EVs have been purchased in England thus far in 2011 despite a government grant of approximately $8,152 (today's conversion rate) for each EV. The biggest problem, though, is that the Leaf's battery might need to be replaced, according to Nissan, "after a few years," depending on how it's used. Chevy is claiming that Volt batteries will last 10 years and cost anywhere from $8000 to $10,000 to replace, this on top of a MSRP of about $41,000 (not including $7500 government rebate or $2000+ for an optional fast charger), however, 10 year is almost certainly hopenchangey wishful thinking.

Nissan is being far more honest than Chevy, but their numbers are even worse. In the UK, a Leaf sells for $50,545, minus the government grant of $8,152, it's still a hefty $42,393. But the best part is that the Leaf battery, which is comprised of many smaller cells, will cost $31,618 if all the cells have to be simultaneously replaced (a virtual certainty). It's possible I'm making math mistakes here, I am an English teacher after all, but my currency converter tells me that these numbers are accurate, at least today. If that's so, why would anyone want to buy a Leaf, particularly in England? Replacing the batteries is 75% of the MSRP of the car!

#3: Popular Mechanics has recently completed a long term driving test of a Leaf, and in this article, provides a cautionary tale applicable to state of the art EVs. What's up? Starting with an indicated 28 miles of range, the author headed for work, slightly less than 28 miles distant, but quickly discovered that an indicated 28 miles was more like—a whole bunch less in real world driving conditions. The upshot is he was able, by chance, to find a friendly Nissan dealer who allowed him to charge—for two hours (?!)—providing just enough charge to make it to work. Reminder: The commute was lengthened by more than two hours so that the author could just barely make it—in maximum slow, pamper the battery mode—to work. Remind me again why I ever thought of buying a Leaf? Oh, that's right: I never have thought of buying a Leaf! Whew! That was a close one!

#4: Smacked in the face by environmental reality! Our pal Rob at PACNW Righty (here) has a great article on these issues, which includes cost analysis and the eco-realities of building and demolishing EVs and hybrids. Be sure to read the entire article, including the "emotional" section.

Car ownership is a complex matter, and issues of resale value, fuel savings, and reliability often take a back seat to more frivolous matters such as sex appeal, prestige, and in the case of the Volt or Leaf, greenie street cred. This is a good thing for those who plan to buy such vehicles, as they will surely never save money by purchasing a vehicle significantly more expensive than conventionally powered, far more flexible vehicles.

The Continuing Verdict: The technology just isn't sufficiently advanced to make such vehicles commercially viable. Massive government tax credits and grants alone make that clear, but the reality that such vehicles will not save their owners a dime, short or long term, should bring this experiment to a rapid close. I suspect that will be the case should Mr. Obama be retired to the links in 2012.

Posted by MikeM at August 10, 2011 12:24 AM

Re: #1. I heard this story too and had trouble making sense of it. The claim is that sales are being restricted by supply and that there is unserved demand. It is possible that dealerships have a waiting list of buyers and don't want to sell or transfer their only volt (demo model) to the first guy who comes along. If lots of dealers are communicating this demand to the corporate HQ, then incfreasing production may be warrented. The proof will be sales figures after produciong ramps up. A pretty costly mistake if they are wrong. But the, they aren't gambling with their own money so the decision is pretty cheap.

Posted by: Profesor Hale at August 10, 2011 07:39 AM

Dear Professor:

Indeed, and that's precisely the problem. If GM, as a private company, wants to throw away its money, that's just fine. I'm not involved. But when the money they're wasting is in part mine, that's quite another matter.

Posted by: Mike Mc at August 10, 2011 10:23 AM

What I find interesting in the Pop Mech story is, at the end, it sounds like he's going to charge up and drive again. In his place, I would tell the boss, "Test drive over. Car is a fail."

Posted by: MikeM_inMD at August 10, 2011 08:21 PM