There’s nothing like an electric car

models

Alternative, Sustainable Energy

I have been interested in alternative, sustainable energy for longer than I can remember.  In 2003, I convinced my wife that having solar electric panels installed on our house was a good idea.  Today, I doubt she’d admit it was a good idea, but she long ago stopped commenting about how she could see the solar panels from the street in front of our house. On sunny days, we get about 80% of the power we use each day from the sun.

In the late 1990’s, General Motors produced an all-electric car called the EV1.  I’m not sure why GM made the car because, a few years after it was introduced, they repossessed all of the cars, which were all leased, and then had them destroyed.  My belief has always been that, once the cars were introduced and the oil industry saw how popular they were, Big Oil convinced GM to scrap the car.  No one, who had an EV1, wanted to give it up.  It was still early in the history of battery technology, so it would be almost 2 decades before the electric car got another chance.

Electric Cars Become Viable

Fast forward to 2016.  I had been aware of a company called Tesla for several years.  They started making the Tesla Roadster in 2005, moved on to the Tesla Model S in 2012, and then started producing the Tesla Model X in 2015.  I was intrigued by Tesla because their cars were beautiful, all-electric, and had a range on one charge of over 200 miles. Tesla had also invested in a vast charging infrastructure, something that no other car company had done.  The only problem with Tesla cars up to this point, for me at least, was that they were priced above what I could afford to pay for a car.  As badly as I wanted an all-electric car, there was no way I could afford a car that cost nearly $100,000.

I frequently scan YouTube for videos that are of interest to me.  On March 31, 2016, I happened to be scanning YouTube and I came across the live reveal event for the Tesla Model 3.  During the event, when the Model 3 was introduced, the car blew my mind!  Here was a car that would be all-electric, had a base price of $35,000, a range of over 200 miles per charge, and was stunning.  After that event, I started devouring anything I could find on the Internet about Tesla.

I’m not a person, who spends $1,000 on a whim.  Tesla started offering reservations for the Model 3 to anyone willing to pay a $1,000 refundable deposit.  For the next 2 days, I pondered whether I should pay $1,000 for a chance to get my dream all-electric car.  In the morning of April 2, 2016, I went to the Tesla web site and paid $1,000 to reserve my Model 3.  Looking back in retrospect, I should have paid the $1,000 while I was watching the reveal event on the 31st.  My hesitation relegated me to getting my Model 3 sometime around May of next year, instead of January.  I probably only have about 100,000 people ahead of me in line for this car.

What is so mind-boggling is that there are about 1/2 million people all waiting to buy the Tesla Model 3.  How many car companies can say that they introduced a car model and that they very quickly had a half-million people wanting to buy their car?  Tesla is the only one.  Once my reservation was made and it was clear that the car was actually going to be produced, I started putting aside what I thought my monthly car payment would be.  I have since amassed a sizable down payment for my Model 3.  Tesla opened up orders to non-employees during Thanksgiving week.  I expect my turn will come sometime around March 2018.

I have done several things to prepare for the arrival of my Model 3.  In October, I purchased a Tesla High Power Wall Connector.  I installed it in my garage so that my Model 3 would be ready to be charged at home.  I didn’t want to find that Tesla was out of stock for their HPWC when I needed one.  I purchased a car cover for my Model 3, which is still in the box in my garage.  I have watched every Model 3 video that I can find.  I will not need much of a briefing from Tesla when I take delivery of my car.

The one experience I had been missing up to now was actually driving a Tesla.  I didn’t see the point in doing a test drive of a Model S or X because those cars are out of my price range.  I was actually afraid that, if I did a test drive, I’d try to find a way to buy a car that I could not afford.  There was another way to try a Model S.  I rented one.

There is a car rental service known as Turo, which is similar in concept to Uber.  Individuals can list their personal vehicles to be rented on Turo.  For my trip to Seattle this past weekend, I found someone who was renting out their Model S.  For 4 days, I rented a Tesla Model S for $480.  It was a steep price for a car rental, considering that renting from Dollar for the same amount of time would have cost less than $200.  The extra cost was necessary for this trip.  This was an experiment, of sorts.  Would I like driving an all-electric car, complete with having to figure out where to charge it?

The Experience

I met the Model S and its owner at Seatac Airport on Saturday afternoon.  I had already watched every video I could find about the operations of a Model S.  There wasn’t much that the owner had to tell me that I didn’t already know.  He briefly described how to reboot the on-board computer, should the main display screen freeze.  I knew how to charge the car, so the only other thing we discussed was the regenerative braking and the power that was available when pressing the “GO” pedal, as he called it.

The owner likened driving the car with driving a golf cart.  Press the accelerator to go and lift up from the accelerator to slow or stop.  He said it was nearly possible to drive solely using the accelerator and not touching the brake.  That sounded very intriguing to me.  The other warning he gave me was that, when I pressed the accelerator, the power would be instantaneous.  There was a steady rain when I picked up the car and he recommended that I go easy because of slick roads.  He handed me the Model S-shaped key fob and sent me on my way.

For the first 20 miles or so, I had to concentrate on my right foot and the associated pressure on the accelerator pedal.  I found that, with the exception of the last couple of feet before stopping for a traffic light, I never had to touch the brake.  This was seriously cool!  Before long, I was not having to think about my right foot pressure.  My brain quickly adapted to this new way of driving.  Occasionally, someone ahead of me would slow suddenly and I’d instinctively move my foot to the brake, only to find that my car stopped short of where I intended to stop.

The other impressive feature was the power.  In my Prius, when I press the accelerator pedal, there is a time-lag before I actually get power to the front wheels.  When comparing the Prius to the Model S, the Prius is a bit like pushing one’s foot into a bowl of oatmeal.  The Model S instantly responds when the accelerator pedal is pressed.  Uphill, downhill, flat makes no difference.  After I did a couple of quick accelerations, my wife politely asked me to stop playing around.

Where to Charge?

My weekend trip would take me north to the town of Anacortes, WA, then travel by ferry to Sidney, British Columbia, Canada.  I spent 3 days in the area of Victoria, BC, in my rented Model S.  In preparation for this trip, I had researched my charging options.  The state of Washington has only 9 Tesla Superchargers.  There are no superchargers in the Seattle area.  Between Seattle and Anacortes, there are 3 superchargers; one in Monroe, one in Arlington, and one in Burlington.  The Burlington Supercharger is the only one that is right along I-5.  I had decided that, for the trip from Seattle to Anacortes, I would stop at the Burlington Supercharger and get as much of a charge as my wife would tolerate sitting in the car doing nothing.  My wife was a good sport about the idle times charging.

The Model S was given to me with just over 200 miles of range.  When I arrived at the Burlington Supercharger, I had just over 100 miles of range.  I used more than the normal about of energy during the drive up from Seattle, not because I was driving aggressively, but because of the amount of water on the roadway.  It rained hard most of the way up and electric cars use more energy driving through water on the roadway than they do on dry pavement.

There were 2 other Tesla’s at the Burlington Supercharger when I arrived.  I made sure to choose a charger that was not paired with one already in use.  After 35 minutes of charging, I was back over 200 miles of range.  We left the supercharger and headed to our hotel in Anacortes.  At the hotel, I had about 175 miles of range left.  I wondered how much range would be lost with the car sitting overnight.

The next morning, I checked the car and found that it had only lost about 4 miles of range overnight.  That had been one of my concerns and it was now not a concern.  My other concern was where I would charge on Vancouver Island.  The problem with a Tesla on Vancouver Island is that there is only one Tesla Supercharger on Vancouver Island.  That supercharger is located in the town of Nanaimo. Since Nanaimo is located almost 2 hours north of Victoria, it was not an option for charging.  I had to resort to other non-Tesla charging options.

There are a number of Level 2 charging options around the area of Victoria and Sidney, BC.  These were not good options for me because level 2 charging is slow and requires the car to be connected to the charger for several hours at a time.  The closest level 2 charger to my hotel in Brentwood Bay was a 20 minute walk, one-way.  I wasn’t keen on the idea of leaving the car plugged into a charger that far away from me.

The city of Victoria has one fast charging option, which is located in the parking garage of the Uptown Shopping Center.  The DC Fast Charger is operated by Greenlots.  In preparation for this trip, I had downloaded the Greenlots app onto my smartphone and I set up an account.  The owner of my rented Model S included an adapter to connect to a CHAdeMO charger, which is what was available at Greenlots.  As soon as we arrived in Sidney, BC, we headed for downtown Victoria.  I had decided that, if I could get a full charge at the start of our visit, I wouldn’t need to charge again until we returned to Burlington.

Range Anxiety

Before we arrived at the shopping center in Victoria, I got to experience something that all electric car owners have probably experienced at one time or another, range anxiety.  I was already experiencing range anxiety, even before I arrived in Seattle to start this trip.  It was the unknown part of driving an electric car and not being sure of having enough range to get where we were going.  Had there been a supercharger between Sidney and Victoria, I wouldn’t have been concerned.  Tesla Superchargers are simple.  I had never used another charging source.

After we arrived in Sidney, BC, I switched the car over to metric.  Being that there are 1.6 kilometers to 1 mile, it looked like we had more range than we did.  When we arrived at the shopping center, I had about 140 km of range left.  I knew that my wife wanted to do some driving around and that 140 km was not going to cut it.  I was happy to find both parking stalls for the DC Fast Charger were unoccupied.  I backed into one parking space and proceeded to get connected to the charger.

After trying unsuccessfully to mate the Tesla adapter with the CHAdeMO cable, I figured out that I had the Tesla adapter upside down.  Once it was attached, I plugged the Tesla end of the adapter into the Model S.  Next, I brought up the Greenlots app and started my charging session.  When I hit the start button on the charger, I was happy to see the flashing green ring around the Model S charging receptacle.  The main screen in the car confirmed that I was indeed charging and it reported that I would have a full charge in 60 minutes.  That would give us plenty of time to walk around the shopping center.  We ended up buying lunch at Starbucks and returned to the car to eat lunch.

Back at the car, the center display of the Model S reported that the battery was nearly full and that we had 423 km of range.  That is when my range anxiety vanished.  It was not possible that I would drive more than 400 km during 3 days in Victoria.  I had no doubt that I would be able to reach the Burlington Supercharger without running out of power.

Giving Up The Car

The return trip to Seattle was mostly uneventful.  I had several opportunities to talk to people about electric cars when they came up to the Model S and expressed curiosity about it.  The last person I talked to was at the Burlington Supercharger.  I was one of 4 Tesla’s charging there.  I saw an ICE car pull up and the driver snapped a photo of the Tesla’s and the superchargers.  The driver parked, got out and walked over to my side of the car.  He told me that his son loved Tesla’s and he asked me whether Tesla gave out maps to show where the superchargers were located.  I explained that the supercharger locations could be found on the navigation system in the car.  The only downside to these interactions was that I was not in my own Tesla.

My wife and I stopped for dinner in Marysville and then continued to the airport.  When I returned the Model S to its owner, it still had 90 miles of range.  He had asked for at least 20 miles of residual range.  I said goodbye to my first Tesla drive.  I hated the idea of going back to driving an ICE car.  April or May of next year seems like a long time to wait for my Tesla.

Prologue

When I returned home and drove my Prius out of the airport parking lot, I immediately had an uneasy feeling.  I accelerated and then lifted my foot off the accelerator.  The car kept on going and it momentarily shocked me.  During the 3 days I had driven the Model S, my brain had been programmed to operate an accelerator pedal that slowed the car when pressure was removed.  It took me the whole drive home of about 35 miles to reprogram my brain back to using the brake pedal when I needed to slow quickly.

It has been 2 days since I gave back the Model S.  If I could justify a $90,000 new car, I would go to Tesla today and buy a Model S.  When comparing the Model S with the Model 3, I would still choose the Model 3.  It felt like the center display in the Model S was too big.  Two functions can be display at once on the Model S display and I would have been fine with half of the display and only one function displayed at a time.  The single center display in the Model 3 is what really has me excited.  Nothing more is necessary than that one center display.  If I had $90,000, I would buy a Model S today just because I hate having to wait 6 months for a Tesla.  It’s probably good that I don’t have $90k because the Model 3 is my car.

GM may have underestimated Tesla

This week, there was big news in the EV (electric vehicle) world.  General Motors announced the soon to be released 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.  The Bolt is not really new.  It was first introduced in 2015 and was first available for delivery this year.  What is new is the rated range of the Bolt on a single charge.  Chevrolet now reports that the Bolt will be able to travel an estimated 238 miles on a single charge.  All of a sudden, the media is going nuts.  For some reason, the fact that the Chevrolet Bolt will be rated by its manufacturer as having 38 more miles of range than the 2016 Bolt has caused many to declare Chevrolet the winner in the EV category.  Not so fast, I say.

While the Bolt seems like a respectable EV, it has not convinced me to abandon my place in line for the Tesla Model 3.  If you’re the type of person who is impatient, by all means, buy a Bolt.  The more ICE’s (internal combustion engines) we can get off the road, the better for the environment.  My problem is that a $35,000 to $40,000 car is not a casual purchase.  I can’t just go out and sign a contract to buy that kind of car without some financial preparation.  If I were going to buy another Toyota Prius, that might be a different story.  For a car that costs $25,000, it would be in a range where I could buy one today.  I am not in the market for any type of vehicle that uses gasoline.  This means I must pay an additional $10,000 or more to get an EV and that takes some planning.

There are a few other factors to be considered when deciding whether to wait for a Model 3 or buy a Bolt now.  Both cars have nearly the same rated range.  The Model 3’s range is listed as at least 215 miles.  Elon Musk has said that figure will likely be higher when the Model 3 is actually released.  The Bolt’s range is said to be 238 miles, which is 23 miles more than the projected range of the Model 3.  Sorry, but a difference of 23 miles of range is not going to get me excited.  For me, the benchmark is 200 miles.  As long as an EV gets at least 200 miles of rated range, I consider that vehicle to be a useful, everyday vehicle, which could be used for short or long trips.  Both the Model 3 and the Bolt satisfy this benchmark.

I must admit that how a car looks is important to me.  If I don’t like how the car looks, it doesn’t matter how good of a car it is, I’m probably not going to be interested.  If the Bolt were to be the only EV to ever offer more than 200 miles of single-charge range, I might ignore the fact that the Bolt is not an attractive car, at least not to me.  What I’m comparing the Bolt to might have something to do with my feeling about the looks of the Bolt.  The Model 3 is stunning.  It doesn’t look like an EV, whereas the Bolt does.  The Bolt has a look of a glorified golf cart.  I don’t see the Model 3 that way.  I think one of Tesla’s strengths is the design of its cars.  They look sleek and futuristic.

The last factor to consider, when going on a long trip, is where to charge?  This is a category where Tesla has beaten GM, hands down.  Tesla has created a world-wide supercharger network that is currently only available for use by Tesla vehicles.  Where I live in Central California, there is a Tesla Supercharger station 8 miles from my house.  GM is thinking like a gasoline car company, while making an EV.  They are making a car and relying on someone else to help you power it.  Tesla is an EV maker.  They make the car and provide access to a superior charging network.

The Bolt may indeed have the capability to travel 23 more miles on a single charge than my Model 3.  However, if I have to search around for an independent charging station, my trip is not going to be as enjoyable.  The current DC fast charging stations are not as fast as a Tesla Supercharger.  So, while I might be able to take the Bolt on the same trip on which I’d take a Model 3, the Model 3 will be a quicker trip.

The bottom line is that a car is an individual choice.  There will probably be owners of the Chevrolet Bolt, who might read this post and completely disagree with me.  I have no problem with that.  I do think, though, that GM has underestimated how easily those of us waiting for a Model 3 can be convinced to defect to General Motors.  Thankfully, Tesla is no General Motors.  What Tesla stands for is almost as important to me as the production of an EV that I can afford and will get me away from using gasoline for my personal transportation.  Tesla doesn’t build ICE’s and never will.  That means a lot to me.

D-Day: 70 years ago today

During a normal day, this time of year, I usually dress in a t-shirt and shorts.  Today’s forecast high is supposed to be 86 degrees.  I imagine it will be higher.  When I opened my dresser drawer in the process of getting dressed, the first t-shirt on top of the stack was a shirt I bought last year in Normandy, France.  It says “Omaha Beach” and “Normandy Landing Beaches – D.Day – 6.6.1944.”  I thought it was very appropriate that this t-shirt would be my shirt of choice for the day.

After I had my morning cup of tea made, I sat down at my computer to check the news of the day.  One link led to another before I ended up on the NBC News web site and a live video feed of the D-Day ceremony on Omaha Beach in France.  I wish I had remembered that the ceremony was going to be broadcast live because I would have been up earlier.  I started watching shortly after 5:00 PM France time, which looked like it was not too far into the program.

In April 2013, my wife and I took a trip to France, which included time in Paris and a river cruise to the Normandy region.  One of our excursions was to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery.  The ceremony I watched this morning was very inspiring.  However, I am glad I had the opportunity to visit the Normandy Beaches without all the props and equipment that was there today.  I can remember sitting on a rock wall at the cemetery, overlooking Omaha Beach.  In that quiet, peaceful setting, I imagined what it must have been like to be there nearly 69 years in the past.  I remember the contrast of seeing children running on the sand, playing, and how I imagined the violence that was occurring the morning of June 6, 1944.  My visit there was very moving and was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Today, after watching the live ceremony from France, I imagined again what it must have been like to be a soldier engaged in the fight that raged there.  I’m sure I will be able to see the ceremony in its entirety this evening, but it was really something to be able to see much of it live this morning.  Ah, the wonder of the Internet.

If you are a traveler and you have never been to Normandy, France, it should be on your bucket list.  My trip there ended up being more meaningful to me than I had ever imagined.

Travel reviews are like night and day

With my move to Washington State scuttled, I decided it was time to start planning another vacation abroad.  I need something to look forward to and not having any kind of travel planned has made me feel like something is missing.  My last big trip was almost a year ago.  On April 17th, 2013, I took my first trip to Paris.  It was a memorable trip and one that took nearly 2 years of planning.  Now it’s time to start planning a trip for 2015.

One itinerary that has been on my list is the Panama Canal.  The more I’ve thought about it, the more this sounds like the itinerary for 2015.  I had considered a cruise to the Baltic.  However, I compared how much each itinerary would cost and decided that the Panama Canal itinerary would be under $10,000.  A trip to Europe, including a cruise, would likely be twice that amount.

Since this itinerary would be a cruise, the first step is to decide what ship and cruise line to sail with.  At this early planning stage, the ship I’ve selected is the Celebrity Infinity.  At 2,100 passengers, it’s a little bigger than I’d like, but when considering the cost and the ship’s itinerary, it seems like a good place to start.

This particular cruise starts in San Francisco on September 18th, 2015, travels down the west coast of North and Central America to the Panama Canal.  The cruise disembarks in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on October 5th.  A Concierge Class stateroom on this cruise is about $6,400 for 2 people.  Add $2,000 for incidentals and excursions.  Since the cruise starts in San Francisco, my wife and I would only need to fly one-way from Ft. Lauderdale back to our home airport.  Currently, a one-way ticket on United Airlines is $271.  So, there it is.  Less than $10,000.

I started checking for reviews of the Celebrity Infinity.  I sailed with Celebrity Cruises once before on a cruise to Alaska.  Of the 14 cruises I’ve sailed on, Celebrity was one of the top cruise lines.  Of course, that was a number of years ago.

My first stop for reviews was at Cruise Critic.  The Cruise Critic review was a good one.  I think the reviews posted by the web site are usually more accurate than some of the reviews posted by guests.

What prompted this post was a couple of reviews I read about this ship.  The first three visitor reviews were for a cruise from Valparaiso through the Panama Canal to Miami in March 2014.  The second post had a rating of 5+ and was very complimentary.  That post can be found here.  After I read that review, the next one had a rating of 1.  How odd that the same cruise would have 2 people reviewing with completely opposite reviews.  The 1 rating review can be found here.

The good review talked about a bout with the Norovirus on this cruise.  Apparently, the reviewer, who didn’t like the cruise, was hit hard by sickness during this cruise.  When you read the 2 reviews, it is hard to believe that they are about the same cruise.  It just goes to show that 2 people in a similar situation can have 2 completely different opinions.

My planning is still early, so I have not settled on this itinerary yet.  However, I can make the reservation with Celebrity for $900 and that deposit would be refundable up until the end of June 2015, so in another month, I may just make the reservation to lock in the stateroom.

It’s so nice to have a trip to look forward to again.

Baseball Smorgasbord in Phoenix Arizona

Last week, I took a trip to the home of the Cactus League, Phoenix, Arizona.  I have been a baseball fan most of my life.  When some friends suggested that we should take a trip to Phoenix this year for Spring Training, I agreed because it gave me the opportunity to travel somewhere I have not been before.  Going for the baseball games seemed secondary since Spring Training games do not count toward the regular season.  My experience was a pleasant surprise.

I had not realized before this trip that there are 10 baseball stadiums around the greater Phoenix area, all of which are an easy drive from anywhere in Phoenix.  Playing in the 10 stadiums are 15 major league teams, including the 2 teams I follow; the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.  If you’re looking for pure baseball enjoyment, Phoenix is a good place to visit during the month of March.

My experience reminded me a little of my days when I played golf.  Golf was something I was never particularly good at.  When I kept score, I usually experienced disappointment at the end of the game.  The games where I did not keep score were the most enjoyable.  Even though scores are kept and statistics are tracked during Spring Training, the results don’t count when it comes to making it to the post-season.  You do get to see some great plays.  The general atmosphere is more relaxed.  The number of fans at any particular game is usually 8,000 to 10,000 instead of 30,000 to 50,000 for a regular ball park.  At some stadiums, like Tempe Diablo Stadium, you can sit close enough to carry on a conversation with either the 1st or 3rd base coaches, depending on where you sit.

It’s common to see fans wearing team gear from many teams, even ones that are not playing at a particular stadium.  You can follow around one team or you can get a variety and see several teams play.  During my visit, I went to 3 games and saw the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Not bad for just 3 days.

This trip made me a Spring Training convert.  You can be sure that next March, I will be traveling to Phoenix again to get an early baseball fix.  It was a great vacation!