So… How Much Does it Cost to Charge?

EvGo charger

One of the excuses I used to justify purchasing the Chevy Bolt was the cost of fuel.  Last year I spent something on the order of $2000 on gasoline, even with absurdly low American gasoline prices (~$3.33/gallon).  True, I got around 18,000 miles out of that gasoline, but that’s still a substantial sum, all the more so considering who it is that’s actually profiting from the transaction.  EV driving, I estimated, would be cheaper.

Turns out for once I was generally correct.

The great thing about EVs is they can be charged almost anywhere that there is a power outlet.  True, there are dedicated charging networks which are necessary for making long trips without spending huge amounts of time, but for the most part, if your home or office has a power outlet, you’re set.

The Bolt’s battery is 60kWh.  Charging is pretty efficient (90% or so), so to fill from empty, you need typically ~66kWh of actual energy from the grid.  The average price for residential electricity in the US is $0.12/kWh, which means that in theory you should be able to ‘fill’ your battery for the princely sum of… $8.  And with that, you can travel 240 miles.

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EV Living – One Year With the Chevrolet Bolt

Bolt

Just under a year ago (March 2019), I did something wildly uncharacteristic and bought my first new vehicle.  I’d been daydreaming about an EV for some time to use for commuting and local trips, and the combination of the growing ubiquity of Tesla’s Model 3 in the bay area and the expiration of the the $7,500 EV Federal Rebate finally spurred me to action.  Fast-forward a few weeks and after finding the leasing terms not that great, for roughly the same cost as a Honda Civic after rebates, I found myself the proud owner of a white 2019 Chevy Bolt (with fast charging option).

I was initially a bit apprehensive that coming from a Honda Civic del Sol with it’s low seating position, excellent handling and delightful 5 speed manual transmission, the tall, heavy, fully-automatic Bolt would prove a dull driving companion.  Happily that has not proven the case.  While tall, the Bolt has a fairly low center of gravity and despite tires that are somewhat deficient on grip, it maneuvers adeptly at low and medium speeds.  And of course the Bolt has something the Honda did not – instant acceleration with no noise or fuss.  Many is the time that I’ve zipped past an overbearing pickup or muscle car at an intersection.

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So… How Far Does it Go on One Charge?

Range Screen

A very common question EV owners have to field is range – how far can the car go.  As with most questions, the answer is that it depends on a variety of factors.  To be fair, this is true of gasoline-powered vehicles as well, but EVs are particularly variable in this regard.  While my experiences are based on my year with the Bolt, they should generally apply to other electric vehicles as well.

Chevy (and the EPA) both claim that the Bolt is good for 238 miles, in normal driving, on a full charge.  Given a battery capacity of 60kWh, this equates to roughly 4 miles/kWh.  I think this is a decent first-order approximation (I’ve had no trouble achieving it) and most EVs are somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 miles/kWh, so the Bolt, despite it’s decidedly unaerodynamic shape, is squarely in the middle.

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So… How Long Does it Take to Charge?

L2 charger

Pretty much everybody who is curious about electric vehicles and learns that I have a Chevy Bolt begins with the same few questions: How do you like it? How far can it go? How long does it take to charge?

The first two can be answered easily enough (very much, and 238 miles in normal circumstances). But the last question inevitably requires a longer explanation. Because the answer is – it really does depend. A lot. Yes it can charge in 2 hours 15 minutes. But it can also charge in 9 hours. Or 20. It all depends.

The main problem is that the frame of reference – that of a gasoline vehicle – is not helpful here. Most gasoline vehicles can be refilled in 5 minutes or so. The time is short enough that most people don’t notice the difference between a 10 gallon tank and 20 gallon one. It is actually true that some pumps are slower than others, but unless you’re unlucky enough to have a really uncooperative one, the differences are rarely measurable.

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Tips for Travel with the Chevy Bolt

Recargo station

While the Chevy Bolt is an excellent vehicle in most respects, the truth of the matter is that it was not particularly designed for easy, quick long-distance travel.  By long-distance trips, I mean those going more than 200 miles (less than that can usually be done without recharging).  But for longer trips, you will usually need to rely on DC Fast Charging – a $750 option which Chevy’s programming ensures is rarely all that ‘fast’, compared to most EVs.  All that said, long trips can be done – they simply require planning and a bit more time.

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Why I got the Chevrolet Bolt EV

Bolt

(This is the first of a series of posts on the 2019 Chevy Bolt I bought in March of 2019.  As of this writing, I have driven almost 20,000 miles on the car and am still quite liking it)

When I went car shopping in March of 2019, I was looking for an affordable, fun electric vehicle with sufficient range to cover my daily commute and weekend trips under 200 miles.  This would essentially replace the 1997 Honda Del Sol that was my daily driver.  The Del Sol, a small, fun and 2-seater with a targa top, returned a surprisingly high 30MPG in my local driving, but at 280,000 miles and $2,000/year in gasoline costs, I was starting to itch for something newer and less thirsty.

Now until late 2016, battery-powered Electric Vehicles (BEVs) came in two flavors: large, expensive luxury vehicles with reasonable range (>200 miles range, >$60,000) and smaller, affordable limited-range vehicles (50-110 miles range, $20,000-$35,000).  This all changed in 2016.  Firstly, Tesla announced in March that their Model 3 luxury sedan would arrive in the next year, with a $35,000 price tag and a >200 mile range.  Even though the vehicle wouldn’t be available for another year, it garnered a lot of attention.  Secondly, in December General Motors actually shipped their second BEV, the Chevrolet Bolt hatchbac, which they had announced in February 2015, with an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles and a $37,500 price (before rebates).

As you might imagine, most people when offered a choice between getting a Chevy hatchback and a Tesla luxury sedan for a similar price, opted for the former.  The Tesla promised autopilot, an excellent fast-charging network and frequent updates.  The Bolt simply claimed to be good transportation.  The combination of features and tech cachet meant that Tesla racked up 500,000 pre-orders before the first Model 3 shipped in July 2017, and it wasn’t until mid 2019 that the $35,000 version of the Model 3 actually became available.  (In fact Tesla went so far as to hide the lowest-priced Model 3 – since June 2019 it could only be ordered by phone – it is not shown on their website.).  Meanwhile GM has sold Bolts at a modest rate of 1,500-2,000/month since introduction.

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BMW 530i (E34) conclusions

BMW E34

There were a number of factors that contributed to my choice to buy the E34.  After the demise of my E46 at the hands of a pothole and the insurance adjuster, I was looking for a car that would be economical, fun, reliable, and economical.  Good looks were also a plus.

With the exception of the cost of repairs, the E34 (which we found on craigslist) seemed to fit all those constraints quite well.  Asking price was a little over $3k and the car appeared to be in no need of immediate repairs.  I think the biggest item the pre-purchase inspection turned up were worn windshield wiper blades.  The potential cost of repairs was a major concern (even older BMW parts aren’t inexpensive), but given the price and apparent dilligence of the previous owners, it seemed like a reasonable tradeoff.

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BMW 530i (E34) review – driving

BMW 530i

I’ve now put around 18,000 miles on the 530i in just over a year.  I’ve used it extensively both commuting to and from work and school, and for traveling all over California.  It’s been a good companion, polishing off the miles with aplomb and providing a comfortable and relaxing vantage point to observe the road from.

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Comparing the cousins – the BMW E30 and E34

Cousins

Thanks to a lucky search on craigslist and some quick phone calls by my resident car-expert (thanks dad!), I am now simultaneously the proud owner of a 1990 BMW 325i (E30) and a 1994 530i (E34).  Lest I give the wrong impression, I should add that the combined purchasing cost of both these vehicles came out to slightly less than the insurance payout for my wrecked 2000 328i (E46).  The plan is to put the E34 on craigslist, once things calm down a bit.

Below are my thoughts on how the two cars stack up.

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Better Small Cars

For much of the 1990s and 2000s, cars in the US seemed to be suffering an obesity epidemic.  Station wagons bloated into SUVs, compacts swelled into full-sized sedans and even the handful of practically every vehicle managed to grow in size and weight from one generation to the next.

A case in point is BMW’s 3-series.  Once marketed as a compact car for driving enthusiasts, the 3-series of today is more than a foot longer and 600 pounds (25%) heavier than the 3-series of early 1991.  It’s not just a BMW problem.  The Golf may well be the least-changed car stylistically over the past thirty years, but based on the weight you could make two 1979 Golfs from a single 2005 Golf (1750 lbs vs. 3550 lbs).

Fortunately, it looks like one consequence of the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression is that bigger is no longer always better.  The combination of increasing CAFE fuel economy standards and increasing pump prices has finally gotten Detroit and its foreign competitors, not to mention the almighty US consumer, to give some thought to efficiency.

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