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Lucky Family First to Get a Volt & a Leaf

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  • Felix Kramer
    So far we haven t found anyone in California or anywhere else with BOTH new mass-produced plug-in cars. Since my wife Rochelle Lefkowitz and I both work from
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 28, 2011
      So far we haven't found anyone in California or
      anywhere else with BOTH new mass-produced plug-in
      cars. Since my wife Rochelle Lefkowitz and I both
      work from home, we're not that typical. Still, as
      early adopters, it's a privilege to be an
      ecumenical plug-in household. Which car is
      better? The real competition is the electric mile
      versus the fossil-fuel mile. But we enjoy
      competition among plug-in design solutions and
      carmaker races -- so here are our initial impressions and our first match-ups.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting
      will also be viewable at
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there
      you can add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      In the spirit of encouraging wide discussion,
      we're posting this message broadly. See links at
      for the latest, and we'll soon ad more photos
      there. And find and comment on this posting at (so far):

      # http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=2555
      # http://www.plugincars.com/lucky-family-first-get-volt-leaf.html

      Since we got our Volt on Dec. 22 and our Leaf
      Jan. 24, I've felt like we've taken a time
      machine to the future. Since as the Founder of
      CalCars.org I've been doing little else but talk
      and evangelize about this for a decade, I thought
      I'd be ready for this moment. But now that it's
      really here, it's far better than I ever imagined!

      Each car is like a 21st century space capsule,
      gliding silently through streets clogged with
      last-century vehicles. I was never so aware of
      the unique and ugly sounds from each gas-guzzler.
      At stop lights I even feel their low-frequency
      vibrations. As a driver of a Prius since 2004,
      which 60,000 miles ago in 2006 was converted to a
      plug-in hybrid, and as an occasional driver of a
      RAV4 EV or a Tesla Roadster, I've had glimpses of
      how this feels. But it's completely different to
      drive this way almost all the time!

      Each car greets the driver with fun as its first
      feature. The instant torque of electric motors
      turns each of them into rocketships at low
      speeds, and easy lane-changers on the highway.

      The driver's seat of the Volt feels like an
      airplane cockpit. It's a little intimidating at
      first, but reassuring after a few minutes of
      studying the controls and displays -- or just
      ignoring some for a while. The Leaf has a spare
      quality, and the simpler right-side panel is all about audio and climate.

      Each car offers subtle clues about its
      fundamental character. The Volt puts a whole car
      between the front left electric door and the rear
      right gasoline door. Inside, the button to flip
      open the electric door stands out while I have to
      work to reach the gas-door release, giving the
      message, "You're not going to be using this very
      often." The Leaf's charging ports are under a
      giant door right in the center of the car's nose:
      "There's nothing going on in here but electricity."

      Both cars have slipped up some on what's called
      "computer-human interface." We wish they'd
      listened to suggestions to put prototypes in the
      hands of Silicon Valley's usability experts last
      summer. For instance, the charging signals. Plug
      in the Volt and the indicator turns yellow
      (connected), then steady green (charging).
      Finally it flashes green (done). That's exactly
      the reverse of a user's expectations. The Leaf,
      with a longer charge time, starts out well, with
      three indicators that illuminate in succession as
      the car reaches its charge. But 15 minutes after
      it's full, all the blue lights go off. My first
      morning, when I greeted the plugged-in car, I
      wondered, "what happened?" Both MyLink and
      MyLeaf, the phone apps that enable me to monitor
      and control charging and many other activities,
      need major overhauls and quicker refresh. (Since
      the Nissan app doesn't make Leaf all-caps, I've
      got permission to stop doing so….)

      Each car's manual is full of important
      information -- far more than I got even in the
      superb orientations from Novato Chevy's Terry
      McCarter and North Bay Nissan's Victor Maldonado.
      But each is daunting, and, unsurprisingly,
      written defensively and sometimes in legalese. I
      downloaded them from
      . Alas, for a spare copy, pages designed to fit
      in a glove compartment don't print well on
      letter-sized paper. And while the Volt's Index
      listings are live links; the Leaf's aren't,
      though once I got inside its chapters I could
      click to navigate. Nissan and GM may be watching
      Hyundai, which turned its Equus manual into a
      downloadable App -- and included an IPad with the car.

      We all know both cars will get better soon. All
      carmakers will learn from each other. (The savvy
      ones aren't relying on their customer service
      operations, but have budgeted for large teams to
      track down and analyze the tens of thousands of
      comments and suggestions strewn around online.)
      The automakers can quickly update some software
      features. One reason we leased the Volt instead
      of buying it is our expectation for future
      hardware improvements in Version 2. The Volt's
      big challenge is making the car a five-seater.
      Tomorrow, Nissan could promise to supply every
      Leaf with rear headrests that lower to the level
      of the top of the back seats. That will vastly
      improve the half-blocked rear window visibility.
      (We remove them and replace them when we have rear passengers.)

      Rochelle's first comment was, "Hey, I love these
      cars!" (She and our son Josh, both shown at the
      CalCars.org "Plug-Ins Arrive" page, have been
      stalwart supporters.) She wishes both carmakers
      had personalized the mirrors so she doesn't have
      to reset them every time she gets in after I've
      driven it. Otherwise, she's happy to just be able
      to get into each vehicle, push the on-button and
      drive it like any other car. She says it was a
      bigger adjustment to switch from a 1997 Camry to
      a 2007 Camry Hybrid than from that car to the
      Volt. She appreciates the rear cameras,
      especially important now that most
      safety-conscious cars come with thick side pillars.

      Finally, the hard numbers. Our Leaf experience
      began with a fair test with an EPA-assigned
      73-mile range: from the dealer in Petaluma to
      Redwood City. Driving at 65 MPH the whole way and
      not bothering to detour around the steep hill in
      San Francisco between the Golden Gate Bridge and
      US 101 (which cost about 4 miles of range), we
      finished a 74-mile trip comfortably with 14 miles
      to spare. The Leaf is reassuringly predictable:
      with 80-100 miles of juice, most of the time, we
      don't think about range; we just drive around and
      charge it at night. With 163 miles in four days,
      it may become our first-to-use car, with the Volt
      reserved for times we both drive and for distances.

      The Volt is a more dramatic story. In 37 days,
      we've driven 2,281.0 miles and used 33.4 gallons.
      Does an average of 68.1 MPG sound disappointing?
      Not to us -- because it includes two round-trips
      to Lake Tahoe. Until now, no one could drive a
      plug-in car that route without refueling along
      the way: 225 miles including 8,000 feet of Sierra
      elevations. (Read about that record-setting first
      trip and see photos at http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=1955 .)

      Here are details on the two Tahoe expeditions:
      First: 225.7 miles, 6.31 gallons at 35.8 MPG up,
      and 221.5 miles, 4.36 gallons at 50.8 MPG down.
      Second: 244.0 miles, 6.37 gallons at 38.1 MPG up,
      and 242.9 miles, 4.56 gallons at 53.2MPG down.
      (The second time we more than confirmed the
      numbers. We don't know why we got better results
      even on a longer route with an additional passenger and more cargo.)

      We started each of the four drives with a full
      battery (boosting our average), then had major
      uphill drives (reducing MPG). The combined
      43.2MPG is about what a second- or
      third-generation Prius gets on that route. (We
      expect the Gen2 Volt will improve its
      long-distance "charge-depleted" driving
      performance, which wasn't the top priority in
      GM's four-year push to meet the Volt's promised
      delivery date.) This proves a PHEV's best selling
      point: this one car can drive all-electric most
      of the time at its base location, then go any
      distance worry-free with good fuel economy, and
      again drive entirely electrically at its destination.

      We've reached a sweet moment. Since 2005, CalCars
      has been trumpeting that plug-in hybrids (and
      extended range electric vehicles) get100+ MPG of
      gasoline (plus a penny a mile of electricity). GM
      didn't squawk when the Volt sticker said its MPG
      when using gasoline and electricity would range
      from 69-168 MPG for 30-75 mile trips. Now our
      real-world Volt experience confirms both our
      experience with conversions and our predictions
      for production vehicles. Many of our Bay Area
      trips in the Volt have exceeded the car's typical
      35-40 mile all-electric range -- and we've used
      our portable charging connector at a destination
      only once. When we subtract out the two long
      trips, our local 1,346.9 miles on 11.8 gallons
      were at 114.1 MPG. (And CalCars colleague Ron
      Gremban driving his Volt Lynne McAllister showed
      205 MPG after their first 468 miles, mostly in
      Marin County.) As they say, QED -- point proven!

      Stay tuned for more specifics and comparisons in the future.
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