Occasionally, I’ll depart from my usual writing about business and technology and post about something more personal, which I call a Fun Foray.
I recently had the opportunity to test drive an electric vehicle (EV) over the weekend — a Chevy Spark — thanks to the Experience Electric #TheBetterRide program. Background: I’m an ardent hybrid owner and am on my second Prius, a 2010 standard model. I’m also the owner of an SUV and live in San Francisco where parking is a challenge. I am writing this post to share what I found out about owning an EV, and also my thoughts about buying one in the future.
Summary: It’s not much of a savings over a hybrid like the Prius, but I would be emitting less than a third of the CO2 emissions with the EV. I definitely see an EV as a second, run-around-the-city car. If range and charging station locations increase, I’d even consider it as my primary vehicle.
The Chevy Spark
I picked up my Chevy Spark and my first thought was that it was really small! I didn’t even realize that it had four doors (cleverly hidden up by the window) until my teenagers got into it. In terms of comfort and room, the front seats are great. My 6’ 3” friend felt that it would be fine for driving around the city but not for long trips. My teenage daughter reported however that the back seat headrest was uncomfortable, regardless of how she positioned it. My tall friend could barely get into the back — and there was no way for him to sit back there for even a short ride. Parking was a breeze — although not as small as a Smart car, I had a lot more choices than with my Prius.
The Driving Experience
My one previous experience driving an EV was a test drive of the Tesla S Model. The amazing thing about EVs is the responsive acceleration — there is no delay between pressing the pedal and the car shooting forward. The Spark was fun in this way like the Tesla S — on numerous drives around San Francisco, when I had a clear road ahead of me at a stop light, I was able to accelerate to 35 MPH in no time. If you’ve ever driven in San Francisco, it’s an endless series of stop signs at every corner. OK, it’s no Tesla, but the Spark was a thrill to drive, and I could indulge in jackrabbit starts with a lot less guilt.
With a range of about 85 miles when fully charged, I didn’t have to worry about running out of “gas” at any point over my two-day test drive. One of my trips took me to the Fifth and Mission Garage, which has charging stations. The rental key fob had a ChargePoint card on it, which I tapped on the station to activate. After that, it was pretty straightforward to charge the car. ChargePoint has a handy app that shows you where stations are located – they are plentiful all around San Francisco, and then centered mostly on campuses of school or enlightened employers.
Charging at home was very straightforward — simply plug the charger into a regular wall outlet. It takes about 20 hours to fully charge an empty battery from empty. The bigger issue is having to think about plugging in your car. It make take a few extra minutes each time I park, but the trade-off is that I won’t have to go to gas stations anymore. I estimate I’d likely plug in my car overnight maybe 1-2 times a week, max.
One of the best parts about driving an EV is the good karma I felt about not contributing as much to CO2 emissions. The amount of CO2 EVs generate have everything to do with the way electricity is generated for your location. The Sierra Club has a great calculator that does this hard work for you. Assuming I drove the Spark 15,000 a year, I would generate 3,632 pounds of CO2 a year. My current Prius Hybrid generates about 11,692 pounds of CO2 a year — that’s more than 3X more. Definitely good karma!
In looking at the costs, I didn’t include the actual cost of the car — way too many permutations. I looked instead at the gas costs instead. (A helpful resource is PG&E’s PEV Calculator). Again, a key determinant is how many miles you drive a day, what kind of car are replacing, and also the type of rate plan you have. When I had solar in a previous home, I qualified for what is called the “EV-A” plan that has lower rates for off-peak electrical use, versus the “E-1″ plan that is flat metering. Doing, the calculations, here’s the cost savings, depending on plan and vehicle type being replaced. Overall, if I just replaced my current Prius with the Spark EV, I would save a grand total of $60 a year if I drove a day. But if I replaced my SUV with an EV (not really an option as the use cases are completely different) it starts looking a lot more attractive.
An EV in My Future
When I’m next in the market for a car, I will definitely consider an EV, as most of my daily driving is well within range of today’s EV. If the range can be extended to 250 miles, I would replace my large SUV with an EV SUV (today, only the Toyota RAV4 is on the market). I’m grateful that CCSE is bringing EVs to people for test driving and education, and that I had an opportunity to drive one over an extended period of time. I would like to see them also push the parallel issue of putting more alternative energy production in place. San Francisco lives in one of the most solar energy rich regions of the world, even with our famous fog. I’d love to see the city promote not just the use of EVs, but also the installation of more green energy options on our rooftops.