Monday, April 24, 2017

Attention to detail!

The story I am about to tell can serve as a warning as to how a couple of missed details can cause a huge headache when going on a road trip in an all-electric vehicle...even one with a relatively ample (compared to non-Tesla BEVs) 238 mile EV range like my Bolt EV.

This past weekend I took my family on a trip to the Philadelphia area to go to the Brickfest Live! Lego fan festival as an advance birthday gift for my son and daughter. After purchasing the tickets 3 months prior, I had looked in the area where the event was being held to scope out the charging station situation. As the trip would be a minimum 250 miles round trip, I would need to charge my Bolt at least once while in the Philly area. 

I noticed that there was a Hilton property listed on Plugshare that had a 240V L2 charging station (along with a couple of Tesla destination charging stations) that I could use to charge overnight. I thought to myself, "Perfect!". To top it off, I also noticed that there were several DCFC fast charging stations listed on Plugshare as well. I was going to be staying in a charging station haven! Shortly after doing my research, I booked the hotel and that was that. Or so I thought.

As I thought charging my Bolt would not be an issue during this road trip, I actually departed from home with only about an 85% charge on my Bolt (this was mistake #1 ). The Guess-O-Meter (GOM) stated I had 233 miles of range, but I knew that was an overly-optimistic estimate due to the fact that number was achieved mainly through local city driving. During the drive up to Philly, it was raining decently the whole way up, so I had to use the defroster whic ate up some range. Combined with driving 65-70 mph on the freeway, the 233 mile estimate quickly disappeared. 

We arrived at the Brickfest location with about 60 miles of range displayed on the GOM. After the event, which was overall entertaining (if a tad nerdy), especially for the kids, we headed to the hotel, which was 10 miles away, to check in and figure out what to have for dinner. After arriving at the hotel, about 50 miles remained on the GOM. 

One of the many Lego sights I saw

After checking in to our room, we relaxed a little while discussing what to have for dinner. It was then I realized my first big problem: the hotel were were staying at did not have any onsite charging stations! It turned out the hotel I had booked 2 months earlier was DIFFERENT from the one I originally was going to book and looked up on Plugshare. Both the original hotel and hotel we ended up booking were Hilton properties, and I had mixed them up like an idiot! Doh!

But no problem, I said to myself! I had seen those handful of fast charging stations listed on Plugshare previously, so I could still just quick charge at one of those before leaving for home the next day, right? Ehhhhh, no. While looking at Plugshare that one fateful evening, I had inadvertently set the filter to list all CHAdeMO stations in addition to CCS stations, so non-compatible CHAdemo fast charging stations were listed as well (mistake #2 ). It turned out among those few DCFC stations in the area, none were actually of the Bolt-compatible CCS variety! All that was available were CHAdeMO-only Blink stations! 

So no fast charging options, no hotel L2 option, no nearby L2 station. Not even a 120V outlet, as I found out after chatting with the hotel staff. The nearest CCS-compatible station was over 20 miles away, and even then its operational status was questionable at best, based off its Plugshare rating. I was in a pickle!

Mind you, the whole time I was humming the “Everything is Awesome!” Lego Movie song in my head, and did not want to let my wife in on the fact I was secretly semi-freaking out. The last thing I wanted to do was to give her the impression the Bolt was not suitable for a road trip. That is one reason I did not resort to some late night charging station searching like I read in other Bolt road trip reviews. 

Or something like that

My wife then asked me, “Hey, where is the nearest Lego store? Let’s go get some new Lego sets for the kids”. I Googled the nearest Lego store, and it turned out there was one at a large mall about 10 miles away from our hotel Then I look at Plugshare and saw there was actually a couple of 240V charging stations located in the mall's parking lot! But I found out that they were the notorious Blink stations (f**k). However, the Plugshare rating was 7.6, so there was a decent chance they actually worked.

After agreeing to get dinner and shop at the Lego store at that mall, we drove the ~10 miles and found both stations empty. After downloading the Blink app (and noticing the 39 cents/kWh pricing....gross), I start the charge session. But the Bolt’s charging light indicator stayed yellow. You gotta be kidding me, I thought to myself. I restarted the session a couple of times, but still no go. I then tried the other station, and luckily I got it to start charging. Whew, crisis averted! The GOM stated 37 miles of range when it started charging.

A working Blink station! Holy crap!
After chowing down on some Shake Shack and getting the aforementioned Lego sets, we came back to the Bolt 2 hours later. It turned out my Bolt had ingested 10.88 kWh of juice, and the GOM stated I had 79 miles of range. I also found a Volt owner putting some shopping bags in his Volt, and chatted with him a bit as he asked me how I liked the Bolt. I told him I loved my Bolt, and that the only potential issue would be charging while road tripping, though I didn't let him in on my self-inflicted problems. Afterwards, I (carefully) drove back to the hotel and parked the Bolt for the night with 72 miles of range on the GOM.

I woke up the next day, realizing the charging fairy did not visit my Bolt and finding I still needed about 70 miles of range to make the trip back home. After grabbing some breakfast, we head back to Brickfest to check out a couple of things we didn’t get to see the day prior. 60 miles of range remained on the GOM when we got there. Ended up seeing a Delorean from Back to the Future and equipped with that 1.21 jigawatt onbaord charger. If only I had one of those in my Bolt!

Where's Doc Brown when you need him??
After we were done with Brickfest, the wife decided we should head back to the mall to grab lunch and do some shopping (and to get some much needed charge!).

When we arrived back at the same Blink station I had used the previous night, I saw a Porsche SUV was plugged into the (broken) station #2. Whoops. First time I had ever seen the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid (turns out it only has 14 miles of range). I plugged into the other, working unit, and while were gone for 3 hours and 40 minutes exploring the mall and grabbing lunch, I was able to put 20.56 kWh of juice into my Bolt. The GOM now said I had 133 miles of range, and since our drive home was only 121 miles, we were probably good to go!

I drove around the speed limit (55-60 mph) during most of the trip to MD, trying to preserve that 12 mile buffer, and by the time we were about 40 minutes from home, I had built that buffer up to 19 miles. That’s when I decided that we have enough to make it home comfortably, so I then droved to 65-70 mph the last 40 miles or so. We end up stopping at the local Whole Foods (GOM was now blinking “Low” by this point...guess I shouldn't have sped up. Whoops), and I found a Bolt was plugged into the only working station! Cool since it was my first Bolt sighting (besides my own) in the wild, but also not so cool because I wanted to “top off” my Bolt.

Why hello there!
During the 5 mile drive back home, in propulsion power reduced mode and the Bolt’s GOM still blinking LOW at me, I drove gingerly and made it back home on e-fumes. According to my Torque Pro app, the battery SOC (probably raw SOC) was 5.7%. I parked the Bolt and I got the GOM to tell me I had 5 miles of estimated range left. Plenty to spare!

Tons of range left!

So lessons learned during this trip:

#1 – ALWAYS start out with a 100% charge before any trip you will need to charge to get back home, even if you think you are in a charging station heaven at your destination
#2 – triple check that the place you think you are staying at is actually the hotel you are staying at
#3 – don’t be a dumb@ss and leave the CHAdeMO filter on while checking DCFC stations on Plugshare
#4 – Check items 1-3 again

My Bolt performed just as advertised. The owner just screwed up with the trip planning. The morale of the story is to never assume! Or else you may end up even unluckier than me getting the "Tow of Shame". ;)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fast charging experiences with the Bolt

Wow, it's been forever and a day since my last blog post! Turns out the blog update frequency tanks once the object you've been obsessively blogging about ends up in your possession! 😋

So after almost 2 months over ownership and 2,000 miles on the road, I've also managed to use CCS DCFC fast charging stations several times (once out of necessity, the other times purely for testing purposes). What I've found is that, like with EV range, your mileage will vary when fast charging the Bolt....literally.

The Bolt is outfitted with a SAE Combo Charging System (CCS) charging port, so it can only fast charge at locations with CCS plugs. It cannot use CHAdeMO plugs that Japanese vehicles such as the Leaf can use. While CHAdeMO stations vastly outnumbered CCS-compatible stations a few years ago, the gap is closing as the number of CCS fast charging stations is increasing every day. Most new non-Tesla DC fast charging stations have both CHAdeMO and CCS plugs.

In my area (Howard County, MD) there is a fairly decent CCS-compatible fast charging network. There are over 60 CCS stations within 100 miles of where I live, so I can pretty much drive anywhere in Maryland without having to worry about range. Hell, the Bolt's 238 (more like 190-200 miles in sub-freezing temperatures) mile EPA range is usually more than enough for my family without even factoring in fast charging capability!

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Not too shabby a network!

While there are several companies that offer fast charging stations, the main 2 in my area (and pretty much across the country) are Chargepoint and EVgo. Both currently have fast charging stations that advertise 50 kW charging rates. As we will see a little later, 50 kW advertised does not equal 50 kW observed in real-life charging. The Chargepoint stations in my area (mostly installed at Royal Farms locations) cost 29 cents/kWh, with a $3.50 minimum charge. EVgo charging prices vary by the plan you choose, but the best plan for people charging multiple times a month is its "On The Go" plan, which costs a flat $14.95/month and 10 cents/min while fast charging. Again, these are Maryland rates, so if you live in another region the pricing will vary.

While GM has been coy with the 2017 Bolt's exact fast charging capabilities, it has stated that the Bolt can achieve "about 90 miles in 30 minutes", presumably based off the official 238 EPA-rated range. There is some fine print stating charging performance is dependent on factors such as ambient temperatures.

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90 miles in 30 minutes *HUGE ASTERISK*

Having experienced at least 6 separate instances of fast charging at various Chargepoint and EVgo stations in my area, here are my findings:

  • No one will actually see 50 kW charge rates at a 50 kW fast charging station with a least not a a station rated at a maximum 125 amps. 46 kW has been the fastest rate I have observed. I DO believe the Bolt can charge faster than 50 kW if hooked up to a fast charging station rated higher than 50 kW/125 amps. Too bad none exist yet that are available to the public.
  • The Bolt's battery is pretty sensitive to temperatures when it comes to fast charging. With data logged by my OBDII reader and Torque Pro app, I've noticed that I don't experience max (125 amps) charge rates until the Bolt's HV battery temperature is between 65-70 degrees F. If you are planning on fast charging first thing in the morning after parking your Bolt outside in sub-freezing weather unplugged, you will likely experience throttled charge rates till the battery comes up to temp.
  • The Bolt tapers the max charge rate fairly early compared to say the Spark EV. While Spark EV owners reported near 50 kW rates from 0% to almost 80% SOC, I've noticed the Bolt starts tapering rates at around 50% SOC (ramps down to ~38kW/~100 amps) and again at 70% (down to ~24 kW/~60 amps) from peak ~46 kW/125 amp charge rates at a 125A station. At a little over 80%, the rate again tapers down to <20 kW and stays there till fully charged.
  • The ~0-50% SOC window is where you will see the Bolt charge at the advertised "about 90 miles in about 30 minutes" rates, assuming the HV battery is up to temperature. In the spring/summer/fall, battery temps shouldn't be an issue, but in winter areas that routinely see sub-freezing temperatures, this is something to be aware of.
  • The most I ever saw in a 30 minute session was 21.84 kWh charged at a 125A EVgo station. Translated in EPA-rated miles, that's ~87 miles in 30 minutes. Slight throttling was experienced.
The below chart might be an info overload, but you can see that the max charge rates (125A/46 kW) aren't realized until the HV battery temp reaches around 70F. 

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2 minute gap as I started the charge session

And the charging figures:

Session start time: 5:27AM
HV battery SOC% (SOC-R value in Torque Pro): 9.02%
Battery SOC% according to the station: 5%
HV battery temp: 60.8F
Ambient temp: 57F

Session end time: 6:08AM
HV battery SOC% (SOC-R value in Torque Pro): 50.2%
Battery SOC% according to the station: 47%
HV battery temp: 77F
Ambient temp: 57F

Total kWh charged: 26.73 kWh (according to Torque Pro) / 27.6 according station
Total time charging: 39 minutes (2 minute gap when stopping/restarting charging)
Total SOC% gained: 41% (according to Torque Pro) / 42% according to station
Max charge rate observed according to car: 46 kW

Once a >125amp CCS station is online, I am eager to see just how much power the Bolt can suck in! If amperage exceeds 131A, a guy I know owes me 100 bucks. 😎

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

So....what's it like owning a Bolt?

Apologies for the huge gap since my last blog post. For some reason, something has been taking up a lot of my free time...😉

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Just chilling among some gasmobiles

I've been in possession of my Bolt for over a week now, so I think I have enough time in the seat to give some more in-depth impressions. Bottom line, the Bolt is pretty much what I expected, and even exceeds my expectations in a few ways. The Bolt is not perfect, but the positives waaaaay outweigh the few negatives. Since a lot of you guys have never driven a Bolt (or perhaps even seen one in person), I'll try to comment on aspects of the Bolt prospective buyers probably care about the most.

First off, I'm going to address the front seats (I have a loaded Premier with leather seats, btw). From reading online forums and social media, it seems that the front seats are by far the most polarizing item in the Bolt. I've seen quite a few complaints saying the front seats are "worse than a 10 year old Kia!", "horribly uncomfortable", and other comments along those lines.

My take? They are fine for me (not the greatest, but perfectly acceptable). However, I understand where the complaints are coming from. I am 6', 190 pounds, so I would rate myself "average" as far as body type goes. I find that when seated in a normal position, I can feel where the ridge of the seat on the left side presses against my thigh. It does not cause me pain or discomfort, but it is definitely noticeable. I've yet to log any long distance (100+ mile) drives in the Bolt, but for around-town driving, the seats are serviceable. The Bolt's front seats are narrower than both my Volts, and also have less cushioning due to the new, slimmer seat design.

Could the seats be made perhaps an inch wider to increase comfort? It sure looks like there is room to do that. My advice for any potential Bolt owner worried about the seats is to arrange at least a 30 minute test drive in the trim you are planning on getting. That should be good enough to let you determine whether the seats will be an issue for you or not.

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, let's get into more interesting items, like that "One pedal driving" GM has been pushing so much! Basically, it's a blast to drive the Bolt, especially in L! With the gear selector in "L", you will almost never need to touch the brake pedal except in emergency/sudden braking situations.

The regen level while in L is MUCH stronger than any plug-in I've driven to date (G1/G2 Volt, Spark EV, C-Max Energi). I've found that even without using the regen paddle on the steering wheel (for extra regen), I can stop at a light without using the brake pedal. In fact, there have been many times I've actually had to step back on the accelerator a little to inch up to the car in front of me because slowing in L was so effective. The regen paddle gives even more regen, which means you can come to a stop fairly quickly without ever touching the brake. For you tech nerds, max regen observed (either D or L) without the regen paddle was 50 kW, and 70 kW combined with the paddle. These regen numbers may vary based on the battery's state of charge, however.

Once stopped in L, the Bolt will not "creep" like many gas cars do. It will remain stationary until you step on the accelerator again. In "D", the Bolt will drive and function like any plain ole gas car, for those of you that find "L" driving not to your liking.

How about the gitty up? The Bolt has plenty! If you floor the Bolt from a stop, you WILL squeal the tires. In fact, you will want to grip the Bolt with two hands firmly if you do just that, because there is also some torque steer you will need to deal with. The Bolt's chief engineer said he actually had to tune down the "off the line" power, as the torque steer could literally rip the wheel from an average driver's hands if they weren't careful. I'd be interested to see how a Bolt fitted with stickier tires would fare. I've also only flipped to Sport Mode (increased throttle response, same max performance) once to make sure it works, since performance in normal mode is more than enough!

The driver safety packages are pretty cool. Here's a quick rundown of what each does and my take:

  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA): If you don't engage the turn signal and drift towards a painted lane divider, the Bolt will "nudge" you back towards the center of the lane. I've found it works well in the daytime as well as at night. The Bolt can even guide you around a slight curve on the highway all on its own with LKA active. However, anyone watching you from behind will think you are drunk, so you probably don't want to do that very often...especially if a cop is behind you. If you let it "bounce" around the lanes too much, it'll beep at you and display a message telling you to grip the steering wheel.
  • Rear view mirror camera: pretty cool. It gives a crisp view out the back and offers a wider angle view compared to the standard mirror. I've found I usually have the rear view mirror flipped to "video mode" during daytime driving. However, video mode fairly useless at night. Also, if it is wet or snowy, the view can get obstructed. The Bolt does have a dedicated sprayer for the rear view cameras, however.
  • 360 degree birds-eye surround camera: Very cool! Combined with the rear vision camera (along with the front camera), if you can't park the Bolt properly, you probably need to just give up your license. The 360 degree birds-eye view lets you see everything around your car out a few feet in each direction, so there should be no curbing of tires, bumping into other cars, or running over of pets or kids. 😉
    If you put the Bolt in "R", the backup/birds-eye cameras will activate on the center display. Put the Bolt back in "D" or "L", and the center display will switch to the front camera view, so you can see what's in front of you (will shut off automatically once you hit 5 mph). The Bolt does not have audible front parking sensors, however, so the front camera/birds-eye cam is all you get for judging front distance, along with your own eyeballs of course.
  • Rear cross-traffic alerts: ....they work. That's all I can really say about that. If you are in "R" and the Bolt detects a car approaching from the left or right, it will trigger an audible alert combined with some red arrows on the center display pointing in the direction the car is coming from.
  • Front Collision Alert (FCA)/Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB): I've had the FCA trigger twice so far...both times on the highway when I was approaching traffic that had started slowing suddenly. The FCA will flash some red lights in the lower left corner of the windshield in addition to triggering audible alerts. There are 3 settings for FCA you can select via a button on the left side of the steering wheel that adjusts sensitivity. Also, in the settings menu, you can choose to turn FCA off, in addition to "FCA on, EAB off", or "FCA on, EAB on". I haven't had a chance to see how EAB works (nor do I want to).
  • Front Pedestrian Braking: Haven't had a chance to see that in action either, as I haven't tried to mow anyone down yet. If someone wants to volunteer and be a guinea pig and you're in Central Maryland, let me know. You'll have to sign a waiver saying it's not my fault if I run you over, though. 
The Infotainment Package adds Bose speakers, wireless charging for compatible smartphones, and 2 USB charge-only ports in the rear. I've yet to test the wireless charging feature, since my phone (Motorola Droid Z Play) needs an accessory to use it, but the phone (5.5") fits snugly without a case. Any phone bigger than 5.5" likely won't fit. The wireless charging pocket is located in front of the center storage compartment...big improvement over the location in the Gen 2 Volt, which was IN the center compartment. Also, the center armrest can be adjusted to slide forward a few inches.

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2017 Volt and Bolt side by side

What if people don't really sit in the rear, you don't care about wireless charging, and you aren't an audiophile? It's likely you won't find the infotainment package of much use, so you can probably save yourself $495. FWIW, the Bose speakers sound pretty nice, but I am definitely not an audiophile.

Also, there is a fairly large storage compartment between the driver and front passenger seats. Perfect for putting a purse (ladies), murse (metro guys), or other random items.

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Can also fit a large box of latex gloves for when you need to handle those bodies stuffed in the hatch.....wait, what?

I haven't had a chance to test out the DCFC port yet (too much range!), but I'll probably eventually end up using it sometime soon.

Android Auto works pretty much like in my Gen 2 Volt....except the Bolt's display shows these 1 inch black margins on each side, which is sort of annoying. According to GM, this is an Android Auto/Google issue, not a GM one. I recommend peppering Google via the Android Auto app's feedback section to get this issue fixed!

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"Squeezed" Android Auto display....bleh
If I were to give the (loaded) Bolt EV Premier a grade, I would give it a 93/100. Room for some improvement in a couple of minor nit-picky areas, but the main things (range, performance, utility) meet or exceed my needs!

p.s. completely random, but the center display will actually display Korean characters if you are streaming some Korean music via an app or something. As LG (Korean company) supplies a lot of components of the car, it makes sense. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Bolt is Mine

So the words a lot of you guys following my blog have been waiting to see: I got my Bolt!!

On Sunday, I got the call from the truck driver saying he would be stopping in my area in the evening for delivery. I had to meet him at a parking lot near a big box store a couple of miles from my house, since his truck would not be able to drive into the residential area I live in. No problem! I took a Lyft to the meeting area (whatever happened to those rumored Lyft Bolts they were supposed to get first? Whatever).

Upon arriving in the parking lot, I could see a huge transport truck with a bunch of cars on it. As I got closer, I made first contact with my Bolt in Maryland!

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There's my Bolt!

The driver, Max (not Brandon, it turned out), hopped out and told me it was a long drive from CA. He encountered plenty of rain and snow on his trip, and I could tell as my Bolt was covered in road grime and dust. Aside from being a little dirty, my Bolt had made it to Maryland unscathed. The unloading process was pretty cool to watch, as Max needed to raise up the vehicles on the 2nd level via hydraulic lifts in order to drive my Bolt off the trailer.

After doing a walk around inspection and finding no damage, I signed off on the delivery papers, handed Max 600 bucks, and wished him luck with his other deliveries. I had complained a bit about the shipping process in earlier posts, but it got to me roughly within the original time frame, so I really have no complaints about the shipper. Most people also aren't able to track their vehicles with an app, so a lot of the angst was self-inflicted.

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Dirty but arrived safe and sound.

I hopped in my Bolt for the first time, and noticed right away the range was very low (not a surprise since the dealer said they couldn't charge it before my shipper showed up). The GOM said 32 miles of range. After a few miles of driving, the range estimate hit 25 and I hit Propulsion Power Reduced mode, which triggers when the battery state of charge drops to under 10%. Despite being in PPR, I was still able to squeal the tires at a stoplight. 😊

First destination? A car wash! My Bolt was filthy, and that grime needed to be washed away ASAP!
I went to the Exxon a few miles down the road, and had to go into the store to pay for a car wash since I couldn't purchase one at the pump (can't buy a car wash without buying gas!). Made for a good photo op I just couldn't pass up.

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Won't see many Bolts at gas stations like this

After washing off all the road grime, I parked my Bolt at home to feed it some much needed EV-juice and also get acquainted with my Volts.

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Bolt, meet Volt. And other Volt.

I plugged the Bolt in overnight with my Clipper Creek LCS-25. It is rated at a max theoretical output of 4.8 kW, but I found that it only reaches a rate of around 4.5 kW while monitoring the charging status with my JuicePlug. No biggie, as the Bolt will rarely be fully depleted, and even if it is, an overnight charge of "only" 180 miles or so will be plenty for everyday driving.

The next day, I took a day trip to Baltimore! Stopped by the science center, and afterwards recharged MY batteries with some Shake Shack. Finding street parking is always a hassle in downtown Baltimore, but I managed to find a spot my Bolt squeezed in. A larger car would not have been able to park in the spot, but the Bolt was no problem with its small footprint. The 360 degree birdseye camera coupled with the rear vision camera + front camera made parking a breeze.

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Squeezed into a tight spot in downtown Baltimore no problem

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Shake Shack! nom nom nom

For those of you with kids, I took a few shots of the back seat with two Graco Turboboosters in the rear. I found that my 6', 190 pound self had room to squeeze in the middle, though I wouldn't want to do that for a long period of time. Still MUCH better than my 2017 Volt's "middle seat" though. Very similar space in the rear to my old, larger C-Max Energi. Moving one of the boosters to the middle would likely make a trip much more comfortable for an adult.

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Love that foot space

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Still a tight fit for an adult in the middle, though at least it's a real middle seat.

Here's a shot of my Bolt almost 100% fully charged. As it seems my Bolt spent a lot of time on while sitting idle during the shipping process, that number will surely improve towards the EPA figure (and likely above) once it gets used to my driving style.

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That's it for the time being. Now that I actually have my Bolt, I'll soon be able to post more detailed hands-on experiences.  😊

p.s. here is the route my Bolt took to get to me in Maryland. 5,401 miles in all of travel before I could drive a single mile, from the train ride out west to the truck ride back east.

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Would have been a much simpler trip direct from MI to MD, eh?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hit the road, Brandon!

It's been a few days since my last blog update, primarily because there was not much to blog about. After I found out my Bolt had been picked up by the shipper from the dealership, nothing of note happened....except lots of angst on my end.

The day after I personally arranged the pickup of my Bolt, I asked the shipper when my Bolt would be loaded on the truck that would eventually take it east to Maryland. They told me, "Yeah! The driver should be on his way soon!", and said my original delivery window of 11-14 January was still accurate. I said OK, great.

The next day, I used my OnStar Remotelink app to get the GPS location of my Bolt. It showed me this:

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Looking up the address, it was the address of the shipping company in Maywood, CA. So Bobby at We Part Out Cars R Us did not have it, so that was good. I concluded they were still probably finding cars to fill up the truck for the ride east, so the driver hadn't departed yet. There were still 6 days till the back end of their delivery estimate, so I didn't find much reason to worry. Yet.

A couple of days later I called the shipper again, as my Bolt was still sitting in the shipper's storage lot pictured above according to the Remotelink app. I asked, "Did the driver leave yet for Maryland?", and they responded "Oh yeah! He's on the road now, and should be in Maryland by the weekend!". Right after the call, I checked on my app again, and it still listed my Bolt as being in the same spot it had been the last few days. I was starting to question whether they were feeding me a bunch of BS, or whether the OnStar app was feeding me a BS location for my Bolt. Odds were 50/50 as to which was true. 

Yesterday, seeing my Bolt still hadn't moved an inch, I sent an email to the shipper asking explicitly whether the driver had departed for Maryland, and sent them screenshots of the Remotelink app showing my Bolt was still in their storage lot. They then told me that the driver had not actually left yet, but was eating lunch and he would definitely leave today and would still make it to MD by the weekend. Now I was thinking that the shipper had been feeding me BS the whole time, and the app was indeed accurate. I was starting to regret not ponying up a few more bucks for shipping at that point.

Later that evening (around 8PM PST, waaaay past lunchtime), I checked on my app again, and my Bolt was....STILL IN THE SHIPPER'S DAMN STORAGE LOT! Either the driver was eating a 72-course lunch, or the shipper had again given me inaccurate info. This was turning into a bigger debacle than my Bolt's trek out west to the California dealer.

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Are you freaking kidding me??

This morning, I used the app to get another GPS location update, expecting it to show me another disappointing shot of my Bolt still being in freaking Maywood, CA. This is what it displayed:

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Wait, what?! It was moving! Praise *insert religious figure you believe in*!! My Bolt was finally heading east!! Now to resist the temptations of requesting 89 location updates a day and drain the 12V battery. Delivery is still supposedly this weekend!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

(Future) Road Trippin' in My (Future) Bolt

I have already started envisioning what road trips would be like in my Bolt and how they may play out. I've already covered my analysis of a MD-CT trip to grandma's house (see for those details), and have found it would be rated, "dicey, but doable" with the current CCS network....but what about other local getaway destinations?

I plotted out 3 such routes via Plugshare, telling it to show me only CCS-compatible stations within 6 miles of my projected route. So there are actually a lot more CCS stations than what are pictured in the following maps.

TRIP #1: Rehoboth Beach, DE

This is a place my family typically goes to a couple of times each year during the summer. It would seem this would be an easy trip in a Bolt. From Columbia, MD to Rehoboth Beach, DE, it is only 119 miles. Theoretically, I could make the whole round-trip without charging at all if I did some hypermiling, but who wants to do that??

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There seems to be not much in the way of CCS fast charging options along my proposed route, though there is 1 station that would be a perfect top-off point on the return leg in Queenstown, MD if I needed to charge.

Rehoboth Beach has at least a half dozen free L2 charging stations located in convenient spots (2 beefy 19 kW L2 stations located at the north end of the boardwalk, as well as multiple locations at Tanger Outlets on the main strip). Even without fast charging, it seems it would be no problem to be able to recharge full during a trip to the beach or shopping at the outlet mall, 2 locations we usually hit when we go down to Rehoboth.

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Plenty of free L2 charging at convenient locations.

Final rating for a Rehoboth Beach excursion: Easy Peasy, CCS not required

TRIP #2: Shenandoah National Park, VA

Another place we frequent is the Big Meadows campground at Shenandoah National Park (SNP) in Virginia. This location is 127 miles away from my house, but the campground is at 3,000 feet above sea level, and there is a pretty steep 6-7 mile climb up the mountain to the park entrance which would surely devour a few extra EV miles.

In the past, we would usually take the direct route that would take us onto Route 211 that goes through Warrenton and Sperryville, VA, en route to the Big Meadows campground. There is a single 240V, 6.6 kW Clipper Creek charging station located at the Byrd Visitor Center less than a 1/4 mile from the campgrounds that could be used to "top off" during the visit. Also, there is a dual CCS/Chademo DCFC fast charging station located near the northern entrance of SNP in Front Royal, VA (96 miles away from my home).

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If I wanted to play it safe, I could take the route that goes through the northern entrance of SNP, allowing me to hit that Front Royal CCS station for a quick charge, with the option of still "topping off" at the L2 station at the Byrd Visitor Center. Assuming I could hit either the Front Royal CCS station or Byrd Visitor Center L2 station once during my visit, I would be able to make it back home on just a single charge in the park from one of those 2 charging sites....or both if needed. 

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6.6 kW L2 station at the Byrd Visitor Center

Due to the fact the first ~25 miles or so of the return trip would be nearly all downhill, much of that drive could be considered "free", as I would be using regen driving down the mountain. If anything, my Bolt's SoC % could actually end up higher at the bottom of the mountain than what it started at up top!

Final rating for a Shenandoah round-trip excursion: Slight sweat broken, 1 charge stop required

TRIP #3: Deep Creek Lake, MD

Now for the most difficult trip: Deep Creek Lake, MD. The distance from Deep Creek Lake (DCL) from my home is 175 miles. In addition to the distance (which would take the Bolt to its range limits during the winter) there is also a net elevation gain of ~2,000 feet. Add in the fact we would most likely be traveling to DCL in the dead of winter too. A 175 mile trip with a 2,000 foot elevation climb in freezing conditions in the winter...that's already 2.5 strikes. Now looking at the charging infrastructure map, and you may think the Bolt strikes out completely:

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How about a CCS station west of Hagerstown? Anyone? Bueller?

There are a couple of CCS stations in Hagerstown, MD, and then.....scorched earth as far as CCS charging infrastructure goes. Not a single CCS station west of Hagerstown...nothing till Columbus, Ohio actually. In fact, there is only 1 "public" L2 charging station in the DCL area that really isn't even is a Tesla destination charging site at the Lake Pointe Inn in McHenry, MD that hosts a single Bolt-compatible L2 charging unit alongside the Tesla-only stations. According to Plugshare, you need to ask the front desk to gain access to the charging stations.

So for all intents and purposes, it would seem 120V trickle charging would be the only reliable way of charging a Bolt during a winter ski trip to DCL (a shaky proposition at best). There IS a place of lodging we've stayed at in the past where it would be feasible to hook up a 120V charging cord, so 120V charging is a realistic option. Only question (a big question) is whether 120V overnight charging would provide enough juice for local driving around the DCL area in addition to giving enough charge to make it back to at least the Hagerstown CCS station 109 miles away. I simply do not know the answer to that question.

Final rating for a Deep Creek Lake trip summed up as a gif (as in the kind of intestinal fortitude you would need to make this trip):
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Huge balls!

So in closing, 2 out of the 3 trips seem like they could be completed without much concern. The Deep Creek Lake trip, however, would be a daunting task indeed. It would seem without either a CCS station located smack dab in the middle of DCL and Hagerstown (or a CCS/true public L2 charging station in the DCL area), a trip out there in the winter in a Bolt is a sketchy proposition. Maybe I should hit up the local ski resort and inform them of the benefits a couple of L2 charging stations on their property would bring...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My twisted, crazy, and ridiculous journey to the Bolt

Someone made a request for me to give the details on how I ended up leasing 5 different vehicles since last December without taking a huge bath financially. Well, now is the time to tell that story! 

A year ago, I owned only a 2012 Volt along with a leased 2013 C-Max Energi. I leased the C-Max for 2 years, and it was fine for what it was (mini CUV-ish car that could haul 5), but I found that the electric range was simply lacking. The fact that EV performance did not match its ICE performance was another downside. Plus it wasn’t exactly a looker, though exterior design is not that high on my priority list….just can’t be Prius or Leaf ugly. ;) Too many times I found myself babying the C-Max so that I didn’t burn any gas on my 17 mile commute…especially in the winter. That is simply no fun! I ended up deciding to just turn in the C-Max and walk away.

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My driveway during simpler times.
At that point in time, the Bolt was rumored to be going on sale in late 2016, so I started thinking to myself, “How can I bridge the ~1 year gap to the Bolt for the least amount of money possible?”

Around that time, I had read about a crazy cheap Cruze Limited lease deal that Volt owners could take advantage of due to a Volt owner-specific $2,500 rebate being offered by GM. There were reports of people leasing a 2016 Cruze Limited for $12/month after all incentives! I decided that I could suck up driving a Cruze until the Bolt landed. 

After contacting some local dealers, I found one that was willing to lease a Cruze to me for 24 months for $0 down, $85/month (the higher payment is due to Maryland charging FULL sales tax on a lease, and not just the monthly payment like most other states. Screw you, MD!). I almost ended up walking out on the deal (supposedly they made a "math error"), but eventually signed it. Combined with the $300 in Visa e-gift cards the dealership tossed in PLUS the $700 Costco gift card for using the Costco Auto buying program, my final effective payment for the Cruze was $43/month! Tax alone should have been $54/month, so that tells you how ridiculous a deal it was.

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The '16 Cruze joined the fleet...and was promptly buried by a foot of snow.
So I had my cheap bridge to the Bolt parked in my driveway, so how did I end up leasing ANOTHER 4 cars, you ask?

Soon after I signed the Cruze lease deal, I heard about a fellow Volt owner that also got a dirt cheap Cruze lease that ended up selling the leased Cruze for $3,000 profit! What?! You can sell leased cars….and sell them for a profit?? No way, I thought. I got in touch with that person, and he said he used a new company (name rhymes with Creepy) that offered to buy his Cruze for $3,000 more than he owed on his Cruze (remaining lease payments + lease end buyout price combined). That person stated that if the car did not sell within 30 days of the Cruze being listed on the company's website, they would send a truck, cut him a check, buy his Cruze and haul it away! Which is what ended up happening.

After some careful research, I found the company was actually legit (the company has basically gone bankrupt now though...probably made too many money-loser deals like my Cruze!), so I had my Cruze appraised. They offered $3,700 more than I owed on the Cruze, so I said, “Hell yes, list it!” Obviously, no one bought the Cruze in the 30 days it was listed (the company that rhymes with Creepy offered me waaaaaay too much for my Cruze. You could have bought a new one for less than their asking price). They showed up with a truck, cut me a $3,700 check, and that was the end of my short-lived Cruze lease. I barely put 200 miles on it all said and told.

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Bye-bye Cruze, I barely knew you.
Of course, selling the Cruze would leave me with only 1 car, and I still needed 2, so what did I do? Lease another dirt cheap Cruze, of course! Cruze #2 wasn’t nearly as good a deal as Cruze #1 ($124/month, $0 down), but still dirt cheap for a $21k car. The $2,500 Volt owner incentive had expired, and there was also no $700 Costco card which explains the difference.
Around the time I leased Cruze #2, I found out that GM had slashed the price of a Spark EV lease to its lowest ever price point! Plus they were offering a free $500 Bosch L2 charging unit with a Spark EV purchase/lease. Sensing I could make a deal, I ended up leasing a 2016 Spark EV 2LT with fast charging for just $150 a month for 36 months. I was planning on flipping Cruze #2 for more “rhymes with Creepy” profit in order to get rid of that lease. However, that did not go according to plan.

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Welcome to the family, Green Machine. Though it was more like a short-term guest.
I had “Rhymes with Creepy” list my car, but this time they did not give a 30 day purchase guarantee, and it turned out no one else was willing to pay the price they listed Cruze #2 for. Uhoh, now I was stuck with 3 cars in the driveway when I only needed 2. What’s a guy to do?! I contacted the dealer I leased the Spark EV from, and asked what they could give me for my Cruze. Turns out their offer would put me $1,600 in the hole. Not too good. I then asked about trading in the Cruze and leasing a 2017 Volt LT. It turns out in Maryland I can get a tax credit for a newly leased car equal to 6% of the value of the trade-in price of the Cruze, so after factoring in the sales tax credit, I would only be $800 in the hole. I would also qualify for a $2,300 MD EV tax rebate for leasing a Volt, so I ended up rolling that negative equity into a Volt lease, and even with the negative equity managed to lease the Volt for $261/month, $0 down. So the good news was the Cruze was gone and replaced with a 2017 Volt (yuuuuuge upgrade), and I was getting a $2,300 check in the mail from MD soon. The bad news? I still had 3 cars in the driveway!

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Welcome, Red Volt!
The Spark EV had almost 2,000 miles on it by now, so I hatched this new plan of trying to trade it in for ANOTHER Spark EV, since that was the cheapest car I could lease. I would get ANOTHER $500 Bosch L2 unit in addition to any new deal. So I again asked the same dealer about swapping my Lime Green Spark EV for a Salsa Red one. He must have thought I was crazy, but helped me anyways since I was giving the guy a steady stream of purchases to pad his sales count. After again combining all the crazy incentives ($11,475 in all), I was able to trade in my green Spark EV for a red one for LESS than the original Spark EV’s payment (even with another $800 negative equity rolled in!). Spark EV lease #2 was actually $2/month cheaper than Spark EV #1. I had officially gone mad flipping cars!

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Adios Green Machine, hello Red Bandit!
So armed with a brand new Spark EV with just 17 miles on the clock (and a new $500 Bosch L2 EVSE), I ended up listing that Spark on EBay. I was hoping to break even on the transaction so that I could reduce my driveway to just 2 cars. I posted an EBay auction advertising my red Spark EV and L2 Bosch EVSE for $15,400, and a few hours before the auction expired, a person in Florida bid and won the auction! I ended up having to pay EBay a $125 auction fee. Since the buyout price of the Spark EV was $15,250, I had basically broken even on the sale of the Spark EV. Whew! The buyer arranged his own shipping, and a little while later Spark EV #2 was on its way to its new owner in Florida. I was back down to a 2012 Volt and 2017 Volt in the driveway.

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The Red Bandit heads out the revolving door of cars that is my driveway.
So that brings me to today, where I am on the verge of having my Bolt EV delivered to me. But what about when the Bolt arrives, you ask?? I’ll once again have 3 cars in the driveway! No problem! I am in the process of finding a person in MD to take over my 2017 Volt lease, and it should be out of my hands by late January. Once my ’17 Volt is transferred, that should bring an end to the lease flipping chapter of my life.

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Back to sanity...for the time being.
So, to recap my leases I’ve signed over the past 12 months:
  • Dec 2015 – leased Cruze #1 for $85/month, $0 down (sold for $4,700 profit 3 months later)
  • March 2016 – leased Cruze #2 for $124/month
  • May 2016 – leased Spark EV #1 for $150/month
  • June 2016 – leased 2017 Volt for $261/month (traded in Cruze #2)
  • July 2016 – leased Spark EV #2 for $148/month (traded in Spark EV #1)
  • September 2016 – sold Spark EV #2 on EBay (broke even)
  • (future) January 2017 – acquire Bolt EV, transfer Volt lease

So that is a recap of my crazy year of lease flipping summed up in a single blog post. :)