This morning in a relatively nondescript location on the North Shore, Uber, the private on-demand car service, soft launched with rider zero, Kala Alexander. The Uber launch team has been in town quietly scoping out the transportation options. The business is a disrupter to the traditional taxi and limousine car services. I got a chance to talk to one of the Uber reps and he told me the model is quite simple. They sign up independent car services that have applied and received a Motor Carrier Certificate from the State Public Utilities Commission. This is the same certification a limo service would be required to have. Uber works out a pricing agreement and with all the t&c completed the car services becomes an Uber Partner. Uber has no hardware on the ground. Uber hires an Associate General Manager and a Community Manager for Hawaii to work the market and partner relations. The rest is done with with Uber mobile app which you can download to your iPhone or Android smartphones. You don't have to hail a taxi which evidently you can't do in Hawaii anyway. Instead you use your Uber app and find the car nearest your location and schedule a ride. In a recent blog post, Uber makes it simple to share the fare with another rider. This way you can easily divide the fare amongst multiple riders eliminating that awkward moment of settling up the bill. Right now the Uber service on Oahu is Uber Black. Since the service is ramping up, don't expect cars to be available everywhere. Uber is signing up Partners as we speak. It will be interesting to see how this service takes shape in Honolulu. There are no plans yet for neighbor islands. In other cities across the country, variations of lower cost options are cropping up due to competition. But for now Uber Black is comparable to your own private car service and you can expect the service to be Uber comfortable.
I love these screens on the Chevy Volt's dashboard. This one shows the ratio of electric miles verses gas miles between charges. These are helpful as you hone your driving patterns to get the most efficient mix of electric and gas powered driving. As gas prices go up, obviously you want to fuel up at charging stations. If you are plugging in at home it's best to be equipped with a PV system or else you will be refueling with expensive HECO gas generated electricity. I was impressed with the overall performance of the Volt. I can't compare it to other EVs but relative to my Acura TSX, the Volt had pretty good pick up. Something I did not expect from an electric car. As far as the ride goes, the Volt was not as smooth as my TSX. Let's face it, I am spoiled. One of the things you need to consider is whether you are dependent on the air conditioner. In the summer the AC is a must, especially in afternoon rush hour traffic. Keep in mind this will sap your electric charge. The AC will in consume 16% of the power from the battery. With the AC off the climate electrical consumption was 3%. I drove the car around with the AC off most of the time. For recharging, one of the dashboard screens gives you an estimate of how long it will take to charge up from a 120V vs. 240V outlet. Generally speaking if you plug it in at home you will need about 8-10 hours to fully recharge. A full charge was taking about 4 hours from the Better Place charging station at Topa Tower. Overall it was a fun experience driving the Chevy Volt. I must thank Chris Colquitt from GM and especially Shauna Goya from Comm Pac for allowing me to park at Topa Tower, easily accessing the charging station. That made all the difference. An electric vehicle is definitely in my future. It will just depend on price point and relative ease of recharging. Now I know what to expect.
Driving around town during Thanksgiving will easily take you beyond the 44 mile range of the Volt's battery pack. When driving an electric car the first thing you will notice is how quiet it is. There is no revving of the engine and the car moves as silent as the wind. So I was curious what it would sound like once the engine kicked in. Let me tell you, it was pretty uneventful going from battery to gas generator. I would not have noticed had it not been for the change in the power flow graphic. As soon as the gas generator engages, the engine appears in the graphic. Up until then it was just the graphic of the battery. In the Volt, the gas generator is not an engine per se. It is not connected to the transmission. Instead the gas generator is used to generate electricity to move the car. It does not fully recharge the battery although I did notice a small charge in the battery when idling. The gas generator works in tandem with the battery and in this mode gas efficiency seems better than a purely gas powered car. Once I pulled into the garage, I did notice the gas generator running. It made me think about the next time I would be able to charge up the battery to save my gas. Day 5 - Overall performance.
There are obvious driving patterns that conserve battery power. I noticed when driving around town, where there is a lot of braking and accelerating the battery will deplete faster than when you are on the freeway. Another observation is that the battery us used less if you are going downhill. But if you are doing round trips like be back and forth to town, then going downhill one way will result in going uphill on the return trip. It evens out in the end. I did notice that if you could minimize rapid acceleration and braking, battery power is preserved. At the end of the day, the Volt used more battery miles from town to Pearl City and less from Pearl City to town. This due to the downhill effect going from Pearl City to town. Much of the car's battery performance is visible real time. The Chevy Volt has a power flow screen that is addictive to watch. It shows when the battery is feeding the transmission and when it is getting a regenerative buffer. Unlike the Toyota Prius, the Chevy Volt does not recharge the battery. Regenerative buffer is just a small charge flowing back into the battery. Day 4: Activating the gas generator.
The main thought that crossed my mind was to come up with a plan to get recharged each day. When Chris Colquitt (GM) gave me the overview yesterday, we were in the parking garage of Topa Tower. The building conveniently provides 4 stalls with EV charging stations from Better Place. The good thing is that Better Place is providing free charging until the end of December 2012. The bad thing was only 2 EV stations were working. To hedge my bets I left home early and claimed a stall at 6am in the morning. I usually go for a run first thing in the morning but I did not want to take a chance that the two working stalls would be occupied. Lucky I did that since stall 3 & 4 were still out of order. I went for my run after parking at Topa Tower. Lesson of the day, you become very conscious of the battery charge. Fully charged you get 44 miles. As soon as you go beyond 44 miles the gas generator kicks in. Psychologically the system makes you want to minimize the use of gasoline as much as possible. It's as if that tank is held as a precious reserve. When I picked up the Chevy Volt at the end of the day it appeared the Better Place stalls 3&4 were repaired and operational. The BP promotion is a timely one and if you can take advantage of it, you should. To find EV charging stations near you, including the BP ones you go to this site built by local app developers, Mavens LLC. Day 3: Optimal driving patterns
Thanks to Shauna Goya of Communications Pacific and Chris Colquitt from GM for the one week test drive of the Chevy Volt. I've not only wanted to drive an electric vehicle (EV) but wanted to understand the subtle changes in driving routine when filling up with electricity. The following posts will be my experience over the course of the week driving the Volt to and from work. For starters, Chris gives me the 10 minute data dump on electric car operations and how to get the most efficient use out of the electric storage system. I thought when I upgraded from my Acura Integra (1996) to the TSX (2010) I went through a quantum leap in technology. Going to an EV is another quantum leap. The Volt has an electric battery that covers about 44 miles on a full charge. After that a gasoline engine charges the battery extending the vehicle another 300 miles. Starting the car is with a push of a button and everything is controlled from the display screen. I drive out of the parking lot at about 2 miles per hour as I try to adjust the AC and find the radio. Once I hit the road it's like regular driving. By the time I get to Pearl City the electric gauge has 20 miles on it, enough to get back to town. Tomorrow, I need to figure out my logistics for getting a full electric charge.
It's the classic "chicken or the egg" problem. Which came first? Is it the electric car or the charging stations? As Mike Leone of HIEV explains, customers are weary of buying an electric car because of the lack of charging stations and businesses are hesitant to install charging stations because there are so few electric cars. Enter into the picture, Frank Rogers of Green Energy Outlet (GEO). Together with Leone, they install solar panels on the roof of GEO, tie it into the electric grid and install the first ChargePoint smart plug-in for recharging. It's the first in Hawaii and the first of a wave of charging stations that, if you imagine one-day, being as easily accessible as gas stations currently are. The idea is that these charging stations can be anywhere the electric grid is. These can be installed in parking lots, gas stations and businesses. A driver simply pulls up to one of them and plugs in their car. Understandably the adoption rate is slow. You can think of it like when we went from horse and buggy to the automobile. (I'm too young but I can image.) The infrastructure to install a gas pump must have been substantial. Each gas station requires a huge tank to be buried and the plumbing installed necessary to dispense the gasoline. Now look at the proliferation of gas stations, there's one on and across every street. It will one day be the same way with charging stations, if of course the electric car takes off. That may still be a ways off. Hybrids extend the life of gasoline as a portable fuel source. Cars like the Toyota Prius recharge their batteries through regenerative braking and the gasoline engine. They never need to be plugged in. The major auto manufacturers have put so much development into the gasoline powered car it will be some time before they transition completely away from that fuel source. Honda has hinted about a 100% electric vehicle (EV) to be available in 2015. So perhaps by mid-decade we will start to see a sea change of EV automobiles on road. Nevertheless, this charging station at GEO is a significant first step in the right direction. Hats off to the pioneers like Mike Leone and Frank Rogers who are bold enough to make their vision real.
In my previous post, I decided to repair my 12 year old Integra instead of buying a new one. This past Monday, my mechanic called and said he felt it was potentially a money sink since there could be more work required for the engine. He didn't even say he thought it was fixable. Instead he said it might not be worth my while. How may mechanics tell you stuff like that and turn away work? Well it got me thinking about my alternatives. Ever since my car's been in the shop I've been looking up reviews of the Acura TSX, Volkswagen GTI, Mini Coop and Audi A3. I'll admit, I am partial to the Acura and ended up there first. I don't particularly like buying cars. It's not like going in and buying an iPod Touch or some flat screen television. This is a big financial commitment second only to buying a house. In these tight economic times it is all about cashflow and what you can afford. Do I purchase outright or lease? I thought about ownership and what that means in the case of a car. You lose 25% of the value of a car the minute you drive it off the lot. I also compared the loan payment rates to monthly lease payments. Even with a 2.9% interest rate over 5 years, you are still looking at about $450 a month in payments. With a lease it was closer to $300 per month for 39 months. After 39 months you can turn it in or buy the remaining portion of the lease. By that time there might be a good electric or hybrid car on the market. So I chose the lease option. I went down this morning, signed the papers and drove it off the lot. It was quite a difference going from 1996 technology to 2009. And you can't beat that new car smell. I love that you can pair your phone to the car's Bluetooth Hands Free option and connect up your iPod. I know I'm going to enjoy this ride.
It started last weekend and some you have seem my tweets about it. It is such a dilemma when you lose the function of your car as I did this past week. It really tests your concepts of attachment and dependencies. My car has been faithful for the past twelve years. Back in 1996 it was a brand new Acura Integra. Twelve years later, it still looks good but it has about 133K miles on it. Last weekend the engine overheated and the radiator blew. It was not a pretty sight. My decision now is whether to repair it or to get something new. Everyone I spoke to says it is a great time to buy a car. Bottomline though is that it will still put you out $20K - $30K. Some say get a used car but you still need to go through the process of selecting the right car. If I go the repair route it will cost about $2000. Question is, how many more years can I get out of the car. Kelly Blue Book value put the resale of an excellent condition Acura Integra at $1900. Am I just sinking money into an expense well? So as you can imagine I have my head wrapped around this one. After spending many brain cycles on pondering this, I decided to repair the car. The things that compel me to go the repair route first off is cost. I can deal with $2000 much better than $20K. Secondly, I actually prefer to drive my old car around. There's a certain attachment to it, but there is also a non-attachment. I am not as bothered about the scratches and dings you get at the shopping mall. If it was a new car, I would be bothered and bummed. As far as new car deals, I don't really see them. There are some low interest rate deals you can get but you are still going to pay a good chunk of money in a time when there isn't a whole lot of money to go around. Maybe I should be thinking I should contribute to the economy by buying a car but this is survival, my survival. Being without your car does make you realize how dependent you are on it. We've grown, I've grown so accustomed to having a vehicle it is hard to imagine not having one. All the things that need to change once you are without. Carpooling, bus, renting a car are all considerations. It will be at least three weeks before I get my car back so I may be exploring all these options. All this car trama hasn't made it feel like Christmas for me yet. I did feel a sense of relief though this past weekend when deciding to repair rather than buy. I am saving money that could be put to better use. I am keeping my carbon footprint relatively low by not consuming more hardware. And finally I am squeezing a little more out of what I have, staying within my means. I think those are good lessons for this Winter Solstice 2008.