Electric Vehicles and Hurricane Ian

Each time a natural disaster occurs people who oppose electric vehicles ask us to imagine how much worse it would be if all vehicles were electric. It’s a powerful argument, without electricity how are electric vehicles going to recharge, especially if the power is out for a prolonged period? Electric vehicle proponents do not mention such things but if we are honest with ourselves at times like this a sneaking doubt does creep in that maybe we made a mistake going all electric for our transportation.

During natural disasters stories often circulate about how electric vehicles fared much better than imagined and maybe even thrived when compared to gasoline vehicles. It’s counter intuitive, I mean how is that even possible? Hurricane Ian left millions without power in central Florida, and tragically many lost their lives or properties during the disaster.

I examined plug-share to see if rapid charge stations were operational or just dark and useless. I was surprised to see that fairly close to landfall many rapid charging stations were working and drivers were able to charge their cars.

Sarasota Superchargers operational

Sarasota Supercharger operational.

Not only was a driver able to charge he noted that lines for an adjacent gas station were very long. So long they blocked access to the supercharger it was necessary to take a diversion.

Supercharger has both cell service and internet service

Port Charlotte – Closer to landfall. Electrify America station working.

Closer still to landfall than Sarasota, Port Charlotte had an operational Walmart rapid charger provided by Electrify America. Service was intermittent but a driver was able to get a partial charge. As is the norm with natural disasters both Tesla and Electrify America provide free charging sessions. The opposite is true for gasoline drivers when gasoline goes up in price. Florida had to pass anti price gouging laws that apply during hurricanes.

Very close to landfall stations are working intermittently

Tampa has free charging for all

Further North in Tampa stations are all operating normally. All on free vend.

Tamps Electrify America Stations all on free vend.

Despite what people tell you, electric vehicles are not a problem during natural disasters and maybe be better off than their gasoline counterparts. Gas stations will run out of gas until supplies can be re-established, panic buying will be rife. Once electricity service is restored rapid charging stations come online, one doesn’t have to wait for a new delivery to come by truck, it’s instantaneous.

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New Rapid Charger at Newton Nissan

ABB Rapid Charger at Newton Nissan

Newton Nissan have replaced their previous CHAdeMO rapid charger with a new unit from ABB that has both CHAdeMO and CCS ports. This is in preparation for the Nissan Ariya EV which will have a CCS port instead of CHAdeMO. So far so good, ABB units are solid.

However… Newton Nissan have chosen a 50kW rapid charger that is essentially the same as the one it replaces that was installed almost ten years ago. Many charging stations being installed today charge at 150kW or 350 kW. I presume the dealer are trying to minimize the cost of installation as much as possible, The transformer is the same one the previous charger was attached to. In addition the charging station has a payment terminal which the dealer representative told me will be activated in the future. Right now the charging station can be used for free.

I used my Tesla CHAdeMO adapter to test the unit and got 40kW charge rate, which isn’t unusual with Tesla and the CHAdeMO adapter. The adapter is limited to 50kW. Interestingly when the CHAdeMO adapter is attached to the Model 3 it now pops up a Supercharger Tips screen, many of the tips also apply to third party rapid chargers. I haven’t rapid charged my Model 3 since before Covid-19 so I’m not sure when the tips screen was introduced.

Charging Screen in my Model 3
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Only one LEAF on a dealer lot within 100 miles of Nissan HQ

Has Nissan stopped selling the LEAF?

I took an interest in what deals were on offer for the 2022 Nissan LEAF after reading an article regarding LEAF’s on sale for $89/month. I checked local inventory and no such deal was on offer. I then discovered there is only one Nissan LEAF on a dealer lot within 100 miles of Nissan HQ in Franklin Tennessee (as of August 7th 2021).

Newton Nissan

There is a single LEAF on the lot at Newton Nissan in Gallatin, where we bought our 2011 LEAF ten years ago. Two other dealers have a LEAF “In Transit”, Action Nissan and John Roberts Nissan. The Cool Springs dealership just a few miles from Nissan HQ have zero on the lot and zero in transit, the same applies to Downtown Nashville dealer and Nissan of Murfreesboro as well. Apparently many dealers have given up on the LEAF.

Nissan Ariya due soon

Nissan are scheduled to introduce the Ariya, their next EV. However the introduction of this car has been delayed until early 2022 in the USA. If Nissan are selling the inventory of LEAF’s prior to the introduction of the Ariya they will be out of stock well before Q4 2021.
One needs to travel up 250 miles to get any kind of choice when it comes to a Nissan EV. It’s sad to see the LEAF become insignificant in the EV marketplace after such an inspiring introduction in 2010. Hero to zero in a single decade.

Just three LEAF’s within 100 miles of Nisan HQ, two of which are “in Transit”
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Why EV’s are better in rural locations than gasoline vehicles.

Conventional wisdom suggests that electric vehicles are “city cars” and are unsuitable for those living in the countryside, especially so in more remote areas because there are few or no public charging stations for many miles. I hear this often from people who say that an EV isn’t viable for them since they live in the “boonies”.

I have always argued the opposite because access to an electrical plug is much more likely to be true at a home in rural settings rather than in the city. In the city not everyone has a garage; downtown apartments and condos are an example. In the countryside homes have ample parking space next to the home with access to multiple electrical outlets.

Closest Gas station 12.8 miles. Closest EV charging station 0 miles.

This week has brought home to me how more advantageous an electric car is compared to a gasoline vehicle. We vacationed near Granville TN, a small rural community with less than 500 inhabitants. The captain of a tour boat shared that the closest gas station is 13 miles away at Carthage, so to be sure to bear that in mind when exploring the countryside around Wildwood Resort and Marina where we were staying. I pointed out to the captain that I had just finished charging my car at the resort.

Captain Ted correctly guessed I had a Tesla. He shared that the owner of the resort owned a Tesla, which explains why a business in rural Tennessee has chosen to install two EV charging stations already. The two charging stations use the Tesla proprietary connector, which is great if you own a Tesla. Other electric vehicles that use the standard J1772 connector are out of luck. SInce Tesla vehicles make up a very large percentage of the electric vehicle fleet in the US this does make some sense, but as newer vehicles such as the VW ID.4 and Ford Mach-e are now being sold nationally this isn’t at all inclusive.

Many hotels and businesses install Tesla branded charging stations as “destination chargers”. These are ideal for an over night stay. As a result several companies now sell a J1772 to Tesla adapter which allows the driver of a non Tesla EV to charge at Tesla destination charging station. These adapters are relatively inexpensive starting at $160 on Amazon. Click here to visit Amazon.

While on our sunset boat ride Captain Ted pointed out many homes on the lake or up in the mountains near Granville. All of these home owners could wake up to a fully charged electric vehicle, much more convenient than the 12.8 mile drive to an Exxon gas station in Carthage.

Access to EV charging at the resort we are staying at makes day trips very easy, we know we can top off when we return, no need to hunt down a public charging stations at all. We don’t have to disable sentry mode or cabin overheat protection out of fear while parked that a week long stay will deplete the battery, we can recharge as often as necessary.

Sunset on Cordell Hull Lake close to Wildwood Resort and Marina, Granville TN
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How much range does your new EV really need?

Range Inflation

I’ve noticed as the range of EV’s has increased in the last ten years, the expectations of what range is adequate has also increased outpacing EV development.

When EV’s could go 100 miles, folks desired 200 miles. When 200 mile EV’s came on the market expectations increased to 250 or 300 miles. With the introduction of 300 mile EV like the Tesla Model 3, people still desire more. Tesla now sell a 400 mile Model S.

As with many things in life you can never get enough of what is desirable. It’s the human condition.

So how do you determine what range you actually need? More sounds great until you realize more range adds a lot to the cost of a EV. Spending wisely should be the goal in selecting an EV.

JP’s EV Range “Rule of Thumb”

Daily driving distance X 3.

That’s it in a nutshell.

When calculating your daily driving range consider your daily commute and add extra miles for a lunchtime trip for and running the family to the ballpark or a run to the store when you arrive home.

I created this rule of thumb after driving 160,000 EV miles over ten years.

This rule of thumb means you will not need to charge away from home. Charge overnight and wake up to full “tank” everyday.

How I arrived at my rule of thumb

If your daily driving needs are say 60 miles, clearly the EV must be able to travel 60 miles. That’s one times the daily driving needs.

EV’s can lose 30-50% of their stated range in frigid winter temperatures thanks to the need to heat the cabin and the loss of efficiency of a cold battery. So a 60 mile EV may only be able to achieve 30 miles in the darkest and coldest night. So 120 miles, or twice the daily needs is essential to be sure you can travel the 60 miles you need.

The next thing to consider is EV’s may lose up to 30% of their range as the battery ages naturally through battery degradation. You will also want to leave a 20% buffer for unexpected needs and to avoid range anxiety as the distance to empty decreases through the day. That’s another 50% you might lose to degeneration and a reasonable safety net. So another 60 miles is needed to compensate for these losses.

So if your daily driving needs are 60 miles, then you need an EV that can go 180 miles at the very least. More is always better, if you can afford more then there is no harm in buying more. If mone is tight, then be sure you do not buy less than three times your daily needs and you will be fine.

Workplace Charging can reduce the rule of thumb.

If you are fortunate enough to have workplace charging you can calculate your need as 2 1/2 times your daily needs. So the 60 mile example used above would suggest a range of 150 miles.

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VW ID.4 and Mustang Mach-e buying experiences

Our 2011 Nissan LEAF is still going strong, however its time to shop around for a replacement EV before it needs replacement. Most EV’s can’t be bought on the spot at a dealer you have to order and wait, sometimes many months.

2021 sees the introduction of both the VW ID.4 and Ford Mustang Mach-e so we decided to take a test drive of these vehicles to help decide which vehicle to order.

Mustang Mach-e at Miracle Ford (conveniently blocking the charging station)

I’ve seen a grey Mach-e at Miracle Ford so contacted them via their website to try and arrange a test drive. The individual I worked with wasn’t sure if they had a Mach-e or not. I pointed out I had seen one out the front of the dealership parked in the charging spot. After 24 hours I had not been able to get an answer from the dealership. they went radio silent on me. Weird.

VW ID.4 in Blue like the one at VW or North Nashville

I had made several drive bys of the local VW dealer but had not seen an ID.4 at the dealership. I reached out to them via their website and got a test drive for 11am Saturday without much fuss. I asked them to be sure it was charged before we arrived which they confirmed they would.

VW Test Drive Experience

I was rather skeptical the VW dealership even had a vehicle to drive but we went anyway. We were greeted upon arrival and the staff said that Matt would be with us shortly and to go ahead and take a look at the vehicle. It was inside the dealership showroom, that’s why I hadn’t seen it on drive bys. We took a quick look and Matt arrived and opened a large door to the dealership and drove the car outside ready to drive. As we talked to Matt we found out that he had owned an early Nissan LEAF much like ours in the past and was clearly familiar with EV’s. He soon found out we owned two EV’s and were replacing the LEAF. After taking copies of our driving licenses and insurance he handed us the keys and asked if we needed to know anything before driving. We asked if we could drive it for 30 minutes and he said no problem and off we went.

Karen drove the car initially. One of the rear windows was open and we pulled over in a parking lot to figure out how to close it. Having watched videos online we knew there were just two window buttons and you had to press a certain spot to activate the rear windows in order to close them. We got the window closed. It was a beautiful day and the car was getting warm inside. Before pulling off we decided to put the A/C on. After about two minutes we were still struggling to find the setting on the center screen, the A/C controls were all grayed out and unresponsive. Eventually I spotted a button on the screen which turned the AC on and all the controls lit up and could be adjusted. Finally we had A/C.

We drove on both side streets and the highway. The car was smooth and quiet, the interior was slightly bigger than the LEAF by a few inches in width and length. I had expected a bigger car. The perforated seats were comfortable enough, although the seat cushion was fairly short and didn’t support your leg all the way to the knee which I suspect could get uncomfortable on long journeys. The drivers seat seemed much more comfortable than the passenger seat for some reason. Maybe it had been adjusted.

We parked at an empty parking lot and toured the car inside and out. Taking our time as we did so. It was great to be able to look the car over without someone hovering close by asking if you had any questions.

I drove the car on the return leg to the dealership. Acceleration was OK, much like a LEAF, but a far cry from Tesla like rocket-ship acceleration. I came to the conclusion the ID.4 cross-shops favorably with a LEAF or similar vehicle. Stopped at a red light I looked at the vehicle controls. The car had exactly 90 miles on the odometer, 20 of which we had driven. The car had not been charged for 90 miles according to the stats. Most likely it was charged on arrival at the dealership and test driven a few times without being recharged since.

Upon return the dealership Matt showed us the massage seat control we missed on our test drive. It was gentle, but I can see how it would prevent a stiff back on a long journey. Matt didn’t push us to buy, he gave as a glossy brochure and answered questions about the various models, colors and availability. He confirmed the dealership was certified and trained to service the car, a requirement before they could begin sales and deliveries.

Ford test drive ‘experience’

We drove to Miracle Ford after driving the ID.4 to see if they would let us drive the Mach-e without an appointment to do so. The car wasn’t out front so I went inside to enquire. I was greeted on entering and asked about the Mach-e. I was informed they only had one Mach-e which was being used as a courtesy vehicle for customers to use while their car was being serviced. I couldn’t test drive it in case a customer might need a loaner vehicle. An unlikely scenario at 2pm on a Saturday.

That was weird. I asked if we could at least sit in it. The salesman looked around and saw it in the service bay entrance. he said we were lucky it had been returned to service for cleaning. We sat in the vehicle (it was very dirty, the customer who borrowed it had trashed it). There was no key and we couldn’t turn the car on. We took a look around the vehicle. It seems nice enough and sits a little bit higher than the ID.4.

We never got to drive the car, or even switch it on. I expect it will cross-shop with the Tesla Model Y which we test drove last year. I asked the salesman if the dealership was certified to service the vehicle. He assured me they were and but they hadn’t sent techs on Mach-e specific training ‘yet’. He could see I was skeptical and assured me they know electric car technology because of the hybrids they serviced. It became clear why we couldn’t drive the Mach-e, Miracle Ford are not certified to sell or service the Mach-e. Why Ford have provided the dealer with a car they can’t sell or service is puzzling.

I couldn’t get the trunk to open using the “kick sensor”. I presumed it was because it was turned off. The salesman informed me the Mach-e doesn’t have a kick sensor. The sales staff have not been trained either.

Summary

VW dealers are geared up and ready to sell the ID.4 here in the US. Their dealers are trained, they have knowledgeable sales staff who know EV’s well. They are open for EV business. Come on in the temperature is fine.

Ford by comparison don’t have the local dealers trained or certified to sell the Mach-e. Yes the car is on the streets, you just can’t drive one yet unless you take your gas guzzler in for service. Ford are closed for EV business until such time they can get their dealers on board and willing to sell the car. If I do find a dealer able to sell one to me, where would I take it for service? I wouldn’t take it to Miracle Ford.

Update: Ford’s national website allows one to search for dealers based upon their capability. I filtered looking for EV Certified Repair Locations. Miracle Ford is not one of them, the salesman at Miracle Ford told me ‘an alternative truth’. Shocker! I know. The only dealers with listed Mach-e inventory that are also certified to work on the vehicles are in Franklin or Clarksville. The Franklin dealer are applying market price markups over MSRP. It looks like Clarksville is my only hope for a test drive.

Ford Certified Electric Vehicle Locations in the Nashville Area.
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North Dakota Finally Gets a Supercharger

Supercharger at Fargo ND

On May 29th 2020 a supercharger opened in Fargo ND. North Dakota is the very last state in the lower 48 to get supercharging capability. The supercharger location is a V3 installation allowing up to 250 kW charge rate. The state is due to get five more superchargers across the state, three of which are already under construction.

Its not possible to cross North Dakota using superchargers until these additional stations open. When built the North Dakota superchargers will form the northernmost cross country route across the US.

North Dakota is sparsely populated with about 800,000 residents. Yet it is almost twice the size of Tennessee. North Dakota is an Oil Shale state so one can imagine electric vehicles are not on the top of Santa’s wish list there.

The last two states to get a supercharger outside of the lower 48 will be Alaska and Hawaii. Neither of these states have any planned installations.

Current and Future Supercharger locations for ND

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Getting paid to *not* charge your EV

FleetCarma and SmartCharge Nashville have partnered to offer program participants the opportunity to earn up to $20 per month to avoid charging their EV’s during peak periods. That may not sound like a lot of money, but for most EV owners $20 per month in electricity is enough to make their electric motoring totally free for the entire month. $20 will buy approximately 200 kWh. A typical modern EV can travel 4 miles per kWh, so that’s up to 1,000 miles of free driving!!

SmartCharge Nashville works with Nashville Electric Service (NES) and Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) and they offer to pay EV owners enrolled in the program to NOT charge their EV’s during specific periods when the utilities anticipate high electricity demand. This pilot program is in effect from May 1st 2020 to September 3oth 2020.

Click image to read the recent email

Today I got my first request to NOT charge my car on May 7th 2020 from 5-8 pm. If I comply I will be paid $5 which will be paid to me via Paypal at the end of the pilot. How do FleetCarma know if I charged my car or not? As a program participant I agreed to install a device plugged into the OBDII port of our LEAF. This device sends data back via cell signal to FleetCarma who operate commercial fleet tracking for their customers. There is no report or information to submit manually, the data is collected automatically making it very easy for the program participant. This gives FleetCarma and SmartCharge Nashville a lot of data about driving and charging habits. So far we have been paid $100 for this data. The data collection program is over, so a new pilot program has begun to see if it is possible to influence electric car owners charging habits with a simple incentive. To read more about SmartCharge Nashville visit their website.

In all of April the LEAF consumed just 50 kWh of energy due to Shelter in Place, so mileage was below average last month. This $5 payment tomorrow will pay for all of Aprils’ electricity used by our LEAF. As you can see from the screen shot to the right, FleetCarma give us a lot of data in return for being program participants. We also get battery health and other information about the car.

Full details of the latest SmartCharge Nashville pilot program

 

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Is the Tesla Model 3 a puncture magnet?

Trips to the tire shop are becoming too frequent

My Tesla Model 3 has now had its third puncture since new in just over 28,000 miles in just over a year. Two of those punctures were with relatively new tires. By comparison my Nissan LEAF has had one puncture in 133,000 miles over eight years.

I’m traveling the same roads and parking in the same garage as I did with my LEAF. I wonder if the weight of the car is factor combined with lower profile tires. The LEAF weighs 3,375 lbs, the Model 3 weighs 4,072 lbs. I carry an electric tire pump in the Tesla’s trunk at all times.

Here are the intervals where the punctures occured.

12/20/2018 @ 4,165 miles

9/9/2019 @ 19,601 miles

1/31/2020 @ 28,202 miles (1,988 miles on new tires).

In each case a screw was found in the tire and the tire patched. I purchased road hazard warranty with the new tires I got at Discount Tire. Given the frequency of issues I’m glad that I did.

 

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Phantom Braking – An alternative explanation

Most users of Tesla’s autopilot software have experienced “phantom braking” while driving along the interstate. This often occurs approaching bridges and overpasses.

ConventionalĀ Explanations

Conventional wisdom explain phantom braking as ‘precautionary logic’ in Autopilot to avoid hitting a vehicle crossing the road perpendicular to the traveled lane. One of the first Autopilot fatalities occurred in Florida killing its driver Joshua Brown. Autopilot and its driver failed to brake for a tractor trailer crossing a Florida Turnpike. The theory behind phantom braking is that Autopilot confuses an up coming bridge or overpass as a vehicle crossing the lane of traffic so engages emergency brakes.

I have personally experienced this phantom braking. One can anticipate which bridges are most likely to trigger this behavior, if the road dips down just before the bridge, there is a high likelihood phantom braking will occur.

Need for an alternative explanation

One thing that has always puzzled me is that if autopilot has detected what it thinks is a crossing vehicle ahead, why doesn’t it come to a stop or at least a very low speed? The phantom braking is typically very brief and the vehicle may slow by 15-20 miles per hour and then accelerates back to its previous set speed.

Slowing down by 15 Mph on a interstate isn’t emergency braking. It is however annoying as heck, and could prove dangerous if someone is tailgating you.

An Alternative explanation based on speed limits and an overly aggressive braking response to them

Church Street bridge/overpass on I-65 South

Recent experience has lead me to believe that phantom braking can often be explained by a change in speed limits, especially if the change is wildly wrong.

On I-65 south in Nashvile TN just past Charlotte Avenue the road dips down ahead of the Church Street overpass. I have experienced phantom braking several time here. Recently I noticed that during one of the phantom braking events the vehicle displayed a speed limit of 30 instead of 55!! The speed limit reverted to 55 after going under the bridge.

Could it be that due to a GPS error the car thought I had turned onto Church Street, or maybe the ramp to church street and reduced speed suddenly? This would explain why phantom braking is momentary and why the car resumes its set speed a soon as it resets the speed limit to the actual road speed limit.

Autosteer Speed restricted

In a recent video from Bjorn Nyland he interrupts his monologue with the exclamation “Phantom Brake” as his Model 3 brakes suddenly approaching a tunnel. Conventional wisdom would say that this is due to Autopilot mistaking the tunnel approach as a vehicle crossing its path. However if you watch the video closely you notice that the speed limit drops by 10 km/h approaching the tunnel and displays a warning that it has restricted Autosteer speed. Just moments before this warning appears the car display shows that for a brief moment heavy regenerative braking was applied. Unfortunately the video is very blurry, no doubt due to the sudden braking, I also include that image below as well.

Max Regen for just a moment blurs video image

Feel free to watch Bjorn’s video. Advance to 10:12 to see where the Phantom Braking event occurred.

What should Tesla Do?

When speed limits reduce, autopilot should gradually reduce speed for the first second then progressively apply brakes if the speed limit reduction remains true. This would avoid unnecessary aggressive braking on interstates and highways. This can be very disconcerting for drivers and passengers alike.

Tesla should also eliminate speed limits on ramps to avoid GPS position errors triggering an inaccurate speed limit.

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