Sunday, March 29, 2015

More problems with the chargers at work

Talk about people behaving badly …

If you give something away, anything, folks will be motivated to take as much of it as they can.  You can see this at “fairs” (like health fairs and employment fairs) as people walk about with the bags, pens, calendars, and fliers from the various commercial booths they have visited.  Such is the case at work.  When employees feel under-compensated or under-appreciated, they look to any perks on the job to help them cope.  In this case, the perk is up to four hours of free electricity.  The funny thing is that it really does not add up to much value.  Most cars will top-off after just two or three hours, and they typically draw between 3Kw and 6Kw while charging.  This amounts to as much as 24Kwh of electricity, worth about $0.87 to $3.48, with most users getting about $1.80.  The value of the stuff collected at a fair is worth more than this.  If this were added up over five days a week for 50 weeks, that amounts to about $450 (or much less if you have PG&E’s favorable electric-car rates).  While this does amount to a meaningful lump of change, it does not amount to any kind of life-changing money, especially for folks that have spent $25,000 to $40,000 on an electric car.

So, back to my work situation.  Because the chargers are free for the first four hours, people feel motivated to charge up as much as possible.  But there is also a parking issue on campus, so it is very inconvenient to find a vacant parking spot once you do finish charging.  These two conditions have created a real problem.  Folks who connect their cars to the charging stations have to run back out to their cars before the four hours elapses and unplug their cars.  But they don’t move their cars away because there is no convenient parking.  Today I noted three cars still parked in front of the charging station while the charging cable was disconnected from the car (and hanging from the charger).  It is also causing desperate folks to park in spaces beside the charges that are not for parking.  In one case, it was blocking access to trash facilities, and in another it was parked along the curb where no parking is permitted, creating a slight traffic flow issue.  I have also heard of folks charges being interrupted by others desperate to get some juice who unplug others to connect to their own cars.
While adding more charging stations would ease some of the problems, I believe that the more affordable solution is to stop giving away the electricity.  If there are so many electric cars that 12 charging hookups won’t meet the need, I would say that the company incentive to encourage electric car use was a huge success.  Instead, I would suggest charging a very reasonable eight cents per Kwh delivered.  This would dis-incent those who only want something for free but can otherwise drive to-and-from work comfortably on a single charge, and it would still reward folks for driving electric by subsidizing (but not eliminating) their charging costs.  (That would be $1.28 instead of $3.48.)  The rate could increase dramatically after four hours of charging to ensure sufficient access to the charging stations during the day.  Of course, if it were up to me, I’d have a pool of portable solar panel roofs that you would just prop up above your car and plug in where ever you happen to find a sunny parking spot.  Your car would get some badly needed shade and you’d get some free juice for your battery too.  (By my calculations, you’d get about 13 to 14 miles worth.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kids and the i-MiEV

I think Dr. Seuss had a hand in designing the newer electric cars (except for the Tesla).  I drive the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is odd-looking at best.  And the Nissan Leaf is no better.  And BMW tried to give the new electric i3 a real sense of style, but missed the mark in my opinion.  While the Fiat 500 has a little bit of cute-ness going for it, its cramped rear quarters makes it an impractical choice for many.  And the Think City, the Scion iQ, and the Smart are just as peculiar to look at.  Surely these cars are examples of Dr. Seuss’ design works.  At least the i-MiEV has an ample interior.  A number of my passengers have remarked how they were surprised that the car has as much interior space for how short it is outside.  And, with four doors, that interior space is easy to get to.  (The i3 is similarly useful inside.)  But it seems that the biggest fans of this car are kids.
If Dr. Seuss had designed a car

I have a niece and nephew (seven and five years old) who actually enjoy the car and its funky look on short trips.  They call it the “Purple Car”, which is the same color as their favorite afternoon hangout in San Jose - the "Purple Building" (also known as the Children's Discovery Museum).  Sometimes they call the car the “funny car” – I’m guessing because of its looks.  Of course "funny car" is both a compliment and a slap in the face from them.  Funny is endearing and welcoming, which I believe was Dr. Seuss’ goal in the design of all of his characters and their possessions.  The only problem here is that the people forking out hard-earned money for these cars are no longer children.
The BMW i3 and its unconventional styling

Here is my theory on why electric cars look so off from normal.  Most normal looking cars attract a lot of buyers.  Sexy looking cars attract buyers in droves.  Only the price of these sleek looking sedans keeps the buyers at bay.  So, why aren’t electric cars sexy looking and affordable?  Manufacturers can only build so many electric cars in their early production runs (typically fewer than 10,000).  So, they need to reduce the demand for these cars.  There are two approaches: raise the price or mess with the looks.  Unfortunately, early electric car buyers have been very value savvy, so a jacked up price had better offer superior value (which is very hard to deliver).  So, rather than following Tesla’s expensive lead, manufacturers follow the alternative and lean on styling to dissuade most buyers.  Only those drivers with a sturdy constitution can find themselves heading down the street in a bug-eyed, Picasso-styled driving machine, allowing the manufacturers to meet the demand comfortably.  I expect that the volume electric vehicles to come next will be much easier to look at and be seen in.  (Check out the Chevy Bolt.)