Monday, April 20, 2015

Replacing my Level-2 charger

As soon as my level-2 EV charger died, I went online to find out what was now available for home use.  (This was after a futile attempt to contact the now-defunct manufacturer about servicing my old charger.)  I found some units online at Lowes, but the only unit that looked promising was the GE charging station, and it was also the most expensive.  The less expensive models lacked the amperage or the plug that I was looking for.  I found similar results at Home Depot.  Then I remembered the EV charger that was being given away at the Electric Auto Association Silicon Valley rally at De Anza College back in September.  So I dug through the business cards in my desk drawer at home and found it: Clipper Creek.

One thing that I liked about Clipper Creek is that, not only are they an American company, but they are also a California company.  That, and the price of their 32-amp charger was about $150 to $300 less than the competition’s.  I checked the Clipper Creek web site and found some specifications and installation instructions for the model I wanted (with a 220-volt plug).  I had some questions about my installation and sent an e-mail to Clipper Creek.  They responded promptly with enough information to address my concerns, so I was ready to place my order.  One change that I would have to adapt was in the orientation of the electrical outlet and housing.  The cord for my (now broken) charger exited the housing from below and wrapped around to the charger box above.  This new charger (and all the others I found for sale) limit the length of the cord to just 12 inches, forcing the cord to exit the housing from above to feed directly to the charger.  (This was the result of a newly adopted national electrical standard.) 
My Clipper Creek EV Charger installation

Just then I remembered a recall for my car that concerned a particular EV charger.  At the time, the recall was not for my charger, so I decided to wait for my annual service appointment to address it.  But suddenly I remembered the charger brand in the recall and double-checked my recall paperwork – the recall involved Clipper Creek chargers.  So, I had to get the car serviced before I could buy the charger.  This further delayed getting the new charger, but only by a few days as the dealer was able to work on my car soon after I called.  Finally, I was able to place the order with Clipper Creek (which I did online).

Much to my surprise, the charger arrived the next day (and on a Saturday, no less).  A few days later I had time to install it.  I needed to reorient the outlet, which was straight-forward and involved removing six screws, rotating the outlet in place, tucking the wires back inside the outlet box carefully, and reattaching the six screws in the new orientation.  (I also needed to cut a little more away from the opening of the plastic housing for the larger plug.)  After a couple of drill holes in the wall, two bolts, and connecting the plug to the outlet, I was ready to test the unit.  When I tested my first EV charger, I plugged everything in without worrying about problems.  This time, after having dealt with the recall (which was essentially a firmware update), I was more nervous because I wasn’t confident that the firmware update would work for my new charger model.  But, I threw the switch on the circuit breaker and the status light came on.  I connected the charger plug to the car, heard a loud click, and the car began charging.  And I let out a sigh of relief because I would no longer have to depend on the slow-charging level-1 charger that came with the car.  I could drive the distance again.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kids and the i-MiEV

I think Dr. Seuss had a hand in designing the newer electric cars (except for the Tesla, which has serious Jaguar design influences).  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.

Dr. Suess' design influences
Dr. Suess' design influences
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's awkward 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.)