Earth Day Event Makes Personal Electric Vehicle Connections
On a beautiful Spring day in Palo Alto, Saturday, April 14, EV owners offered test drives and showcased their vehicles to attendees of the 2018 Earth Day Festival in Palo Alto. The event was put on by Acterra, a Palo Alto-based group that brings people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. As an Acterra EV Ambassador, I brought my Kinetic Blue Bolt EV, and was joined by owners of Nissan Leafs, Volkswagen e-Golfs, BMW i3s, Fiat 500es, Teslas and other popular electric vehicles.
The chance to drive an EV before you buy
I was one of the folks who left their car parked and had many interesting conversations, answering questions and demonstrating features of the car, while helping people understand how much fun it is to drive an EV, and how we deal with their few shortcomings.
My car was first in line of the staged vehicles, next to a VW e-Golf and Nissan Leaf–two direct competitors. We owners had fun chatting when no visitors were around. Everyone has a story. The VW e-Golf next to my car was a late ’16, so the lease deal was amazing; after a significant down payment, just $75/month! The white ’16 Leaf behind it, owned by my friend Greg, was purchased used, at a significant cost saving over a new one. That’s a good example of how to get into EV driving without a huge initial outlay.
A Chance to Get Behind the Wheel
This event answered all of the questions
Not only were cars on display, but a number of them were also available for test drives, as seen by the orange Bolt, black BMW i3 and silver 2018 Leaf driving through the area in the photo. This gave attendees a chance to get behind the wheel and viscerally sense the smooth, quick, quiet EV benefits. There were three Bolts available, as well as the two stationary ones, so we were well-represented.
There were information booths, including Acterra, charger manufacturer ChargePoint and the City of Palo Alto. I spoke with Hiromi Kelty, City of Palo Alto utility program manager, who told me that 20 percent of Palo Altans drive EVs compared to three percent statewide. She also told me about the EV charger rebate that organizations in Palo Alto can receive when they install EV chargers–up to $30,000. For more information, go to cityofpaloalto.org/electricvehicle or call (650) 329-2241.
Some folks brought their toys
I showed my car to dozens of people and had some interesting conversations. I allowed one 6-foot-5 man to adjust my seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to see if he fit in the car and could see if he was driving. The good news is that he did fit! The bad news is that it took a while to get my driving position back to normal. But I was glad to do it.
One man, who was sharing rides in his new Tesla Model 3, brought along a battery-powered skateboard. At $1,500, it’s an expensive toy, but could be useful for traveling between mass transit and your workplace–or for good clean fun. I declined a test ride.
When the session was over, around 1:30, we put away our signs, folded our tents, and drove our EVs home. It felt like a worthwhile experience. I only hope that someone we spoke with will decide to get their own EV.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy: Steve’s Personal EV Journal
Personal: One Year with My Chevrolet Bolt EV
Event: Carl Pope Talks Climate Chamge
A Long-term Relationship
Ed. Note: Clean Fleet Report, like Steve, focuses on green machines, but we don’t assume that any technology (like battery or fuel cell electrics, is the solution. We like to assume consumers make rational choices and those choices lead to them buying a variety of different vehicles, including two-passenger sports cars like the Miata/MX-5. We view the Miata as one of the more fuel efficient vehicles in this class.
It’s great for your health to eat lean chicken and sautéed vegetables every day. But sometimes you want a big, juicy hamburger. The MX-5 Miata is an automotive treat that I’ve loved for 26 years.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing my automotive attention on cars that are easier on the environment—hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and particularly, all-electric vehicles. I even ordered my own Chevrolet Bolt EV, which has been my personal car for more than 14 months. I believe that electric transportation is the future, and I’m eager to be part of it and promote its adoption.
Sometimes, a car has a special place in your heart, and even if it’s powered by petroleum, you have to get some time behind the wheel. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is mine. I’ve driven fourteen of them since I started testing cars as a journalist back in 1992. They are shown in chronological order in this post.
My first Miata test car came, like the others, through the automotive press fleet. This was a revelation, because although the car had been out since 1990, I hadn’t had any contact with one. The moment I sat in it and then took it out on the road, I remembered the wonderful British sports cars of my childhood. I was riding in my father’s Austin-Healey again, on a warm summer evening with the sun still out, going to get some ice cream. Sigh.
When that first Miata arrived in my driveway, I had already started my habit of photographing myself with each of my test cars. My first test convertible, this is also the first car photo that showed me in the driver’s seat—the best spot to be in.
There’s nothing quite like driving an open car, and in the Miata, all you do is drop the top and go. Ever since day one, you can unlatch the top and just flip it behind you. Although later models have introduced power tops and a couple styles of folding hard tops, you’ve always had the open-air option.
It’s amazing how many things there are to smell as you drive—most of them interesting or pleasant. Yes, there are diesel buses, livestock and trash fires, but I also remember food from restaurants, freshly baked bread and newly-mown grass. You also get to sample every possible kind of music blaring out of fellow drivers’ windows—or they may be driving topless, too.
Mazda’s little million-selling sports car provides direct connection to the road, with steering, close-ratio manual shifting and responsive braking. I’ve tested models with the manual six-speed and the automatic and vastly prefer the former. With its short little lever and feeling of being connected to actual gears, you can’t beat it. In my most recent week-long test car, I was stuck in a two-hour-and-10-minute traffic jam on the way home from work, and even in those conditions I’d rather sample the silky manual six than an automatic.
It takes some dexterity to get yourself into the low driver’s bucket set, and some strength and care to extricate yourself. I can still maneuver OK, but at nearly 65, I take it easy. My wife has no love for these roadsters, but that’s my fault. When I had test Miata number one, I insisted she climb into and out of it late in her pregnancy with our son. She’s never forgotten it, and she was equally unimpressed with the 2018 model.
Miatas have their fans—lots of them. There are race series for them, and I have spoken with many owners over the years. In fact, while testing this new model, I ran across a colleague with a green-and-white ’91 that was still rolling along. Another colleague, who owns a nicely-preserved ’94 in the limited-edition Laguna Blue, asked for a ride, and I was only too glad to oblige. He was impressed by the new car’s acceleration from the little 155-horsepower 2.0-liter engine (with 148 lb.-ft. of torque). With the manual six, the soft-top Miata weighs in at just 2,332 pounds, so that’s enough to generate excitement, if not speed records.
Riding low takes a little getting used to. Once you’re inside, there feels like enough room, but when you look out either side window, it’s likely directly at someone’s wheel. When you look out the windshield, you’ll see rakishly canted fenders, in the latest Kodo Design theme. The hood cut lines are cleverly hidden beyond the curve, so you don’t notice them from the cabin. The hood gently rises at its center over the engine compartment.
The original Miata featured a simple, plain interior, with the right proportions but no attempt at luxury touches. Its black plastic was well crafted, but not fancy. There were silver rings around the gauges, though, a tip of the hat to the cars of yore. There was a tachometer in the middle of the instrument panel, where it resides to this day. Cloth seats were standard.
The car has grown more and more elegantly designed over the years, with sculpted door panels and the neatly trimmed interior fittings. Beautiful metallic accents on the steering wheel, transmission surround, air vents, and door handles lend an upscale air. The Kodo Design theme blends a flow of soft curves and edges across the doors and dash. The center console not only gives your arm a resting place, but sits above the driveshaft that conveys the engine’s power to the rear wheels—just like in those old-fashioned MGs, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys.
My 2018 test car, a mid-level Club model, had some significant extras. The Machine Gray paint, a serious shade, added $300 to the tab. I personally would prefer red or blue. The car has come in a variety of colors over the years. One especially nice setup one combined British Racing green paint with a tan leather interior.
My tester flaunted a dark red cloth top—a no-cost option. The big upgrade was the Brembo BBS Recaro package at $4,470. It transformed the car inside and out, with gripping Brembo disc brakes, black BBS custom wheels, and gorgeous and supportive Recaro racing seats in a soft alcantara suede. These buckets are heated and feature speakers in the headrest, which aids hearing while on the road with the roof lowered. I took a phone call using Bluetooth and was a little surprised to hear my caller’s voice behind me, but it was certainly easy to understand him.
The little roadster is economical, with EPA numbers of 26 mpg city/33 highway/29 combined. I averaged 31.4 mpg in a week that had much too much commuting and too little back road running. The EPA Green numbers are a disappointing 3 for Smog but a solid 6 for Greenhouse Gas.
You’d think a little car with a cloth top would be a drag in the rain, but I felt cozy and safe, and the raindrops on the insulated top created a great atmosphere. Unlike its European forebears, the MX-5, assembled in Hiroshima, Japan since its birth, doesn’t leak.
In an era of basic cars starting close to $20,000 and mid-level Toyota Camrys approaching $30,000, the Miata’s price doesn’t seem out of line. My Club-level test car started at $29,155, but with extras and delivery, hit $35,240. A 2018 MX-5 Sport with no extras will set you back just $26,185. The original car debuted at $15,000, but had a lot fewer features–and that was 28 years ago! Interestingly, demand was so high at first that early adopters were paying $5,000 or more above sticker to get the cars.
Consumer Reports has given the Miata high praise over the years and ranked the 2017 model at 79–a fine score. Owners have reported better than average reliability. With the amount of affection the little car generates, they care for their babies. You’ll see plenty of all four generations on the road. The car magazines love it.
At the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days (photo above), I had the chance to drive my 14th MX-5 Miata. It was an 2018 RF, with the folding hardtop. In my brief drive, I never dropped that top, but I enjoyed the same feeling of intimate control as I looped down from the starting point–Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca–and took the car up the Laureles Grade. Hard or soft top, top up or down, it’s a joy to row through the manual six-speed’s ratios. And this car flaunted the new Soul Red Crystal paint, which shows up on the inner door panels, too. Lovely.
So, while I happily focus my testing on cars with batteries and plugs and motor along in my smooth, silent, clean Chevrolet Bolt the rest of the time, the MX-5 Miata holds a special place in my heart. It has remained great—and even improved over the years, becoming (by far) the most popular sports car ever.
Related Mazda Stories:
Road Test: 2018 Mazda MX-5 RF
Road Test: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Clean Fleet Report Hits Milestone
Something special happened this week and we just want to let you know. Clean Fleet Report published its 1,000th story. That’s quite a landmark for a start-up, but we’re just getting going. We published more than 200 stories last year as we moved into more in-depth coverage of fuel economy and advanced technology news. The 1,000th story—and the two that bracket it—are a good way of telling the Clean Fleet Report story.
2017 Toyota Mirai–a fuel cell pioneer
This news story is a good shorthand for the biggest change of this past year’s expanded coverage. In order to bring you more information on the fast-changing world of zero and near-zero emission vehicles. In 2006, when this publication started, fuel cells were essentially science experiments. They worked, but any vision of them as a day-to-day vehicle seemed like some science fiction fantasy. Fast forward to today and, in California, you have a choice of three FCEVs you can lease (or even buy in the case of the Mirai). More models are on the horizon and the fueling infrastructure continues to grow. Several of our staff have had the chance to drive and live with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (John in the Tucson and Mirai, Steve in the Mirai, me in the Clarity). We have a feeling we’ll be reporting on fuel cells more and more as we head to the end of the decade.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV–breaking through the 200-mile range barrier
The breakthrough Bolt is celebrating it’s first full year on the market, which we celebrated with our first full road test. Of course, we haven’t been ignoring Bolt news during the year as it racked up more than 23,000 sales. Beyond the test drives and news stories, Clean Fleet Report has been bringing a more personal story about this amazing car through staff Steve Schaefer, who put his own money on the line to lease a Bolt a little more than a year ago. His journey with the car illuminates more details of where the EV market is going.
Hybrids keep expanding their reach–and capabilitie
The first story of our second millennium of stories is a good window into how far industry has come. SUVs are hot and even though gas prices are low, companies remain focused on turning out more and more efficient models. The Highlander Hybrid is one of eight in the Toyota lineup (one of which, the hot-selling Prius Prime, is a plug-in hybrid). More important, it’s one of more than a dozen SUVs available as hybrids, plug-in hybrids, full electric or fuel cell vehicles. This changing world is the one we’re here to document, offering you insight into the choices that are out there in vehicles and technologies.
In those three stories you can see a bit of the breadth of news we’ll be covering this year. We’ll add in event coverage and exclusive interviews from our experienced staff. Enjoy the ride!
We always welcome your thoughts and insights as well at email@example.com.
Electric Promise Delivered Over 10,000 Miles
One year ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I took delivery of my long-awaited all-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV. Twelve months later, it has delivered everything it promised.
After testing most of the EVs on the market, I knew I wanted one, but it had to meet my requirements. I needed enough range to drive 170 miles round trip to visit my granddaughters without charging along the way. I also carry musical gear, including an upright bass. I wanted room for at least four passengers and a high-quality sound system, since I commute up to two hours a day.
Of all the EVs on the market, only the Bolt qualified. It had the range I needed and wasn’t too expensive. Besides, it was brand new. So, after agonizing over what color to get, I ordered my Bolt on October 11, 2016.
At the beginning
Almost 10,000 Miles Later
In a year, I accumulated just under 10,000 miles and made zero dealer visits. Other than a few minor entertainment system glitches, which corrected themselves with a restart, the Bolt has been totally reliable. And, of course, there is no oil to change or radiator to flush, although I’ve received discount coupons and reminders from my dealer.
There are many things I like about my Bolt EV. To start, the range is enough for everything I need to do. When I pull into my driveway after a granddaughter visit, I still have 50 miles range left in the battery. Although I only saw the 238-mile EPA official range during the warm months of the year, I routinely get at least 200 miles per charge.
The Bolt enabled some extensive, but pollution-free trips
I’ve driven my Bolt EV all over the place without range anxiety. Besides the family visits, I took trips to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, The Nut Tree in Vacaville, and a little adventure to Bodega Bay in Marin county. I recently drove to Tracy with my bandmate, Dan, for Texas Roadhouse steaks. I even cruised down to Monterey for the annual Media Days event put on by the Western Automotive Journalists.
The Commuting Sweet Spot
The Bolt EV is ideal for commuting. As a pure electric vehicle in California, it qualifies for DMV stickers that let you drive in the carpool lane with a Fastrak as a solo driver. This has saved me time and stress (and half the toll).
An essential commuting tool–HOV lane stickers
Charging is easy. I park the car in front of my office building and plug it into the ChargePoint charger, using my smart phone app. Depending on how depleted the battery is, I normally receive a text telling me it’s full by lunchtime. Until I install my Level 2 (240-volt) charger at home, I can top off the battery on weekends using standard household current. I’ve used a DC fast charger just twice—only to test it.
When carrying stuff, I simply remove the lightweight cargo cover and flip down the rear seats. Then, I can slide in basses, amps, microphone stands, cables and the rest. The load floor is showing a little wear already, however, as the surface is soft and the carpet is thin. The cargo area has a hidden storage place under a removable panel. When the panel’s in place, it creates a flat, bumper level loading platform.
Beyond all the practical advantages, the Bolt is fun to drive. With a 900+ pound battery under the floor, its low center of gravity means it’s quite stable in turns. The electric powertrain zips the Bolt to 60 mph in less than 6.5 seconds. The car is whisper quiet without the clamor of reciprocating pistons, so I can listen to SiriusXM satellite radio through the upgraded Bose audio system.
The miles do add up
I really enjoy the one-pedal driving feature. Flip the transmission lever from D (Drive) to L (Low), and you get heavy regenerative braking to not only feed the battery but to slow the car down when you lift off the accelerator pedal. In the Bolt EV, you can literally come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal.
While driving, I use the 10.2-inch center-mounted touch screen and its large, well-marked buttons to view and select audio, climate, navigation and EV performance info. You can watch the energy flow from battery to wheels and back, and evaluate your efficiency based on several criteria, including road conditions, temperature, and use of the heater and A/C.
The attractive, gauge-free instrument panel shows, besides speed and the usual stuff, your calculated range and high and low estimates, depending on your driving behavior and conditions. This is lovingly referred to as the “guess-o-meter,” though I have found it to be pretty accurate.
Not a Complaint-free Zone
The steering wheel offers numerous controls; I especially like using the audio volume and station/channel selection controls, and being able to check my tire pressures instantly.
The Bolt can take a load
The low window line and large windshield provide a feeling of airy spaciousness, as does the light gray and white interior. The light dashboard does glare a bit in the windshield in bright sunlight, but polarized sun glasses fix that. I really like the unusually textured white trim sections on the dash.
Some Bolt shoppers and owners have complained about the seats, but they fit me just fine and are firm and supportive, if a bit narrow.
My upper-level Premier model features leather seats and steering wheel, which impart a bit of luxury, although some interior pieces are crafted of typical GM hard plastic. The heated steering wheel is a boon on cold mornings, along with the three-level heated seats.
Tech You Might Not Expect
One of my favorite features is the rear-view camera. This high-tech device replaces your interior rear-view mirror, showing you a wider and clearer image of what’s behind you. I also like the Surround Vision display on the center screen, which helps me park evenly.
The Apple CarPlay interface projects phone content onto the big screen. That suffices for a navigation system, using Apple Maps. I often use the hands-free Siri voice texting app to report my estimated time of arrival to my wife.
My few complaints are minor, and include undersized sunvisors that don’t slide on the side, exposing you to glare, and the entertainment glitches and cheap-looking hard plastic trim. Once, the hook for the rear cargo cover popped off, but it was no problem to slip it back into place.
A Renewal Surprise
One little shock was the price to renew my registration. I wasn’t used to paying the state for a brand-new car with a retail price of $43,905 before rebates. Whew!
One year on–the complaint list is short and the fun is long
Last September, I used my EV driver status to host an event at my company for National Drive Electric Week (NDEW)—a longtime dream. I attended two other NDEW events, too, and let people test drive my car at one of them. Many EV owners are proud and pleased to show off their cars at these public events.
The Bolt EV has won a bunch of awards, including Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year and the North American Car of the Year. It has many fans, over 5,000 of whom have joined the Chevy Bolt EV Owners Group on Facebook (I was one of the first 100 members, joining when nobody had a car yet).
The Bolt EV deserves these honors, because it provides electric motoring to most people with its usable range, practical design, and relatively affordable price. I love the way it works for me, and how it looks, inside and out, especially in Kinetic Blue.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Personal: My Chevrolet Bolt EV—A Six-month Update
News: Chevrolet Bolt Will Be Available Nationwide in August
News: Chevrolet Bolt EV: Your Price May Vary
Personal: My Chevrolet Bolt EV—One Month Along
First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt
Buyer’s Guide: Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt or 2016 EV?
News: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Specs Revealed
GM’s Maven Moves into the Gig Economy with Bolt EVs