Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Some transportable thoughts

My wife and I are in the midst of trying to figure out what to do about replacing our 2006 Scion xA, a.k.a. Space Wart, and the “right” answer is less obvious than it might seem. Since I get asked about what car people should buy a lot, let me talk about my own situation a bit and then generalize.

Of course I want an EV, which I can then recharge from home with 100% green electricity. The ability to make my marginal CO2 emissions go to zero per mile while flipping off the oil companies would be immensely satisfying. The problem is buying or leasing an EV right now. You can’t get some of the vehicles I’d consider, like the Fit EV or the Fiat 500 EV, in my part of the country, and the Mitsubishi i is no longer in stock anywhere, as best I can tell. That leaves me with the Leaf. Also, even with the $7,500 tax break (plus state-level incentives in some states, albeit not mine) I think you have to be insane to buy an EV right now or so wealthy that you can find $20K to $30K in your couch cushions. There are so many weirdnesses with EVs still, that reading the Nissan Leaf Forum, for example, is painfully reminiscent of discussion groups I was in while beta testing early versions of Windows. I have yet to find anyone who thinks that the first generation Leaf will hold its value, so for me and not-exactly-wealthy couch cushions, buying a Leaf is out.

Leasing is problematic, I’ve found, as lease deals announced by Nissan for people in my zip code miraculously don’t seem to apply when I go into my local dealer. Plus, the three-year cost of a lease is pretty steep, all the more so on a per mile basis if you drive as little as I do.

The Leaf 2.0, which is expected in just a couple of years, will likely be much more attractive, leaving me to wonder if I should try to bridge from 1.0 to 2.0 with my current car or buy something like a Honda Fit that will be efficient and likely have a high trade-in when I get a Leaf 2.0 or something similar.

For those just itching to tell me to consider a PHEV, like the Volt or C-Max, they have similar problems: High cost to buy or lease for a 4,000 mile/year vehicle.

In a broader sense, I’m wondering where transportation is headed in the developed world, particularly in the US, where many people (read: men) lust after light trucks (pickups, SUVs, minivans), and drivers in general seem to suffer from the delusion that on any given day they need the ability to drive 1,000 miles without so much as a biology break.

Consider, for example, the Toyota i-Road concept:

While this looks extremely impractical for most drivers — its top speed is only 30 MPH, making it an NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) — I certainly agree with Pete Sinclair who says, Toyota I-Road. I-Want One. Part of this is greenie enthusiasm for right-sizing transportation, and part of it is a reawakening of my gear head/biker roots.[1] I would have no excuse for buying such a thing, even if it had greater speed and range capability, and I doubt I’ll ever have to make that decision; can anyone foresee Toyota actually marketing the i-Road in the US, especially in an area that averages about 100″ of snow per year? I don’t.

Yes, I try to minimize my miles driven, but I still need a vehicle. I’m willing to put up with babysitting the battery in an EV, and even paying more for such a vehicle than I “should” according to conventional, non-greenie thinking. But what, exactly should replace Space Wart, and when, is still an open question. In the short run, I plan to keep thinking about this (read: driving my infinitely patient wife nuts). Details as they occur…

[1] Once upon a time I was the proud owner of a Honda CB-1100F motorcycle, which had almost exactly the same horsepower as my Scion xA. How I managed to avoid turning myself into a snail trail with that thing still amazes me.

5 comments to Some transportable thoughts

  • Lou,

    I face exactly the same problem, except that I drive fewer miles, and have older cars.

    My (pre-EV) strategy: buy 7 year old cars, and keep them another 10-12 years. Cars are much more reliable than they used to be, and older cars are cheaper to own, until they start to structurally fail.

    So, I think you can guess what I would say is The Simple Answer: just wait. Your current car is just fine. Wait until EVs give you what you need.

  • Sasparilla

    Sounds like Nick has great advice if you can stand to keep the Xa…

    One other possible option, if the Scion is getting too many miles on it, would be to get a used Prius with miles on it you could tolerate (I got one 3 years old and 70,000 and kept it to 150,000 miles and didn’t have to do anything to it besides lights, tires, oil changes and a 12v battery – the NiMH battery doesn’t degrade with the way Toyota uses it) and drive that (getting fantastic mileage, lots of space and great heat in the wintertime) till Leaf/Volt Gen 2 (2016) or Gen 3 (2021) are out. My guess is that we won’t make alot of headway on prices with Gen 2, just fix some of the obvious issues with Gen 1, but we’ll see.

    I’m with you Lou, I truly lust for the ability to send a picture postcard to Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobile) of myself plugging in an EV/Plugin in my garage with the caption “Thinking of you…” on it (monthly?) – besides not giving money to the oil companies and making use of this nuclear low CO2 energy I have in my area (Chicago suburbs). When I financially can do it (and get my wife to go along) I will, but can’t at this point.

    For the current crop of plug-ins I’d only consider buying the Volt if I had the money since it seems to be over engineered (40% of battery pack capacity isn’t used) and drivers aren’t reporting range loss (beyond a small amount from the cold), unlike the Leaf. The rest I’d lease only (which sucks overall finance wise) unless I counted on buying a new pack after 5-7 years (and only Tesla has said they sell packs at half price, everyone else I’d count on getting normal spare parts margins on).

    I troll the Leaf forums as well (living vicariously), the Leaf has serious issues with its cold weather battery capacity (since it doesn’t have a thermal management system to keep it in a good temperature range) – for a lease EV, if you can stand the 1/2 a trunk, the Ford Focus Electric has a thermal management system on its battery, and they’re doing lease deals at Leaf prices, might be something to look into. I tried to get one actually as the website shows a Lease for $169 mo with $2100 down, I figured out that is a Lease price for a regular Ford Focus. ;-) So the Focus Electric Leases are $290 mo with very little down – which puts it out of my can do it range (just throw away too much money), but if I was bringing more in I might consider it. The only hard part is figuring out where the Dealers are that have them (the Ford website doesn’t point you, almost defies imagination) so I looked at and you can find out who has them in your area there:

    Here’s an article by a guy who has both a Leaf and a Focus Electric (sucks to be him, eh?) on the cold weather range and its effects:

    Here’s a guy from southern coastal california, he’s had his Leaf for 22 months and lost 17% of his range (serious reason why I’d only lease, not buy):

    I want to support Nissan and may in the end, but it seems like they blew the engineering of the Leaf V1 on the battery in a big way (capacity loss, heat hurting it, cold weather performance) trying to skip out on a Thermal Management System for the battery.

  • Greg

    At 4000 miles a year, keep the Xa. Completely eliminating your emissions would be much less helpful than halving the emissions of somebody who drives an SUV 10k miles a year. Battery and EV technologies are really advancing, so if you don’t need to replace the Xa right now, I wouldn’t.

    My situation:
    2005 Nissan Altima, 5k miles/year. Altima chosen due to seat comfort for my wife, who has rheumatoid arthritis issues.
    1999 Subaru Legacy Wgn, 1k miles/year. Legacy chosen for ability to take bicycles on vacation, AWD in case of snow, etc.
    At the low miles/year, it’s going to be quite some time before we replace either of these vehicles. Our “ideal” vehicle mix would be
    1. an EV “city car” (but with a really comfortable seat) with say a 50 mile range
    2. a larger “vacation car”, perhaps a hybrid wagon like the C-Max. I like the sound of the hybrid power train that Subaru is working on.

  • Steve Funk

    I would agree with Greg and Nick, unless you bought the Scion used with 150,000 on it already. Greg, Subaru 2.5 engines of that vintage fail suddenly between 80000 and 140000 (Google, subaru problems) Ours ran good until 130 and we should have gotten rid of it when it started using water. Went through a gasket change and two used engines to get another 25000.

  • There are some very interesting open-source projects under way to promote electric vehicle adoption: