Test Driving Two Plug In Hybrids

Oct 03, 2015

On Oct 1st my wife and I test drove a Ford C-Max and a Chevy Volt plug in hybrid electric car. Some of my impressions and thoughts on the two vehicles are in this blog.

On Thursday October 1st, 2015 my wife and I drove to El Paso, TX for an 11 AM appointment to test drive a Ford C-Max at the Viva Ford dealer. We ran into a traffic jam at Trans Mountain Road because of a flipped semi truck on the overpass, but we still got to our appointment on time.

We ended up testing a 2014, but there were 2015's on the lot. We set out heading south again on the interstate and you guessed it we ran into another traffic jam because of another accident. It was probably a good thing we did, because I could not test the battery only electric drive mode, as the state of charge of the 7.6 KWh battery pack was low. Apparently not only do dealers keep their cars low on gasoline until they sell them, but they neglect charging batteries at all? The regenerative braking actually brought the battery level up a little, enough to get the electric only mode functioning on the way back.

It was not enough charge to stay in the electric only mode, as the car would switch back and forth, but it was enough for me to get an idea how the car would drive in this mode. I found the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) a little off putting, but it was doing its job. I just am not used to hearing engine revs out of sync with what the car is doing, even if they are optimized for efficiency.

We liked the car and we certainly would consider buying one when we are ready to purchase. The C-Max is rated for 40 mpg City/36 mpg Hwy/and 38 mpg Combined. It has and electric only rating equivalence of 95 mpg City/ 81 mpg Hwy/ and 88 mpg Combined. While we were only getting 26 mpg because of the traffic jam and parking lot idling, I got the car up to over 50 mpg with the electric drive by the time I got back to the dealership. The car certainly had more capability and features we could experience on a short test drive.

We liked the C-Max. The quality of the fit and finishes, and the technology are certainly desirable. I wish it had a little more battery electric range but that is a balance between mass and drive train needs. At around 3,900 lbs and with a 14 gallon gas tank Ford has optimized what they have pretty much.

So, we went around the block to the Chevy dealer to test drive a Volt while were at it. We tried to test drive a Volt at the dealer in Las Cruces, NM, but they did not even have one on the lot. They had two that we could see at the El Paso dealership. So we set up a test drive in one of them.

Technically I like the Chevy Volt's specs more then I do the C-Max. It has a 38 mile battery only range (but only a 11 gallon gas tank. The car was more substantial then the C-Max being slightly larger. We had the same problem we ran into at the Ford dealership and that was a depleted battery pack. The car only was displaying a 89 mile range on 1/3rd of a tank of a tank of gas but that was because of a depleted battery pack. You would think the dealers would figure out that they needed to charge these cars up, so they could perform at their optimal best, but charging the battery packs just is not in their mind set.

The deal breaker for me was the low ride height of the Volt. I realized they have set this car up for optimal aerodynamics and I applaud that. However the salesman scraped the front air dam just pulling the car off the sidewalk ramp to the parking lot. I scraped it again just entering a parking lot change in pavement angle. This air dam would never survive our driveway. Here is where a adjustable ride height would be nice to set a low ride height just for highway travel, and a higher setting for city driving. This of course would add even more weight to the 3,900 lb car.

For 2016 the Chevy Volt has upped the game to a 50 mile plus battery only range. I am impressed, and if it were not for this ride height issue I would consider the car more seriously then I am now after test driving one. I wish the Ford had more range!

So what could this limited range electric only range do for the Gilkison family. Turns out it could do a lot. We currently are a one vehicle family with a Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 with a super crew cab and a 6.5 ft bed. The truck is set up for 5th wheel towing a trailer we have not bought yet. With a G-4 bed cover we can average 18 mpg in mixed driving. Our current weekly driving cycle could be characterized as four 10 mile round trips to the Post Office to take our son to a drop off for work. Add three 20 mile trips town with 10 miles of city driving and a 20 mile return home you have 190 mile a week with 70 miles of it potentially battery only. We probably could average 3.16 gallons of gasoline per week with the rest on battery power requiring 25 KWh's of electricity to maintain a charge on the 7.6 KWh battery pack. Since we have 5.1 KW's of solar PV we could effectively drive at 60 mpg during this driving cycle. It would take $8 of gas at $2.50 a gallon and $3.00 worth of electricity at 12 cents a KWh. Since gas is now at 2.05 a gallon and EPE buys our extra power for 8 cents a KWH we could actually drive cheaper then these worse case scenarios predict.

Regardless I figure we could limit the truck to 5,000 miles a year and the C-Max to 10,000 miles a year. That would mean the truck would be limited to 277 gallons of fuel a year at $694, and the C-Max would be limited to 166 gallons at $416 a year. The truck by itself currently consumes 833 gallons of fuel over 15,000 miles costing $2,083. That would be a 47% reduction is fuel consumption which would be a 47% reduction in our Carbon footprint. This is based upon a worse case scenario as we could certainly drive the truck a lot less. We would reserve it for trips, especially camping trips, and trips needed to pick things up or haul stuff. The Plug In Electric could do most grocery shopping easily.

Other related news we are currently installing a pellet stove which will reduce our propane use from 300 gallons a year to 120 gallons of year. This will reduce our Carbon footprint by a further 10% over the nearly 50% the 5.1 KW's of solar panels have. With a plug in electric vehicle we could eliminate roughly half of our remaining Carbon emissions from our transportation energy equation. In other words the scheme I have outline will get us down 20% or a 80% reduction in carbon emissions over what we had before getting the solar installed in 2012. I would call that progress when we can get it done.

None of us can know the future with any certainty, but as dire as things look on the Climate Change front I think it important for each of us to do what we can in our own way. When the government wakes up and decides to start representing the people again, and to actively become involved in moving our country towards a renewable and sustainable energy future, we will be ready. If not, we can still look into our grand children's eyes and tell them we did what we could personally. Speaking of grandchildren, we are expecting a grandson Alessandro by October 26th. Someday I hope I can tell him about the climate change wars, and how critical mass in peoples minds were reached by the time he was born.

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