Is it true that the electric car companies can’t agree on a connector?

We need to have an electrician do some work at our house and I thought it might be fun to have an electric car charger installed. Of course, we don’t have an electric car, but maybe one day we will? We can’t fit a car into our garage (packed with junk due to brilliant architect’s 1960s decision to build this house with no basement) so the charger needs to be outdoors.

At first I was thinking “Shouldn’t this just be an outdoor 240V outlet?” Then I discovered that there are “charging stations” for sale. Is there anything more to them than an extension cord on a reel? It is the car that decides when to start and stop charging, right, not the charger?

Finally, even if we wanted to buy one of these cord reels, which one should we get? Some web pages imply that there has been a VHS v. Betamax situation. Is that all sorted out now by the Combined Charging System?

(Despite the fact that it is fun to ridicule the Tesla fan club, I think that if we did get an electric car it probably would be a Tesla due to the “dog mode”. See“Car/Kennel” for what I wrote about this in 2003.)

[Update based on comments below and further research: A hard-wired system seems to be required for reliability. J1772 is the standard connector except for Tesla, which requires a dongle adapter (i.e., there is no standard connector in the U.S., since the volume leader uses a different connector from everyone else). Total “Charlie-Foxtrot” as we say in aviation! Progress means that, unless you want to have huge amounts of power going through a dongle that is exposed to rain, every time you buy a new car you have to hire an electrician. If the family has two electric cars, it may need to have two different charging stations installed.]

Small parking lot in our suburb during lunch today included three levels of sanctimony: basic, plug-in, complete.


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Tesla free supercharging for the life of the car will discourage upgrades?

A friend owns a Tesla X (see my review) that came with “free supercharging for life.” The company periodically pings him to try to get him to trade in the current car on a new and improved Tesla X. He can easily afford this, but if he does it he says that he loses the free supercharging, which is attached to the “life of the car,” not the “life of the buyer.” Having purchased the car for its novelty value, he enjoys the experience of getting free electricity.

I wonder if Tesla has made a huge strategic mistake. Doesn’t the typical car company make much of its profits off loyal repeat buyers who trade up every 2-4 years? How can it be smart to set up a structure in which the earliest and most enthusiastic buyers are discouraged from trading in and buying a new car?

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Tesla 3 is cheaper than a Honda Accord …

… but Uber and their drivers are too stupid to realize this.

“Tesla Model 3 vs. Honda Accord — 7 Scenarios” (CleanTechnica) is kind of fascinating. The author figures out that it is cheaper to drive a Tesla 3 than a similar-size Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or Nissan Altima. Yet he never questions why it is that people for whom driving is a business haven’t figured this out.

He finds some sky-high residual value estimates for Tesla 3s and never asks “If the resale value is so great, why isn’t it cheap to lease one of these?”

Is this additional evidence that, as a reader commented on an earlier post, Tesla is a religion, not a car company?

[Separately, my most recent Uber ride was in the back of a late-model Honda Accord. It was significantly louder on the highway compared to the middle seat of our 2018 Honda Odyssey EX-L. Maybe nobody can build a better car than an Odyssey!]


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True cost of Tesla ownership can now be calculated

Tesla is offering leases for the Model 3. The stripper version (“Standard Range Plus”) is supposedly $39,500 to buy. It can be leased for $2,000 “down payment” plus $545 per month for 36 months and 12,000 miles per year. In other words, $600 per month.

What does a conventional sedan cost? US News says a Nissan Altima, which is about the same size as a Tesla 3 and has awesome ratings, is about $300 per month (depending on region). The Nissan comes with the added potential benefit of being able to buy the car at the end of the lease in the event that the value is higher than the predicted residual value (likely worth $1,000? Let’s mark it to zero for this analysis).

[Nissan fit and finish should be way better; UBS found that Teslas were well below average: “The car scored ‘below average’ on the fit & finish quality audit which looked at >1, 500 gap measurements,” UBS’ Colin Langan wrote in the note to clients. “The team also found the body-wind noise was ‘borderline acceptable.'”]

So Tesla costs $300/month more. What does it save in fuel (costs, if not CO2 emissions)? Let’s say that 1,000 miles per month are actually driven. The Nissan will consume 33 gallons of gasoline to go 1,000 miles (EPA combined), about $85 worth at current retail prices.

Electricity here costs 22.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (BLS). People say that the real-world electricity consumption of the Tesla 3 is 300 watt-hours per mile. So it would burn up 300 kwh to go 1,000 miles or $67.50 in electricity (but the Tesla Superchargers cost 31 cents per kwh so it would actually be more expensive than gasoline?).

It seems that the gas versus electricity cost is a wash. So the Tesla 3 costs $3,600 more per year to own than a comparable-size conventional sedan.

Maybe it is a better product? Consumer Reports gives the Tesla 3 a score of 65, with a mediocre rating for noise and a poor rating for ride quality (everyone who has been in our friend’s Tesla X, including the owner, says that our Honda Odyssey has a much smoother and quieter ride). The Nissan Altima rates 76 and actually did deliver its EPA-promised gas mileage in Consumer Reports testing. The only area where the Tesla seems to have beaten the Nissan was in acceleration, being about 2 seconds faster from 0-60 (given our average practical highway speed here in Boston of about 30 mph, the relevance of this number is unclear).

How about the autopilot? The Nissan puts virtual fences around the human driver, but does not attempt to drive. Consumer Reports liked the Tesla autopilot overall, but put in some caveats: “Some drivers may be frustrated by how the system operates, because too much pressure on the steering wheel will turn off Autopilot. So drivers must be careful to put some pressure on the wheel, but not too much. The system can be operated in many situations that it is not designed for. For instance, it can be engaged on a curvy back road with only a single lane marking. In such cases, it operates erratically rather than restricting Autopilot’s operation.”

Assuming that the autopilot actually did work perfectly all the time, then we could say that people are paying $300 for every 1,000 miles to have the autopilot drive for them. If it takes 30 hours to go 1,000 miles, it is a $10/hour system.

Finally, let’s look at the three-year cost to lord it over the neighbors with one’s all-electric virtue:

  • $10,800 in extra lease payments
  • $1,000 in expected trade-in value for a lease with the right to purchase (our 2014 Honda Odyssey was worth about $2,000 more to the dealer than agreed-on residual value)
  • $1,200 to install a charger at home (probably closer to $2,000 here in Massachusetts)

Grand total: $13,000 (enough to earn a pilot certificate and do a bunch of family trips in a flight school rental aircraft during those three years, yet I am willing to wager that plenty of Tesla 3 owners would say that they can’t afford aviation as a hobby!).


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Tesla Y shows that the electric car revolution is proceeding slowly?

Forbes predicts that the new Tesla Y crossover won’t be in volume production until 2021. That would be 9 years after the 2012 introduction date of the Tesla S.

Is it fair to say that Earth’s transition to electric cars is proceeding more slowly than expected?

Usually when a better technology comes along, doesn’t the old tech typically disappear from the marketplace within less than 9 years?

Is the glacial transition here due to the fact that the car industry is special? That the gas station infrastructure is too hard to replace with charging infrastructure? That electric cars currently aren’t actually “better technology,” but just a way for a handful of conspicuous consumers to display their better taste and superior virtue? Something else?

Considering the number of moving parts in an engine and the declining number of people in the U.S. with sufficient skills to turn a wrench, I would expect electric cars to supplant gasoline-powered cars within a few years of the electric vehicles being definitively “better.”

Readers: What do you think of the Tesla Y? Are Tesla cars improving at a faster or slower rate than cars from Honda and other engineering leaders?

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Energy and cost efficiency of different forms of transportation

“Lesson From The A380 And California HSR: Smaller Is Better In Transportation” (Forbes), by Brad Templeton, contains a lot of interesting numbers:

In the Department of Energy Transport Energy Data Book you will see some surprising numbers. For example, for transit buses you’ll see that the average American bus uses 4,102 BTUs per passenger-mile, while the average car uses 2,939. (A gallon of gasoline is around 115,000 BTUs.) Yes, US bus ridership is so poor that it would use less energy to move all bus riders in cars, at the national average of 3 people for 2 cars. You don’t even need to fill all the seats, and the cars are just average efficiency. The Toyota Prius is twice as efficient as that average car. People driving around alone in hybrid cars out-green the bus system.

You can compare what you would guess is an efficient electric train, the New York MTA subway. The DoE reports it uses 503 BTUS (of electricity, not heat) per passenger-mile. Even measuring the heat, that’s better than those cars and buses, but about the same as that Prius.

Looking at the MTA again, it spends about $16B to for 13B passenger miles, or $1.23 per passenger mile. Typical car ownership costs in the USA for late model cars is 50-60 cents per vehicle-mile, plus parking. Drivers get subsidies (though they pay gas taxes and other taxes for the roads) but the MTA isn’t paying for its tunnels either.

This is consistent with what I’ve heard from other sources: The idea of building and maintaining rails is obsolete for passenger transportation.

Separately, the article covers the demise of the Airbus A380, which saddens me because I’ve heard that it had the lowest level of cabin noise of any airliner ever produced (the A350 is a close second) and I never got to experience it (there have been some A380 flights in and out of Boston, but they are not common).

Maybe the countries that say they are morally obligated to assist refugees will snap up all of the A380s and send them out daily to pick up 1,000 refugees at a time from the world’s poorest and most troubled regions. If you are sincere about wanting to help people, why demand that they walk 1,000 miles to get that help?

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Middle class Californians subsidize wealthy Tesla owners, 2019 edition

“I got an electric car. My electric bill went down” by Brad Templeton is worth reading. He summarized it on Facebook:

Surprise: I got an electric car and my power bill went DOWN. Why? When you get an electric car in California, it allows you to switch to a heavy “time of use” power plan with expensive power in the peak (2pm-9pm) and much cheaper power in the night. I charge my car at night and moved my pool pump to the night so the net was my bill went down — my electric car gets almost “free” electricity, it seems. YMMV.

One angle he doesn’t cover is that the guy who could afford to purchase a new Tesla is being further subsidized by people who can’t afford to purchase a new Tesla (or any other new car!).


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Audi A8 long-term rental review

Regarding my equipped-with-active-suspension dream machine, from our reader/hero Scott Locklin:

I rented a 2018 Audi A8 for 10 days on the Autobahn [459 euro through kayak, 19 percent of which was VAT]. The electronics, as someone noted were pretty good. The HUD with speed limit and directions indicator was a cool feature, though it doesn’t work with polarized sunglasses. Wonder what HUD using pilots use for helmet shades these days; never thought of that before.

Oh yeah, one of your commenters identified that the 3D map view was mighty cool.

The ‘cruise control’ was, as you noted, awful and dangerous. I also disliked the collision avoidance system intensely, and couldn’t figure out how to turn most of it off. Basically it was a simple algorithm hunting for the lines on the road. Unfortunately there were a lot of dangerous ‘damped oscillator’ solutions to this, which boggled my mind, as there should be fairly simple ways to overcome this. The wheel jerking from this algorithm was alarming and possibly dangerous; there was an incident where there was a semi broken down in the traffic lane on the autobahn, and I needed to fight the steering wheel to avoid it. There was no time to signal a lane change which would have prevented the monkey vs machine steering wheel battle. I think the ‘collision’ software might have slammed on the brakes at the last minute had I continued, but that would have been a disaster also.

Another bizarre thing; the ‘collision radar’ in tight parking garages was incredibly loud and had me stopping 2 meters short of where I needed to be in this giant car in tiny euro sized parking spots. I couldn’t turn that off either.

The active suspension, meh, it was OK. Nothing special. It sucked you lower if you press the perf button, and was more billowy otherwise. No real complaints about the ride or steering in either configuration. I prefer the ride of a BMW for fancy car feels. The Audi was less precise. Probably more comfortable. My daily driver is a Subaru, so I’m not exactly cognoscenti tier here.

The was hit and miss; they had me in a cow pasture at one point looking for a famous statue. Off road performance was pretty good though I didn’t realize until I returned it that it goes for $85k and has the “most advanced” autonomous vehicle features in it. Seemed like driving a larger, high performance German Ford LTD [Editor: Ouch! Looks like we’ll be sticking with the Honda Odyssey]

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The U.S. delivers a Third World ground transportation experience?

Back in the 1980s, you knew that you were in a Third World country when

  • traffic congestion made daytime trips take 2-3 times longer than they would be on clear roads
  • your driver had only a tenuous command of local geography
  • your driver was not proficient in English

On a recent visit to Miami, my born-in-Colombia Uber driver was unable to find the Hyatt on Miami Beach, unable to follow the directions from the Uber app, and unable to speak more than a few words of English. Here’s Interstate 95 circa 6 pm on a Monday:

Upon arrival in Boston, my born-in-the-Dominican-Republic driver struggled with the English language (after six years in the U.S.; he’d been a bus driver in the DR so presumably hadn’t needed English there) and with the mid-December snow (thanks, Honda, for engineering the Accord so that I’m still alive!).

None of my previous 10 Uber drivers in Miami or Washington, D.C. had been native-born or were English-proficient.

Is it fair to say that, at least when it comes to traveling around our cities, the U.S. is delivering the Third World 1980s life experience?

[Tangentially related: We lined up for coffee and “Aussie pies” at a shop in St. Augustine, Florida a couple of days ago. The huge Christmas/New Year’s tourist crush was over, but the city was still packed with humanity (of course we need more via immigration!). It was 10:30 am and they’d mostly sold out of the pies. I noted to a former Soviet comrade: “This is just like what Westerners said life in the Soviet Union was like circa 1970. You wait in a long line and then when you get to the front find out that everything has been sold.”]

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Audi A4 review

This is a review of a 2018 Audi A4 after a week of driving around Colorado. The vehicle was rented from Silvercar, an Audi subsidiary. Usually I am a Hertz Gold member, but prices at DEN for a simple Hyundai were so high that I decided to try going off-airport and pay about the same fee for a fancier vehicle. The Silvercar experience is pretty good, though it starts with catching a shuttle to an off-airport parking lot. In Denver this isn’t an issue because you are 99 percent likely to want to head in that direction. The Silvercar staffer, Angela, showed me how to use the shifter (apparently this has not been obvious to previous customers) and suggested Apple CarPlay instead of the Audi navi system. She recommended Denver Biscuit Company for breakfast (truly awesome!). I couldn’t find an owner’s manual in the glove box, so I had to resort to a 400-page online PDF (not from Audi itself; the company does not seem to make any attempt to provides these on its web site).

The car is more nimble than our 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan. However, it isn’t as quiet nor does it soak up bumps as well. So it represents a different point on an engineering continuum, not some sort of huge advance over what Honda is capable of doing. The 9-year-old passenger said that she preferred the Honda.

The “roll a cursor around the screen” instead of a touch screen interface requires a lot more head-down time than a well-implemented touch screen. The steering wheel controls do not seem as intuitive as on the Honda, nor is it as easy to adjust radio volume. Fortunately, Audi puts a volume knob down near the driver’s right hand (to the right of the shifter). Changing the radio station can be done more or less by feel, flicking a dedicated button to change the main screen to radio tuning. There is no button, however, to go back to Apple CarPlay and the navigation map (if you are willing to accept that Apple Maps is legitimately “navigation”!). It takes a huge amount of head-down time to switch back to CarPlay. The “Back” button does not work for this.

I could not configure the central instrument cluster to put the fuel gauge anywhere that was visible. Its far-right location is obscured by the steering wheel and its stalks, at least from my (6′ tall) point of view. Ameliorating this issue is a continuous display of the range remaining and the car’s long overall range (more than 400 miles) and 30 mpg achieved in mountain highway driving.

The cruise control is not adaptive or at least does not default to being adaptive (since there was no owner’s manual in the vehicle I never figured out whether it was not included on this particular car or if it needed to be set somehow). If set to 75 mph, therefore, the car will try to ram itself into the car in front. As someone who has grown accustomed to Honda’s adaptive cruise control, this is disconcerting! I wonder if there will be a lot of “automation confusion” accidents as cars transition into assisted driving and drivers move from Car A where Task X is handled automatically into Car B where Task X must be done manually.

Audi engineers can’t make up their minds whether to have synthesized voice warnings or tone warnings. Thus there is a mixture. Start up the car and don’t have your seatbelt on? Confusing beeping. Shut down the car and open the door before unplugging your phone from CarPlay? Synthesized (loud!) voice warning about the phone still being connected. The overall impression was that the car was unhappy and beeping or warning far more often than the Honda Odyssey.

Warning for the drive-through crowd: The Audi A4 has no rear cupholders when operated as a five-seater.

Conclusion: It is a nice car, but I would be just as happy with a Honda Accord. What about the boring folks at Consumer Reports? They give the A4 a score of 85 and say that it costs $36,000 to $44,500. The Accord scores 84 with a price range of $23,570 to $35,800.

Readers: Who loves Audi? What do you love about the A4? (More importantly, who has experienced the new A8 and its active suspension?)

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