Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dispelling the Myths about Electric Vehicles

 There are a few criticisms that I see repeatedly.  Criticism is justified when it is true.  In addition to the criticisms are the false truths.  Some of these have originated from pre-production reviews and possibly after just reading media press kits.  Unfortunately too much of it appears to evolve around fear of the unknown or some type of perceived threat to life as people know it.  Let me list some of them and give a response.  Hopefully a response from someone with actual experience will have more weight than a critique from someone who has zero or limited actual experience.

1.    People won’t buy an EV unless they have charging stations nearby.  I have had my EV for two months.  In that time I have been able to perform 100% of my charging at home.  And from reading the i-MiEV forum (, there are plenty of others who have longer ownership time, and have done the same.  I even use just the factory supplied 120 Volt charger running on standard household current. 

2.    There aren’t enough charging stations around to support drivers.  This is similar to the criticism above, but I have seen it supported by stating the number of publicly available charging stations compared to the number of gas stations.  The huge omission that this leaves out is that charging can be done away from public stations.  If people were able to get gasoline from their house as easy as turning on a water faucet, there would be a lot less gas stations.  If charging could only be done away from the house, this statement might have some merit.

3.    You could run out of battery power somewhere inconvenient.  This criticism would be justified if it came from a person who routinely drives their car until it runs out of gas.  If a person has enough sense to realize how far their car can go before needing gas, they should be able to figure out how far their EV can go before needing a charge.  The difference is there is a larger safety net for fueled vehicles.  If a person lived in a small town where the only gas station closed at 8 PM every night and wasn’t open on Sundays, you would expect they would adjust their behavior to account for those limitations.

4.    Electric Vehicles are slow and can’t get out of their own way.  Have they heard of the Tesla Roadster?  But most of the time, the comment isn’t from someone who’s been in an electric car, it’s from someone who’s just looked at performance numbers.  How quickly does a person need to accelerate? Is every stop light treated like a drag race?  Actually, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has the potential to accelerate quickly when driven.  But when I’m in my Zen-like state, I don’t feel the need to accelerate quickly (most of time, anyway).  If there is traffic behind me, I will accelerate in a responsible manner to avoid impeding the progress of those following.  After all, most EV owners are also advocates and promoters of EVs.  Therefore it is in our best interest to not offend those behind us and allow the “slow” stereotype to be advanced.

5.    The cost is too prohibitive.  As of yet there aren’t many people making that comment that have backed it up with a break-even analysis.  True, the initial purchase price is higher than another vehicle that may suit their transportation needs.  And the negative reviewers that warn against the price and the cost of charging tend to look at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to public utility rates for electricity.  There are a few ways to counter this.  One is logical.  The other is emotional. 
·         Logically, one compares costs for a new ICE (Internal combustion engine) car against an EV.  Costs include initial purchase price, rebates and incentives, operating costs and maintenance costs.  Residual value should be a component as well.  The quick comparison would be to calculate the difference in cost (after rebates, incentives, and financing costs for each) and decide the break-even point using the cost of gas and fuel economy against the cost of electricity and cost per mile to operate.  For my particular situation, the cost per mile to operate the i-MiEV is $0.015 per mile.  Let’s use the 2012 Ford Fiesta with a mid-range sticker price of $15,500 as a comparison.  It is an available sub-compact with 33 MPG fuel economy and let's use gas at $3.50 gallon.  That yields a cost of $0.11 per mile.  If the purchase cost difference is $14,500.00 then the break-even point is around 30,500 miles.  The calculation also takes into account the $7,500 federal tax credit and the Illinois state rebate of $3,000 for a $30,000 electric vehicle.  That’s not bad for most drivers.  For someone who drives 10,000 miles a year the break-even would be around 3 years.  (That would equate to around 200 miles a week.) 
·         On the emotional side let’s see how the decision to buy an EV stacks up against other major purchases.  Would you expect an accountant, who just bought two new wave runners with a trailer, to question the financial sense behind buying an EV?  When would buying a full dresser Harley Davidson make sense financially?  What about ski boats, fishing boats, sport bikes, and vacation homes?  Those are lifestyle purchases.  They are rarely tools that one needs to earn a living.  Yet why is it that an EV, which can be legitimately used on a daily basis to assist in earning an income, must be defended as a purchase?  We’ll congratulate the person who drives home in a new motorcycle or shows off pictures of some other new acquisition.  But EV owners are asked to justify their purchase.  It can be thought of as a lifestyle purchase that has the added benefit of serving a utilitarian purpose.  Or a utilitarian vehicle that trades range limitations for long-term operating cost savings while making a environmental statement.

6.    Owners are required to set up a 240V charger in their house.  This is just completely untrue.  Fortunately there has only been one occurrence of this statement that I have seen.  But the misinformation has a way of spreading and becoming a deterrent to those who may be "on-the-fence" and don't fact check.  The Geek Squad from Best Buy only comes out to determine if your current household wiring can handle the load for the 120V charger.

7.    There is only one cup holder! The truth is there are three.  One is immediately visible behind the hand brake lever between the front seats.  The other two flip out from just below the air ducts on the outside portion of the dash.  The shape of these cup holders is square and I’ve even seen references to people using these as smart phone holders.

8.    The charging of Electric Vehicles will place additional burden on an already strained electric grid.  A fairly large percentage of owners are charging their vehicles at night (after returning home from work) and some even time their charging for net metering to take advantage of lower utility rates.  So peak demand during the warmest part of Summer days isn't too much of an issue.  Here's something else to consider.  It takes electricity to make gasoline too.  It takes 6 kilowatt hours of electricity to refine a gallon of gasoline.  (  I can drive about 24 miles with that 6 kilowatts of electricity, and I haven't produced any tailpipe emissions in the process.

9.    The creation of electricity has an equal amount of negative environmental impact as the burning of fossil fuels.  This is the rebuttal from those trying to counter the “green” aspect of electric cars.  As mentioned above, electricity is used to create gasoline, then additional pollutants are released when the gas is used.

This may become an entry that gets updated as additional myths are found to dispel.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two Months Living with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV

So, what’s it like to have an electric car?

In a word, BRILLIANT! Every time I start driving I can’t help but think I’m on a Disney ride.  The quiet hum of the electric motor and the faint sound of road noise from the narrow tires makes me think I’m on an amusement park ride.  That’s not a bad thing.  I get child-like smirk across my face and feel like I jumped the track and exited the park.  Part of the feeling comes from the surreal and Zen-like quiet of the car while it is operating and part of the feeling comes from style of the car itself.  'Polarizing' comes to mind as to how people react to the shape.  You either admire it or you don’t.  It definitely departs from traditional styling without being too radical.  It is easy on the eyes and is welcoming rather than threatening.  If this car was in Mad Max it would be cast as a victim instead of as a villain.  For a person that is 6’3” (2m), the interior is accommodating.  I don’t feel cramped and have ample leg room and head room.  I doubt four occupants my size would want to travel for extended durations, but that wasn’t what the car was designed for anyway.  It would be the equivalent of reviewing a sport bike and complaining about the lack of storage space.

How is it used?

It’s only fair to give a real-world account of how I have used my i-MiEV over the last two months.  What good would it do to say it works for 95% of my driving without explaining what my driving requirements are?  A little background information is in order.  Between my wife and me, we own 5 vehicles and a motorcycle.  We have a two-car garage with enough extra space to keep the motorcycle inside, but 3 of the other 4 vehicles are in storage.  We are dual income with no kids and have a modest house which has been paid off for a few years.  We’re best described as middle-income with very few extravagances.  (If we were upper-income, I would have bought a Tesla instead.)  In two months time, over 650 miles have been put on the Mitsubishi.  45 of those miles were returning from the dealership with the car.  Therefore, the average is about 10 miles of driving per day.  My daily commute to work and back is 4 miles round-trip.  Other ways the mileage is accumulating is by trips to the grocery store, other shopping trips to department stores or malls, the occasional restaurant trip, and other miscellaneous driving around town.  The farthest from home the car has been since returning from the dealership is about 10 miles one-way to my brother’s house.  It’s not that I don’t have the confidence to take it farther, but I haven’t really had the need to go much farther.  We had contemplated what would have been a 35 mile round-trip excursion to an apple orchard, but the weather wasn’t cooperative the weekend we had planned on going.  Almost as important to mention are the trips I haven’t been able to use the EV. I built a fence a few weeks back.  The i-MiEV came in handy for trips back and forth to the hardware store for things like a new garden hose (for mixing concrete), gate latches, nails and screws.  What it didn’t get used for was picking up and returning the two-man auger used for drilling post holes, the two trips to pick up thirty 60-pound bags of cement mix, and the trip to get the 1.5 cubic yard cement mixer.  But those trips were not about range limitations.  If one of our other vehicles wasn’t a Dodge Nitro, the hauling of 3600 pounds of cement mix would have been a different logistical outcome than dividing it up into just two loads.  My wife uses the other vehicle as needed and if we need to head out-of-town it’s not a dilemma to choose a gas powered car with its “unlimited” range.  But I do face “pump anxiety”.  Pump Anxiety is a term I just created to describe the feeling one gets when filling a fuel tank and watching the cost accumulate as the gallons are added.  It can also be used to describe the anxiousness associated with evaluating the cost of fuel at different stations or on different days of the week depending on what world event has caused the price of oil to fluctuate.

Friday, October 19, 2012


How does one obtain Electric Vehicle Plates for the state of Illinois?

There are two forms that the Secretary of State provides which require completion in order to be issued plates for an EV.  (Note: I use EV as an abbreviation for Electric Vehicle, but the plates issued by IL will have a random number followed by EL.  The EL is for ELectric vehicle.  EV is already in use by the state for Exempt Vehicle.)  One form is the AFFIRMATION FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLE and the other is APPLICATION FOR VEHICLE TRANSACTION (VSD.190). 

The AFFIRMATION FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLE is not available online at the time of this writing.  I am also informed that the Affirmation should be updated in the near future.  Currently the form is intended for vehicles that have been converted to all electric.  As such, the form asks for pictures of the front, back and side of vehicle along with photos of the electric motor and battery storage.  The Vehicle Services Department should make the form clearer for originally manufactured electric power vehicles with the update.  And hopefully the form will be available online in much the same way that the AFFIRMATION FOR LOW-SPEED VEHICLE form (VSD.796) is on the SOS website.  Feel free to print a copy of the form below.  My local facility had to have this form faxed to them so the chances are you closest facility may have never seen this.  An important note: If you have an originally manufactured EV, the photos are not required.  If you are reading this before you buy, print a copy and take it to the dealership with you.

The second form required is an APPLICATION FOR VEHICLE TRANSACTION (VSD.190).  This is a form that a local facility should have.  A new car dealer should have these forms as well.  This is available online but not in a printable form, so avoid that route.  I wish I could provide complete instructions for filling out the form, but it will differ depending on if it is for new issue or reclassification because it was done wrong the first time.  A scan of the form for my Mitsubishi i-MiEV is attached.  Do not try to use a copy of this form since the bar code on the form has been erased and the form also has a section filled out in duplicate for when the plates are sent to the owner.  The one critical step is filling out ELECTRIC in box 3 for Plate Type Requested. 

Then there is the submission of the fee.  To reclassify the plates is $29 plus the fee for the plates themselves.  The plates are $35, $27, $18, or $9 depending on when during the two-year cycle they are bought.  Plates issued between Jan 1 and June 14 of even numbered years are $35.  Plates issued between June 15 and Dec 14 of even numbered years are $27.  Plates issued between Dec 15 of even numbered year and June 14 of odd numbered year are $18.  And finally plates issued between June 15 and Dec 31 of odd numbered years are $9.  After that the cost is $35 for a two-year renewal.  As an example, my plates will cost $56, the $29 fee plus the $27 "pro-rated" plate cost to have them issued in October of 2012.  If you are lucky enough to have an informed dealer and are getting plates issued at the time of purchase, the $9 thru $35 fee will apply instead of the $99 fee for PASSENGER plates.

So for now, both forms must be sent to Springfield for processing.  The local facilities cannot issue the plates.  You may be lucky enough to find one willing to send the paperwork to Springfied for you though. The address to send the two completed forms and payment is:

Secretary of State
Non-Standard Plates
501 S. 2nd St, Room 541
Springfield, IL 62756

I hope to be able to add information on how to obtain a refund for the $99 Passenger plate fee in the future.  That effort will more than likely take as much persistance as trying to find out how to get EV plates.

 Please feel free to Post a Comment if this information has helped you, if it is accurate, or if updates become available from the SOS. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


As an EV advocate, I am always looking for ways to promote EV ownership. 

Part of promoting ownership is by populating web sites such as with publicly accessible charging stations.  Then my thoughts drift towards schemes of finding ways to use those public stations myself instead of using household current.  This article attempts to share some of the motivations and possible repercussions of using remote charging strictly as a cost-saving alternative to home charging. 

Here are some of the thought processes.  I am aware of a charging station at one of our three local hospitals.  There are two stations, each with two chargers resulting in a total of four chargers with “Electric Vehicle Reserved Parking.”  When I first learned of these, I thought “Great, I can drive my Mitsubishi i-MiEV down and plug in for a while to charge up the batteries.”  The distance from home is about 2.5 miles.  A round-trip journey would be 5 miles.  For the sake of simplicity let’s figure it takes one kilowatt hour of power to drive the 5 mile round-trip route and it takes a half hour to charge one kilowatt hour back to the batteries.  The car needs to sit a half hour just to have a net zero gain/loss.  Then figure one hour of sitting per 10 miles of range increase.  How does one spend that time?  Read a book?  Walk around the hospital campus?  So a charger with a nearby activity would be a better solution.

Next Idea

The local Nissan dealer recently moved across town.  The new dealership location also brought with it a new charging terminal (for their Leaf’s).  The dealership is conveniently located close to a strip mall and several dining establishments.  This would solve the “what to do while charging the car” question.  The time could be spent having a meal nearby or shopping.  But what if I didn’t really need to buy anything?  Would I really be “saving” money using the remote charger for free if I end up spending money during an “unplanned” shopping trip?  I’ve calculated my cost with reliable accuracy for charging at home.  Twelve hours on the charger at home only costs about $0.50.  Any spontaneous purchases at all while “killing time”, and I’ve almost certainly come out behind in the overall savings effort.  There is a branch of the local library within walking distance though.  Spending time there could be done without much fear of spending money unintentionally.  It’s worth mentioning that I’m at home for a long enough duration that I’m not being held hostage by the charger and waiting for the car to have sufficient range before venturing out.

When to Charge Remotely?

There is another recent charger installation that is part of our Park District.  The charger’s location is next to a recreational path that is adjacent to the river.  It’s a good place to go to take a walk.  It was a destination before I owned an EV, and it was a destination before the charger was installed.  Now the advantage is, the trip can be made and the car can be given a charge while sitting.  Since I’m making the trip for a different reason than just to charge the car, it feels justified to plug the car in while it sits.  For my situation, remote charging will more than likely be less than 5% of total charging time over the length of ownership. 

To Summarize

Remote Charge When…
·         You cannot get home or to next destination on current range.
·         A charger exists at a location you are going to (for non-charging reasons).
·         You are not going to incur extraneous costs just for the sake of using the charger.

Are Remote Charging Stations Critical?

Like so much in life, it depends.  For me, and I’m sensing for many others, there is little occasion to need to charge while away from the house.  Yes, I will concede that a person who’s intent is to drive round-trip distances that are beyond the range of the vehicle will need to recharge somewhere along the way.  So far, my car typically gets charged twice a week.  There are many weeks where I could have gone with a single charge.  I tend not to charge to full battery capacity, nor do I use the car until the power level is severely depleted.  What about the longer-range commuter?  I would fully endorse an owner who planned to drive around 40 miles each way to and from work.  Provided they had a place to recharge at work, this would be one of the best scenarios for getting the most value out of an electric car such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.  The argument changes slightly since it switches from public charging terminals for the population at large to “semi-public” charging terminals intended for just employees of a company.

As an advocate, I’ve often wondered if it would be in the interest of the Electric Vehicle “Movement” to encourage companies with a local presence to invest in EV charging infrastructure.  I know that I would not likely be able to take advantage of the charging myself, for the reasons stated above.  Therefore it would appear that my motivation is to see EVs succeed at growing in acceptance and ownership.  A couple companies that have already shown support and have a local presence are Walgreen’s and Kohl’s.  In the eyes of the merchant, what needs to come first?  The cars or the chargers?  Rockford has a Nissan dealership that sells the Leaf and a Chevrolet dealership that sells the Volt.  It also has a Mitsubishi dealership, but unfortunately it doesn’t carry the i-MiEV.  Is that enough to warrant the investment in infrastructure upgrade?  Kohl’s has two stores locally.  It wouldn’t be nearly as cost intensive to add chargers as it would be for Walgreen’s which operates several stores across town.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


An Informative Rant

Don’t expect the car dealership to have your best interest at heart.  Before getting too negative, I will clarify that our salesmen has been excellent.  He even delivered my license plates to me which spared me from a 90 mile round trip drive.  It was a drive which would have been beyond the limits of the i-MiEV without recharging somewhere along the way.  It turns out we even went to the same high school, separated by quite a few years though.  So luckily it wasn’t that far off his normal course of travel to bring over the plates.  But once you move beyond the salesperson, it gets more difficult to find someone that values the customer’s interests above the dealership’s interests.  That is not to say that it should be different.  It’s the formula that typically keeps the dealership in business.  The point is: the dealership is on your side only to the extent that it benefits them. 

The source of my angst, you ask?  As part of my due process, I learned that in the state of Illinois, electric vehicles are eligible for an $81.50 annually lower license plate fee.  My mistake was in thinking that the dealership would be aware of this and know how to process the proper paperwork.  WRONG.  While dealing with the finance guy, I asked about the reduced fee.  He didn’t have a clue.  The extent of his help was guessing that maybe at the time the plates were renewed, the discount would be given.  So I was charged $99 for newly issued Passenger plates.  It wasn’t until after I had the new plates in hand that I researched deep enough to finally get the answer I was looking for.

The Illinois Secretary of State (SOS) web site does not provide any links to information about registering an Electric Vehicle.  I even called to ask the question to a live person.  They didn’t know about Electric Vehicle plates either.  (see bottom of blog for a number I was later given to call)  So maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh on the finance guy at the dealership.  The SOS employee did know about “Low-Speed Electric Vehicles” and the fact that they had separate plates and reduced fees.  But those are vehicles that have a top speed between 20-25 MPH and are restricted to driving on streets with either a 30 or 35 MPH maximum speed limit but are allowed to cross streets that have up to a 45 MPH speed limit. 

Finally, after searching numerous terms using Google and Yahoo, I found a shred of documentation that referred to the SOS pricing for Electric Vehicle plates.  Prior to the critical discovery it was hit or miss as to whether or not they even existed for Illinois.  The SOS web site shows “all” the types of license plates issued by the state, but does not include Electric Vehicle plates.  One type of plate shown is the Exempt Vehicle plate which uses the letters “EV” to show the designation.  I’m not sure what it’s exempt from, but it wasn’t looking too promising that there would also be an “EV” used simultaneously for Electric Vehicle.  The letters “EL” end up being the ones used for EV’s.  And the shred of documentation I finally discovered was a pdf of a cost sheet for license plate rates.  The search term was "il sos calendar registration fees", and currently it is the first link using Yahoo.

Illinois License Plate Fees

What I should have been charged was $27 for newly issued Electric Vehicle plates.  The plates are two-year issued plates and always expire in December of odd numbered years.  The $27 comes from ‘prorating’ the cost for being issued in the second of four periods stretched over the two-year issuance timeframe. 

What will it take to correct it?  Well, I stopped at the DMV on Friday afternoon to find out.  It wasn’t their mistake, so they won’t issue a refund.  Essentially, the plates need to be reclassified.  To reclassify them costs $27 for the new plates plus $29 to handle the paperwork.  Another $56 in addition to the $99 that I was erroneously forced to pay when I bought the car.  (Totaled together, it would be $128 in excess of what the original amount should have been.)  That’s if I wanted it fixed now.  Or I could wait one year until my current plates expire (August 2013), and have them reclassified then.  That would only save me $18.  (But I would also be paying $35 at the end of 2013 for plates for 2014-2015.)

On Friday, I left a voicemail for the Business Manager at the dealership.  I tried to explain the situation and asked if they would pay to have the plates reclassified.  I’m really hoping for a response within a week.  Was the fact that this happened, my fault for not knowing all the information at the time of purchase?  Is the blame theirs for not filling the paperwork out correctly? 

My Goal: A better informed public.

Regardless, hopefully this is read by a future electric vehicle purchaser in Illinois before they get to the dealership.  Hopefully this is also read by electric vehicle dealers serving Illinois customers in the hopes they correct their methods.  Of course, if the owner desires passenger plates (and the $99 annual fee that comes with them) over EL plates, they are allowed to use those.  Maybe someone doesn’t want the added attention that the plates may add.  Maybe they will opt for vanity plates, personalized plates, or a different style of specialty plates.  My preference is to save money year after year.  The car is going to attract attention with or without the plates anyway.

And just so I don’t become another source of information that states that Illinois offers lower rates for electric vehicle plates, but fails to communicate HOW to obtain the lower rate; refer to the pdf image above.  The critical step comes in filling out the APPLICATION FOR VEHICLE TRANSACTION.  Instead of Passenger plates, Electric Vehicle (EL) plates need to be requested instead.  Also make sure the dealership is not automatically collecting $99 for plates.  Many of their computer programs are not set up to handle other fees or the operator is just accepting the default amount.  This is typically well into the purchasing process, after being worn down by the negotiations for the new car price and the trade in price.  So it’s easy to be in the “whatever it takes to get me out of here” phase of the deal.  It may be worth asking up front if the dealership knows about the plates and their lower costs.  It will give them ample time to research before the signing marathon begins.  (Ask for/Look at the finance contract for the correct numbers before getting too far into the process.)

Special thanks to Latonya at the Rockford SOS Drivers License Facility for finding out the corrective action to fix the plates.

Special thanks to Agnes Mrozowski for providing the SOS Special Plates division phone number.  It is 214-782-7758.  (By the way, that wasn’t the number I had called earlier when I talked to an SOS employee about the plates.  This number was provided later.)