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1000 miles with a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, by Jim Lazar

Karen and I bought a new Kia Niro plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) a month ago.  We just passed the 1,000 mile mark.

A few thoughts on this are worth sharing.

First and foremost, the 26 miles of electric range has proven to be all we need for around-town driving.  And, if we run around in the day, come home for dinner, put it on the charger over dinner, we have enough to go out for evening meetings and political fundraisers on electric.  This is an important lesson.  It means that a used Nissan Leaf, with about 70 miles of range, is an entirely adequate “second car” to use around town.  Some of you (Peggy Bruton, for example) already know this.  Peggy says that her 2013 Leaf “works great, charges to 90 – 95, and performs to that extent unless it’s cold and I turn on the heater a lot.”   The earlier Leaf is one of the great buys in a used car.  See below on this. 

Second, we chose the Niro over the Prius Prime (the main competitor) for a number of reasons.  The Niro is a bit taller, and has more headroom.  It’s easier to get in and out of.  The Prime is probably a better value for those who fit in it (Barb Scavezze just got one, and loves it.)  Barb says that the only time she buys gas is on long trips, but even then gets 54 mpg in hybrid mode.  And nobody beats Toyota reliability.  Barb can attest to that reliability – she traded in her 2002 Prius for the plug-in, which suffered through the snow, ice and salted roads in Massachusetts for its first 5 winters.  I hope the Kia will be reliable, but can’t expect to beat Toyota in that department.

Third, while the 110V charger works fine overnight, we are appreciating having a 220V charger hand-me-down from Dave Watterson, who still had it around from his Volt when he got his Tesla.  Thanks, Dave.  It can do a full charge in 2 1/2 hours.  The lesson here is if you have an electrician in your house, have them run a 50A 220V circuit to the garage while they are there.  You will be glad you have it when you get an EV.

Fourth, you learn to drive with respect to the “eco” meter.  My old Willys Jeep had a manifold vacuum meter.  Our Honda had a tachometer.  The Kia has a “charge / economy / power” gauge.   The Kia calculates your driving into Eco, Normal, and Power.   We are 92% Eco, 8% Normal.  Most of you already knew we were no more than 8% “normal.”

Fifth, one less desirable feature we’ve not had to deal with yet is the heater.  The Kia Niro does not have an electric heater.  Thus, in order to heat the car, the engine needs to come on.  In winter, I suspect this will quickly mean we can no longer run around town electric-only.  This is an advantage of the Prius Prime, which has a heat pump heating system, which does run electric.  A heat pump, after all, is just an air-conditioner in reverse; the Kia has an AC system, so why does it not have a reverse valve to function as a heater?  Lazy engineering by Kia, I think.

Sixth, I’ve tried to estimate our miles per kilowatt-hour, as well as our miles per gallon.   It’s hard.  The Kia is rated at 105 MPGe compared with the Leaf at 112 and the Prius Prime at 133.   The Kia is rated at 48 MPG on gasoline, vs. 54 for the Prius Prime.  The car calculates total miles driven divided by gallons of gas, ignoring all the electricity.  I think I can estimate it from the EPA rating information, which uses a “miles per gallon equivalent” to rate electric cars, dividing the miles into the equivalent BTU value of the electricity.  This is not quite right, because it ignores the conversion losses on the electric system, first converting fossil fuels to electricity, and then about 10% line losses to get it to the house, and then about 10% charging losses to get it into the car.  But, with that caveat, I estimated the miles-per-kilowatt hour of a bunch of electric and hybrid cars.  This tabulation is at the bottom of the page.  The Prius Prime beats our car by quite a bit.  But it did not meet our needs for a car.

We’re going to the electric car fair in Steilacoom as part of Drive Electric Week on Saturday, Sept. 8.   116 e-cars of 31 models registered.  It’s from 11 – 3.   We have room for two people if you want to join us.  Probably coming back around 2 or so, as Karen has a class reunion that night in Aberdeen.  List of vehicles below.

But I want to come back to the electric car range issue.  While we did not buy a used Leaf, because it will not reliably make it to Hoquiam and back (including running Karen’s dad around to medical appointments) you don’t need that much range in town.  We did not buy a new full battery-electric vehicle (BEV), as there’s no plan for public charging in some of the places we like to go, like around the Olympic loop, to Mt. Rainier, and they are still pretty pricey.  The Chevy Bolt did not fit, the Leaf is too low for some of our needs, so then it’s up in the Tesla realm.  We were not ready for a car that cost $50k or more.  So we settled on a PHEV.  As I said, 26 miles has worked well; I don’t think the engine has come on once during daily driving in Olympia, only on trips to Hoquiam.  So, here’s the best buy in a used car for a “second car” I can think of (if you have a petrol car available for longer trips).  A used Leaf.  If you’re commuting to work from Rainier, Hawks Prairie, or Steamboat, this will work stupendously for you.  And they are CHEAP.