Monday, December 31, 2012

An end to last EVSE scavenger hunt

Last post for 2012. I've enjoyed my Leaf for the last 6 months + 8 days. It is a wonderful car. I have had the opportunity to meet a number of enthusiastic EV owners and curious members of the public. This has been an awesome time for me. I've got the electric car that I've wanted for so long and it does absolutely everything I want. I charged it up Sunday to 100% and headed out into the wild.

The first stop was at the new device at the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers. I was there a couple months ago for a Boy Scout dinner and was thinking it would be appropriate to have a device there. Now there is. It appears to be supported by 24 solar panels and potentially 2 vertical wind turbines.

After a 30 minute charge it was off to find some Walgreens stores. The first stop was not quite over the river but it was through the woods of Loose Park. I had to wait for the deer to cross the road. Eventually I arrived at the device on Gregory Blvd. I arrived just in time for a breakfast snack of Snickers and Pepsi. I only charged long enough to eat. Even though there are plenty of areas to visit, the traffic is fast enough that it makes walking along the road dangerous. Now it was time for the longest single leg of the journey and this would literally be over the river and through the wood as I took more back roads to the north side of Kansas City and arrived at the Walgreens in Claycomo.
I was just plugged in long enough to step into the store and thank them for putting the devices up. Interestingly in the navigation map for the Leaf they left off the "H" in Chouteau Trafficway and on the ChargePoint map they list the device as being in Claycono instead of Claycomo. The next Walgreens is on Vivion Road and there's a huge Metro park 'n ride area there as well. 
And just down the street in the City of Fountains (nickname for KCMO) you can see that someone left the water running.

From north of the river I drove back into the heart of the city. I was planning on stopping and using the device at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Unfortunately that device is in their parking garage. I say unfortunate because that's a $5 parking fee. If I wanted to visit the Nelson or take the family I would gladly pay the fee because it's a very nice structure and access to the museum is free. However, this was just opportunity charging and a drive around town. That's not worth $5. So I continued on across Brush Creek to UMKC because I knew there were plenty of devices there. They are up to six devices each with dual handles so 12 cars can charge at any one time. In other words, all the Leaf's in KC at once...ok that's a little exaggeration. I was disappointed that for the second weekend in a row the device in the Rockhill garage was blocked by construction barriers. 
The device is active on the ChargePoint network but I guess there are signs and painting still to do. I was going to pull in and charge anyway figuring the lot was empty but there was a car to the right of the picture so I couldn't pull through. So instead I went down the street to the Cherry Street Garage with its access off Oak Street. I'm still trying to figure that one out. I thought about charging over at the Atterbury Student Success Center like I did last weekend but I was happy where I was.

All in all it was an enjoyable trip. It's fun to get around in the city and see parts that you've forgotten about or never visited. Searching for EVSE's is a lot of fun. It's great to see the support for the cars growing and the "Oh you have an electric car? Neat." comments are also growing in frequency.

**I just got an email from the IBEW, that's a 5kWh solar array. With the winter angle of the sun they're pulling 3.5 instead of 5 they get during the summer. Neat, I want one.

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience

EVSE Scavenger Hunt --update

Welcome back readers. This is an update to the post Thanksgiving EVSE scavenger hunt. As I mentioned in the original post the device at MRIGlobal was confusing. I contacted their Media Relations department. They requested a phone conversation with me to discuss their EVSE solution.

We had a very pleasant conversation that afternoon. One of their concerns is that they have to maintain security for the facility. The reason for the public parking prohibited is their need to maintain the security of their environment. They do want the EVSE to be public but they need to maintain the security of their environment.

They are going to work on public signage to ensure that we know the device is available and the best process to reach them to use it. One thing I suggested to them was to enable the reservation option for ChargePoint. Thanks again to Pam and her director for encouraging public charging and EV's in KC.

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Aighh... it's SNOWING run away

Sheesh, more snowpacalypse terror warnings from the news media. I don't mean to dismiss the real danger of winter storms but the way the news media is presenting the information is not the way to disseminate information. It is a method for generating fear.

Having said all of that my Leaf performed flawlessly in this morning's snow/ice. It was very easy to operate. My Leaf wasn't the car stuck alongside the road.

I would say the first foray into the winter wonderland that is the Kansas City streets with snow was quite successful.

Unfortunately the destination was less successful. For some reason, as yet unknown, the EV System Warning Light was flashing last night. So my snow drive this morning was to the dealer to have it evaluated. Low and behold, the snow and ice blew a transformer down south and probably also dropped some lines so they had no power.

Yes, that means no power to raise the door to the garage, no power for the computers, and worse, no power for the diagnostic equipment. Fortunately the salesman offered to bring me to the office while they wait for power to come on so they can diagnose the trouble with the system.

Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness, birds in the wilderness
Here we site like birds in the wilderness waiting for the power to come on....

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Why not drive 55?

A couple months ago we saw where Texas raised the speed limit on an interstate to 85 mph.

Now I've driven through the Great Plains. I get it. I know there's nothing but farms and ranches as far as the eye can see. I get it that driving 30 mph over 55 gets you to point B 50% faster.

The question is at what cost? If you set the way back machine to 1983 you can meet Klaus. As you might assume Klaus is a German name and it's the name of my friend's father when they were visiting from Germany. One of the things that I remember quite clearly when he discussed driving from Florida to Kansas was that he wasn't tired at the end of the day. He said when he drove the Autobahn in Germany for any extended time he was exhausted when he was finished because of the stress travelling at high speeds caused.

Keep going back in the way back machine to the Carter Presidency and the establishment of the 55 mph interstate speed limit. The goal at the time was to reduce the amount of gasoline required for extended highway travel. The flipside of this radical effort was reduction in traffic fatalities.

Keep the way back machine going until you reach 1945. At the end of World War II we find that the United States military had enough tires in stock for the war to last another TEN years. Why did we have such a massive surplus of tires? Because people were driving less. Why were they driving less? Because gasoline was rationed. If you examine the WWII rationing of gasoline you find that the reason it was limited wasn't to keep the gasoline supply available for the military. It did accomplish that goal but it was a side effect. The goal was to reduce the dependence on external sources of rubber required for the tires. The American oil supply at that time was almost 100% domestic but rubber was an import and therefore threatened by the ongoing conflict.

As we return to the 21st century we are no longer troubled by the availability of rubber for tires. However, gasoline has become, oh..shall we say, just a little pricey. Now we need a return of lower speeds not to save rubber or even lives because technology is helping with that but we need to reduce our dependence on not only domestic oil but we need to dramatically reduce our foreign oil imports even if that import is from the Canadian tar sands.

To paraphrase Necron99 in Wizards - oil bad, go around

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

EVSE Scavenger Hunt

While Electric Avenue is still not a reality it is refreshing to see the number of electric vehicle charging stations popping up all over town. I spent some of my spare time over the Thanksgiving holiday investigating many of the stations I hadn't visited yet. The weekend before the holiday I started off with a trip down to the DMV and Roeland Park City Hall.

The Roeland Park City Hall has nice signage directing people to the device. It's a double Coulomb device with 120/240. However, they have a fatal "while charging" caveat posted as well. Since this also doubles as the patrol parking lot for the PD, be careful parking.

The DMV meter is handy to the rear doors of the building. While I wouldn't want to spend hours at the DMV at least you can charge there if you had to spend too much time there.

That was enough EVSE scavenger hunt for the day as I had a customer meeting to attend.

The day after Thanksgiving I expanded my scavenger hunt. This was a great day to be indoors as the 70* temps from the day before changed to 30* temps for the day after. The interesting aspect of this hunt was the fact that while I knew the general location of the EVSE's, I didn't know the exact locations. I decided it was time to break out the GPS and navigation instructions for the car. Fortunately for me I knew the most energy efficient way to get near the EVSE's. Unfortunately for me I drove the GPS into a catatonic coma by forcing it to recalculate the drive every few blocks. If it was a real woman instead of just a female voice I'm sure the instructions would have changed to "I don't know why I'm telling you anything, you won't do what I say and go your own way anyway".

As I coasted down Wornal and recaptured energy from the long hill, I started to actually pay attention to the instructions. I knew approximately where 4725 Tracy was located but not exactly. As it turns out it was quite easy to find and the GPS was right on the money. There were two unfortunate experiences with this plug. The first is that it's still not operational. An email to KCP&L (Kansas City Power and Light) generated a response of "we're having problems getting the billing set up but it should be available soon". Given that this is part of their urban green experience and a "one off" set up compared to the rest they sponsor, that problem is understandable. The other unfortunate experience you can see above. One hour parking limit. You would not want to stop here needing a long charge. The flipside is there are only two things to do around here. You can check out the electric park where they put up with solar panels or walk around the corner for some Gate's BBQ.

In the background of the park you can see Paseo High School. This was once a vibrant educational establishment in Kansas City. Hopefully the urban renewal will bring it positive experiences again.

The next stop on the hunt was further up the street and around the corner. This sounds very short but in reality the trip from 47th Street to 50th is much further than it sounds. MRIGlobal has a device located in their parking lot. The lot is accessed not from Volker Blvd as the address would indicate but rather off Oak St. Just like the device on Tracy; this device had a problem as well.
The device is listed on ChargePoint and on PlugShare. Both networks indicate it's available for use. I contacted MRIGlobal before posting and received a very polite response from their media contact who is investigating if the plug is actually open to the public or not. I hope to hear from her this week and I will post an update with the details. But as you can see, they have it posted as public parking prohibited under threat of towing.

The next stop was the brand new University of Missouri, Kansas City parking garage. This is right next door to MRIGlobabl. Interestingly the garage is labelled the Cherry Street Garage but the EV access is off Oak. The EVSE's here are some of the best located devices around town in my opinion. They are within (long) walking distance of the Plaza. They are covered. They are right next to the Missouri Repertory Theater which is part of the University. I checked with the University police who share the garage and they confirmed that it was open parking on the weekends. Needless to say this is starting to sound like a broken record but there were problems here as well. But there is also hope. The really neat thing about this location is they already have signs up where they
expect to have future EVSE's located. You can even see where the electrical caps are located at the end of the wires where new devices could easily be added. I even forwarded a copy of the picture to our realty team that is building the new office for us so they can see a good way to build expansion capabilities into an EV solution. The disappointing aspect was the signage. "Reserved for Plug In Hybrid Vehicles". When I contacted the University for additional information they replied that the garage is under University parking control starting Monday's at 0700 until Friday's at 1900 and guest parking is $7/day. When I also mentioned that their signs were quite specific and didn't cover battery only vehicles they didn't seem to care and said not to worry that I wouldn't get a ticket.

 Across the street is actually the plug I would be using during the business day if I was in the area and needed a charge. It's a metered lot at $1/hour regardless if the car is an EV or ICE.

Just like the Cherry Street Garage, this is not a monitored lot on the weekends.

Fortunately for me I was able to set the climate control and preheat the car while it was in the Cherry Street garage because by the time my 30 minute walk around campus and to the top of the parking garage was complete, I was freezing and a warm, toasty car was calling to me. The next stage of my trip took me from the university campus across Midtown to Hospital Hill where Children's Mercy, UMKC Medical Center, and Truman Medical Center were located. Again, free open parking on the weekend but UMKC monitored parking during the week and the same $7/day parking fee for guests.

This device was actually the most difficult to find out of all the ones over the weekend. When I checked the networks I couldn't tell who owned the device. It could have been any of the three hospitals and there were no signs directing me to its location. As I noted above, it's owned by UMKC. Regarding all of their devices "The charging stations are available 24/7. UMKC has no plans to start charging for the use of the stations in the foreseeable future."

The final leg of any trip should always be a party. With that thought in mind I headed down to "the Boulevard" to find the last plug of the night. Unbeknownst to me, I was heading into conflict.
The device was in use! Very cool! The first Leaf I've ever seen except when meeting friends. Unfortunately this particular device is one of the 120/240 devices. While it has two plugs, only one is the standard L2 J1772 that is preferred. The other plug is a 120 volt that the Leaf portable EVSE can plug into. The problem is that there is a fatal design flaw in the 120. The lid on the station must make a complete connection with the magnets. When this happens the brick on the portable EVSE has to hang down. The hanging forces the plug to come out of the jack just enough to cause it to fault and not charge so even though it's advertised as a 2 location device it really only has one usable plug. Still it was a nice day to get out and about. The really nice thing about this location is that it's just down the street from two of KC's most notable Mexican restaurants, Margarita's and Ponak's.  There are also many other less well known restaurants along Southwest Boulevard. This particular plug is just off 25th Street. It's in the parking lot of the appropriately named Boulevard Brewery.

The next round of the EVSE scavenger hunt was took place the next day. This plug is at the Commerce Bank location on the northeast corner of 135th and State Line Road. Yes, this is on the Missouri side. The nice thing about this plug is that it is within walking distance of over 10 different restaurants, Lowe's, WalMart and over a dozen other shops. This is a very good location for an EVSE. It's not quite as good as the two at Town Center but it comes in a close second or third for the best in town.

Since I was already on the extreme south side of town I thought I should check out the county library at 151st and Metcalf (just west). I think having an EVSE at the libraries is a great way to educate the public, encourage EV adoption, and increase traffic at the library. I know that I will be going to either one of the two with EVSE's instead of the one around the corner from now on.
Unfortunately they still don't have signs up for this device. I need to write a letter to the county. The devices at 87th Street are properly marked but this one isn't. And boy did I get an ugly glare when I was plugged in this time. A lady in a gas guzzling minivan just glared at me for a couple minutes as I sat reading on my Kindle while the Leaf was plugged in. Well, you can't please everyone and if I were driving a 15 mpg minivan I'd be jealous of an EV too.

Overall it was a great weekend to go out tripping around town and find the plugs. There are fewer than 10 devices south of the river that I haven't checked out yet. Currently on the list is a writing campaign to get some up at the Legends. With NASCAR, T-Bones Baseball, Sporting KC soccer club, and tons of restaurants, shopping stores, and entertainment, this location would be a great one to have multiple plugs.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday and are prepared to enjoy the seasonal religious festivities of your culture with your friends and families.  =)

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Experience at Olathe Ford dealership

A few days ago we were searching the internet. We = a couple guys at the office who are mildly to very interested in electric cars and yours truly. We were looking because there were all sorts of Black November car ads.

On the website for Olathe Ford there was listed a Ford Focus Electric. Wow, really? One of the guys was really, really wanting to get the FFE instead of a Leaf.

Below is directly from their website as it stands today:

Ok, not for sale but for ordering. That makes a whole lot of sense. The FFE is not nationally available for sale but maybe they just want to get a demo out there to get a jump on sales. Very cool we were all thinking.   I wasn't planning on buying a new car right now as I've only had the Leaf for 6 months but I will need another car in a couple years when the kids are older. Plus with the experience I have with my Leaf the office guys are willing to accept my expertise in the EV field.

I was excited at the posting and with high expectations ran down there after work to see what I hoped would be an incredible car.

So let me preface the rest with a disclaimer. I hope that what I'm presenting is a simple explanation and not a judgement so the reader will come to his/her own conclusions and opinions.

Now admittedly it's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Maybe they weren't fully staffed. Maybe they thought I had already been helped. But the reality is that when I arrived and parked there was no one on the lot to greet me. When I went into the showroom and walked around the 3-4 cars in the showroom, none of the people there greeted me. When I went back out to the lot and looked for the distinctive plug location on the driver side front fender, no one greeted me as I wandered between about 100+ different cars and trucks. When I went back into the showroom, a man who would later be introduced as the New Car Sales Manager proceeded to remove advertisements from the cars in the showroom and walk right by me several times.

Right when I was about to get fed up and leave, one salesman came over to ask if I needed help. I explained that I was here to research the FFE and that I was not prepared to buy one but I had some questions and would like to test drive it based on the information they had on the web. He was quite friendly and openly admitted he didn't know anything about the car but would get me someone who did. I quickly reminded him that I wasn't buying and not to interrupt anyone's deal. He thanked me and returned shortly with another salesman. Now with two salesmen about to talk to me; the Sales Manager came over to be introduced. Before either of the salesmen could say anything other than their names he quickly informed me the car wasn't there. He didn't know where it was and it was only there about half the time as it was at car shows or at nearby towns frequently and was I looking to add FFE's to my company fleet?

I explained I was there to see the car and test drive it as it was posted on their website and he said it's not available for test drives. "You can only look at it".

Needless to say I left fairly quickly after that as a test drive was the only reason I went down there. I know what my opinion is of the experience and I know what I will be doing later.

I also know that when I stopped at Bob Allen Ford (about 6 miles away) back in October and spoke with the sales team there they expressed a keen interest in my Leaf. They wanted to know a lot about it and asked if I was happy with it. Of course I'm very happy with my Leaf and I was encouraged by their intelligent questions. They said they expected to get more training on the FFE and have it available in their lot this spring. "They" in this case happened to be 4-6 different salespeople as they filtered in and out around my Leaf and the main guy I was talking to.

Given the experience I had at Shawnee Mission Ford, where a salesman refused to talk to be about a minivan without having a lead sheet filled out (this was years ago and I walked off the lot) and the experience I had with Olathe Ford when I compare that experience to Bob Allen Ford and McCarthy Nissan (where I got my Leaf and where I stop by monthly to say hi), I know where my next car will be purchased and I know where it won't be purchased.

As car owners my wife and I have owned:

1979 Ford Pinto - (gifted from Dad in '85)
1985 Lincoln Mercury - (aka Ford Escort) for graduating high school '87
1992 Ford Ranger- traded in Merc in '94
1998 Saturn SL - traded in Ranger in '98
1995 Ford Escort (gifted from Dad in '99)
2000 Saturn LS - traded '98 Saturn in '00
2002 Saturn SL - (mine) traded Escort
2002 Saturn SL - (wife's, bought on same day) traded Saturn LS in '02
2010 Toyota Corolla - wife's Saturn transmission died Dec '10 so traded dead car
2002 Ford Escort (purchased from Dad Oct 2010), sold my Saturn in '10 to Carmax
2012 Toyota Prius - traded Corolla
2012 Nissan Leaf - traded Escort

It's worth noting that all four Saturns were purchased at the same dealer and the Prius was deliberately not purchased at the same dealer as the Corolla. I will still not go back to Shawnee Mission Ford because of shopping experience in 2000.

The point of this long winded rant? Customer service matters.

Signing off for today
Try reading a book, it's a novel experience.