Saturday, 16-Aug-14 15:31
Driving with Electricity, pt 1

First, a small confession: I don’t actually own a car. I have never owned one. The reasons are partly practical and part environmental - cars are fairly expensive things to own, and as long as I can manage without one, I can spend the money on other stuff. Like buying an apartment near a major public transportation hub so I don’t actually have to own a car… Also, climate change is a serious problem, and I try to avoid contributing to it. Plus that I actually like my morning commute on the public transport - it’s some quiet time for myself, and it’s faster than driving myself.

However, it does not mean that I don’t drive. I am a member of a car-sharing service as well as a Five Star Gold Member at Hertz… I rent the car when I need one; and take a taxi fairly liberally. The Finnish taxation makes cars pretty expensive things to own, so I’ve been calculating that I am still saving money. Things may of course change when the kids will need to move around more; or if we move to a location where public transportation wouldn’t just work.

The great thing about renting a lot is that you get to drive all sorts of fairly new cars. And I like testing them out, in case I ever actually buy a car. It’s really like getting an extended test drive from the dealer (and I know some people use the test drives as really cheap rentals too, but I haven’t yet used that opportunity).

One car that I had had my eye on for a small while was the Volvo V60 PHEV - a hybrid diesel car that you can plug in at home to charge it up, but which still has a regular diesel engine for the longer trips. So when it popped up on Hertz reservation system when I was looking for my holiday car this summer, I seized the chance, emailed Hertz who got me a sweet deal on it (I’m kinda happy about it, so this is their free plug ;-). Therefore, for the past two months or so I’ve clocked some serious hours in that car - 5400 km worth of time to be precise.

The car

Why people want a hybrid in the first place.

I’m not a car expert, so I won’t be covering a lot of the technical details - frankly, I can’t be arsed to do a lot of research on it. If you’re interested, just go check actual car magazines, who can tell you everything you need to know about how the car lights work etc - I’ll just cover my impressions and thoughts after driving a half-electric-half-diesel car both in city runs as well as a couple of long road trips.

I’ve had a few earlier encounters with Volvos, and I have to admit that they kinda work for me. They’re comfy, spacious, feel a little luxurious (but not too much) and have this… aura of safety around them. Which is nice when you have your most important legacy fighting over toys on the back seat. The D6 engine (the biggest diesel engine that Volvo has) in the V60 PHEV makes this car really GO when it needs to, and the electric engine gives it a nice boost if you press the pedal. Put on the "power" mode and it’s got enough power to give me a scare followed by a big grin the first time I left the traffic lights.

The most wonderful thing about the car though is the electric drive. Driving with an electric engine is pure joy - in fact, I felt slightly offended every time the nasty, polluting diesel engine kicked in. “Why are you ruining my pure experience?”, I swore under my breath many times! Of course, the battery in the car is good for only about 50 km of electric driving, and even then the diesel engine starts from time to time to provide power in sudden accelerations. But there’s a “Pure” (pure!) mode, in which the car really tries to avoid using the combustion engine, so that makes avoiding nastiness a bit easier.

Driving with electric drive is addictive. Nevermind having to dodge people in the garages who’ll never hear you coming ‘cos the thing is just so **quiet**; sometimes I just shut off AC and radio and just listened the wheels and the wind, as there was no other sound from the car. (Aside from the kids bickering in the back, of course. Or the Lego Movie. Whichever happened to be on for the most of the road trips.)

Also, electric driving is cheap. I briefly chatted with the owner of a Prius PHEV, and he mentioned that he hasn’t been to the fuel pumps in over three months. He charges at home, he charges at malls, he charges at the office. He probably doesn’t pay for half of the electricity, since both malls and offices these days have free plugs for EVs. Malls, because it’s a marketing thing (we’ll get to that later); offices ‘cos they are often subletting from a larger garage complex and managing payment for electricity would be more expensive than the electricity itself. Note however that the V60 PHEV is a good deal more expensive than the regular V60, so by my very rough estimate you’d need to drive around 100 000 km with electricity to get even… So at this stage this is more of a lifestyle vehicle than a car you buy because you’re pinching money. But I hear that Volvo is planning to make PHEV versions of all of their models, so I’m certainly giving my thumbs up for that: more production = cheaper prices and more options.

Since everyone’s interested in fuel consumption figures, let me say that I got around 5.2 litres/100km averaged across the entire 5400 km. This is of course because a vast majority of that driving was long-distance (we did one 2000km trip and a few 300 km trips). In the city, the consumption was far less, because we could use electricity to propel us towards new adventures! Volvo themselves claim 1.9 litres/100 km, but that’s only true if you do a massive amount of driving in the city, and are able to charge often. But you could basically go to near-zero if your daily commute was < 50 km and you could charge the battery full at both ends.

But that really brings me to the charging aspect of the EVs. And that’s where things get ugly. Stay tuned for the next episode!


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