Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mass market EV, To Bolt or not to Bolt

Chevy announced Bolt to the public long ago, but the details have been lacking until recently. At 2016 CES, they announced that the battery will be 60 kWh, giving it a range of 200 miles. At NAIAS (North America International Auto Show), they announced further details. Curiously, Chevy's Bolt web site doesn't list performance figures, but only that it's 200 miles range EV and 9 hours to charge, and doesn't even mention fast charge using CCS.

Did Chevy forget that it's a car company, and not a electric-thing-a-ma-jig company? While SparkEV prominently lists horsepower and torque, Bolt power number is buried deep while they drone on about connectivity, something that even $10 cell phones have nowadays. So deep, in fact, that power is not even mentioned on its main website. While Nissan Turtle (oops, I mean Leaf) or Mitsubishi Snail (I mean iMiev, one of the slowest cars on the road) can get away with slow as molasses EV by claiming that they get the best range in their class, a car company that makes Corvette and SparkEV shouldn't be ashamed / hide its car's performance.

Digging further, I found the spec here.

Some key figures:

200 horsepower, 266 ft-lb of torque
60 kWh battery
90 miles charging in 30 minutes using CCS
50 miles charging in 2 hours (25 miles per hour, 7.2kW L2)
3580 lb (960 lb battery)
0-60 under 7 seconds (how low? we don't know yet)
0-30 in 2.9 seconds
$30,000 after subsidy (probably $37,500 MSRP)

Great EV performance

One obvious performance figure worse than SparkEV is the torque. While SparkEV was 400 ft-lb in 2014 and 327 ft-lb in 2015, key figures prominently displayed at Chevy's SparkEV web site, 266 ft-lb is much less than SparkEV. But the power is more than SparkEV, so that's good, right?

3000lb / 130HP = 23 lb/HP (SparkEV)
3600lb / 200HP = 18 lb/HP (Bolt)

As far as EV's go, Bolt has far better weight to power ratio than anything in its price range.

0-60 time isn't known other than "under 7 seconds". Assuming 6.5 sec and 6.9 sec for 0-60, using my "range-performance-cost" metric from my previous EV ranking post,

200 miles / 6.5 sec / 30 * 1000  = 1026
200 miles / 6.9 sec / 30 * 1000  = 966

Those  scores are better than all EV, including Tesla. If you're in the market for an EV and only EV, and you have $30K to spare, Bolt is the clear choice, at least for now; let's see how Tesla Model 3 does later in the year. It only costs $4K more than Leaf with 110 miles range / 0-60 in ~10 sec. In fact, it may perform even better than BMW i3 while costing less and 2.5 times the range.

Bolt is a winner? Not so fast.


I got excited about SparkEV and people get excited about Tesla P90DL, because they are better performing than all cars in their price range, not just EV. I can't get excited about cars that perform poorer than comparably priced gas cars. For example, Leaf with its 0-60 in 10 sec was quickest EV in its price range when it first came out (against cars like Zap!), but it was one of the slowest cars in its price range. That's not something to get excited about. It just reinforces the stereotype that EV is over priced, under performing glorified golf cart.

At first glance, Bolt suffers the same as Leaf. Compared to gas cars of about $30K, Bolt seem to be highly lacking. Below table shows how comparably priced gas cars perform from car and driver web site. As usual in my blog post, yellow (jersey like in bicycle race) highlights the best.

As you can see, Bolt drops to bottom of the pack of comparable cost cars when it comes to weight to power ratio. Well, that sucks. It would seem Bolt is a dud. But who cares if a car makes 1 lb/hp? What matters is 0-30 and 0-60 time with respect to price, because that's what's most used in everyday driving: traffic light show off and merging in freeway. Like EPA's MPGe, lb/hp has little meaning when it comes to real world performance.

Slow 0-30 times

Often, EV folks crow about quick 0-30 mph times of EV due to "instant torque". Here, the numbers are difficult to find for gas cars, but Bolt spec shows 2.9 seconds. Well, that SUCKS! SparkEV does it in about 3 seconds, and it's $12K cheaper. Far more importantly, gas cars of comparable cost perform better.

VW GTI is listed as 2.2 seconds ($29.5K). Ford Focus ST is listed at 2.4 seconds ($31K). As far as "drag race" at stop light to stop light against comparable cost cars, Bolt loses by wide margin.

0-60 time-price product

Better metric for comparison is 0-60 with pricing as consideration. However, Chevy doesn't list the time for 0-60, only that it'll be under 7 seconds. Then we're left to guess. I guesstimate 6.75 seconds. Though SparkEV is not in competition, it's highlighted in green.

Once again, Bolt is at the bottom. What's embarrassing is Bolt performs poorer than all gas cars in 0-60, including Fiesta ST that cost $7500 less! Bolt would be a loser if 0-60 is more than 6 seconds (only slower than GTI, WRX that cost $2500 less), though 5 seconds would barely make it a winner.

As before in EV ranking, I square the 0-60 time to give advantage to higher cost quicker cars. Even then, Bolt comes in at dead last.

5-60 time-price product

What's strange about car and driver is that they list many different figures for acceleration. For some cars, they use method somewhat like my "slip the clutch" acceleration. Using this method would surely yield best 0-60 times for gas cars. Indeed, such method could allow stock Corvette to beat Tesla P90DL in 0-60 time as I describe in my previous blog post. Neener neener to those who thought gas cars can't have peak torque from 0 MPH!

But that's not what people would do in terms of everyday driving in merging to freeway. They'd engage the clutch as soon as possible to minimize clutch wear and allow the engine power at appropriate RPM to accelerate. Such metric seem to be what car and driver calls "5-60 rolling start". Because Bolt would (should?) have close to max torque available at start, starting at 5 mph would yield lower time than 0-60, so I guesstimate 6.5 seconds for this comparison.

Car and driver also list many different prices: main price in bold, base price, and tested price. Tested price is with many options that may or may not have to do with acceleration. But it's impossible to separate them out, so I use tested price for comparison. This will give advantage to Bolt.

Well, well! Bolt isn't so bad after all! In fact, acceleration would be right in the middle of the pack between WRX and Ford Focus ST, though WRX has all wheel drive. When 5-60 time is squared, Bolt comes in between WRX and Fiesta ST, though Fiesta ST is lot cheaper. Oddly, Subaru WRX STi is slower than WRX while it has more power. Maybe the gearing isn't optimized for 5-60 runs, who knows?

An interesting side note is that SparkEV at $15K in CA ($26K - 7.5K(fed) - 2.5K (CA) - 1K( Chevy has $1K discount going on)) would perform better than Fiesta ST that cost $10K more, and close to Focus ST that's double the cost. Even though the time used for SparkEV is 0-60, and not lowered like with Bolt, SparkEV comes out at top even after squaring the time.

Performance assessment

I'm guessing Bolt's 0-60 times, and it's hard to know how much cost was involved in extras not related to performance for comparably priced gas cars, so 5-60 is probably the best case for Bolt. It's not the best of the pack, but not the worst. When it comes to bragging rights for 0-30 and 0-60, Bolt would probably lose when gas cars employ "ride the clutch" acceleration method. But when it comes to everyday driving, Bolt would be in the middle of the pack of comparable cost gas cars.

Or is it? Remove Ford from the list, and Bolt guesstimate again drops to the bottom of the pack in terms of absolute 5-60 time. What's saving it from being the bottom with respect to 5-60 price product would be the federal tax credit. Since most people will take the tax credit, Bolt is still not too bad, though not at the top of the game like SparkEV.

As a successor to SparkEV, that's an embarrassment. SparkEV is quicker than all gas cars of comparable cost. It's even quicker than cars that cost $10K more, and almost as quick as gas cars that cost twice as much, Fiesta ST and Focus ST, respectively. I guess one reason might be that Ford sucks. But the real reason would be that Chevy engineers did one hell of a job with SparkEV, but only so-so job with Bolt.

Slow charging

As I mentioned above, Chevy's main Bolt web site doesn't even list fast charging information. WTF? Unlike gas cars, people are unaware that they can "fuel" EV using fast charge and drive many times the battery range in a day. Highlighting 9 hours charge time as if that's something to be proud of is to say "don't buy Bolt; it sucks!"

From other sources, we can glean few things from this. 9 hours for 60 kWh battery is 6.66 kW. Spec shows 7.2kW. But that could be a problem for some (many?) people. At 7200W / 240V = 30A. This is significant current that may require special wiring at home. SparkEV's 16A was far easier on house wiring as many (most? all?) wall sockets wiring can accommodate the current. I suspect some (many?) will be in for a surprise when they find out that their home needs wiring upgrade or they have to use 3.3kW EVSE and take close to 20 hours to charge.

Far more important and far, far worse is DCFC speed. At 90 miles per 30 minutes, that seems to be 50kW charger. To get 80% of 200 miles (160 miles) would need

160 / 90 * 30 = 53 minutes!

In contrast, SparkEV would reach 80% in 20 minutes. If people only charge to X miles just to get to their destination, Bolt is fine. But human psychology is such that they look for X%, not X miles. Waiting almost an hour at DCFC is pretty sad. Chevy went from being the quickest charging EV in the world with SparkEV to slowest charging EV in the world with Bolt.

I only discuss DCFC as I consider non-DCFC as toys, not real vehicles.

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. CCS is rated to 170kW. At 3 times the battery of SparkEV, 150kW charger would put the Bolt back in the game as one of the quickest, if not the quickest charging EV in the world. I'm pretty sure Chevy has the engineering talent to pull it off. But alas, Chevy doesn't seem to care about this very important aspect of EV, which is fast charging.

So Bolt will be the slowest charging EV in the world. Sometimes, I feel like taking over Chevy and slap some sense into them.

Would I buy Bolt?

In a word, no. While Bolt isn't bad in 0-60, it's not great. After SparkEV, I've come to expect greatness from EV, not just merely "ok". Settling for Bolt just because it's an EV when better gas cars (performance and/or space, towing, convenience) at comparable or lower prices are available doesn't make sense to me. It's like, well, buying a Nissan Leaf: EV turtle.

Even worse, $30K is significant amount of money. I can be convinced to drive a new car, EV or otherwise, for $15K (or even $18K), but definitely not for $30K, especially a compact car like Bolt. At $12K more than SparkEV, that's over 10 years of eating at $1/meal ($3/day), an experiment I successfully tried for months while ago, and some made documentary about such endeavor.

If Bolt is a van, truck, or SUV that can carry stuff, it might make for a better case at $30K and so-so performance. In that regard, I wish Toyota continued to improve on Rav4EV; at 120 miles range with 0-60 in 7.2 seconds and $42K, I wish they could improve on it to bring the price down to $30K and 150 miles range; will discuss why 150 miles later.

Compounding the matter is Chevy's unwillingness to participate in DCFC infrastructure. They don't have to give out free charging (THEY SHOULD NOT GIVE OUT FREE CHARGING), but they could install them at all their dealers and charge nominal fee to recoup the cost. If they do, other EV drivers would stop by their dealer and check out Chevy cars while charging. Foot traffic at the dealer would be more than enough justification to install high power DCFC at the dealers.

Alas, this is not to be, and I don't want to support a company that sells EV without adequate way to use / charge it, especially at $30K.

What mass market EV would I buy?

Before this is answered, I have to answer what new gas car I'd buy. That's Hyundai Elantra. It's price is under $20K, has decent styling, close to 40 MPG, can tow 1500 lb which makes easy home depot runs for plywood using $250 harbor freight trailer.

First and foremost would be pricing under $20K. At $22.5K, that's in Prius ballpark. While that's tad high for my taste, I can squeeze out bit more for better car than Elantra.

Second has to be performance better than all gas cars in its price range. As shown above, Fiesta ST does in 6.7 seconds 0-60, so 6.5 seconds might be fine (Bolt may actually do this), though under 6 seconds would erase all doubt. Therefore, 0-60 must be under 6 seconds at $22.5K, preferably under 5 seconds.

Third is fast charging. While home charging overnight for 12 hours is fine, DCFC must be 80% in 20 minutes or less. In this regard, it's not just EV, but Chevy must actively participate in charging infrastructure (again, DO NOT GIVE OUT FREE CHARGING!) to allow 20 minutes for 80%.

Fourth, the range doesn't have to be 200 miles. Without DCFC, even 2000 miles range would not be enough. But with DCFC, it should be at least 2 hours at 65 MPH freeway with 15 minutes of charging.

65 MPH * 2 H = 130 miles

But one must have some margin. Let's say 20 miles for 150 miles range, though 10 miles would be ok, too. Assuming 3.5 mi/kWh at 65 MPH including heat/AC, that works out to

150 miles / 3.5 mi/kWh = 43 kWh (round up to 50 kWh)

To charge 80% of 50 kWh in 15 minutes,

50 * 0.8 = 40 kWh
40 kWh / 0.25 H = 160 kW

A 50 kWh battery charging at 160kW is rate of 3.2C. Whether current EV battery can do this is unknown. From few articles I've read, even 10C charging is possible for some chemistry. But we know SparkEV can do 48kW using 19 kWh battery, a charging rate of 2.5C (48/19). If we assume 2.5C that is currently possible with SparkEV, time to charge 80% would take

50kWh * 2.5C = 125kW
50kWh * 0.8 / 125kW * 60 min/hr = 19.2 minutes

125kW is about what Tesla supercharger can do today. Basically, the point is that practical mass market EV charging can be done that isn't much more of a hassle than gas cars, but not with today's CCS from eVgo. Chevy must actively develop and deploy and/or help deploy such charging network.

Fifth is 1500 lb towing capacity. Light towing makes the car so much more versatile. If I get another car, it will have to have towing capability. Another consideration for EV might be range extender trailer, either as extra battery or gas engine generator. Unfortunately, towing ability rules out all EV except for Tesla Model X at the moment.

So how does Bolt stack up from my requirements?
1. Pricing, No,
2. Performance, maybe, though probably lacking.
3. DCFC speed, No, especially with Chevy's lack of interest in participating.
4. Range, Yes.
5. Towing, No.

One out of five? Not likely; I'd rather get Elantra.

Mass market potential

If above criteria are met, I suspect it'll meet the needs / expectations of most people. After all, EV that performs better than all cars in its price range AND it can charge almost like gas cars on longer trips AND all the benefits of EV, such as home charging and quiet, smooth operation is hard to pass.

Some places give large subsidy for EV. US is one, and CA gives additional. Recently, Germany announced 2 billion euro to encourage EV. Big slice of that pie could go to the compelling mass market EV maker, and those who participate in charging network.

There's lots of money to be made for true mass market EV. Unfortunately, I don't think Bolt is it.

How about SparkEV? It could very well be the mass market EV with right pricing and options and marketing. In foreign countries where the roads are narrow, small car is actually of advantage. Combined with exciting performance for price, it holds lots of appeal with proper marketing. Going through the list of criteria above,

1. Sub $20K Pricing, Yes in US, probably in many other countries as well.
2. Performance, Yes. Chevy need to advertise this aspect with gusto.
3. DCFC speed, Yes, SparkEV is quickest charging EV in the world.
4. Range, No. However, with enough DCFC and marketing, it's not as big a deal.
5. Towing, No. But next gen can easily allow for this.

3 out of 5 is already met today, and towing is easily resolved. In fact, range extender trailer could solve the range issue as well. All Chevy need to do is market it to take advantage of the huge potential for EV in places like Germany. It's far easier to convince people to drive kick-ass car that happen to be an EV that cost $18K ($15K in CA) than $30K that's ho-hum. I mean, Chevy already did all the engineering work for SparkEV, why abandon it? All they need is to install DCFC at all their dealers (and price it to recoup cost), and run some commercials. Who knows? Maybe people will drop by to buy Bolt and Silverado as well.

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