PAX: "Is this an EV?"
Me: "Well, it is, until it isn't."
This is the beginning of a conversation that I have at least 10 times a week with riders on LYFT. I certainly do not mind this conversation, as I started doing this side-hustle to maximize the utility of a depreciating asset (my car), indulge my insomnia, to see how well the economics worked with a fuel efficient vehicle, and if I am honest, to perhaps live out Jarmusch-ian fantasies of NIGHT ON EARTH.
I drive Part Time in the Toronto Area, typically in the evenings, using our family car, a 2017 Chevrolet VOLT. I purchased this vehicle a couple years ago at a very decent price. This was before the local government regime-change yanked away the CAN$14,000 incentive. (North America's largest single Electric Vehicle incentive, was working, as there are a fair number of 'green plate' cars on the road here. Before the right-wing fiscal conservatives get testy, the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program was capped at $CAN75,000 vehicles, so nobody was buying Tesla S/X or Porsche 918 Spyders luxe-toys with EV incentives. I digress...)
I never figured I would become an EV-advocate along the way, either to people who know nothing about this class of car, or other UP-Drivers in the Toronto Forum. But here we are.
Consider this article a quasi-formal bit of information to stamp out some of the EV-FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) that persists in the mainstream media, and the toxic EV fear that swirls in the Fox News and Breitbart circles. One would think that the freedom lovin' conservative set would love EVs for the domestic energy use instead of importing Saudi Oil, but this thinking is rare (but, thankfully, not zero.)
But this is a ride-share article, not a political one. And while we are at it, I plan on not making it an environmental one (because the environment somehow went political in the 21st century.) I am going to consider the mercenary economics here. Any green-elements will be tucked at the end as a postscript/bonus, and is not going to be considered as a primary benefit to doing rideshare on an EV.
Consider first, that gasoline in Canada is, currently, well past CAN$4/Gallon (In greeny-Portland-ish Vancouver, it is $1.61/L (*4 = $6.44/Gal), in 'Texas-lite' oil-rich, cowboy hat totin', low-tax Alberta it is $1.10/L (*4 = 4.40/Gal), and in populous Ontario (which has about 40% of Canada's residents, so it is like California/New York/Florida/Texas combined) gas costs about $1.20/L (*4 = 4.80/Gal).
Context: Canadians on the whole earn less money annually than our neighbours to the south, and pay more taxes, particularly on fuel, so gas prices here are a constant topic of conversation. Distances here are also very large, even in the cities. We favour sprawl and super-highways along with the best of America's Post-War suburban expansions. There are a lot of Toyota Priuses and Honda Civics on the road in Toronto. Cars are also more expensive here, even though we make a lot of them. Every major car company has an assembly plant in Ontario.
Common wisdom for the Full Time Uber/Lyft driver often found in these pages would be to buy a cheap used Prius or Civic (or for those XL dollars, A 7-Seat Dodge Caravan), one that is 4 years old or more, but not greater than the 7 year cap Uber puts on vehicles in this market, and grind it into the ground. Grind. Rinse. Repeat. It is good advice, I suppose, if you want to sit all day in a joyless vehicle as it decays into constant maintenance. (On the plus side of that argument, at least the Prius won't idle all your profits away while stuck in traffic; the engine shuts off whenever the vehicle comes to a full stop.)
But Rideshare was intended to be for the part-timer. The 'I'm heading there anyway, might as well take an extra passenger or three along the way.'
Anyone up here (or down there) should consider driving a EREV (Electric Range Extended Vehicle - i.e. Not a Hybrid) for their 'regular’ car. There is the Chrysler Pacifica. Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Ionic, and Chevrolet Volt.
All of these, if they serve a dual purpose as personal vehicle and rideshare side-gig, make a lot of fiscal sense. The concept behind EREV is that the vehicles have a sizeable battery in them (not quite the HUGE one that Tesla S/X/3 or Chevrolet BOLT have with the larger price tag offering bigger ranges of 250+ miles (400+ km.)) EREVs charge fast, and shave off the first 30-50 miles of driving by being powered 100% on electricity. The gasoline engine on board is only there as a back-up if you out-drive your battery range. You plug your car in like you would your smart-phone -- Any time you are not using it, plug it in. (Yes, it plugs into a 120V plug, anywhere! You do not need a dryer/Stove-level' 30a/220v plug, but that certainly helps if you are doing Rideshare and can install one in your garage/driveway.)
Back to $.
Electricity here in Canada is considered 'expensive.' It has nothing on the steep costs seen in Hawaii or California, and with Time of Use pricing here in Ontario (and other markets), the price drops down considerably after 7pm (and stays cheap until 7am). The Cost per Kwh (Kilo-watt Hour) during the evening here is CAN$0.065 (At peak prices, for about 3-5 hours during the day it costs CAN$0.135. There are many free chargers (https://www.plugshare.com/) around the city of Toronto, if you want to do daytime charging, and don't mind bringing a book or tablet, you can drive for 'FREE.' Check Plugshare. Your town may vary in availability of chargers, but there are way more out there than you think.)
The current generation VOLT gets about 100 km (60 miles) on a charge while doing city driving (with ZERO idling waste unless you have the heat or air-conditioning cranked). It gets about 80 km (50 miles) on the highway at speed. If you are stuck in traffic, like most people in Toronto on the highway, it gets >110 km (>65 miles).
The VOLT has a 14 kwh battery.
Do the Fuel Arithmetic:
14 * CAN$0.065 = $0.91.
That is less than $1 to go 100km
A gently-used Civic could get as much as 35 mpg (that would be 14 km/L in Ontario Units. Or, 7L per 100km. At current Ontario gasoline prices: $1.20*7 = CAN$8.50. If you take into account the fuel wasted idling in traffic, it is more like $10.00.
So consider your fuel costs to drop by nearly 90% if you can drive around completely on the battery in an EREV. This is, from a practical point of view, PART time only. 12 hour Rideshare marathon-days would only be possible if you are taking 4 hour naps and charging; and only grinding during high earning windows of opportunity (Morning RUSH, Evening RUSH, Bar Hours).
Consider maintenance. If you are driving 80-90% on your battery, and only 10-20% on the Range Extending (Gas) Engine, you only require 1 oil-change per year, even if you are putting serious miles on the vehicle. Let that sink in for moment, and consider how many fluid changes you do on your ride-share vehicle. Also consider, for the Electric portion of EREV, there is no transmission, no belts, only a few moving parts, and these are often magnetic/air, so they do not wear (Tesla's 'infinite drivetrain warranty' supports this). Even the brakes use an energy regeneration dynamo that extends your brake pads by a factor of up to 5 times more, depending on how you drive. No more scraping those rotors, or visits to the shop. (And, bonus: You are getting energy back into the battery when decelerating or going down hills.) No more making and keeping appointments and hassle of going to oil-change depots or dealerships for up-selling opportunities on their part. (Also, for that matter, no more gassing up in bad weather or long Costco lines, or impulse buys at gas station convenience stores).
Now, consider insurance. Obviously every market is different, but here in Greater Toronto (where we also have the highest insurance rates in the Country), the average EV driver is typically an engineer or nerdy type, and drives more conservatively (i.e. slower, safer and lower risk). The Insurance actuarial tables are well in your favour EV/EREV drivers for low insurance rates. (Anecdote time: When I went from an aging 2003 Nissan Maxima to a shiny new 2017 Volt, my insurance costs WENT DOWN.)
And the hardest thing to consider; your well-being. All the vibration and rattling that people barely notice on a conscious level in a 'regular car,' can result in stress or (mild) headaches after a long day of driving. Even if you are not aware, it is still having an effect in a small way. Driving a silent (minus tire and some wind noise) mostly vibration free ride goes a long way to finding a mellow-zen-calm. Not idling away $$ in fuel while stuck in traffic offers further peace of mind.
And you will never get stuck. EREV means I could drive to Alaska or Mexico City on a whim, if I wanted to flip to gas. Is there a good Saturday night in the city of constant surge and polite PAX? No problem. EREV is still twice as efficient as that CIVIC when running on gasoline, about as good as a current generation PRIUS. So you are still doing OK while burning dinosaur juice, even though you are doing better for those first 100km on electrons.
That gets us back to the original conversation. The VOLT or any EREV, is not a hybrid. It does not require the constant gasoline and maintenance of a hybrid. But the important distinction over a regular EV is that YOU WILL NEVER BE STRANDED. You always have the option of switching to, and driving exclusively on gas, with the familiar 5 minute fillup at your local station. You cannot do that in a Nissan LEAF, or a TESLA (however, superchargers are pretty fast!), or a BOLT.
I tend to tell my PAX who ask the original question, "Is it fully electric?" that it can be if you want it to be, but it does not have to be if circumstances require. Flexibility is a wonderful thing. Kind of like 'freedom.'
Here are the issues people bring up to say, "YEAH, BUT WHAT ABOUT...."
1) Initial Purchase Cost. EV and EREV cost more at the outset than your regular gas guzzler. This is relatively new technology and for that early adopters will pay a premium. But consider your market and various incentives. This can bring the cost down to comparable gas car. However, you will have to purchase new. But, if you are in it for the long haul, and drive a lot of miles (HELLO, RIDESHARE!) and need a personal use car anyway, then you will come out wildly profitable in the end via fuel and maintenance costs.
2) The High Cost of Battery Replacement. This is the biggest non-issue, constantly fear-mongered by the press. Research shows that while battery degradation happens over time, it is not much greater than 15%. This is small potatoes. I also own a 6 year old Nissan Leaf, notorious for being the WORST of the EVs for battery degradation, and while it has dropped in range by about 15% in 6 years, it is no major way impacting how I use it. (Note: I do not use it for ride share, as this was an early model electric car that only goes 85 miles on a charge!) The entire FUD of, "It will cost $8K for a battery replacement," is a MYTH. The battery will last at least 10 years, and that is outside the window of most people owning a car, and well outside of ride-share in most markets. It. Is. A. Non. Issue.
3) Your DAMNED COAL POWERED CARS. Please stop watching FOX NEWS. (Also for that matter, please stop reading Sierra Club too.) The far left and far right groups do not help the conversation. Consider instead the UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS, a neutral third party of data driven thinkers. Even if you live in a Coal State and drive a car powered 100% on coal-generated electricity, it is still not only cheaper to drive, but better for the environment. Generating the fuel at a 'relatively' efficient power plant, rather than the 'power plant' you haul around in front of your car (i.e. the INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE and GEARBOXES) is still better for the environment. This is especially so when you consider that EV/EREVs DO NOT IDLE, which is a major amount of wasted energy and pollution.
Furthermore, a wise chemist once said, "It is easier to move around electrons than molecules." Meaning that you cannot consider just the cost of fuel and pollution, but the entire value chain of getting that fuel to the power source. Gasoline costs as much in energy TO REFINE, as an EV gets in driving. So your gas in the Virginias and Kentucky and may other states, is also DAMNED COAL POWERED.
All of this does not include trucking all that heavy refined fuel to gas stations, pumping it into the large tanks, and pumping it back out into the waiting (often idling when gas is cheap and line-ups are at the stations) cars. Furthermore, America at least, spends a lot of money stabilizing the Middle East (And parts of Africa, and I guess, Venezuela) with their very expensive military. Consider the cost of policing the Suez Canal and all those tankers - https://www.euronav.com/media/65361/special-report-2017-eng.pdf .
On the other end, the USA energy grid gets more green and more clean every year. Even in the case of gas-fired, coal and nuclear, the logistics of getting the fuel to the generation source is much more efficient.
In Canada most of the electricity is hydroelectric (Manitoba, British Colombia and Quebec are almost 100% hydro). Most of Ontario is Nuclear Fission. While higher in risk, Nuclear power is much lower pollution for generating massive, predictable base-loads of electricity. With next generation Nuke-Plants (if they ever get built) using the waste from earlier 1st Gen Nuke plants to generate electricity. Nuclear is actually the greenest option for base-load electricity. Though the build cost is high, and permit/paper-work takes a decade. Also, nuclear fusion, the clean version of nuclear that combines Hydrogen molecules to create Helium (instead of smashing them apart to create radioactive waste) has almost become a reality on the down-low via a multi-country consortium (USA/Russia/SouthKorea/EuropeanUnion/China/India/Japan). https://www.iter.org/org/ITERinFrance is scheduled to come online in 2026. The design, if successful (both scientifically and economically) would be replicated in the member countries within a decade afterwards.
4) Winter Climes will kill range. It is true you can see as much as a 20% drop in range -- this is from the cold lowering battery performance, as well as the extra friction of snowy, wet roads. You can lose additional 5-10% if you crank the heat (there is no waste internal combustion engine heat to blow through your vents, which means the car has to generate cabin heat via the drive-battery). However, most EV/EREV sold in colder climates have a heated steering wheel, and heated seats in the front AND BACK. These use 95% less energy than heating the cabin via blown air. So, turn on the back seats, and no need to kill your range. PAX also love rear heated seats. A lot. (Tips. Seriously.)
Ask anyone driving these cars. After about 2 months, all the FEAR UNCERTAINTY & DOUBT evaporate, and are replaced with quiet, clean, local-power locomotion. It enhances your calm. (I am not exaggerating.)
Post-Script: The Environment.
Most EV car commercials, and media-copy, focus on getting people to drive EVs (or EREVs) because it will save the planet from IMMINENT/IMPENDING destruction (in the year 2100, possibly sooner.) If you are climate agnostic, or a climate change denier, or a climate change zealot, note that while climate considerations, from the point of view of individual car ownership is not ZERO, it is further down the list that most people would have you believe. It is environmentally expensive to manufacture ANY car, and fuel it, and generate the electricity. Even solar, wind and hydro have the cost on geography and initial manufacture to be considered. If you want to save the planet, WALK (or at the very least, BIKE). And eat local. But that is another story.
This is How An Electric Vehicle Can Work For RideShare