Tuesday, January 10, 2017

You can't buy 2017 North American Car of the Year outside of California and Oregon

The humble, all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (photo from Mark Brush/Michigan Radio).


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Auto writers from the United States and Canada have crowned an EV you can buy in only two states as 2017 North American Car of the Year.

At the international auto show in Detroit, GM's all-electric Chevy Bolt beat out the Genesis luxury sedan and a big Volvo, both powered by conventional internal-combustion engines.

I went online to find out whether I can buy a Bolt in New Jersey, and was told the EV is available in limited numbers only in California and Oregon.

Here's the result of my live chat:
Benjamin:3:00:38 PM
Thank you for your interest in the Bolt EV! The Bolt EV will be available nationally, but the vehicle is currently available in California and Oregon. The national roll-out begins in 2017, and a number of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, including New York, Massachusetts and Virginia, will see first deliveries this winter. Bolt EVs will arrive to more dealerships in additional major metro markets throughout the first half of 2017. The Bolt EV will be available at Bolt EV-certified dealerships across the United States in mid-2017.
New Jersey connection

The Bolt EV-certified dealer nearest my home is in Paramus, which is also is where my Tesla dealer is located. 

The front-wheel-drive Bolt has a range of 238 miles on a full charge, but GM is calling its first mass-produced EV an urban vehicle, because the auto giant isn't providing a Tesla-like network of free chargers.

The 5-door EV is available in two trim levels, LT with a starting MSRP of $36,620, and Premier, with a starting price of $40,905, according to Chevy's website.

Expect to pay another $2,000 to $2,500 for installation of a 240-volt outlet in your garage to achieve the fastest home charging.

DC Fast Charging Capability is an option on both models, but the Driver Confidence II Package is available only on the Premier, with these features:


  • Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking
  • Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning
  • Forward Collision Alert
  • Following Distance Indicator
  • Front Pedestrian Braking
  • IntelliBeam® headlamps
Requires available Infotainment Package.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

When I'm driving my Tesla, I want everyone to just get the F out of the way

On the way to the International Jazz Festival in Montreal last July, I stopped at a free Tesla charging station in a mall outside of Albany, N.Y., and found plenty of company.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Since I took delivery in April 2015, my Tesla Model S has given me more than 12,000 miles of effortless driving in a challenging environment -- northern New Jersey.

Affluent Bergen County, where I live, has a street network that hasn't been improved significantly since the 1950s, and some of the lousiest, most discourteous drivers in the nation.

They will cut you off without mercy, roll through stop signs right in front of you and tailgate or stop inches behind you at lights.

OK. I get that drivers of conventional cars haven't gotten the message about just how fast all-electric cars are, especially how they can leap away from a traffic light in suburban driving.

So, please, stop trying to race me or cut me off before you get to that double-parked truck on Cedar Lane in Teaneck or the one-lane bridge to Hackensack.

Just get the F out of the way and let me enjoy the quiet of driving my beautiful red Tesla.


A rare turn lane on Passaic Street. The narrow, two-lane street is a major thoroughfare connecting Hackensack and Paramus, but often is jammed by traffic inching toward Garden State Plaza, the biggest mall in New Jersey.
Drivers believe some intersections without turn lanes, such as Passaic Street and Summit Avenue in Hackensack, haven't been improved since the Revolutionary War.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tesla's new free-charging policy will be many miles ahead of other EV automakers

A free Tesla Supercharger on Route 300 in Newburgh, N.Y., is conveniently located in a strip mall with an Italian-American restaurant and pizzeria, and a frozen yogurt store.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Who doesn't like "free"? 

In the last four years, owners of the all-electric Tesla Model S four-door hatchback and the Model X SUV have enjoyed free juice at a growing network of Superchargers across the continental U.S.

And if they have solar panels at home, all of the electricity they've used has been free.

Now, for Teslas ordered after Jan. 1, 2017, owners will receive 400 kWh hours of free Supercharging credits annually (roughly 1,000 miles) so that they can continue to enjoy free fast charging during travel.

"All cars will continue to come standard with the onboard hardware required for Supercharging," according to Tesla.

That hardware was a $2,000 option when I ordered my Model S 60 in early 2015.

Costs less than gas

Beyond the roughly 1,000 miles of free Supercharging credits, "there will be a small fee to Supercharge which will be charged incrementally and cost less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car," the Tesla Blog says.

"As we approach the launch of the Model 3, this update will enable us to greatly expand our Supercharger Network, providing customers with the best possible user experience and bringing sustainable transport to even more people," the company says.

Tesla is unique

Still, Tesla is the only carmaker to provide a network of free fast chargers, and after the changeover, is expected to remain the only one to provide annual charging credits.

Chevrolet has already announced purchasers of the Bolt EV won't get free charging on road trips.

You've also heard nothing from BMW and Nissan about free charging for their EVs.

Free for life

Since I took delivery in April 2015, I've driven my Tesla twice to the International Jazz Festival in Montreal in late June, a round trip of about 800 miles.

And since my car came with free charging for life, I'd still be able to make that road trip and others at no extra cost as long as I own it.

I had planned to trade in my Model S on the smaller Model 3 in a year or so, but may reconsider and keep two Teslas in our garage.


"Just as you charge your cell phone, we believe the best way to charge your car is either at home or at work, during the hours you're not using it," Tesla says.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

As the leaves turned in the Catskills, greenery and green cars were hard to find

On a visit to Monticello, N.Y., an open top, manual transmission, deserted two-lane roads and a gorgeous fall day are an unbeatable combination.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

MONTICELLO, N.Y. -- Quiet has returned to the two-lane roads that wind past clusters of homes framed by fall colors.

This week saw the annual invasion of the International Motor Press Association, whose members were unleashed at the wheels of performance and super cars with incredibly loud mufflers.

IMPA, the country's oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals, set up camp at the Monticello Motor Club, a 4.1-mile race circuit and playground for the wealthy nestled in the Catskill Mountains.

Many sponsors

Sponsors of the so-called Test Days included Detroit and foreign automakers, manufacturers of tires and automobile sound equipment, PR Newswire and the private club where the event was held.

Previous Test Days took place at Pocono Raceway and Lime Rock Park.

On Wednesday, writers and publicists had access to a parking lot filled with some of the fastest cars in the world, many of which could be driven on the track.

Others were meant to be driven only on quiet public roads in Monticello and nearby villages, set amidst lakes and wooded hills. 

On Tuesday, the first day of the event, all driving was restricted to public roads except for IMPA members who signed up for drives or rides with instructors on the challenging race circuit.

I did hot laps in a Fiat 500 Abarth and a Lexus GS sedan with 467 horsepower, but actually enjoyed driving several other cars over nearly deserted public roads that were a breath of fresh air compared to the congestion of northern New Jersey.

Among them were the FIAT 124 Spider, Infiniti Q60, Jaguar F-Type, a luxury sports car with loud snap, crackle and pop exhausts; and Volvo S90 AWD Inscription, a comfortable sedan that is the biggest Volvo I have ever seen.

Being confined to public roads didn't lessen the excitement for some IMPA members.

For example, a writer for the Chicago Tribune syndicate who gave me a ride in a McLaren GT shouted, "That's 90 [mph]," as he paddle shifted up through the gears on Route 42 toward Montcello's economically depressed downtown.


One of the few green cars at the event was the highly anticipated Acura NSX, an all-wheel-drive supercar bristling with 573 horsepower from a twin-turbo V-6 and three electric motors, above and below.
A pro racecar driver at the wheel of the Acura NSX took me on the fastest lap I have ever experienced at the Monticello Motor Club.

Green cars

Sadly, there were no purely electric cars at the event.

Chevy didn't bring the Bolt, the first $40,000 EV with more than 200 miles of range, even though the four-door hatchback is expected to go on sale at the end of the year.

And as usual, Nissan had IMPA members lining up to drive the fearsome GT-R, but disappointed me and others by not supplying an updated all-electric Leaf with a longer range. 

Typically, most of the writers and publicists who attend Test Days are gear heads, speed freaks and lead foots who are wined and dined by the automakers, and loaned new models for a weekend or a week.

They willingly engage in a conspiracy of silence about climate change, the 53,000 deaths every year from auto emissions, and the environmental benefits of hybrids and EVs.

I heard one IMPA member boast of driving a Fiat 500 Abarth at 107 mph on a Nevada highway, complaining he was the only one of 10 writers in a caravan of speeding Fiats pulled over by the police. 
Toyota Mirai, Prius

Toyota brought the Mirai, powered by electricity from a hydrogen fuel cell; as well as the Prius Prime, a plug-in gas-electric hybrid that has an EV range of 25 miles.

I got behind the wheel of both, and found the Mirai far quieter and more refined than the pre-production model I drove in Manhattan last April at the New York Auto Show.

The Prius Prime only went a few all-electric miles before the gasoline engine kicked in, because its handlers from Event Solutions International (ESI) forgot to plug it in overnight.

Both the Mirai and Prius Prime approached the quiet of a Tesla Model S.
   

Two more photos of the mid-engine Acura NSX, above and below. 


Toyota's Prius Prime, a gas-electric hybrid, wasn't plugged in overnight, and yielded only a few miles in all-electric mode on Wednesday, above and below.


Toyota Mirai is a car in search of hydrogen fueling stations, above and below.

Hydrogen gas reacts with oxygen in the air and produces electricity to power the vehicle.

This McLaren GT, which cost more than $200,000, didn't match the excitement of the Acura NSX.
The Alfa-Romeo 4C Spider with paddle shifters was a hoot to drive on the racetrack.


A Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrid.

A driver returning to the pits at Monticello Motor Club.

Tuesday's lunch at the Monticello Motor Club included veggie burgers, coleslaw, and potato salad. I didn't attend that night's banquet at Honor's Haven Resort & Spa in Ellenville, N.Y., but was told no fish was available for IMPA members who don't eat meat.
Eggplant Rollatini, Potato-Crusted Cod and Caesar Salad were on Wednesday's lunch menu at MMC.

I had dinner on Tuesday night at Crust Italian Eatery in Rock Hill, N.Y., a restaurant next to my hotel. Steamed Clams were $10. A glass of red wine was $6.

I also had a Caprese Salad with Fig Balsamic Glaze ($12), but the only off note were the roasted tomatoes, which had been refrigerated and were much too cold.

Crust Italian Eatery bakes 24-inch pizzas. Bottle of wine are $20.
On the way home, I stopped to charge my Tesla Model S 60 on Route 300 in Newburgh, N.Y., where six free Superchargers were available in the parking lot of a strip mall, above and below.

Customers were dining outdoors at Cosimo's on Union Ristorante & Bar, which serves wood-fired pizzas. I had a yogurt next door at Hoopla Frozen Yogurt (51 cents per ounce).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Chevrolet Bolt -- GM's first pure EV -- is looking a lot like a $40,000-plus econobox

The 2017 Chevrolet Volt is expected to go on sale late this year, but will be available only in limited numbers, according to the automaker.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The good news for consumers is that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV will have a starting MSRP of $37,495.

But such options as front collision braking, forward pedestrian alert and OnStar automatic crash response is expected to push that past $40,000.

In an email this week, Chevrolet delivered the bad news the Bolt will be available only in limited numbers this year.

So, greedy Chevrolet dealers likely will sell each Bolt they can get their hands on for list, then pile on "added dealer profit," making the Bolt a lot less "affordable" than the company claims.

There will be two versions of the Bolt -- GM's first purely electric production vehicle -- LT and Premier, but Chevrolet hasn't released the starting MSRP for the Premier trim level.


The Chevrolet Bolt will have a 10.2-inch touch screen.


238-mile range

The Bolt also is the first $40,000 EV to achieve an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles on a full charge.

But Chevrolet is calling the Bolt an urban vehicle, and owners will have to pay to recharge the car when they are on long trips.

At home, using a 240-volt outlet, a full charge takes 9.5 hours, according to Chevrolet.

Chevrolet's 240-volt charging unit requires the services of an electrician, and the price tag for installation is expected to be about $2,000.

The four-door hatchback certainly is stylish, but it also reminds you of any number of econoboxes.

This is no Tesla Model 3, which is expected to go into production in late 2017.

Monday, September 12, 2016

If you pay to park in a municipal garage and get free charging, is it a good deal?

In downtown Englewood, a municipal parking garage offers five free PSE&G charging stations. Today, a Tesla Model S 90D, two Smart EVs, and a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid hooked up to four of them.

The Volt driver thought nothing of running the charge cable across the hood of the new car and possibly scratching it.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

I've owned a Tesla Model S since April 2015, and have never had to pay to charge the car on trips away from northern New Jersey.

I either charge the car at my home, where solar panels generate the electricity I use, or take advantage of Tesla's extensive network of free Superchargers or destination chargers at hotels and resorts.

So, what do you do when you have a non-Tesla EV or a plug-in hybrid without free charging?

Today, I saw the owners of four cars using free charging stations at the municipal garage in Englewood, where the first two hours of parking cost $1.50.

It's likely that no matter what the rate of charge, owners of EVs and plug-in hybrids are getting a break on the cost of electricity, even after the parking fee is figured in.  

The garage uses pay stations that accept paper currency, coins and credit cards.

But the machine won't make change of, say, a $5 bill, as one woman I encountered today found out too late.


Charging your car is free, but not parking in the garage. The rates are 50 cents for the first half hour and $1 for each hour after that. I don't know how fast these chargers are.

My last electric bill said 1 kWh hour of electricity cost a total of 17 cents to 18 cents, including delivery to my home. You can travel on electricity more cheaply than on gasoline.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Nissan hedging its bets with new Leaf EV, new Armada and other gas-guzzling trucks

The homely Nissan Leaf EV is available with a bigger battery in the 2016 model year and added range -- up to 107 miles on a full charge. You can still get a Leaf that goes a maximum of 84 miles before you need more juice.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America, delivered good news and bad news to consumers worried about climate change and the 53,000 deaths blamed on auto emissions every year.

Speaking to members of the International Motor Press Association in Manhattan, Munoz said Nissan is "close" to launching a new-generation all-electric Leaf with a redesigned body.

There was no indication whether the second-generation Leaf will have more range than the 107 miles available with a 30kWh battery in the 2016 model.


Leaf lags behind Tesla

The homely Leaf, introduced in December 2010, once led electric-vehicle sales in the United States, but it has changed little and has been eclipsed by Tesla, which cost more than twice as much.

Meanwhile, Munoz -- also executive vice president of Nissan Motor Co., Japan's No. 2 automaker -- had plenty of bad news for environmentalists.

To take advantage of the low price of gasoline, Nissan is launching the "Year of Trucks."

He promised a new Armada and Pathfinder, and a "brand new" Rogue, a crossover.

And if the price of gas rises again, Munoz said, Nissan will market its herd of gas-guzzlers as the most efficient on the market.

In answer to a question from the audience, Munoz delivered more bad news regarding Manhattan's traffic congestion and pollution.

The automaker has no plans to add a gas-electric hybrid version of the Nissan NV200, the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow.

So, the Nissan NV200 instantly becomes the Taxi of Yesterday.


The roomy Nissan NV200 taxi.

Autonomous driving

The Nissan executive did say the company is rolling out autonomous driving features, starting this year, to prevent accidents.

By 2020, he said, Nissan will sell cars that will be fully autonomous in a city environment.

Of course, if Nissan introduces a fully autonomous NV200 taxi, there's no telling how many drivers will be thrown onto the unemployment lines.


The free lunch is alive and well in Manhattan, thanks to Nissan North America, one of the automotive companies that play host at meetings of the International Motor Press Association, described as the nation's oldest organization of automotive journalists and public relations professionals.

I enjoyed a plate full of salad, roasted vegetables, smoked salmon and tomatoes with bite-size mozzarella balls.

I also was able to get two crisp-skin fillets of branzino instead of the same fish prepared in a butter-cream sauce for the buffet. I drank red wine and had fresh fruit for dessert.