Cloud, DevOps, Evangelism

Buying an Electric Car: Part 1

Warning: This is a non-IT, non-VMware, non-Storage related post. Skip if you like.

BeachI am a car guy. My first car out of school was a 2001 Ford Focus that I loved, and was the first car I modified (springs, swaybars, stereo, shocks, etc). After that, I moved on to a heavily modified Subaru STi, then a modified Nissan 350Z. 197061_1002577338840_1891_nAfter the Z, however, I needed something more of a compromise, so we bought an Audi A3 Hatchback, but I made sure to get the 2.0L turbo version with AWD to appease my car-guy-ness. The Subaru and Nissan were both pretty much straight racecars - I used them for non-racing purposes only once a week for short trips.68844_1589520172044_4494994_n


Fast forward 5.5 years to today. I now live in Oakland, CA, and commute to either Palo Alto (VMware campus) or Santa Clara (EMC campus) 3-4 days per week. Each of those is a ~80 mile round trip. At the same time, the Audi hit 75K miles, and needed some pretty major service (right around $4200 in total). I started doing math on effective $/mi.

At the same time, my wife and I started watch some awesome series with my oldest daughter, Shelby (2.5yo). We watched Cosmos (new 2014 version), Blue Planet and Frozen Planet. As part of that we started having discussions with Shelby about why we need to protect the planet we have, and whats happening. She asked me one day on the way to school: "Why do we drive cars if its bad for Earth"...and I didn't have a good answer for why I continued to drive my 23MPG turbo Audi.

I decided to look around at what was available in the market for something greener, and perhaps lighter on my wallet. All told, I had calculated that the Audi would cost me a total of about $449/mo in amortized operating costs over the next 3 years, including fuel, maintenance, tolls, registration, etc.

After examining a number of options across the spectrum (Mazda 3 Hatchback in the gas only range, Prius C in the hybrids, Chevy Volt in the electric+extender style), I zeroed in on the Ford Focus Electric.

For Ford, the Focus Electric (FFE) is a 'compliance' car - meaning they sell it partially to offset the Excursion-style gas guzzlers and meet the federal and state efficiency standards (CAFE). As a result, they have to sell the car, and they have to move the car into consumer/fleet hands...it doesn't count to jut produce it. Fiat does something similar with the Fiat 500e (although they don't put as much effort into it).

Why does this matter? Because the FFE has a 37K sticker price, which makes it really expensive for its gas competition. The equivalent gas Focus is closer to 22K. As a result, Ford has to apply serious incentives to move the car - and they do. Right now, the Focus as an $11K credit from ford on it (making it $26K), plus another $2500 in rebates from the state of California, plus some discounts on electricity from the local utility. All told, the incentives bring the effective cost of the car down to the same as a similar equipped gas Focus ($24K-ish, MSRP).

Whats the downside? Well, not too much, but very real. First, because of the batteries, the FFE loses about 50% of its trunk space. It's not gone, but it's noticeably reduced. We have a full size SUV for family trips, however, so it's not a big risk. The other downside is the range. The Focus has a 23kWH battery, and gets a total range of about 76-80miles, depending on driving habits. So, my 80mi round trip is the *very* edge of its capability, and its reasonable to believe that I might need to 'top up' some days at VMware's campus or surrounding area (there are plenty of chargers) or at EMC's office (again there are a few chargers).

I started to plug the numbers into my spreadsheet for the Audi, correcting for the cost of electricity, maintenance (almost no scheduled maint for the first 8 years on the FFE), tolls (they are 50% discount for an all-electric car), and tax credits.

All told, I determined it would cost me about $351/mo to operate an FFE on a 3 year lease, or $301/mo if I purchased it on a 48 month loan. Compare that to $450/mo for the Audi. Both of those are *notably* cheaper than the Audi, and also don't factor in the fact that many places will charge an electric car for free or at a discounted rate (VMware, for example).  It also doesn't consider non-monetary benefits, like getting to use the carpool lane whenever I want.

So I decided to lease the FFE for 36 mos. Why lease, when buying would be cheaper? I'm firmly convinced that this is the fastest moving area of vehicle technology is, and I'm VERY confident that in 3 years we will have uberfast 20 minute chargers everywhere, and cars will get 200+ miles on a charge.


So, I save money - that's good. Additionally, I can now feel good about telling my daughters that, in the words of Neil de Grasse Tyson, "I want to be a good, strong link in the chain of generations. I want to protect my children and the children of ages to come."

But there's one more factor - how do I reconcile this with being a car guy? I mean, its no 450+HP AWD monster Subaru, nor is it a RWD 2-seat sports car like the Nissan Z. For me - a couple ways...since I've had kids, I haven't even raced my Audi in over 3.5 years...I might race again someday, but not for a while. Maybe the girls and I will build a Factory Five replica AC Cobra. FFRAt the same time, the nice thing about electric cars is that they have 100% torque (180ft-lbs on the FFE) available at 0 RPM, unlike a gas car. As a result, it FEELs very quick, and there's never the downshift delay in power delivery. Its a fun car.

So there's why I bought a Focus Electric. I plan to do a future post on my first couple commute experiences.