Back in September, the cost to use Blink EV charging took a slight dive. They switched from time-based charging to kilowatt-hour charging. This makes a lot of sense. Before this change, it actually cost more to use the Blink Charging Network than it did to operate a gas-powered vehicle.
Since the change, Blink network members will now pay 39 cents per kWh. That’s a considerable improvement and brings the price down to about $15.60 to “fill” my car from empty (which is rare – typically, EV owners add a few kilowatt-hours here and there whenever they park).
Non-members will pay 49 cents per kWh. For you math majors out there, the cost before the switch from time-based pricing was about 56 per kWh. This isn’t a big difference mathematically, but it’s a step in the right direction toward uniform and reasonable pricing.
How does Blink Charging Compare to Other Networks?
That’s nearly impossible to answer. There are some networks like Volta that are free. Businesses pay to advertise on the stations, which pays for the electricity. Then we have ChargePoint, which ranges from about the same as Blink at some stations to free at other stations — some businesses eat the cost of charging to bring in customers and strut their environmentalist cred.
Using Blink charging, Volta and free charging at work to run my Toyota RAV 4 EV, I’ve paid less than $1 in the last month for charging away from home. That accounts for about 75 percent of my charging.
If the other charging networks are even remotely smart, they need to attack Blink Charging and its high rates.
What’s the Future for Blink?
I have no idea how long Blink Charging will be around. They’re still priced high relative to other networks. The quality of their stations varies greatly (some have displays you can’t read during daylight hours). The stock price was pretty well in the toilet when I wrote this, but it bounced pretty high in late 2020. They don’t have a good reputation with EV drivers.
Working in their favor, Blink got ahead of the curve and managed to snag long-term deals with quite a few public institutions. Here in Arizona, they’re ubiquitous on the Arizona State University campus, City of Phoenix buildings, City of Chandler buildings, and more than a few others.
Once those deals dry up, though, Blink is either going to have to try a lot harder or risk being the Edsel of charging stations.
I’ve now driven more than one year with an electric car. I want to share a few thoughts about what I’ve learned for people who are thinking about giving up their gas cars. I think you’ll be in for some surprises.
I live in the U.S., so some of this will vary according to where you live.
Using The Carpool Lane is Awesome, But …
One of the perks of driving an EV in Arizona is that you can use the carpool lane if you have the right license plate (you have to ask for it). The speeds in the carpool — or HOV Lane, if you like the bureaucratic version — stay a lot more consistent. When everyone slows down for whatever reason, the carpool lane mostly keeps humming.
There’s just one problem: Many people think the carpool lane is really the Drive as Fast as You Want Lane. This creates some dangerous situations. And many of these people don’t have the plates and are alone in their car and thus shouldn’t even be in the carpool lane anyway. I’m usually driving 70 in a 65, which is speeding. But these people don’t think I’m speeding enough. Things being what they are, they get away with driving 85mph+. Which is ridiculously stupid: It’s dangerous, obviously, and it turns their gas mileage to shit. And does it save much time? No, because they’ll still get stuck at traffic lights on surface streets.
You Don’t Need Charging Stations
For the first six months or so, I relied on charging at charging stations like ChargePoint, Blink, Volta and others. I favored the free ones, which are fairly plentiful (Blink is a huge rip off). I covered this adequately in an earlier post, so I recommend reading that post for more information, including my recent project to install a 240-volt line at my house.
Driving a Gas-Powered Car Will Suck
Sometimes, I have to drive my wife’s 2017 Subaru Forester. And boy, does it suck. Before getting my EV, I actually liked it.
But when I get into my EV and push the button, there’s no noise or vibration. There’s also no heat pouring off of it after I drive 20 miles. That noise, vibration and heat is inefficiency.
After a few months driving an EV, you’ll be disgusted by the lurching transmission shifts, the noise, the vibration and the slow acceleration.
I know car enthusiasts will argue this point with me. But here’s the thing: I’ve driven gasmobiles far more than they’ve driven electric cars. They have no frame of reference. They have never driven an electric car for months and gone back to their clunky gas jalopies.
Your Electric Car Will Save You Time
Think of all the time you’ve spent at gas stations and getting oil changes. Those days are over. It’s awesome to wake up or leave your desk in the evening to a "full tank."
Getting your juice will be as quick as plugging a cell phone into a wall. It’s weirdly liberating.
After one year of driving an electric car, all this time adds up.
You Can Do Anything You Want in an Electric Car
The top-of-the-line electric cars are getting around 300 miles per charge. The lesser ones get 150, but can re-charge to 80 percent pretty quickly. In the middle, you have some that are getting about 230 miles. That compares to my dear departed Subaru Forester, which got about 350 miles per tank.
But here’s the thing: How often do you drive that far? And how far do you ever drive without stopping to eat, drink or use a toilet?
My bet is about 100 miles or so. So the difference in miles traveled per tank or per charge is insignificant. The arguments against electric car range are for trips that constitute the tiniest portion of trips taken. Electric cars can more than handle your average daily commute, and many of the newer ones are great for road trips.
Still Good Reasons Not to Get an Electric Car
There are two things preventing most people from getting an electric car:
First is form factor. Americans love SUVs. And the only readily available electric SUV right now is the Tesla Model X. The Model Y will mark the beginning of the end of the gas engine, but it’s still a few years away. Toyota had a huge head start with its RAV4 EV collaboration with Tesla, and they squandered it in favor of hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. Pair that with their deceptively advertised "self-charging hybrids," and you have a brand in decline. The other electric cars are sedans and smallish wagons. Nissan is clearly milking gas engines for all their worth while paying lip service to electric vehicles with the compromised LEAF. If they were serious, they’d already offer an electric version of the Murano (with active thermal management to preserve the batteries).
Second is cost. Brand-new EVs are still a bit more expensive. The brands that still qualify for the federal tax credit definitely lessen that burden. But in most cases, car buyers have to front the cost and get their money back in April when tax return season rolls around (I wonder how that skews the electric car sales data -- if I were buying a new qualifying vehicle, I’d wait until December for sure). Still, cost will decline as battery cost dives. Which it’s done consistently in recent years.
Even One EV in Your Household Helps
Since getting my EV, my wife drives a lot less. Her work commute is pretty short, and I handle all the weekend driving. We’ll use her Subaru for long trips; my early-generation EV isn’t suited for the long distances and off-roading.
But one year with an electric car has cut down on our collective gas use. And I don’t see any way that there will be another gas-powered vehicle in our house in the future. They’re just inferior. Even ignoring any concern for pollution, they’re more fun to drive and way less maintenance-intensive.
People Have No Idea About Electric Vehicles
After one year with an electric car, I constantly field the same questions. Let me recap them with some quick answers.
I hear Teslas don’t really work.
In what way? I don’t drive a Tesla, but it is the gold standard in EVs. The software is ridiculously advanced. They are also extremely efficient if you measure them by kilowatt-hours to the mile. Used correctly, the Autopilot feature is mind-blowing.
And no, they don’t catch on fire more than gas vehicles. But a Tesla on fire is considered newsworthy. A gas-powered car? It doesn’t get any press. Ask yourself why.
Electric vehicles use "rare earth" minerals/pollute more because of how they’re built/are powered by coal.
OK. Let’s say it is. Forget global warming or climate change or whatever you want to call it. Think locally. What will happen if you have fewer tailpipes spewing emissions? How will that affect your local air quality? What if your streets become quieter because you don’t have a bunch of diesel trucks roaring? Does that sound bad in any way? What if you have fewer people going into a gas station and loading up on sugary snacks while paying for their gas? What if there are fewer tanker trucks on the roads bringing gas into your neighborhoods? What exactly sounds bad it this scenario?
I just like the sound of an engine.
Surely there has to be better ways to get attention. I really don’t understand the fixation on noise. My EV makes enough noise to warn a pedestrian -- the sound is like listening to a taxiing jet fighter (but from a long distance).
Now, I know a lot of Americans don’t like to walk. But if you’re one of those people who walk, what would you think of a lot less engine noise? It sounds pretty nice.
Money is Behind the Anti-EV Rhetoric
The electric vehicle is upsetting a lot of corporate gravy trains. Dealerships won’t make as much money on maintenance. Oil companies will face falling demand for gasoline and diesel. And even convenience stores, like I mentioned: They’ll have fewer people making impulse buys while they put gas in their cars.
This is a huge shift. There’s still money to be made and jobs to be had with electric cars. They’re just going to be different. This happened before when we shifted from horses to electric cars. Not as many people need someone to shoe their horses? Hello, auto mechanic. This shift isn’t a problem: It’s an opportunity.
I can’t wait for a new generation of EV modders and mechanics to rise. It will be pretty cool to see how they innovate with a new platform!
Of course, the status quo doesn’t see it that way. They’d rather use their money to squash innovation. Just look at Chevrolet’s EV-1 debacle, and how they deliberately compromised the Bolt EV.
Wrapping Up One Year With an Electric Car
There’s just no going back for me. The smooth acceleration, low maintenance and cheap energy make me pity the poor gas engine. Its days are nearly over.
It’s easy to ignore a problem that you can’t see. People who live in the Phoenix area can’t deny the brown cloud that sometimes — too often — settles over the Valley. The culprit behind the brown cloud is also hard to deny: gas and diesel-powered vehicles "by a large margin," according to Scientific American.
So we can see the problem, but what can we do about it? It’s obvious. Get some of the gas and diesel vehicles off the road with electric vehicles taking their place. There are two big obstacles to getting more drivers into electric vehicles — the initial cost and figuring out where and how to charge them.
The first one is up to the auto makers. As they figure the technology out, prices will start to drop. They already have, actually. The Tesla Model Y will be unveiled tonight, and it will be the least-expensive electric SUV/CUV by a long shot. You can bet that more automakers will unveil EVs in this class.
The second issue — where to charge — is something Arizona’s elected officials can address. But they haven’t, likely because they’re not connecting the dots.
The Overlooked Electric Vehicle Charging Problem
Here’s the shocker about charging an electric vehicle: The costs vary wildly. Putting 25 miles of charge into my car can vary from being absolutely free all the way up to about $6 at one of the Blink charging stations that have sprouted like barnacles near city and state buildings. Can you imagine the price of gas fluctuating that wildly?
The state of Arizona has no regulations governing EV charging prices. That’s nice at the free end. But at the high end, it completely kills a major incentive for getting out of a gas/diesel vehicle and into an electric vehicle.
Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Costs are a Mess
The ubiquitous Blink network charges members 4 cents per minute to charge. That’s $2.40 per hour, which usually gets me about 15 miles of charge. That costs more than the average price of gas per mile for my old Subaru — at the current $2.23 per gallon, I’d go about 25 miles in the Subaru. Considering that even a less-efficient electric vehicle like my Toyota RAV 4 EV gets the equivalent of 77 mpg, Blink makes it more expensive to operate a cleaner vehicle.
Charging at home is your cheapest option. You’ll need anEVSE (aka ev charger), a 110-volt adapter and possibly a 240-volt connection if you want to charge faster. But we still need options away from home, and they need to be priced consistently.
Why Arizona’s Electric Vehicle Charging Prices are All Over the Place
Arizona doesn’t have kilowatt-hour pricing like some states. That allows networks like Blink to set any price per minute that they like. For some reason, cities like Phoenix and Chandler along with educational institutions like Arizona State University have contracts with Blink, despite its high prices (and reputation for unreliable charging). In states with kilowatt-hour pricing,Blink prices still tower over the average cost per kilowatt hour; sure, Blink should be allowed to profit for their services.But in California, the average price per kilowatt hour is 15.2 cents, while Blink charges 49 cents per kWh. I wonder what the utilities who actually provide the power think of Blink’s markup.
In Arizona, the average kWh cost is 11.1 cents. Blink’s charging costs about 48 cents per kWh (based on a charging cost of $2.40 per hour, which gets you about 5 kWh of power). It’s clear that charging at a Blink station costs more gasoline, based on the average mpg of gas-powered cars. Another comparison:gas stations average about 5 cents per gallon in profit. That would be like Blink charging 53 cents per hour rather than $2.40 (based on my RAV 4’s 77 empg, 40 kWh battery, charging speed and kWh price for SRP). Put another way, if gas stations marked up at the same rate, your gallon of gas would cost $10.09 per gallon (based on $2.23 per gallon of gas).
Sidebar: Are EVs Cleaner?
EVs have their doubters -- people who ask "are EVs really cleaner?"
Some will even recite talking points about rare-earth minerals (which are not actually that rare) used in batteries, and the environmental cost of manufacturing the batteries. People who raise these issues would like to believe that gas-powered vehicles and their fuel are made from unicorn milk that somehow has no environmental damage.
I’d also add that areas like Phoenix particularly need EVs. If vehicle emissions are the main source of our air pollution, we must put more of them on the road (I also favor more mass transit options, but that’s a topic for another time).
Fix the EV Charging Problem, Fix the Brown Cloud
If Arizona’s elected officials want to clear up the air, they need to encourage more people to drive electric vehicles. That means preventing networks from gouging customers, especially since the networks don’t even produce the power.
The clear solution: Craft legislation that sets kilowatt-hour pricing, and caps it at a reasonable level. Put it on a level playing field with gas — which is also heavily subsidized, which will ignore for the moment — and electricity wins every.single.time. This will help put more EVs on the road, which will, in turn, fix the brown cloud.
Arizona could offer more incentives to buy electric vehicles. Cities could also do more to ensure that gas and diesel vehicles don’t block charging stations. But those are issues for another post. Fixing the pricing problem helps the consumer/driver without costing the state, cities or residents money.
This past weekend, I test-drove a 2018 Nissan LEAF SV. I’ll tell you that it was straight-up an extremely cool driving experience. It’s dead-quiet and accelerates like a little beast. It turns well, and that ePedal feature is incredibly slick; seriously, it took me about three tries to get used to it, and then I was hooked.
So am I gonna buy one?
No. And here’s why.
Tight Quarters, Low Clearance
I drive a 2006 Subaru Forester with a 5-speed manual transmission. And I drive it like the rally car in disguise that it is. Even though it only does short trips these days while my wife’s 2017 Forester gets the long hauls, I take it into dirt regularly. I completely disregard rough roads and trails without a thought. The Subaru is a formidable vehicle to replace, with decent space, a tight turning radius and absolute braking and turning confidence.
The 2018 Nissan LEAF will do my commuting just fine. Better than fine! But when it’s time to load up a mountain bike and hit the trails? I don’t see being a happy camper. Ground clearance is a huge issue here. It’s hard to come from nearly 9 inches of clearance down to less than 6. That’s going to be a factor in installing a hitch mount for my Kuat NV bike rack.
And then there’s the backseat. The 2006 Forester doesn’t have a roomy backseat. And the LEAF is no better here. When my 3-year-old daughter falls asleep back there (which happens often), it will be a chore to extricate her without bonking her on the head. And the low-slung LEAF will force me to hunch down into an even-more awkward position to handle this routine chore.
Its Batteries, Though
Add this to lingering concerns about the passive thermal management on the batteries and a lease rate that’s way higher than comparably priced vehicles, and I’ve gotta say "no." I am supremely unhappy about this because I believe electric vehicles need to happen right now. I honestly do not want to buy another vehicle with an internal combustion engine (especially after sucking down so much exhaust in the recent Tour de Mesa – we really need to do everything possible to limit ICE vehicle emissions).
I’m really not sold on the idea of a hybrid. Part of the appeal with EVs is not having to change oil and worry about stuff like belts and hoses. I don’t like the Chevy Bolt EV, especially since it doesn’t have adaptive cruise control. The Kia Soul EV is intriguing, but also sits way too low to the ground. The only possibility that fits what my Forester can do? Finding a used Toyota RAV 4 EV. Of course, that means going to California to buy one. And then how do I get it back? There are a few stretches on the I-10 where the RAV 4 EV just doesn’t have the legs to make it from charger to charger.
Bah. The year 2020 can’t come soon enough. That VW electric minibus concept makes me swoon pretty hard. But I really don’t want to keep using gas for another two years.
My Nissan Dealer Experience
When I was digging around for availability, I made the mistake of entering my info into one of those "Truecar" sort of sites. Good grief. Take it from me – don’t do that.
Within seconds of hitting "enter," you can expect a blizzard of emails, texts and phone calls. Expect them 2-3 times a day on all channels until you tell them "sorry, the car you’re offering can’t do the job for me." I feel sorry for any women who date these characters because they are straight-up stalkers. And it was all stupid stuff like "let’s schedule a test drive!" or "when can you come in?" (Dudes. This isn’t surgery. I’m not scheduling it. And I’m not driving 80 minutes round trip for a test drive I can do 7 minutes from my house.)
Oddly enough, the dealer where I did my test drive must not be part of that website’s network. They never called. When I asked for a test drive, a salesperson got in the car with me. They didn’t ask for my license nor take any contact info from me. That was straight-up shocking after the autoblitzkrieg of the other dealers.
Nissan really needs to address this. Dealers are the first line to moving their product – and only one dealer made a good impression. They focused more on letting me figure out the vehicle and less time trying to extract information from me.
There’s also a huge product knowledge problem. I have spent a lot of time tracking down information abut the 2018 Nissan LEAF. I’ve looked for everything, from the number of USB ports to the cruise-control options. I used these two somewhat obscure aspects of the LEAF to test the salespeople out. Here’s how they fared:
As we were in the car, I mentioned to the salesperson that I was surprised that a battery-powered 2018 vehicle has only one USB port. He acted surprised, looked in the console where they’re located and said “the SL might have more.” (SPOILER: It doesn’t.)
I asked a different salesperson, who is lauded as the dealership’s EV guru, about the tiers for cruise control. My homework beforehand tells me there are three tiers: A standard dumb cruise control (on the S model), Intelligent Cruise Control (Available on the SV) and ProPilot Assist (available on the SV and SL). The sales dude insisted that Intelligent Cruise Control is only available with ProPilot Assist; this is incorrect, as proven by the Nissan-produced video below.Â Is Nissan that bad at educating its sales force, or is this a deliberate attempt to get people to stump up more money for ProPilot Assist? (Adaptive cruise control is awesome, so there are probably people who will pay for it.)
I’m Really Bummed to Say No to the 2018 Nissan LEAF
It just isn’t enough car for my situation. If you’re single or kid-free, have a look. It’s super-cool to drive. It will keep you away from the gas pump. It’s quiet, it’s clean, it’s straight-up suited for city driving.
But I recommend leasing to address that battery situation – and to also free you up when more advanced EVs start rolling out. Watch for better range and more-effective thermal management.