For clarity, I’m referring to a Electric Powered vehicle that uses a battery to power an electric motor and does not have any auxiliary power source, generator or gas engine – a Pure Electric Vehicle.
The truth is: It is fun!
Kia Niro SX Touring Premium EV (courtesy of Kia Canada)
Driving an EV does require some change of habits, adjusting to a different way of thinking, being open to change and developing some new ways of doing things. First the fun: We have a 2019 Kia Niro EV (SX Touring Premium) that is a class leading, ‘state of the art’, Canadian Specification vehicle which includes even more equipment, than its US counterpart. Features, that either are unavailable in the US or, if available, are only part of option packages that must be selected to get the feature, are included. The cars destined for Canada, have many more of the "US” options included and the equipment list is expanded above those available in the States.
Range Anxiety (?)
The most common question I receive from any interested person is "What is your range” which often comes out as "How far can you go?” or its variants. The car was advertised to get 239 miles (385km) on a charge, however we have consistently seen 480 to 510 km (298 to 317) of range after a charge. It is common to see the range drop less than the actual driven mileage of a trip, since the regenerative braking returns kinetic braking energy, converted to electricity, back to the battery for re-use. This regeneration contributes to the frequent ‘one pedal driving’ where the accelerator is used to drive and when released, activating the regenerative braking that slows the car down and re-charges the battery. With just a little skill, it is easy to drive in such a way that one never actually depresses the brake pedal to slow down. A light tap on the brake pedal may be all that is required to bring the car to a full stop.
Experience has taught us to somewhat ignore the ‘Range’ or ‘miles to empty’ gauge just as you tend to do with the gas gauge on a gas fueled car. Of course, the difference is that we are accustomed to stopping at a gas station along our route and filling up when the gauge reads low or the low fuel light comes on. With an EV, one needs to plan to find ‘fuel’. Given that the majority of charging is done at home, what are the chances of going close to 500 km (300 miles) in a day? In fact, we tend to drive the car day after day; when it gets low on charge, then we plug it in. Sounds like what we would do with a gas fueled car - right? That took some learning to overcome range anxiety. Obviously, on an extended trip, we would need to ‘plan ahead’.
How much does a charge cost?
In Ontario, our electricity is priced on a Time of Use rate structure with the lowest rate occurring in the time window from 7:00pm to 7:00am each weekday and all weekend. Since we have a 40 Amp charger, the car can be charged from a dead battery to full charge in less than 10 hours. Practically, the car will rarely (if ever) be totally discharged, so charging will take significantly less than the charge window for the lowest rate. At current energy rates (6.5 cents per kWh), the cost to charge from dead to full charge is $4.16 CDN, considerably less that the $1.20-$1.30 CDN per litre for fuel required to fill out Smart car’s 33 litre tank. With the Mid Peak energy rate (9.4 cents per kWh) the cost increases to $6.02 CDN while at the Peak energy rate (13.4 cents per kWh) the total would be $8.58 CDN. It will be rare that a charge will be needed in peak times or that a full charge would be needed.
The Kia Niro has a neat feature that allows you to program the time at which to begin and end charging (which allows you to take advantage of the lowest cost charging rates). There is a switch on the car’s dash to defeat the preprogrammed schedule. You can plug the car in every time you return to the charger and let the internal controller turn on the charger when the time is right for the lowest cost. If a top up is required during mid or peak energy rate times, then flipping off the switch allows the car to charge as soon as it is plugged in, at the then prevailing energy rate. This variable energy pricing is familiar to us since fuel stations in our area also use variable pricing matched to high demand times and market conditions. It is not unusual to see price variations of 15 to 20 cents per litre on any one day. As I mentioned, there is some change to habits required, however you quickly get accustomed to fueling up at home rather than at a gas station, especially during inclement weather.
Kia’s UVO Intelligence Smartphone App
We have the Kia’s UVO Intelligence App, which allows us to control many features, including charging, climate control, locking or unlocking and monitoring of this, ability to honk the horn or flash the lights, (handy when the car is parked in a Mall), and setting the target State of Charge (useful when on the road and waiting for the "80%” charge). This App is only available in Canada at the present time, since it runs on the Bell Mobility cell network, is in Beta testing and depends on a national cell network for its operation.
Regenerative Braking – Get a Charge by Slowing Down
I find driving this car can be as if driving any other car, however one bit of ‘fun’ is driving it in such a way that allows you to drive without needing to come to an actual stop. This process involves looking farther down the road to see the traffic conditions and the next traffic light, noting whether the light is red or green. A little mental calculation (and guessing), quickly predicts if the light will likely be red when you arrive. If it is expected to be red, then I have found it is easy to release the accelerator and let the regenerative braking slow the car down gently, in advance. More times than not, as I approach the light, it is green in my direction and I proceed through without the need to come to a full stop. This process does save energy. Making the adjustment to look farther down the road, makes me a more defensive driver, since I am taking the traffic ahead (and behind my car) more into account as I approach the stoplight. Obviously, it is important to ensure that the car behind slows down with me. I have found it rare that they do not follow my lead and we each move through the light smoothly without stopping. Overall, a much more efficient and less polluting way to drive for both of us.
Vehicle Emitting Sound System (VESS):
In parking lots and in slow speed driving, the car emits a sound to mimic a gas-powered car (as required by law), so that pedestrians are not startled to discover a vehicle is near them. When backing up, there is a gently pulsating warning tone to let nearby pedestrians know the car is backing up. This sound is much less harsh than those emitted by large trucks and RVs when backing up. Interestingly the sound system in the car also reduces its volume so that you can hear this pulsating warning tone and any sounds from pedestrians nearby. In addition, the Niro provides a fast pulsing warning tone from whichever radio speaker corresponds to the position of a passing object (vehicle, pedestrian, etc.). For example, if a person or vehicle is approaching the right rear corner of the Niro, then the right rear speaker emits the tone and as the person or vehicle moves across the rear of the car to the left side, the sound moves across as well. This interactive audible warning makes it very easy to know when something might be approaching in your blind spot. Our previous car vibrated the seat on the side with the impending danger. The Niro is more dynamic and interactive since it continually updates as the object passes by. Even the GPS overrides only the left front speaker sound to give the driver clear instructions when navigating by GPS.
The car has an abundance of electronic systems which require some adjusting to, that facilitate driving almost autonomously, while acknowledging that these features are strictly designed to assist a driver, not replace them. Adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and driver attention alert system are just three of these features. In our initial experience with all of these systems, driving is far safer. They are additional bonuses to driving this electric vehicle.
Methods to Charge:
Let’s delve into charging just a little further. Most of the time the charging is done at home with a Level Two, 240V Alternating Current (AC) charger using the power found in a Home or Business, charging at the rate of 16 to 40 Amps. The higher the amperage, the faster the battery pack will charge.
Most ‘Super Charge’ or Fast Charge systems use 400 Volt (or more) Direct Current (DC) which eliminate the conversion from AC (Home Power) to DC (Battery Power). DC Batteries are the power source in the EV. Given there is no conversion loss, this charging method is faster, since DC can be delivered at higher rates to the EV Batteries. It is a fact, that batteries will charge relatively quickly to about 80% of their rated capacity, then take an extended time to take the last 20% to reach a full charge. On road trips obtaining an 80% charge is the ideal way to travel since there is a relatively short delay in a trip of about one hour. The final 20% can be added at one’s destination overnight.Charges at the commercial charger stations usually require payment (by inserting a credit card), of a basic charge (say $5.00), then a per minute rate or per kilowatt hour(kWh) charge. The Niro has a 64kWh battery, so an 80% charge is about 51 kWh. The cost per kWh is about double of what it is at home (at the day, not the lower cost overnight rate), so the total charge will be $20 or so. Each station has different rates (just like gas stations). Usually the cost is justified in cost per 100km (or 100 miles in the US) of range. Regardless of how the cost is calculated the cost of electricity is far below the cost for car fuel. Add the savings in maintenance of the engine, cooling system, transmission, brakes and drive train components and the cost to drive an EV is a small percentage of the cost to drive a conventional vehicle. Change and adaptation is necessary however the charging system networks are young in development and as they mature there will be more choice and competition. (In my next post I’ll talk about setting this car up to tow behind a motorhome.)