Thursday, September 29, 2011

Week of November 8th!

Yes, you heard me correctly: my Nissan LEAF is expected to arrive the second week of November, 2011.  Some time between Tuesday, 8 November 2011 and Monday 14 November 2011, just in time for Thanksgiving and the holidays and well in time for the 2011 tax year!  It also comes about 50 weeks after I ordered my EVSE, much to my chagrin, but c'est la vie, c'est la guerre.

Many, many thanks go to Justin Maynard at Nissan of Chantilly for cluing me in on the delivery week since I can no longer access my customer dashboard.  LEAF number 5061 is on its way!

My LEAF has wings!

At 9 o'clock in the morning on Sunday I strangely received a text message from a surprising source.  You see, since July of 2011 (as well as during a brief period in December 2010) I've had my e-mail set up to forward all messages from Nissan to my iPhone as text messages to keep me as up to date as possible with respect to the progress of my potential future ride.  Some of these messages have been bsnal, though the one telling me I could order in July was a real treat.

Thus, I was quite delighted to receive a message from Nissan indicating that my Owner Portal had opened up.  As soon as I could, I logged into my dashboard and saw to might delight the last panel opened on my customer dashboard.  Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this for you because…

A long, long time ago

You see, when I tried to put a deposit on a LEAF back in the late afternoon of 20 April 2010, I decided to be proactive and set up an account on the Nissan Dashboard site in preparation for the reservation site activation.  When the message finally came for me to activate, I logged into the account I had created and associated with my mailing list e-mail, but my reservation panel wasn't opened.  I tried to get the panel to activate but it just wouldn't budge.  I had to click a link in the original e-mail which took me to the dashboard would have forced me to create a new account.  Unfortunately, because my desired login name was in use (because I'd just created that account), it wouldn't let me use that name.

I called Customer Service for the LEAF and they admitted it was a flaw in the design and there was nothing they could do.  Clearly, in the quest to create a turn-key solution for their customers, they neglected to use the standard website practice of allowing a user to either create a new account or log into an existing account.  The woman from customer service thus advised me that if I wanted to make a reservation, I'd have to create a new account.  I asked Nissan Customer Service if I did this, how I could switch the reservation account to the account I originally intended, the one I'd created earlier that day.  They told me it was impossible.

So irate I was, and so desperate I was to get my order in, I hastily choose the rather rude name FuckYouIAmTimeHorse just so I could access my dashboard and put a reservation on a car.

Despite the unfortunate situation with the naming for my account on the Dashboard, Customer Service had assured me this account wasn't permanent and I could still choose my own, custom name when I set up my owner's portal.  And so I waited…

The Owner's Portal

Fast forward to Sunday, 25 September 2011.  Having received my text, and read the e-mail on the phone, I attempt to visit the Owner's Portal site.  Of course, like before I'd previously set up an Owner's Portal account in anticipation of this day so I was eager to finally, once and for all, hook my LEAF up into the proper account and user name.

I clicked the link in the e-mail on my phone to go to the Owner's Portal page, but, unable to either hook it into my existing account or assign the account the proper account name, I was stuck.  I thought maybe it was a limitation of the iPhone, so I tried my Linux server.  Still no dice!

Clearly it was another case of a turn-key solution that forced new account creation rather than allowing the option of logging into an existing account.  This was all the more insidious for the fact that Nissan may have other customers with existing cars on an existing Owner's Portal account: there be no way for these customers to link their cars into a single account either.

So, although I was able to see whole new areas opened up on my Customer Dashboard, I couldn't properly activate the Owner's Portal site.  I was absolutely thrilled that I could finally see my future car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), but I just couldn't get it associated with the right account.  Sigh.  I'd have to wait until Monday.

Jesse to the rescue!

Monday turned out to be a rather busy day at work so I couldn't call Nissan customer service until on the drive home from the job site — hands-free, of course!

So I call up customer service and I get in contact with my old on-line chat customer service friend, Jesse.  At first, Jesse's like you made your bed now lie in it.  You created the rude name, now you gotta live with it.  This made me incensed, and rather than using my polite protocol of just referring to the name as rude, I said it out loud and angry, no doubt much to the shock and surprise of my co-workers as I was leaving the office that day!

Jesse and I chatted and chatted and we went over my entire customer service history.  At first they didn't have any records going back before the Electric Drive event where my video was misplaced for a week.  Eventually, Jesse started coming over to my side; he was earning a 5-star rating!

Jesse did some research and after much digging and earning a sixth star, eventually came up with a solution.  After hemming and hawing about how to make absolutely sure we moved the right car to my proper Owner's Portal account, we finally came upon an identifying factor and low and behold, Jesse worked a miracle and a seventh and final star!  My car was now listed under my official Owner's Portal page!  Hooray!

Relieved to finally have this issue resolved, Jesse presently had some final warnings for me of which I should take heed or face my own peril.  Yes, the vehicle was now on my Owner's Portal site.  Yes, I could now activate CARWINGS.  Yes, I now had everything ready and all the information my dealership would need to take ownership of the car, hopefully, in the scheduled month of November.

But from that point forward I am now forbidden from ever visiting my official Customer Dashboard again!

So long my Customer Dashboard

I would never again see that friendly, last box, or be able to view my preferred dealership or, most importantly, my expected arrival date!  All the information I have about my car from this point forward is through the Owner's Portal.  Unless I get an e-mail indicating a more precise date for the delivery of my car, I have to fly blind.  So I'm relying on you, my fellow late-July orders, and my friend Justin at Nissan of Chantilly to keep me apprised of any new developments in the batch of cars that hopefully will contain my Cayenne Red LEAF among them.

But as all things must eventually pass, so to can opportunity prosper.  On Tuesday I was finally able to set up CARWINGS, as you can see from the image below.  Progress, my friends, as my first, true EV moves ever closer.  And in perhaps a mere 8 weeks, I'll be driving zero-emission — and my LEAF will have Wings!

Of course, all this assumes I take possession of this enigmatic LEAF.  Then again, I could just wait for next year's model.  After all, I still have the original Customer Dashboard account I created back in April 2010…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Test Drive the Nissan LEAF at Nissan of Chantilly

My friendly, neighborhood dealership representative Justin Maynard was kind enough to pass me a note earlier this month about how you can now test drive your very own Nissan LEAF at my official Nissan LEAF dealership, Nissan of Chantilly.  I've not heard from any other dealerships — I'd guess that other dealerships also have LEAFs for test drives (especially Criswell Nissan, given that the were claiming they'd have them in August) — but welcome any other dealership to send me a note so I can let my readers know about it.

Justin asks that you call first to schedule an appointment to ensure you'll have a chance to drive the vehicle to ensure that the car is available and properly charged before you come.  That said, anyone is invited to drop in, be it those like me with an active vehicle order or you who may just want to learn a little more about this wonderful, electric car.  I can't speak more highly of Justin's knowledge of the LEAF and how he can help you too drive free of fosil fuels…

What?  No, I'm not gonna drop a footnote about coal and natural gas (methane).  Will you guys get over this?  First of all, electric vehicles are more fuel efficient than gasoline vehicles even under 100% coal because coal plants are much more efficient generators than the standard internal combustion engine.  Plus, would you rather have those nasty emissions where your kids play or way out in the middle of nowhere where they build that coal plant — which is prevented by the EPA from polluting anyway?  And further, who said I was going to use Coal to power my EV when I could use Dominion Virginia Power's Green Rider or simply put up my own solar panels with a company like Solar City

…Sorry!  I guess I sometimes get carried away with my environmental concerns, even if those aren't the only reason I want an EV.  And I believe you should want one too!  So give Justin a call at 703-889-3700 to schedule an appoint to test drive the Nissan LEAF at Nissan of Chantilly.  Once you do, I'm sure you'll be signing up to own your very own piece of the electric revolution!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Gas Tax

A friend of mine and I were debating the other day what is more egregiousness, being taxed at double the rate of the adjacent county for a car that is expensive only by virtue of it being transitional technology or that electric vehicles won't be paying gasoline taxes.

To be fair, these two taxes are at completely different levels.  The gasoline tax, currently at 18.4¢ per gallon, is used exclusively to pay for transportation and infrastructure at the federal level; the personal property tax however is a tax that is collected by the county/city and then sent to Richmond for further distribution within the Commonwealth.  Of course, Maryland and the District of Columbia don't have personal property taxes on motor vehicles so this argument doesn't even pertain to those regions.

In any case, it's easy to calculate how much federal revenue is lost by a consumer switching to an electric vehicle.  It simply depends on the amount of miles per gallon the consumer's car achieves and the number of miles driven in a given amount of time, say for a year.

Thus, for these purposes, I'll use my 2001 Toyota Avalon XLS as the example Gasoline car and compare it to the 2012 Nissan LEAF as its potential replacement.

The Avalon gets about 28½ mpg on average for my mainly highway commute.  I also estimate I drive about 24,000 miles a year in the Avalon and would drive a near equivalent amount in the LEAF since I don't take many long trips in the car either way.

Since the Gasoline Tax is 18.4¢ per gallon, at 28½ miles per gallon, that comes to about 0.645¢ per mile.  (We calculate this by dividing the cost per gallon by the American-style Fuel Efficiency; in a Metric system, we would multiply because in this system efficiency is measured in Liters per 100 km and fuel cost in cents per Liter.)  Finally, we multiply the cost per mile by the number of miles driven to get a total tax value of $154.95.

At first blush, one might assume, if I drive the same number of miles in an electric vehicle, I should be paying the same amount in Gasoline Tax that I did with my old car.  Since I can't be taxed via gasoline fuel, one approach would be to tax me through my corresponding vehicle fuel: electricity.  In this case, if I estimate 3⅓ miles per kWh as the efficiency of my electric vehicle, I use about 7.2 MWh (dividing 24,000 miles by 3⅓ miles per kWh where 1,000 kWh ≡ 1 MWh).  Dividing the target cost of $154.95 by the number of kWh used, we get 2.1520¢ per kWh.

Of course, not all the electricity I use would go to my electric vehicle.  In fact, after improving my home insulation last year, I now estimate around 21.6 MWh of household electricity usage per year, give or take a Megawatt.  Thus, my electric vehicle electricity usage is about ¼ that my total estimated household usage (7.2 MWh ÷ [21.6 MWh + 7.2 MWh]).  So if this Federal Transportation Rider were to be enacted at the household level, it would fairly be at ¼ the rate for the electric vehicle alone, or about 0.5380¢ per kWh.

Regressive Tax

The thing to note about the Gasoline Tax is that it's a regressive tax: the tax increases as the fuel efficiency of the vehicle driven decreases.  The less fuel-efficient a car, the more they're going to end up paying in Gasoline Taxes.  Generally more fuel efficient cars are more expense.  Thus the less fuel efficient cars are owned by the less affluent — for whom driving is a necessity — and by those who are least able to afford the additional taxation.

Thus, hybrid drivers, with their more fuel-efficient vehicles, pay less in gasoline taxes per mile and thus per year than people driving a car propelled solely by internal combustion.  Since an electric vehicle is even more fuel efficient than a hybrid electric vehicle — even more than a plugin hybrid electric   it would be more fair if the federal transportation fuel tax be levied at a rate that reflected the electric vehicle's inherent efficiency.  We can achieve this by calculating the tax based not on an absolute value like 18.4¢ per gallon, but rather a relative measure as a percent of total fuel cost.  Therefore, we need to compare it to the current price of gasoline.

Now, as far as gasoline prices, we seem to be piping along more or less as predicted.  And having updated the gasoline chart today, I can use the 26 September 2011 national gasoline average price of $3.56810 ($3.38410 before the tax) to compute the current gasoline tax rate of about 5.4374%.

On the other side, we need to figure out what the cost of electric fuel is in order to determine that percent cost increase.  This also varies across the country, with an average of about 11.58¢ per kWh nationally for the first 6 months of 2011 according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  However, as we're using me as an example, I would just assume use my current and potential new EV rates.  Using some complex Google spreadsheets, I've calculate my average cost per kWh including riders for 3 possible scenarios:

Schedule Average Fuel Cost per kWh Relative Gas Tax Rider per kWh Cost per kWh for Household (¼)
DOE National Average 11.58¢ 0.6296¢ 0.1574¢
Schedule 1 9.61¢ 0.5225¢ 0.1306¢
Schedule EV 6.82¢ 0.3708¢ 0.0927¢
Schedule 1EV 6.45¢ 0.3507¢ 0.0877¢

Each value is based on total electric cost, including all applicable riders and taxes.

Thus, if the government is to recoup the revenue for the Gasoline Tax on electric vehicles, it should be fairly in the 0.35¢ - 0.63¢ range per kWh used by a car or 0.09¢ - 0.16¢ per kWh per single-EV household.  And if that be the law, I would not make much of a stink were it enacted.


Compare the lost gasoline tax revenue now to the cost of the Virginia Personal Property Tax in a county unfriendly to electric vehicles like my home of Fairfax County.  As discussed in a previous post, the cost to register a Nissan LEAF in Loudoun County is currently $497.53 cheaper than registering the same car in Fairfax County.

Therefore, the revenue we're talking about at the federal gasoline tax level is about 3¼ times smaller than the property tax increase above.  So again by my calculations I have the right to be about 3¼ times madder than all those Electric Vehicle naysayers who decry the lack of gasoline tax revenue.