One Year Living With An EV

March 29, 2021 by

By Chris Haak

My wife considers herself an environmentalist. She’s a big-time recycler, she actually looks forward to picking up litter, we never throw away edible food, and we try to generate very little waste. We’re not zero-landfill, but our norm is one bag of garbage per week with a huge quantity of recycling.

That being said, we’re not perfect environmentalists. I like to eat meat. I also really like cars; at one point, we owned three cars that had a combined 22 cylinders (V6 Toyota Sienna, V6 Cadillac CTS, V10 Audi S8) and each of those gasoline-swilling cars averaged between 17 and 20 miles per gallon. Today, we are down to six cylinders and two cars. While driving two 3-cylinder cars may also get me to 2 cars/6 cylinders, we actually got there by my giving up two gasoline cars for an electric car. Since February 2020, I have owned a 2019 Audi e-Tron.

The national average commute is about 20 miles, but my commute is 60 miles. It’s ok; I love my job and look forward to getting there to see my coworkers, and look forward to getting home again to see my family. I found myself spending a considerable amount of money on tolls (can’t help that, even with an EV) and gasoline.

My first solution was to get a cheap commuter car –I put 28,500 miles on a new 2016 Chevrolet Sonic in 15 months. The Sonic drove me crazy, though; the gas tank was so small that I had to stop for gas every other day (I could do five 60-mile trips on a tank, but I only wanted to stop for gas in the morning, not on my way home in rush hour). It was also small and uncomfortable, and we became concerned about safety in a car that small, especially when we hauled our kids in it. I will say, however, that every photo I’ve seen of a Sonic that suffered a serious accident always successfully protected its occupants). But eventually, I upgraded to a preowned 2017 Audi Q5.

The Q5 was extremely comfortable –better stereo than the Sonic, more room, all-wheel drive, great seats, and it got similar mileage to the Sonic. I drove it about 30,000 miles before considering an EV. I researched EVs and learned that they were getting much, much better. (In a prior life, I had a chance to drive several EVs, including a Ford Focus EV, BMW 1-Series ActiveE, and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The Mitsubishi I drove was a Japanese-spec model with right-hand drive –talk about an adjustment!)

I eventually decided to go all-in on an EV, trading two Audis (the aforementioned 2017 Q5, plus my baby, a 2013 S6 that I had owned for five years, but which was getting older) to get an e-Tron that had previously been used as a demonstrator. The deals were great in February 2020, and the trade-ins covered about two thirds of the cost of the nearly-new e-Tron (it had about 5,000 miles on the odometer).

First, while I miss my S6 (who wouldn’t miss the rumble of a twin-turbo V8?), I am happy with my decision one year later. Prior to our offices closing for COVID, I commuted in the e-Tron for about a month. It’s impossible to fairly compare 2019 and 2020 commuting costs, since I don’t really have any commuting costs at the moment, but I am very spreadsheet-oriented, so I was able to draw some conclusions.

Qualitative Thoughts

It’s very convenient to “fill” your vehicle with fuel (in my case, electrons) inside your garage. My wife’s van is a plug-in hybrid minivan, so we share a single 220v charger in our garage, but we have never wished we had two chargers. Her van fully charges in under two hours, and my Audi takes nine or ten hours to charge from a nearly-empty battery. However, home charging with 110v household current is intolerably slow –almost unusably slow. The van takes about 12 hours to charge, while the Audi would take several days, if I ever tried to do it. I don’t plan on it.

I don’t really feel range anxiety in the Audi. Its published range is 204 miles, but that’s almost a midpoint of what I have seen, with huge variability based on outside temperature. During the summer, I see a range of 225+ miles, but when it’s below freezing outside, the range is around 165 miles. This is easy for us to manage –when we go more than 75 miles in one direction, we almost always just use the van. I have plenty of range available with my commute (remember, 60 miles), so I always arrive home with miles to spare. Plus, I am able to charge at work for free, which I take advantage of. It’s theoretically possible to use my Audi on longer-distance trips, but the VW/Audi Electrify America high-speed DC charger initiative isn’t nearly as widespread as Tesla’s SuperCharger network. My e-Tron came with a few thousand miles of free EA DC charging, but I haven’t had a need for it. It’s just not really a road trip car in my mind, but perhaps when the network is built out further, it will become an option. The one time I connected it to an Electrify America DC charger, it was as expensive as gasoline –which is breaking the economics of my driving an EV.

The Audi e-Tron is the most comfortable vehicle I have ever owned –it has an extremely solid structure, the heft of its 95 kWh battery below my feet keeps it planted on the road, and the comfort and tech features are excellent. I’m a particular fan of wireless Apple CarPlay (though it’s glitchy at times) and the massaging seats. A software update a few months ago broke the ability to start the massaging seats from the MMI menu, which I thought was stupid, until I realized that I can start them by pushing the massage button on the side of my seat. Who’s the stupid one now?

As an EV, it obviously requires no oil changes. Tires will probably wear out faster than an ICE-only car because they’re supporting a very heavy vehicle. I suspect that the brakes will last a long time thanks to regenerative braking, which uses the motors to slow the car, while returning energy to the battery as a generator. Still, Audi suggests the same 10,000 mile maintenance intervals that my other Audis have had.

The e-Tron is no sports car. It’s heavy, and weight affects performance. You can feel the heft when you accelerate or steer. But the strength of an electric powertrain is instant full torque from zero RPM. The perceived acceleration is strong, even if it’s actually more than a second slower 0-60 than my old S6.

Quantitative Thoughts

I wish that I had kept better records of gasoline usage in the past. I was able to piece together some of the data, but the pre-COVID and during-COVID comparison isn’t apples-to-apples. What I do know is this:

  • My wife drives mostly local mileage in her PHEV van, and about 75% of our 25,000 miles in that van have been EV miles
  • I am stopping for gas zero times per week on my commute
  • Charging at work is free
  • Charging at home costs me $0.065/kWh
    • Charging the Audi e-Tron from 0 to 83.6 kWh (its usable capacity) would cost $5.43,
    • Filling a 25 mpg gasoline equivalent crossover at $3 per gallon would use 8 gallons to travel 200 miles and cost $24
    • Assuming e-Tron efficiency of 2.44 miles/kW (which is what is required to travel 200 miles), I am using 24.59 kwH for the 60-mile commute home from work, which at $0.065/kWh costs me $1.59
      • The free charger at work essentially makes my energy into the office free
      • That same commute in a 25 mpg crossover at $3/gallon would use 4.8 gallons of gasoline, or $14.40 worth

In real numbers, my family’s gasoline bill was around $4,000 in 2019. In 2020, it was around $800. We still drove from the Philadelphia suburbs to Virginia Beach (pre-COVID), the Finger Lakes, and to the Outer Banks last year using mostly gasoline, but it’s obvious why our family’s gasoline bill would be dramatically lower, even if I was commuting.

Our family electricity expense in 2019 was $2,016.94, and in 2020, it went up 20% to $2,420.47, an increase of $403.53. Part of that was charging an electric car –which we used whenever we could –but we were also spending everyday at home, rather than in school or in the office. I expect that it will go up further when we get back to normal patterns –but I think my commuting costs have dropped permanently. Now, if only I could do something about the bridge tolls to leave New Jersey.

Final Thoughts

Electric vehicles are the future of personal transportation. There are just too many advantages with EVs –no local pollution (and no pollution if the power comes from wind or solar), fewer (and cleaner!) maintenance, and easier performance upgrades. With EV adoption relatively low in most of the world, EV residuals are poor –but that’s an opportunity for those considering a used EV. I frankly think they are nearly perfect cars for young drivers: they’re cheap, clean, easy to drive, and can’t go more than 70 miles from home (speaking of first-generation EVs). I know I will be looking at EVs, among other cars, for my teenage son soon.

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