Are you tired of paying ridiculously high prices at the pump? Would it not be cool to do all of your daily driving without having to fill up at a gas station? Well, now this is becoming a reality for people who drive electric vehicles, also known as EVs.
What is an Electric Vehicle?
Electric vehicles are propelled by an electric motor (or motors) powered by rechargeable battery packs. The batteries transfer energy to an electric motor, the motor turns the drive train, that turns the wheels. It is a highly efficient technology; up to 80% of the energy in the battery is transferred directly to power the car. Everything is computer controlled and a display shows you how the car is performing. The display lets you know about how much battery power you have left, and if you need to find a place to recharge, you can use the software built into the car or on your mobile device to guide you to the nearest charge point. When you are ready to charge your EV’s battery, instead of a gas tank there is a power cord, and instead of refueling, you recharge: just plug it in.
Benefits of electric vehicles
Electric vehicles are quickly gaining popularity and for a good reason. Besides helping our environment by keeping our air clean, they are also convenient, sleek and quiet, and for most of the short distance driving we do they are the perfect way to get from point A to point B, safely, reliably, and comfortably.
Consider the following advantages of EV’s over internal combustion engines (ICE’s)
1. Energy Efficient. Electric motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels. In comparison, internal combustion engines (ICEs) only convert 20% of the energy stored in gasoline.
2. Environmentally friendly. EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants, although the power plant producing the electricity may emit them. Moreover, electricity from nuclear-, hydro-, solar-, or wind-powered plants causes no air pollutants.
3. Reduce energy dependence. Electricity is a domestic energy source, and by using EV’s we are reducing our dependence on foreign oil as a nation.
4. Performance benefits. Electric motors provide quiet, smooth operation, stronger acceleration and require overall less maintenance than ICEs.
5. Tax Incentives. The US government is supporting a more widespread use of EV’s by providing special tax credits. Electric vehicles purchased in or after 2010 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. The credit amount will vary based on the capacity of the battery used to fuel the vehicle.
Disadvantages of electric vehicles
Some of the main drawbacks of EVs are battery related challenges outlined below. Yet, most of these issues can be resolved with a little extra planning on the part of the consumer.
1. Driving range. Most EVs can only go about 100–200 miles before recharging, where as gasoline vehicles can go over 300 miles before refueling. While this is an issue, taking a look at the statistics reveals a different perspective. As it turns out, more than 80% of Americans drive less than 40 miles round trip for their daily commute (US Department of Energy), which is just right for an EV.
2. Recharge time. Fully recharging the battery pack can take 4 to 8 hours. Even a “quick charge” to 80% capacity can take 30 min. This issue can be taken care of by recharging overnight, when you are done driving for the day, and electricity may be cheaper. However, for a quick charge during the day, charging stations are popping up everywhere in convenient locations across the US. Another option that is available on the market is an extended range EV: it starts by using battery power, but when the battery power runs low, gasoline fueled engine kicks in to power the electric motor, which in turn drives the wheels. So for shorter trips, you can rely on electricity, and still take longer road trips whenever you want. Anywhere you go, you can simply plug in or fill up.
3. Battery Cost and Weight Currently, the large battery packs are expensive and may need to be replaced one or more times. They are also heavy and take up considerable vehicle space. However, battery technology continues to advance, and researchers are working on improved battery technologies to increase driving range and decrease recharging time, weight, and cost.
Overall, with the speed of technological advancements in the car industry, it will not be long before electric vehicles will become totally compatible with internal combustion engine cars, while boasting major personal and environmental advantages. As Americans, we have had a long love affair with cars, often choosing power and speed over preserving our environment. However, as a society we have started to turn the page, as more of us make a conscious decision to opt for clean, comfortable electric vehicles.
Choosing between Toyota Prius and Honda insight and why I chose Prius:
It has been a very difficult choice for me, as I was so in love with my ’09 Civic Hybrid, but now I’m a proud 3rd Generation Prius driver – 2010 Prius II to be precise. My main reason for the switch was the fact that I needed a recognizable hybrid for work purposes, while my Civic Hybrid looked just like any other Civic, with the exception of special aluminum wheels and a “Hybrid” sticker on the trunk. The actual switching process is what I want to talk about, as there is a lot to say. From choosing the right Prius package to getting the right deal on a trade-in and the car itself, I had to jump through hoops to be satisfied.
When the Honda Insight just came out back in March 2009, I test-drove it and did an extensive review and comparison of Honda Insight and Civic Hybrid. Back then, I was not much impressed by Insight, but later came to appreciate it more. Yet, when it cam time to upgrade from my now “aging” 2009 Civic hybrid, I had to make a difficult choice between the Insight and Prius. In part, this choice was influenced by Honda sales managers, who were unwilling to offer a good deal.
Unfortunately, I was looking to buy during and right after the notorious Cash for Clunkers program, which brought in a lot of buyers to the car dealerships, and gave the sales managers a false feeling of a recovery in the auto industry. This hype lasted about a month past the end of the Cash for Clunkers program, at which point they realized that sales of new cars dropped significantly, since people who wanted to buy a new car did it and got a rebate, while others were not going to buy anyway.
Too bad for me and later for Honda, while the sales managers were uncooperative in giving me a deal (though I bought a few cars from them over the last few years), my odometer kept rolling and I had over 31000 miles at the time, and I finally got a Prius.
Trading in a 2009 Civic Hybrid:
My first and main concern was to get the right amount of money for my 1 year old Civic. Thanks to Honda’s recent release of their reinvented Insight hybrid, I instantly lost about $3000 of equity on my Civic as the new Insight could be bought for about $19200 + fees and registration / taxes / title costs. A comparably equipped Insight (EX model without navigation) was about $21200. Still, my Civic, brand new off the dealership floor was $24340 plus fees, and I could not sell it for that money anymore (even if it had zero miles). It is difficult to explain or understand how the new – used car market works, especially when the same car maker releases a new, yet very similar model for $3000-4000 less, creating competition within its own product line. But that was the situation in which I ended up and I had 3 choices:
1) Keep my “old” Civic Hybrid – well, since I needed a recognizable hybrid, this would only be an option if I did not get what I wanted for my trade-in.
2) Get a 2010 Honda Insight
3) Get a 2010 Toyota Prius
Since a 2010 Prius (3rd Gen) was already out and it is in my opinion a much better car than a 2009 Prius (Gen 2), the choice on the Toyota’s side was obvious. Now, the contest was between Insight and Prius. These two cars look very similar, yet they are so different. For the sake of argument, lets skip the Hybrid technologies in each of these cars, as for me, both work well. I will only mention that Integrated Motor Assists in Honda hybrids works very well, despite the Toyota salesmen trying to tell you otherwise. Also both Insight and Prius get VERY similar gas mileage in Green Mode for Insight and ECO mode for Prius.
For me the criteria for choosing a car were more aesthetic. I had some unresolvable issues with the Insight body (although it looks so similar to Prius), while I find the Prius to be very “sexy” looking.
On the inside, I like Insight MUCH more. There are so many more options for me to stuff my small things all over the car. And I have a LOT of small things, which I always need in the car. In a Prius you only have two side pockets in the front doors, space under the arm rest and under the center control panel. The glove compartment (bottom one) barely fits the papers and user manuals and the top one is almost useless. Rear doors in a Prius do not have side pockets, which is kind of annoying, as I always used those in my Civic.
As for the trunk space – I loved the fact that Toyota included a pull-out trunk cover by default, while Honda does not have it and you NEED to buy one, unless you want people breaking into your car to steal your stuff. Also, the fold-down armrest of the rear seat is a nice addition to the Prius as compared to the Insight.
Breaks: Toyota has 4 disk brakes, while the Insight has a split disk / drum brakes. I find it strange for a higher end 2010 car to have “cheap” drum brakes instead of all-four disk breaks.
Using a hybrid car for recreational / personal needs:
Despite of the above mentioned negatives of the new Prius, it is an excellent vehicle, and perfectly fits my needs for recreation and work. As far as recreation goes, I like outdoor activities and my 2009 Civic hybrid was really annoying when it came to hauling large objects. It had a very small trunk, even compared to the regular Civic. The rear seats did not fold forward to expand trunk space, due to battery pack placement. I had to get a roof rack for the snowboards and skis if I wanted to go skiing with my friends, as these long objects did not even fit in the rear seat. I had to use a bike rack to transport my bicycle, and I was always afraid it would come loose and fly off on the highway.
The bike rack also significantly reduced my gas mileage. I recorded my mpg over a 120 miles trip to and from Cape Cod, and noticed a drop of about 9-10 miles per gallon. From my average of 45, it went down to 36 mpg, only because of huge wind resistance added by the rack and the bike. It was also a big hassle to put the bike on and take it off, each time I needed it and I was always afraid someone might steal it. In the end, Prius is roomy enough to fit all my gear and potential passengers. An average snowboarding / skiing trip from Boston to Wachusett mountain ski area with all boards, skis and other equipment consumes about 2.5 gallons of gas. If I was driving my Civic hybrid with a roof rack, I would go through about 3.5 gallons of gas. A Honda Accord / Toyota Camry with a roof rack, would use 4.5 gallons or 4 gallons without a roof rack.
Using Toyota Prius for work as a roofing estimator’s vehicle:
Although recreational use of Toyota Prius is fun and brings me much joy from both the usability and comfort standpoints, the main purpose of getting a hybrid car (first the Civic hybrid and now Prius) in the first place, was my roofing business. I do a lot of work related driving – about 60-70% of my total mileage, and a hybrid car is a perfect choice not only for a green roofing contractor like myself, but for almost any estimator in the construction industry, as well as most “on-the-road” salespeople. The nature of our business dictates that our roofing jobs are spread around Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Green flat roofs such as IB PVC roofing and Metal Roofs are premium products with an adequate price tag, so we usually don’t work in the same neighborhood, job after job after job. Most homeowners will choose the non environmentally friendly, but cheaper roofs such as asphalt shingles and EPDM rubber (for flat roofs). Therefore, we need operate in a larger geographic area than an average roofing contractor, who is diving his Diesel F-250 around town, and to work. To be greener, we have to compensate for the extra miles we drive by lowering our fuel consumption.
Specializing in green roofing technologies such as cool flat roofs and lifetime metal roofing materials, as wells as roof-top gardens, we needed a car that would consume little fuel, and of course enhance our image as a green construction company. The car also had to be reliable and versatile / capable of carrying all product samples and sales materials, as wells as equipment and even a small ladder to get on the roof. While the Civic Hybrid was economical and reliable, it lacked the utility of bigger cars and did not appeal to most people as a hybrid – the only way to know it was a hybrid, was to read the small “hybrid” label on the trunk and by looking at futuristic rims. Still, 90 percent of people did not recognize that it was in fact a hybrid car until I mentioned it.
Prius had everything I needed in a hybrid: It is spacious for a compact sedan – there is plenty of legroom both in the front and back seat. The trunk space is big enough to hold all my roofing samples, small tools, an 11 feet telescopic ladder and my folding bike, to go for a ride after an estimate.
I can also fit on the rear seat all the tools and materials needed to go on a rubber roof repair call, which we provide to homeowners in MA, CT and RI. Most roofing contractors will drive their truck to work with lots of unnecessary tools and ladders on the rack, and waste a lot of fuel. For every rubber roof repair I have done, I used a prius to get there, and all my tools and supplies fit perfectly in the back seat.
Now you may ask – how can I as a roofing contractor get around doing roof estimates and even roof repair work driving a compact car – don’t I need a ladder to get up on the roof? The answer is YES. I do need a ladder, and no, I do not tie a 28-footer to the roof of my Prius. Before we go on a roofing estimate or a roof service call, I ask if the homeowner has a ladder tall enough to reach the roof. You may be surprised, but most people do have a long enough ladder, and allow me to use it, so I can easily get by with driving my Prius to look at or repair a leaking roof. Only on a rare occasion do I need to take my Toyota Tundra pick-up truck to bring the necessary ladders or extra equipment / materials to the job-site. I only remember about 7 such occasions in the last year and a half since I started doing this.
Toyota is also an excellent choice to get to the job which is located within a normal driving distance for an average morning commute. I’d pick up my guys and we would go to work in a my car, if all the necessary tools, materials and ladders were already on the job-site. This is never the first or the last day of the roof installation, but rather some days in the middle, when I do not need a truck to just get to work. I will use the truck to deliver materials and equipment and drive the car on other days, when I don’t need to haul heavy or bulky things.
3rd Gen Toyota Prius Optional Equipment and Packages:
Prius come in five optional packages, numbered from 1 to 5. Package 1 is virtually non-existent in the US market (or at least in New England). I chose package 2, which is more on the basic side, but has all power options (power doors / windows). The Basic package 3 costs exactly $1000 more than package 2, and is in my opinion a complete waste of money. The only difference between packages 2 and 3 is the upgrade to a 6-disc CD changer and an 8-speaker audio system. After using Civic’s USB hook-up and an 8 GB USB thumb drive to hold all my music, now I personally hate CDs and do not need a CD changer which is slow and makes annoying sounds. 8 speakers vs. 6 speakers is also not a huge improvement to justify paying an extra thousand.
Still, there is a purpose for package 3. The only way you can upgrade to the built in GPS Navigation or the so much advertised, yet completely useless Solar Sunroof, is to have at least a package 3 Prius. The cost of this upgrade is $3600 and you cannot get one without the other.
Built-in GPS / Navi:
I love my little Garmin GPS and hate every single built-in navigation system I encountered, including the ones in luxury cars like Lexus. When you look for “fast food” on a Garmin, it give you the closest junk food joints, based on distance. If you try to do the same using a built in navigation of either Honda or Toyota, unless you first specify your city and state, you will get some McDonald’s and Wendy’s in Alabama or Nebraska – literally! If you need to type in some weird address which built in Navi does not recognize by the first two street numbers, it won’t let you proceed. I once spent over 30 minutes searching for an address which was pretty much around the corner.
When I test-drove the package 3 prius with Navi, I entered a place nearby, but went in a different direction. The GPS would not shut up and kept telling me to “make a u-turn in point three miles”. Even the Toyota salesman could not figure out how to stop the current route.
And worst of all, the position and angle of a built-in GPS unit make it impossible to see when the sun hits the screen, which happens a lot during the day. Basically, portable navigation is the best. I just hope I can figure out a turn by turn navigation on my iPhone and I won’t need any GPS at all.
The “awesome” Solar SunRoof:
This in my opinion is a complete scam on the part of Toyota. The Solar PV panels mounted on the roof of a Prius do not charge the battery pack. They waste energy on running the fan to keep the car’s interior space the same temperature as outside. Who needs an interior fan for their car parked most of the day? You would only need it if you drove kids or pets in your car all day and had a bad habit of leaving them in the car, which is against the law anyway. Ok, you can’t always take your pet with you to the store – leave a small crack in the windows open – the car will self ventilate. And if you plan to leave your pet in the car for more than 5-10 minutes to get something from the store, why do you have your pet with you?
The sunroof is a sunroof – it is cool to have, completely useless 99% of the time, but keeps your resale value up. While I could live with the Solar Roof – the coolest invention since blue jeans, the GPS was an absolute NO for me.
Packages 4 and 5 are more on a luxury side and come with 17″ alloy wheels, GPS/Solar Roof, and only GPS in a package 5, but with the optional technology package, which is really cool but not worth $33000+. For just a bit more, you can get a Lexus 250h hybrid.
Pros, cons and other mixed feelings:
Based on all of the above reasons I went with the simple, yet very nice package 2 and am very happy with it. Overall, the Prius completely satisfies my needs and wants. I wanted luxury at first, so I test drove the Lexus hybrid, but realized that I did not need / want it, and it also took away the hybrid image, which Prius represents and is recognized for. The only thing that really annoys me about my Prius is the lack of a USB plug, which should be standard in this otherwise technologically advanced car.
Really Toyota – how could you screw it up so much? It is so simple to provide a simple USB plug – the sound system already recognizes mp3 format, and there is an auxiliary line-in connection. Now i have to go through my iPhone to find a song I need and there is a million of wires and cables all over the car so I can listen to Pandora online radio. Honda is SO much better in this regard…
Still, Prius is awesome, and I got a decent trade in value from Toyota, while Honda lost a sale. It is especially strange since when I was shopping for my new car, the two Boch dealerships, Toyota and Honda, which are located side by side on Route 1 in Norwood, MA, had a VERY different inventory. There were over 15 Insights on Honda’s lot, and not a single 3rd Gen Prius to test-drive, and over 15 cars with the “sold” sticker in the windshield. Still, Honda would not give me a deal on a car which was clearly losing the “great battle of hybrid”. Insight which is supposed to be the economy hybrid, costs almost as much as a comparably equipped Prius, yet lacks the trunk space cover, and does not look nearly as sexy as a Prius. It is a shame in my opinion that Honda blew this opportunity to make a great hybrid and market / sell it well.
A comparison of two great looking hybrids from Honda – new Insight and Civic hybrid with a focus on the price, driver’s comfort and general usability.
Well, it has been a couple of months now since Honda made their new, and VERY affordable 2010 Insight hybrid available in the US market, and I have already had the pleasure of test-driving it at the BOCH Honda dealership in Norwood, MA. There are a lot of things I want to say about both of these cars, as a proud Civic hybrid owner. But first, lets look at these gorgeous machines:
2010 Honda Insight, displayed at a car show.
Honda Civic hybrid on drive track:
The first thing that came to my mind, when I got an email from my dealer saying that Insights are now available and are in stock was what a fool I am, buying Civic hybrid LX for $24,000, six months before Insight is released (I did know about Insight coming out in spring of ’09, when I was buying my Civic).
Second, I decided to go in and trade my Civic for an Insight and get a grand or two back (Wrong!!! I will explain this in details later). So I called my salesman to confirm availability and schedule a time to test-drive it. I watched all the videos about Insight on YouTube.com before I came in, had a generally good impression of the car, and was really hyped to get it.
Here are my first impressions of Insight:
First of all, although it looks VERY similar to the current (2009) and the next model of Toyota Prius, while costs 4 grand less, it is considerably smaller than both Prius and Civic, and inside it feels more like a Honda Fit or a Toyota Yaris. My dealer had two models in stock, base model – LX – for $19800 (rounded up, including destination charge) and a more advanced one, but without Navigation. The second one – Insight EX was a Honda Demo car, and could not be sold for a month or two, and did not have a sticker on it, so I’m not exactly sure what the price was, but it was about $21,300.
Being a hybrid owner, my main concern was the mileage, so I did not take it into sharp curves. It was also raining, and was not the best condition to get accurate results. In a 3 mile stretch of city roads and traffic lights, I got about 42 mpg, so just about what the sticker on the car says. I was driving in a “green mode” however, but because of lights, uphill driving, and short distance, I could not really get a good mpg sample of this car. I do know that some testers get around 60 mpg on longer tests in “green zone”, and bear in mind that the EPA rating of 40/43 city/hwy mileage was taken in the normal mode, not green, so if you are a hard-core, hyper-mileage driver, you can expect some impressive results.
I will go back for a more extensive test-drive of the Insight, compare it to my experience of driving the Civic and post my findings later.
Why I got disappointed with the Insight – impressions of the car, as compared to my Civic (base model), keeping in mind the price and what you get with the car.
First of all, let me come back to the cost of the Insight, trade-in values of my Civic, and my disappointment. Like I said, I got my Civic for just under $24k and I also got a good deal (back in Oct. 2008) on the car and the trade. Because the Insight LX is priced at $19350 + destination charge, that completely screwed up the civic hybrid market, and to be able to actually sell “almost the same” car (from my lay-person’s perspective), Honda is having crazy rebates on civics plus a dealer cash-back (something you are not told by your salesman) so you can actually now get a brand-spanking-new Civic Hybrid for just around $20-21k. Because of these deals, dealers will only give you “high-teens” for an almost new ’09 Civic. So if I was to sell or trade in my Civic, which to me is worth about 23 grand (what I paid for it, less wear/tear and miles than I put on it in 7 months), I would take a loss of about $5000. That’s why I, like many other Civic owners, am stuck.
To get back to the comparison of these two cars, I have to say that you get a lot more of a car for almost the same money, if you go and buy a Civic hybrid today, vs the Insight, and here is why:
Base model of the insight is VERY basic. There is no cruise control, no radio controls on the steering wheel, no alloy rims – you get cast wheels with hub-caps. Insight is much smaller than Civic, and Civic is SMALL, compared to my previous car – ’08 Accord. There is no USB plug for your music thumb-drive, only an auxiliary plug (USB is only available in the most expensive model of insight – EX with Navi, which costs $23,100).
Insight LX does not have a compartment between front seats, but only fold-down arm rests, just like Fit.
LX does not haveSteering-wheel mounted Paddle shifters to take control of CVT tranny, which makes your car feel more like a sports car, rather than a slow-rider.
Basically, the LX, which is positioned as an Affordable Hybrid, lacks many conveniences that I’m so used to from driving a Civic LX, and for the added cost of EX, is it really worth it?
The good things about the Insight (LX):
Although I’m disappointed (both in Insight LX features and in what I paid for my Civic), Insight is a trully great machine. First of all, in Eco mode you can get about 60 mpg. Second, it is still a very affordable hybrid, and because gas prices WILL go back to their crazy levels of 2008, and probably higher, when the economy recovers, people buying them now will really appreciate it. Also, consider that when gas prices do go up, demand for hybrids will skyrocket again and dealers will charge premium over MSRP, just like they did in the early ’08 and when the 2nd gen Prius came out.
If you don’t really need all the comfy things that LX is lacking, then Insight is really for you. It finally has a fully-usable trunk, unlike my Civic’s trunk which is TINY, and the rear seats do not fold in. Insight is very futuristic, and the Eco display teaches you how to drive conservatively, reducing your gas consumption and actually scoring your driving.
Now that Honda positions its Civic Hybrid as a luxury hybrid, but still offers super deals (not officially), if I was buying a hybrid now, I would think long and hard whether to get a Civic or an Insight. On one hand, Insight has the potential to get phenomenal mileage (in Eco “green” mode) and is relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, mpg of my civic can be in 50+ range when I go from Boston to NYC, and in the summer I can easily get 45 mpg in mixed city/hwy driving, so as a hybrid, Insight is not much better.
As far as luxuries and convenience, Civic LX beats Insight LX hands down, and you need to go to EX to get even close in comfort. My estimate is that now you can get a Civic EX with leather and navi for around $23-24k (with very long negotiations, eager-to-sell dealer and a lots of “walking outs”), so I would probably go for the Civic. Later, when all these deals disappear, the choice will be clear – the Insight, and probably EX without navi (get a garmin for $200 – it works much better than Honda’s built-in GPS).