Off-Topic: Real world EV ownership, one year later

Last year I went pretty off-topic with a lengthy, in-the-weeds post about my experience shopping for, buying and driving an electric vehicle for the first time which received a decent level of attention.

I didn't actually get around to writing up the post until June, but I actually bought the car, a 2022 Kia Niro EV, in early March...March 5, 2022 to be precise, almost exactly one year ago.

With a year of real world driving (including an 1,100 mile (round trip) road trip from Metro Detroit to the District of Columbia) baked in, I figured this would be a good time to post an update on how things are going for those who've never owned an EV and are wondering about the good, the bad & the ugly of the experience.

Before I get started, I should take a moment to note that the EV industry and market have both gone through some tumultuous changes over the past 12 months, including (but not limited to):

  • Finally clearing up lingering global supply chain issues from the COVID pandemic
  • General Motors cleaning up their Chevy Bolt battery recall debacle
  • Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which caused gas prices to surge nationally (and globally) over the summer before partly dropping again last fall
  • Passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which includes $7.5B to build out a nationwide network of 500,000 EV charging stations
  • Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which completely overhauled how the U.S. EV tax credit program works (including which vehicles qualify)
  • Elon Musk's very public descent into increasingly bizarre behavior, mostly centered around his absurd $44 billion purchase of Twitter (heavily funded via Tesla stock)

...and so forth.

In the meantime, the EV industry itself has continued to grow and strengthen, with dozens of new makes and models now available, to the point that 5.8% of all new U.S. car sales were electric for all of 2022, up from 3.2% in 2021. According to Kelly Blue Book, EV sales grew by 65% last year in the U.S. even as overall auto sales dropped by 8%. Meanwhile, Tesla, which used to have a new lock on EV sales, dropped from 70% of the EV market in Q1 to 58.3% in Q4...still a commanding lead but hardly an insurmountable one.

With all this as a backdrop, here's where things stand for me and my Niro EV. First, the stats:

  • Total Mileage: 7,060 (That's right; I don't drive much. The car already had around 420 miles on it when I bought it, and this includes that 1,100 road trip to DC, so my normal daily driving only averaged around 462 miles/month, or 553 miles/mo with the DC trip included.)
  • Total Home Charging: 1,453 kWh, at an average price of around $0.18/kWh (DTE residential)
  • Total Commercial Charging: 355 kWh, at an average price of around $0.30/kWh (various L3 DC Fast Charge networks)
  • Total Regenerative Charging: 924 kWh...costing nothing, as it's generated by the car itself!

In other words, the Kia Niro got around 3.9 miles per kWh if you only include externally generated electricity, although technically it's only 2.7 miles/kWh if you include electricity generated via regenerative braking. For most purposes, the 3.9 miles/kWh measure is what's relevant, however.

Put another way, around 80% of my active charging has been done at home so far; if you include regenerative, it's roughly 53% home charging, 13% commercial charging, 34% regenerative charging. That regen percentage varies widely depending on how you drive, however. I mostly do local start/stop driving, so it's pretty high, but if you do a lot of long freeway road trips, it'll be lower since you brake so much less frequently.

It's also worth noting that one gallon of gasoline is the energy equivalent of 33.7 kWh of electricity. The 2022 Kia Niro EV has a 64 kWh battery pack, so at 100% charged it should be roughly equivalent to a car with a gas tank that only holds 1.9 gallons of gas...yet it can drive an EPA estimated range of 239 miles on that full charge. That should be the equivalent of 126 MPGe, but it's officially rated at 112 MPGe.

Speaking of the battery pack, it's lost around 3.2% of its capacity ("State of Health") in the first year. This was concerning to me at first, because if the battery degradation continued at a constant rate this would mean I'd be down to just 68% of the original range within 10 years. However, according to Recurrent Auto, EV battery health degrades in more of a sideways S-curve...quickly at first, then it stabilizes for a long time, then it starts to drop off again:

Battery health does not degrade in a straight line. When a new lithium ion battery is first used, there can be a short but dramatic decline in health right out of the gate. However, this is totally normal. This happens because some of the lithium salts in the battery react with the other materials to form the protective SEI layer. In our observations, this first phase of degradation only lasts for the first 10-20,000 miles.

After this initial protective layer is built up, battery degradation levels off and decreases slowly and in a straight line. This is what EV owners and drivers will see for most of the car’s use. In a well functioning battery, degradation is limited and will be hard to detect over short periods of time. It can only be noticed over years. Additionally, the manufacturer may allow more of the battery to be used as it ages, masking some degradation effects in the short term.

Finally, as the battery nears the end of its life, it will have a sharp decline in capacity and performance. Most EV drivers will never see this, since the high voltage battery is considered “dead” when it is only around 70% empty! And, as a reminder, most EV drivers have not seen a battery degrade that far, since that is when most cars are eligible for a battery replacement. Very few modern EVs have been on the road long enough to reach this failure point.

The official EPA estimated range of the 2022 Niro EV on a full charge is 239 miles; with a 64 kWh battery pack, that's 3.73 miles per kWh. As noted above, I've actually been averaging closer to 3.9 miles/kWh. The reality is, warm and cold weather impact the actual range widely--it was averaging up to 4.8 last summer and as low as 2.2 over the winter (mainly due to running the heat/defroster).

In terms of cost of electricity, I've spent a total of just over $365 to drive 6,640 miles, or around $0.055 per mile.

For comparison, the average 2022 vehicle sold in the U.S. gets around 28 MPG. A traditional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car that gets 28 MPG would've used around 252 gallons. At an average of $4.00/gallon over the past year, that would have cost around $1,008 in gasoline, or $0.143/mile...around 2.6x as much. By that measure, I've saved around $643 in fuel costs in the first year.

Of course, I also drive less than half as much as the average American driver; if I drove twice as much, I would've saved over $1,200 this past year.

What about other costs? Well, aside from the cost of the car itself, there was also:

  • $900 to have a 240V outlet installed in my garage for "Level 2" charging (this is an optional one-time expense; the price varies)
  • $280 for a "Level 2" charging cable (this is also an optional one-time expense; the price can range from around $250 - $700)
  • $140/year in extra annual Michigan EV registration charges beyond the normal car registration renewal cost (this varies widely by state). Supposedly only $40 goes to replace lost gas tax revenue; the other $100 is just sort of...tacked on. I suppose the justification is supposed to be that EVs are a good ~500 lbs or so heavier than comparable ICE vehicles due to the battery weight, thus causing increased wear & tear on the roads?

Finally, there's maintenance:

  • $50 for a tire rotation, fluids filled (wiper fluid & such) & having the brakes checked.

A brand-new ICE car likely wouldn't require more than a couple of oil changes and a tire rotation in the first year either; at $50 apiece, let's call that $150 total, so I've saved perhaps $100 on maintenance so far. Obviously the car is only a year old and only has ~7K miles on it, so that's a bit unfair, but still. It'll be more interesting to see what the maintenance situation looks like when I reach, say, 30,000 miles or so, although that could take another 3-4 years.

That's about it...I covered most of the basics in my original post, and most of that hasn't really changed.

I will note, however, that DC fast charging (aka "Level 3" charging) has come a long way in just the past year or two. The Chevy Bolt is limited to a maximum charging rate of 50-55kW (ie, up to an hour and a half to go from 10 - 80% charged) and my Kia Niro EV peaks at 73kW (the 2023 model bumps this up to 85kW, or around 45 minutes to go from 10 - 80%)...but some of the newest mainstream EVs can charge much more quickly...up to 205 - 350kW for models like the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 5 and BMW i4, which can reach an 80% charge in as little as 18 - 30 minutes, assuming the DC fast charging station they're using is able to output that much electricity.

On the other hand, with all the discussion about EV charging station reliability (Tesla's SuperCharger network is supposed to be highly reliable while other EV charging networks from Electrify America, EvGO, ChargePoint and so on seem to range from decent to poor), there's one major gripe I have with just about every EV charging station (including most Tesla stations I've seen pictures of): No protection from rain, snow or wind.

Unlike gas pumps, which are almost always located under a large, sturdy roof/awning which protects both the pump, car and driver from the elements while filling your tank, most EV stations seem to be installed like parking meters: They're sticking out in the middle of a parking lot without any sort of awning or wind shield around them. Not only does this mean that you have to deal with the charging session & plugging/unplugging the cable in the rain/snow, you also have to worry about whether you can even reach the station after a heavy snowfall.

This was a major concern of mine last week when I had to stop off at a Meijer's in Ann Arbor, Michigan the day after a major snowstorm. In large parking lots, snow plows tend to pile up huge hills of snow at the "endcap" sections of each row of parking spots, which is exactly where most EV parking spots are located.

As it happens, enough snow had melted off by the time I got there that I was able to get close enough to the charging unit, but if I had tried to use it 12 hours earlier I might now have been able to do so.

It seems to me that at the very least EV chargers should have some sort of basic "bus stop-style" shelter with ab awning sticking out a few feet.

UPDATE: Someone asked me some "if you knew then what you know today" questions:

  • I probably still would've gone the full EV route instead of a plug-in hybrid, because in my particular case I don't take road trips often enough to justify lugging around hundreds of pounds of extra parts for the one time per year that I might need gas. That's just me, however; my wife will probably go for a plug-in hybrid when she replaces her car, as she makes longer trips more frequently.
  • If I could have held out one more year to buy an EV I would have. I love mine, but the EV world is very much in the "consumer electronics advancement" phase right now, with each year bringing dramatic improvements. However, I had to make a decision at the time as my prior car was kaput, so I bit the bullet and did so. I still love the car.
  • If I was buying today, as much as I love the Niro, I probably would've gone with the Chevy Bolt EUV because of the change to the federal tax credit. My Niro qualifies for it because I bought mine just before the Inflation Reduction Act changed the rules, but if I were to buy one today, the Bolt would qualify while the Niro wouldn't any longer. The price gap would just be too great for me to justify today.