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Thursday, October 26, 2017

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 1 - It Started With The EV1)

Our gradual path to a 100% EV household.

I have been driving EVs for 10 Years now. For the last year, with a Tesla Model X and a Nissan Leaf in our garage, we have been an EV-only household. Our transition was gradual. It started with a Prius in late 1999. My wife was in a wreck in early 1999, she walked away but (through no fault of hers) her car was totaled. She wanted something eco-friendly for her new car. We had heard about an electric car from General Motors called the GM EV1. Researching it we found out that it was being sold at Saturn dealerships. We called our local Saturn and asked about it. They laughed and said unless you lived in California and were "an influencer" such as a Hollywood star, you were not going to get an EV1.

We didn't live in California (and weren't movie stars) so the EV1 was off the table, but my wife still wanted an eco-friendly car. There were these new hybrid cars coming out from Honda and Toyota. What about those? We found a Honda dealership that had an Insight on the lot and we scheduled a test drive. The sales guy wanted to make sure that we were serious buyers before he would schedule our test drive. He said that a lot of people had been coming in to drive the car because it was new technology. Many of them were not even in the market for a new car; they just wanted a hybrid joyride. I assured him that we were serious buyers and that my wife had been taking the bus to work for the last week, so we'd drive it home that day if we liked it.

1999 Honda Insight
When we arrived at the dealership, it was not a positive experience. He showed us the car and we asked to take it for a test drive. Again he interrogates us about being "real car buyers" and again I assure him that we were. "OK then let's sign the paperwork," he says. What? He wanted us to BUY the car before he would let us test drive it. No way. I explain that there is no way that we would buy a car before test driving it. He says, "Sorry, I can't just keep letting people test drive it." I explain that we have an appointment and we are there to test drive it and if that's a problem, I want to talk to the owner. He walks off and comes back with the keys.

Now we have the next problem. The Insight was a two-seater. All three of us cannot fit in the car. My wife and I want to take the car with just the two of us. The sales guy said that he has to be in the car and we could each have a turn driving it. I offer to let my wife go first since it's going to be her car. She's not interested. I can see in her eyes that she would never buy anything from this guy. But we drove all the way there, I am at least going to drive it after all that. So I hop in the driver's seat and get a quick lay of the land. It had a manual transmission; shifting gears was easier than other manuals I had driven. I liked the car.

In 1999, it was nearly impossible to buy an EV and it was difficult to find a hybrid.

I return from the test drive and again offered the keys to my wife. She was not interested, so we left. Our next stop was Toyota. The Prius was not in the US yet, but they were on sale in Japan and were scheduled to be brought to the US. At the dealership, they showed us the literature that they had. It was 4-door, 5-seats, and it was automatic. The sales team was great, they answered questions and were friendly and not pushy. My wife loved it. We put down a deposit that day and we were on the waiting list.

A couple weeks later they called to tell us that one of the cars from Japan was touring the US. We wouldn't be able to drive it, but we'd at least be able to see it in person. The car arrived and we went to see it, it was at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI). They had it roped off like a museum piece. It was exactly what she wanted in a car.

2000 Toyota Prius
We went back to the dealership, picked out our color and finalized the order. The irony here is not lost on me. We refused to buy the Insight without driving it, but that is effectively what we've just done with the Prius. But there was a difference; the deposit that we had with the dealership was fully refundable. When the car came in, we could drive it; if we didn't like it, we get our money back. The dealership said that they would have any problem selling it to the next person on the waiting list.

Now we wait. Weeks turn in months, the season changes from spring to summer, the dog days of summer yield to a late summer, this was washed away by late September rains. During all of this, my wife is riding the bus to work. All because she wanted a Prius and she thought it was worth the wait, even though she had never driven it.

Finally, the car arrives. We take for a test drive and it was all that she had hoped for. We drove it home; we were now Toyota Prius owners. We were among the first in our state to own one. I admit that I was not that interested in green transportation at that time in 1999. Eco-cars were her thing. Back then, I was driving a Honda Passport SUV. At that time I was enjoyed the outdoors, I rock climbed, skied, camped... the 4-wheel-drive was nice when you needed to take a rarely used road to an obscure crag and the Passport could pull our camper. But I admit, the hybrid technology fascinated me.

Hybrids were unlike anything I'd ever seen. There were times (albeit brief) when the Prius would run on only the electric motor. It was ghostly. When we pulled up to a red light and the engine would shut off. I reflexively stomped for the non-existent clutch. The eco-friendly seed was planted, but would still take time to grow.

More on this photo in part 2
On to Part 2


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