Going Electric: Part 2

Bolt EV Tail Light and Badge

In my previous post, Going Electric: Part 1, I covered how I decided to buy a Chevy Bolt EV and followed the process through signing the order and making the deposit on August 4, 2018. I was told to expect the car in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you order anything these days, it’s trivial to track it. Even the smallest order at Amazon, for example, includes more tracking information than you could need. You can find out whether it’s in stock, packed, shipped, and even see maps of the current location or find out how many stops away the UPS truck is. You can get automated texts and emails at every state of the process. Well, not so when you order a car, at least from GM. They have very limited tracking information. You can contact the dealer and ask them. You can go to the chevy.com website, start a support chat session and after providing phone name, number, email, and street address, you can chat with a person who might be able to get a scrap of information.

Buzz Smith at Classic has partially overcome this problem with a homegrown web page that tracks Bolt EV orders at the dealership. The information comes from their internal dealer connection to the GM network. So starting on August 4, I was checking that page daily for status updates and at first things looked great. The order entered the system on August 6 and my vehicle was assigned a build date of September 3 at GM’s Orion Assembly Plant. Surprisingly, things moved fast at this point and they got started early. The order entered production control on August 16, was “scheduled” on August 21, and the build process started on August 23. By August 31, the car was finished.

One of Several Parking Lots at the Toledo, Ohio Intermodal Facility

On September 1, my Bolt was listed as “in transit to Ohio” and I started getting excited that it was going to arrive sooner than expected. It seems to have arrived in Ohio on September 6. We’re talking here about the intermodal facility in Toledo, Ohio where vehicles from car manufacturers in Detroit are staged for CSX rail shipment all over the country. They arrive on trucks and move through huge parking lot queues to get onto railcars for shipment.

A week later, the status was “Awaiting shipment in Ohio”. Another week later, it was still awaiting shipment. And another week later the same. At the beginning of October, I began to get a little worried and started doing some research. I ran across a news article that said there is an on-going shortage of Autorack railcars for automotive transportation. This article talked about the growing backlogs of cars building up in intermodal facilities and had a chart listing the average time between ordering and arrival at the dealer for a variety of car models. The Bolt EV is on the list at 72-130 days, almost all of which is spent sitting in a parking lot in Ohio.

You may recall around this same time that Elon Musk tweeted several times about going from “production hell” to “delivery logistics hell” on the Tesla Model 3. This was due to the same sort of car carrier shortages afflicting GM’s deliveries of the Bolt EV.

What’s telling here is comparing the response of GM to Telsa. GM did nothing. Telsa, as indicated in the tweets, began putting together their own delivery system including building carriers, buying trucking companies, and securing long-term contracts with other shipping companies. So Tesla Model 3s kept reaching customers and by November were arriving in weeks rather than months. Meanwhile, I continued to check my Bolt EV’s status and it continued to say “Awaiting shipment in Ohio”.

When November arrived, GM kicked off a 0% interest loan deal on Bolt EVs, which was an incentive I had hoped would be available by the time my car arrived. But now I was worried the deal would expire before I could take delivery. I was also working against the clock for the Texas $2500 incentive, which comes from a fixed amount of state funding. Once they’ve used it up there are no more incentive checks. And, of course, the Federal $7500 incentive is not a check but a tax credit, so if I didn’t get the car before Dec 31, it would be another year before I could claim the tax credit. Making my budget work depended on all those incentives.

CSX Train Pulling Autoracks Through Kansas
CC-BY photo credit: Flickr user Tyler Silvest

The first, second, and third weeks of November passed with no change in status. My Bolt was still parked in Toledo. I really didn’t want to miss the 0% financing deal, so I decided to talk to the dealer about making the final purchase before taking delivery. It turned out several of their other Bolt EV buyers were getting a bit desperate too, so Classic had decided to do what GM wouldn’t and hire a transport service. They paid for a conventional auto carrier truck to pick up the Bolt EVs in Toledo and drive them down to Classic Chevrolet. So I visited the dealer on Saturday, Nov 24, signed the contract, made a down payment and traded in my old car. I got the 0% financing deal with a few days to spare. The truck was supposed to arrive in Dallas Tuesday, so I would only need rides to work for a couple of days.

Murphy’s Law was not done with me yet though. Classic confirmed the truck left Toledo loaded with Bolts. They confirmed my Bolt EV’s status was now “In transit to TX”. A few days later the truck arrived but my Bolt was not on it! It took several days to find it. Apparently a rail car to Dallas became available the same day the truck was picking up the Bolts. My Bolt got put on the train rather than the truck. Ohio to Dallas by train takes about two weeks vs two days on a truck. My Bolt was passing through Salem, Il that Saturday, Dec 1. My wife patiently drove me to and from work the next week as we waited on my car’s slow progress along the rail line.

A Section of the Mesquite, TX Intermodal Facility

Saturday, Dec 8, it arrived at the intermodal facility in Mesquite, TX. Rather than wait another week for GM to get it from Mesquite to Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, the dealer scheduled their own truck to pick it up. It took another couple of days to prep the car at the dealer because I had options like black bowties and window tinting. I finally got the call to come pick it up on Thursday, Dec 13, which was coincidentally my birthday. So a grand total of 129 days passed from the day I placed the order until the day I drove it off the lot (one day less than the worst-case prediction in the news article I mentioned earlier).

Susan’s photo of the new Bolt EV the night we picked it up at Classic Chevrolet

I’ve been driving the Bolt EV for a while now, so I’m planning to do one more post on it in the near future; something like a 1000+ mile review.

Going Electric: Part 1

Spoiler Alert, I ended up with a Chevy Bolt EV

I typically buy a new car once a decade after putting 100,000+ miles on the old car. That process was interrupted in October of 2008, when my blue 2002 Acura RSX was stolen. We used half the insurance money as a down payment on Susan’s new Nissan Versa because her car was just hitting the 10 year cycle. I drove her old car for about a year and finally used the other half of the insurance money to buy a slightly used 2009 Pontiac G6 GT that was intended to be temporary. I stretched it out longer than expected, but this year the G6 began exhibiting steadily increasing maintenance costs. So I started thinking about a new car in May of 2018.

This is a tricky time to buy a car if you’re on a ten year cycle because we’re just entering the adoption curve for electric vehicles. In another ten years, nearly all new cars will be electric, so if I buy another ICE vehicle (that’s short for Internal Combustion Engine vehicle), I’ll be stuck with an outdated technology in ten years. There are also persuasive environmental reasons to get an electric vehicle. EVs create less than half the pollution of gas cars, even when taking manufacturing emissions and batteries into account. But being an early adopter carries the risks and price premium associated with a new technology. So I wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy a cheaper ICE vehicle, a hybrid, or make the jump to electric.

Summary of a UCS Study on Gas vs EV Car Pollution

By the time July rolled around, I was ready to start test driving some cars. While Pontiac is extinct, the Chevy Malibu shares a common ancestry with my Pontiac G6 and the 2019 Malibu is available in a hybrid version, so that seemed like a good place to start my search. Cabin noise is one of my personal points of concern with cars, so I installed a noise level app on my Pixel 2 phone and brought it along for comparisons of each car I test drove.

During the process of test driving cars, I stumbled onto Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, TX. It’s huge dealership but it’s also THE place to find the GM hybrid and electric vehicles. They have the hybrid Malibu, the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, and the Chevy Bolt EV. They’re one of the few DFW Chevy dealers likely to have at least one or two of each in stock. Also found at Classic Chevrolet is Buzz Smith, the most knowledgeable person around on Chevy’s electric vehicles. I found out later that people come from all over Texas and even from out of state to buy EVs at Classic because of Buzz. He’s very active online with his own website, My Electric Vehicle Journey, and on various Facebook EV groups. I highly recommend paying him a visit if you’re thinking about an EV.

My first test drive was the Malibu hybrid. It was really nice, quieter than my G6, and if the primary goal was a large luxury sedan that gets great gas mileage, it would be the way to go. Next I drove a Volt hybrid but I didn’t care for it at all. It’s much noisier than my G6 and has a cramped interior. It does get good mileage but not good enough to overcome the drawbacks. I returned a few days later to test drive a Bolt EV. The Bolt was completely silent on surface streets but at highway speeds you get some tire and wind noise. I’d say on the highway it was a little noisier than the Malibu but quieter than my G6.

There was no Tesla Model 3 available in Dallas to test drive but I’d already driven a Tesla Model S P100D. The Chevy Bolt offers a similar, if toned down, driving experience. Once you drive an electric vehicle, it’s hard to go back. It’s so obvious that electric vehicles are the future, even aside from environmental concerns. They accelerate faster, are much quieter, need no trips to the gas station, and need almost no maintenance. They’re expensive now because the battery technology is new and manufacturing volumes are low.  Less expensive and more efficient batteries are coming soon and competition is heating up as GM and other manufacturers play catch-up with Tesla, so expect prices to continue declining.

Did I Mention EVs Have Surprising Acceleration Compared to Gas Cars?

But cheaper cars in the future wouldn’t help me now. I decided I did want to go electric but my choices were fairly limited. Even with state and federal incentives, a new Tesla Model S or X and the BMW i5 or i3 were all out of my price range. I found several used BMW i3s in the $30k ballpark but the limited range and unfavorable reviews convinced me the i3 wasn’t a good idea. There’s the Nissan Leaf but it has a tiny air-cooled battery, very limited range, and didn’t seem at all attractive to me, so it was out. The Tesla Model 3 is awesome but beyond my budget until the fabled $35k version ships. Even stripped of every optional expense, the cheapest Model 3 was around $48k.

That left the Chevy Bolt EV as the only feasible option. It has a 60kWh liquid cooled battery with plenty of range (officially 238 miles but more in the real world). The 2019 model is the third model year, so most of the bugs have been worked out. For example, there were some complaints about the seats being uncomfortable on the 2017 model but the seats in the 2019 that I test drove seemed great. Best of all, I could get the high end “Premier” trim level on the Bolt with leather seats, Bose audio, all the option packages, and still come in $10k less than a stripped-down-to-nothing Tesla Model 3. So, it wasn’t a hard choice. You can find some good reviews of most of the cars I’ve mentioned on YouTube. Here’s one for the Bolt EV.

Review of the Chevy Bolt EV by TheStraightPipes

One downside to buying a Chevy is going through the traditional car-buying process and having to interact with a car salesman, which nobody likes. Tesla has a clear advantage with their simplified, modern approach to buying a car. I’m terrible at negotiating – the haggling process seems arcane and inefficient to me. So when I was ready to get serious about buying the Bolt, I thought I’d start the process with a visit to cars.com. You can configure your desired car and then get some numbers for what cars like that have actually sold for in your area. The MSRP for my Bolt EV as configured was $45k. Cars.com showed them selling at prices as low as $39k. And it gave me three local dealer contacts who were supposed to send quotes.

I share Brian’s negotiation skills when it comes to buying cars

The lowest prices seen on cars.com are almost never attainable by mere mortals; they’re usually friend-of-the-owner deals and things like that. So I figured $41-42k was a realistic goal. That’s more than I’ve ever spent on a car in my life! But remember, there’s a $7500 federal tax credit plus a $2500 state cash incentive in Texas, so that would put my real cost at more like $32k. On top of the dealer discount and incentives, people who follow my blog know I’ve been mining Bitcoin for years. I cashed out some bitcoin during the big bubble and allocated part of it towards my car purchase. So, about 25% of purchase price was paid with Bitcoin I mined myself for a few dollars worth of electricity, which seems like a fitting way to pay for an electric car!

Cars.com promised quotes from Classic Chevrolet (Buzz’s dealership, that made sense), Clay Cooley Chevrolet (located a few miles from my home, so that made sense too), and Graff Chevrolet (not even close, no idea why it picked them as one of my three). Graff contacted me first to say they didn’t have any Bolts in stock and didn’t expect to get any but they’d love to sell me a “fuel efficient” car. Thanks but no thanks.

Next I heard from a salesman at Classic who, surprisingly, said about the same things as Graff – “we don’t have any Bolts, how about a gas vehicle?” Since I knew Buzz, at this point I checked in with him. Better news. They didn’t have any 2018s left in stock but were just about to place orders for 2019 Bolts and they’d be happy to order one for me. However, Buzz said because of demand they couldn’t negotiate on price, it would have to be full MSRP. That was a bummer. I was really hoping to buy from Classic since they’d been so helpful in the selection process. I even tried making an offer in hopes this was just a negotiating tactic but it was turned down with no counter-offer.

While I was thinking about what to do next, I got an email from Clay Cooley Chevrolet with a quote of $39k for my Bolt, as configured. This seemed almost suspiciously good but I drove out and talked to a salesman. They seemed way too happy to sell me the car at a surprisingly low price with no negotiation but given that I only had to pay a $500 deposit and could cancel after the car arrived, it seemed risk free. They needed a day to get a quote on my trade-in so that evening I googled for reviews of other’s buyers experiences at Clay Cooley. I found several reviews of people who had gotten really low quotes on ordering a vehicle only to find that the final price was significantly higher after the car arrived. They could pay it or they could cancel and start the process over somewhere else, so it’s not like they were forced to pay the higher price but it still seemed weird. On top of that, Clay Cooley wasn’t a “certified” Bolt dealer, which meant no trained mechanics in the service department.

I gave Buzz at Classic one more try and told him Clay Cooley offered $39k. I asked if they could match it. No, still MSRP and nothing less. The next day, Saturday, I was about to head out to Clay Cooley to make a deposit when I got a call from Jeff in Classic Chevrolet’s Internet Sales Department wanting to follow up on my cars.com experience. I recounted my adventure so far and told them how helpful Buzz had been and how I’d really love to buy from Classic and was even happy paying a bit more but that I wasn’t going to pay MSRP when I knew other people were buying them for less than that. To my surprise, we ended up exchanging a few offers and counter-offers on the phone and I shortly had an emailed offer of $41k. It was still higher than Clay Cooley but based on my experiences so far and the online reviews, Classic seemed like the better choice.

So I drove out to Classic that day, signed the order, and paid a deposit for a white 2019 Bolt EV Premier with Infotainment Package (Bose audio, Sirius/XM, wireless device charger, front and back high power USB charging ports) and the Driver Confidence Package (all the automation – lane departure, pedestrian sensors/braking, automatic hibeams, follow distance sensors, collision detection). Also got the DC Fast Charge option, a set of black Chevy bowties, and window tint. Expected delivery time: 6 to 8 weeks.

So that’s it, right? Why is this called “Going Electric: Part 1” if I’ve bought the car? Trust me, there’s more than enough left of this story for a part 2.
Read Going Electric: Part 2