Going Electric in the Golden Years

Is there any reason why a lifetime habit of driving gas cars can’t be broken?

via Kia.com

I imagine most seniors are like my father-raised on a lifetime of the suburban car centered lifestyle powered by the pump.  Why should that change in retirement?

Well, all that extra time to contemplate the condition of the earth being left to the next generation and to the grandkids of the generation after that forced a reckoning. This coming from a guy who used to work for Exxon (not drilling for oil but mining copper, but still). 

It helped that he had watched me convert the eMR2 and then drive a LEAF for several years after that, building familiarity with the idea of an electric car itself along with the ins and outs of charging at home and on the road. 

Still, when it was new car shopping time during the depths of the pandemic in 2020, I stopped short at recommending anything more sophisticated than a hybrid, figuring the jump to a plug was asking too much. But who knew the old man still had an appetite for adventure?  Unprompted, he started asking me about electric cars that weren’t Teslas, which he thought of as too different and out of his price range.  

That narrowed the field considerably as the only options with more than 200 miles range were the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV, Chevy Bolt, and Nissan LEAF +.  I steered him away from the LEAF as the ChaDeMo fast charging port is obsolete.  Reports of Bolt battery fires were started to become more widespread and though I thought it was still worth a look, dad took a hard pass. The Hyundai was nice enough from the driver’s seat but didn’t have enough rear legroom for my uncle to get in and out of the car comfortably, leaving the Kia.  Though he’s not much of a brand snob, the bargain bin reputation of Kia was a stretch too far down-market.  I certainly didn’t have any fond memories of the Kia back-catalog models like the Sephia or Rondo but had noticed that once Peter Schreyer was hired as CEO, the Hyundai-Kia brands had embarked on an all-out effort to transcend their reputation and become peers with Honda and Toyota. Their product design and quality has improved immensely, so much so that the Forte in the showroom had far better body fit and finish than the Insight at the Honda store next door.

That wasn’t quite convincing enough to my dad when confronted with the ~40k sticker price of a Niro EV but given time and visits to a few different dealers a deal was struck and he drove away with a silver Kia Niro EV (seems quaint now, the idea of bargaining with dealerships!).

Purchase complete, there were still some learning experiences to be had.  The idea of having less that 100 miles of range left, boldly displayed in large block letters staring at you from the dash, triggered a panic call to customer service while trying to use a Tesla Supercharger when only 30miles from home once and it took a while to get cards for all the charging networks in the area.

But given some time to get to know the car, and which charging stations were actually usable, these issues resolved themselves.  At the time he lived in a house with a garage and found that charging with the supplied 120V convenience charger was perfectly adequate for his needs.  Now that he lives in a condo in the city, he charges for free while shopping at the nearby grocery store.  While Maryland law compels multi-occupancy property owners to provide EVSE installation services, the vendor charge of $2500 for installation, a monthly service fee, plus the electricity didn’t pencil out compared to walking back and forth to the grocery store to let the car charge for a few hours.  Baltimore City libraries and some parks also have free 50kW fast chargers when the need arises and I’ll have an EVSE installed in my garage soon that he can use.

Since his purchase, a friend of my dad’s and a cousin in the UK have purchased NiroEVs due to their compelling blend of utility, range and attractive lease deals.  I’ll review the car itself shortly but if you can live with some of its shortcomings, it’s a very good first EV that will fit many consumers’ needs.

About Suhas Malghan

This blog documents the design and development of environmentally sustainable machines and humane design practice in general; machines that work for humanity as well on the move as they do sitting still.
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