I had good familiarity with electric-propulsion vehicles already, primarily
hybrids, along with many of their little operational quirks.
A decade and a half of very enjoyable Prius ownership was not over yet --
that car was still going strong, despite getting a bit old and
sprouting some rust
here and there.
Several of my acquaintances had gone down the Tesla road and seemed
quite happy with their decisions, and despite all the press dust-up about
long waiting lists and production delays, suddenly I was seeing Model 3s
everywhere around the Boston area.
Other recent entries into the market were offering all-electric ranges
on par with that, over 200 miles and pushing 300 in some cases.
I had known for a while that these denser battery capacities would be
*the* significant factor in convincing the public about EVs.
For just driving around the local Boston-metro or other populated areas, "range anxiety" was rapidly becoming a thing of the past -- especially when for many owners, electric vehicles could be conveniently charged at home and handle not just the next day's travel, but maybe the whole week's worth. Long roadtrips were still another matter, as that's the critical time when travelers want to fill-n-go quickly. As I looked around at available public charging infrastructure, it was clear that it was growing rapidly, with several high-stakes players behind it -- not just Tesla's supercharger farms, but truly standards-based public rapid chargers linked to various payment networks. And there were several means to find those chargers online, with PlugShare leading the way as a cross-network crowdsourced locator resource.
An acquaintance from back in our mid-oughties Tour de Sol days reached out to me one day, wanting some help trying to debug his first-generation Prius he feared might be dead. He lives a little north of me up in New Hampshire, so one afternoon I loaded up various tools and instrumentation and headed up to try and help him out. With a bit of hybrid know-how and electrical skulduggery we got the Prius running again, and he was delighted! He also had recently become a Chevy Bolt owner and was pretty happy with that, and we did a bit of tooling around in it. I had been researching the Bolt myself as one of those new long-range contenders at a more reasonable price point, and was quite intrigued. He was closer to the EV world in general than me, and as we talked more about the subject I learned more about the market and where to find good info about what was out there. As with any other topic these days, there are a ton of websites and forums to poke around and discover more and more available options. I dove into a deep study of the surrounding technology as well, finding academic papers and long videos about battery chemistry and charging hardware and new ways of planning roadtrips.
So "going electric" had reached a tipping point of feasibility within my lifestyle, and in a short time I had gotten much more interested. The next question was what, if anything, to do about it.
I angsted hard about this for a couple of weeks, in fact. Replacing the Prius simply didn't make sense yet, and it would be worth a mere pittance on a trade anyway not to mention the work of de-hacking it for the sanity of a different owner. It was less about money and more about long-term practicality, and even in that the whole EV and plug-in hybrid world was a moving target across the landscape of rapid technological improvements. I also gave the Chevy Volt a good look "on paper", especially since it was being phased out of production in 2019 even though they'd gotten its electric range up to over 50 miles. I even made some calls about that; some were still on dealer lots in the area. Having the gasoline capability seems practical even if the Volt's engine isn't exactly a mileage king; I had friends with Volts who loved them and were happy to home-charge for almost all of their short trips.
But what about home-charging for longer trips? To really live that, electric capability would really have to be a second car. But what the heck does a single guy need with two working cars?? A whole new electric would in one sense be an expensive toy, something to play around with despite not being 100% essential for week-to-week life. Then I thought about how some people collect a whole "stable" of different vehicles for different purposes, often as hobbyist projects, and might take a moment to decide which one is best for any given outing and then go have fun with it. In fact, I used to do that when I had the motorcycle -- arguably, a second vehicle with rather limited range, in fact, since I had to tank that up just about every 100 miles. On the other hand, it didn't take 4 hours to do that...
In other words, I was the working definition of "waffling".
Nonetheless, as I continued studying the general topic I kept leaning more toward the full-electric route, but without sacrificing the "backup" or long-haul capability of having the Prius. So yes, second car, as frivolous as it might seem on some level. Perhaps a little less fiscally frivolous than one might think on first glance at a sticker, however -- because placing a *new* car into service would allow all the federal and state incentive tax relief, which I was never able to do with the Prius because I was the second owner. Then it was into the process of narrowing the field ... the Bolt might have been a contender, the newer Nissan Leaf had been greatly improved, and as I kept finding more news and market hints, other players' recent offerings came into view such as Kia and Hyundai. Lots of electrics and hybrids, and more being introduced every year. My buddy up north kept dropping little pointers to entertaining stories and data in email, so he was clearly trying to help quietly sway me.
--- <rant> ------------
Another stumbling block is Tesla's stance on data and operation.
The intertubes are full of horror stories about service or followup; new
owners often seem to be simply left out in the cold or presented with
impossible obstacle-courses in the way of ever reaching a live human.
A Tesla gives the impression of a giant IoT smartphone with a vehicle
wrapped around it, and their insistence that every customer be online all
the time and sending data to the mothership just doesn't do it for me.
Sorry, an auto manufacturer should *not* be able to just poke its fingers
into a customer-owned vehicle any time it wants, especially for unsolicited
software updates or even to completely disable the vehicle, and then be
totally unreachable for recourse if something goes awry.
Maybe some owners are eager to be their supplicant beta-testers, but they
should have full understanding of what they're getting into and those who
aren't interested, should be strictly left alone until *they* ask.
And designing a system where *everything* is controlled from and totally
dependent upon a touchscreen with no tactile feedback ... that's just
ergonomically dumbass, a huge compromise in some superficial effort
to cater to millennials who can't think for themselves.
Try hiring product developers who actually *drive* on real roads.
Armchair shopping: Hey, what's this...
In the midst of fishing around for more information, somehow the Hyundai Kona EV popped onto my radar. I was actually trying to look up more about the electric Kia Niro or Soul at the time, but was finding more favorable rhetoric about the Kona in various comparison articles. It was new for 2019, and almost being held forth as the "Model 3 killer" at a lower price point. The advertised range was certainly on par, its 64 kWh about in between the two available battery-capacity levels of the Model 3 and likely a more efficient car in general. The Kona was actually getting rave reviews on the internet and youtube, and as I dug into those sources I kept finding more plus-points. Several manufacturers had evidently decided that the popular "small crossover SUV" form-factor was a good platform to make electric versions of, because the slightly higher body stance left more room for battery packs underneath. Vehicles in this class would also look more like "normal cars" as opposed to the often strange purpose-built EV units.
So as is my frequent approach to product evaluation, I grabbed the owners' manual PDF from Hyundai's website and started reading through it. This is the best way to shop -- to find out about some of quirks and things to watch out for or ask about, and if there were any total showstoppers against a buying decision. And the last thing a dealer or anyone else expects is for someone to actually read a product manual. Sure, there's a lot of fluff and CYA in any of them nowadays, but I easily cruised past all that and found the meat of what I wanted to know.
And I liked what I was seeing. Decently informative displays ... real KNOBS and BUTTONS to control basics like the heat and driving features and info-screens ... the lowest-end trim as the most sensible of the offerings, with DC fast-charging *included* at every level instead of being some kind of extra-cost option. It all read like something I could easily live with and not feel like I was fighting some misguided UI designer the entire time. Naturally any new car comes with all the modern convenience gew-gaws and "safety" features common to the market nowadays, but as I read the manual's descriptions and hints on various online forums, it didn't seem like any of that would get in the way of simply enjoying the base platform. In only the first year of the car's existence several forum areas had sprung up around it such as mykonaev.com and hyundaikonaforum.com and a subsection of insideevsforum.com, all of which were useful in learning how new Kona owners had worked around whatever they viewed as annoying.
There were still many unanswered questions, though, so the next step was to reach out to some local dealers and see how they could help me out. Longish story condensed down: I took a couple of Kona test drives and got my answers, despite some impediments. Dealership A seemed profoundly disinterested in talking to me at all. Dealership B was able to schedule me for a test-drive and was amenable to perhaps trying to sell me a car, but didn't have a lot of choice in stock and never bothered returning phone calls. Dealership C was much friendlier, and the guy I worked with seemed fascinated by some of the geeky testing I wanted to do. When I first sat down in a Kona and put it in "eco mode", the response to control inputs felt almost *exactly* like the Prius at low speeds, the same "slow bottom" pedal-curve and brake feel that I prefer for fine control where it counts. Driving it just felt natural and comfortable overall, despite it being a completely strange car to me, and within only a couple of minutes I was thinking "I'm home!" And the car handily passed my "braking integration" test, assuring me that Hyundai's engineers had done exactly the right thing in terms of maximizing energy-recovery and making it easy.
It was becoming clear that Hyundai/Kia had done much to leave its reputation for cheap-ass minimalist cars behind. Consider as a parallel Toyota in its earliest days of selling into the US market, versus where they are now.
A few measurements of the interior quickly showed the Kona's meaningful payload area to be a full foot shorter than the Prius, with quite a bit of wasted air space in the body-panel design, and rear seats that didn't fold nearly as flat. But again, different platforms, different intents -- something like this wasn't about to be the big freight-hauler work truck. My test-drives were in the top-of-the-line "ultimate" trim, but I already knew that leather seats and a sunroof were about the last things I wanted so the low-end "SEL" trim with a generic cloth interior would clearly be a better choice. The next question was, could an appropriate unit be found? The best answer actually came from Hyundai's website itself -- where the "build your car" page actually lists live dealer inventories. [No, you don't get to "build" anything or order specific trims/features; it's just a search engine to find what happens to be located nearby.]
You already know where this is going
So why was I poking around with that? Because whether I explicitly realized it or not, I had pretty much made my decision. I was already ordering support gear from Amazon, so I'd be ready for optimal home charging, and asking how to update my car insurance. It didn't take long to locate an appropriate car at Dealer C, set up a time to do a little more testing / question-answering, and then cut a big-ass check while doing my best to ignore that "OMGWTFamIdoing" feeling. We scheduled for a few days later when they'd have the paperwork and plates done and I could pick up the car, and that was it -- poof, I was committed.
I went home and continued studying, in particular how to sign up for various public charging networks. [They all suck in some way; I get to that later in the section about fast-charging.] I learned later that there had been a fairly steep demand for the Kona EV in early 2019 soon after it was released, with waiting lists and all, but as that surge had ramped down, some remaining stock was still around and not moving so fast anymore. So my finding and buying process was pretty straightforward. And apparently two-tone is generally coming back into vogue -- when I first saw the specific car I thought the white roof was a little odd, but then thought it was kind of cute, more distinctive to find in a parking-lot sea of small grey nondescript CUVs, and would probably bake far less under summer sun.
Early in the search I gave up any hope that a dealer could import a unit from Canadian allocations with the coolant heater for the battery pack and "winter mode" support. US versions didn't get those for 2019, even in New England. What cold weather generally does to battery packs is limit the safe/available current in and out, and not so much the net capacity; one answer is to draw less current, which essentially describes my driving style anyway. The other range-reducing factors in cold weather are a constant -- use of cabin heat, denser outdoor air, more viscosity of lubricants, higher rolling resistance in general -- none of which is helped by warming the pack. I already had experience with how the Prius limits its operating envelope when its pack is cold, so in a full electric I figured I could live without that added element of environmental control and see how things went. In the Kona there was no evidence of compromise in pack *cooling*, which is usually far more important for battery longevity.
Whatever. It was all clearly going to be a new adventure, with all the enthusiasm and energy that goes with that.