Monday, September 26, 2011

Jalama Camptable Times-Examiner

27 February 2011

Best Rocks Found in One Hour 2-19-98

Lines begin with ain't, end with great?
beatin term limits - tide tried but I got it

once I gave you to hold
my beach rock called
and told
it was yours upon my demise
and how is your health
you replied

1996: Peak Beach Stuff

All the conjecture about Peak Beach Stuff and the slope of its descent;
for years its seemed like a step off a cliff to me.
Come to a nearly deserted Park at the end of February
best site in the camp, a narrow finger of sand between two tall hedgerows, looking
out on the Channel,

is there for the uncontested taking.
Return to the gatehouse to claim it.
The keeper is a hale 50ish Santa Barbara County Parks employee
without much idea how to spell my name.
I do it for him and he says
A shock - I thought the low season price was $20 and exclaim so.
You selected a Premium Camp Site and those are 30 year around.
Premium, I mutter, marinating contempt for the dollar hungry
anti-egalitarian get mine vocabulary of this country as I hand over two 20's
He says with what I take for Glee
And they're going Up
And hands me a 10.
No wondering why Public Employees enjoy such widespread hatred,
I say
Well you know what Woody Guthrie says about California
I don't even know who Woody Guthrie is.
He seems quite proud of this.
He's a folk-singer, you know
This land is your land, this land is my land...
and hands me a receipt.

Cold, but bright and clear and an hour away from low tide.
Perfect time for a walk but I have a little camp to make, some sorting.
I see a fellow park in the day use area, and then he's off, with hiking
shoes, long pants, jacket and backpack with rain-cover - he's going
to the Point and will have that five miles to himself.

its the Sight every Beachwalker fears...

Amble to the Store / Grill, home of the World Famous J-Burger.
I was here last September, midweek, a middling site in a full camp
and my J-Burger was ugly, nothing to distinguish it, this is what happens
at the end of a season they're made many hundreds a day, after 7 years away...
I'm surprised to see Don behind the counter, originator of the store (1978)
and the J-Burger; I've not seen him here since 1999.
More surprised to hear him say
-Its the Beachwalker.
I chuckle and having no idea how he could remember me -
30 days here over the last 30 years - say
hey Don how are you.
What a you know?
For breakfast.
of Champions.

Number 00, they won't relinquish it without the receipt.

Wander over to the enclosed dining area, plastic camptables looking out
on the creek toward Point Arguello. Much displayed here, including
framed Santa Barbara News-Press papers from September 8, 1923,
reporting the loss of 7 Navy Destroyers run aground at Point Honda
a few miles north.
Surrounded by many pictures of people with fish and a preponderance of the
gatekeeper guy, hmm

In the middle of all these remains the photo clipped from the Lompoc
Record back in 1987; though it has slipped some and the caption
disappeared, I remember it

"While hiking on Jamala Beach Dec 14
Art Dennis, Ralph Adamason and John Soma
encountered a rock that resembled the state of Oklahoma.
The three Lompocians carried the 55 pound rock
two miles back to their car and brought it home.
The trio mapped key cities on the rock."

First burger off the line on a day they may make 20 is like old times.
I take it outside to a table overlooking the creek that made this the site
of a Chumash village.

The lettuce is inch thick and finely shredded, the sauce is special and I like to
think the beef comes from the Cojo ranch that ranges in the fields just behind
the headlands. I muse over my last 100 yard dash.
1998, in a field near the lighthouse when I encountered a ton of who (the fuck)
are you mean bull in the brush.
That evening I went to the grill and ended 5 vegetarian years
with a J-burger, each bite in spite the bull.

My campsite is parallel to the spot that I threw the Titanium
Screw, a dull gray stout to the incinerator, into the drink October 14, 2003.

Nigel and I had discussions about this, and I have come around
to her way of thinking that hurling it was wrong: now I want it back, for the
churning sea to loyally cough it up and lay it at my feet, and then I'd like
to find a half dollar sized heart shaped mother of pearl shard to replace
the two I've found and given away, cause every walk I've taken since tossing
the Screw has been bereft.

But the water is different now I've seen the sisters tossing handfuls of ash in it
like, it struck me, primitive pagan peasant girls.
The plastic bag dropped on the shore with my share.
I questioned holding these particles, a tactility my fingers refused.
So strode into the waves and emptied it, triple rinsed it till clean
and since, this portion of Pacific ocean has never been too cold -
but the reality of where I'd like to settle
Scatters of ash spilled on the sand from the sisters beastly grabs and throws -
there is where I saw the Screw.
A full blown surprise at the damn-dest moment.
One last grin.
I thought of the pain threading this caused him.
Of the young man.
And I Flung...

South with
jacket, bag, hat glasses, phone to take pictures, two bananas, a pint of water...

40 steps to encounter the nasty remains of a sea-lion,
just the blubbery skin that covered the head and shoulders
and none of that to shape it.
Not the Gasp! of suddenly encountered death.
My own warbly being shrugs, its fine here, true enough.

Troves of rocks and shells, bands wide and long as a basketball court before the receding tide, and an old easy happy grin that breaks and trembles to look, scan, sift.

a Lure

Drift, and reverie, 40 years of continuity and bygone selves to wonder on.
One toe wrapped in gauze, then wrapped plastic around that to keep it
dry. These were once such fine looking high stepping feet; my tendons have
been shrinking for years...

First selection takes a mile or so, it ain't much but its something to hold.
At the crumbling doomed from the start seawall, a 3 inch abalone shell.
A rue for the perfect tiny one I once found.
I made a mistake and took it off the shelf and it broke.
Chiton shell.
2 after 16 years of serious looking here.
At the end of the day, I'll have a new rueful rule that I already knew:

Always Keep the Chiton Shell Special

Little delicate blue wings, bound to break or flee...

Think that's a coincidence?

15 foot length of kelp bulb, coiled like a snake; wrap this around
my shoulders and neck.


of iridescence to reach for.

Time flies to mid afternoon, two miles short of the Point.
Thinking, the north wind blows just fine when your walking south.
It will be a cold trudge back to camp; so turn around.

Fine brown oval Egg-crate stone, about twice the density of pumice, yup.

Plenty of Visions of the Virgin Mary Shell Shards -
bone white, long, flowing, curvy - hey!


Holding this in my hand as I encounter the second to last bend on the
way back, a shaggy unlaced boots heavy jacketed long stick walking
bearded man still headed south.
Hey there.
Hi, how far you going?
This is it, I think that tides about come back around.
I uncoil the kelp-bulb from around my neck.
Thats something.
I envision keeping it on the vast expanse of dashboard
in the Previa to let it dry that way.
Ain't it?
A quarter mile north, I'm tired, hungry, would like a cigaret,
and spy a perfect shelter from the sun and wind that looks
carved out of the bluff; and head over for a sit.

The stick walking guy is coming my way.

I shift a little to give him room if he'd like to sit.

That's a nice windbreak.

You smoke weed?

Go figure.

Thinking about my application for maintenance man at an apartment
complex in Lompoc and the clean as a pin urine sample I've got for it.

I do. I'm Chris, and extend my hand

Mike, says he is a miner, with homegrown medical marijuana from Colorado.

It makes me cough, grin, and we talk for a while.
He's been here 4 days, is taken with the beach and thinks
its a place people just don't know about.

I tell him naw spring summer fall, its crawling with people.
Maybe not this far down the beach, but the park.
That the petroleum blobs he finds are not from the offshore platforms in the Channel,
but naturally occurring tar seeps and this stuff, asphaltum, is what the Chumash caulked
their boats with...Point Concepcion was the airstrip for the departure / arrival of souls,
and this stretch is traditionally known as the Gateway to the Spirit, North America.

How about that, and we start walking back, along the tide, chatting a little but mostly
looking. Then Mike says


bends down for a shard of abalone, then removes a ziplok baggie
to keep it along with a handful of others.

What you call it?


Why's that.

Cause they're Smokin Hot!

Looks like I'm going to have to walk in front of you I say.

He laughs, soon enough giving me tips on what to look for in Sea-Glass.

I know a few people who'd love to see this; but to my consternation,
and surprise, I take off a little quicker, indeed a little in front of him...

I suppose I'd die for this guy to find the Abalone Heart...

My eyes are nothing but desperately quick and furious sifters, and see nothing.

Mike on the other hand, strolling, poking with his stick finds three more Smokers!

He shows me a little dime sized fragment,
Thats worth $15-20 to a jewelry maker.

"Too Bad" (Mike said)

Dubious about that, impossible to imagine raffling off my own from their
bowls - or D's bathroom where a collection is kept next
the toothbrushes....encoded in many of them is the memory of their
finding, most often, I remind myself, in sand distinct from aggregations
of stone...

I eat my last Banana - blood sugar has dropped, two miles yet to walk.
The heck of a time I had returning from Pt Arguello with James
in 1979. Stumbled back to camp and the back of his Dodge truck where
I'd stashed a bunch of cantaloupes I'd grown in Bakersfield and started
assaulting this fruit with my primordial hunger.
Jimmy watches me do this for a while and says
- you got another one of those Gorilla Nuts?
Always made you laugh,
Didn't see 50, leukemia.
Worked until he couldn't.
Closed his eyes, which relinquished a tear, and died.
I guess I believe it...


Kitsepawit informed Harrington in 1910:

"We are constantly walking on herbs the virtues of which no one knows"

1700 years ago

Insulated Big Man Smokes Dope Too Early

Did though

He found the mushrooms take you farther than boats

Too Many Things In His Hands caulked with asphaltum

To make sea worthy for the Channel Islands

And said well bro we could take both

Big trouble and they got kicked out

Inland to what is now known

as Bakersfield

Walkin south to Point Conception

I'm the latest in latent image keeping

I always reach for iridescence

Ain't that just a pretty thing to find

There she was at 17th and Geary

Waiting for the bus and not a little weary

I offered my hand and told her my name

Come to find out life would never be the same

Ain't that a just and pretty thing to find

I carry a sack so I can bring things back

Deeply sifting pebbles surely is madness

Less solely searching quantities of driftglass

Good for filling jars and making wind-chimes too

Real nice not that special

I keep to the top of the line of the tide

That's where the rightest now resides

Ain't that just the best thing to find

Jalamalithic Coins, Buttons and Stackers

Nother Nilla Wafer, like to fill a bowl

That rock looks like a Flint-Stones home

That's too Dumb I'm going to leave it alone

Lot of these are the size of eggs

Fit inside an organic free range hens

Recycled paper crate, wonder if I might

Fetch me a dozen, wouldn't that

Be just a funny thing to find

All of a week spelling her name

Fingertips tappin into my palm

A four letter fever, over and again

Sometimes seven, her middle name is Ann

Can we start doing things consecutive days

We rode on my Seca, Mission to Geneva

for Mom is Cooking's Sopa de Tortilla

Ain't that just a pretty way to dine

1543 Conception blew a storm

Broke Cabrillo's arm and the Spaniard died

Five miles to reach the Point

Eyes a-peeled for the holy grail

a Latex shield in the shape of a man

Once I found a coke can come from Japan

Walked it back to camp, dropped it in the trash

That is not a pretty thing to find

Chris Sullivan

thingnamer at gmail

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rolls Royce Phantom Zipcar?! I wish...

I found this beast illegally parked in my Zipcar spot today, and thought, "so this is how Zipcar rewards its customers who return their cars on time..." Then I saw my reserved Prius parked a few spaces down and was brought back to reality. Hey, a guy can dream, right? Click through for a few more snapshots.

Look at the Rolls Royce hood ornament stowed away snugly...

Even the glass looks expensive...look at the fine lines on the passenger side glass...could that be heated glass to gently remove snow?
I love the suicide doors

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Favorite Car Lists #3: Coupes/Convertibles

Mercedes SLS AMG
It has been awhile, but it's time for the third installment of my favorite car lists - this time, coupes and convertibles (basically, anything with 2-3 doors). Click through to see - do you agree with my lists?

If I had $30,000 to spend on a coupe/convertible, I would buy:
1. Volkswagen GTI
2. Dodge Challenger
3. Mini Cooper S
4. Chevrolet Camaro
5. Volkswagen Beetle

If I had $60,000 to spend on a coupe/convertible, I would buy:
1. Mercedes E350 Coupe
2. Mercedes C350 Coupe
3. Audi S5
4. Cadillac CTS Coupe
5. BMW M3 Coupe

If I had $100,000 to spend on a coupe/convertible, I would buy:
1. Porsche 911 Targa 4
2. Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe
3. Jaguar XKR
4. Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
5. Mercedes E350 Coupe

If I had $200,000 to spend on a coupe/convertible, I would buy:
1. Mercedes SLS AMG
2. Aston Martin V12 Vantage
3. Audi R8
4. Maserati Gran Turismo S
5. Porsche 911 Turbo S

If money was not an object, I would buy the following coupes/convertibles:
1. Bugatti Veyron
2. Mercedes SLS AMG
3. Lamborghini Aventador
4. Lexus LFA
5. Aston Martin One-77
Honorable Mention: Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why does Suzuki still sell cars in the US?

Suzuki Equator
I like to think that I keep up with the car industry, but I had NO idea Suzuki sold the Equator pickup...let alone the fact that they have been selling the truck since 2009! I have never EVER seen one on the road. This lazy excuse of a Nissan Frontier rebadge is exactly why Suzuki has had trouble gaining traction in the US in the last 20 years. Most of Suzuki's cars have been sourced from other automakers, notably through its partnership with GM/Daewoo. Unless it changes its strategy, I give the Suzuki US brand another 5-10 years before going the way of Isuzu -- that is, extinct. Click through to read why...

Suzuki Swift
Let's start by discussing Suzuki's smallest offering, the Swift, which is not sold in the US, but should be. For all intents and purposes, this is a perfectly competent car: reasonably attractive, sporty, and has competitive interior materials. Suzuki has likely resisted bringing the latest-gen Swift to the states for a few reasons: 1) an inability to effectively market its brand, 2) historically soft subcompact sales in the US (until recently) and 3) the troubled past of the Swift name. When I think of the Swift, I instantly think of the lazily rebadged Geo/Chevy Metro, one of the ugliest, most pointless subcompacts ever to hit US dealerships...

Second-gen Suzuki Swift (aka Geo Metro)

Does this picture ring a bell? None of these cars have held up over time, including this ripe example.  The new Swift is not rebadged at all, but Suzuki would need to change the name to give the car a fresh start.

Suzuki SX4 / Liana
The SX4, formerly known as the Aerio, is also known as the Liana in other parts of the world. This car was co-developed by Fiat and was designed by Italdesign Guigiaro, so it definitely has the right ingredients for a winning design. The SX4 also has had a successful run in the rally circuit. In addition, over the last 10 years, the Liana/SX4 has been featured in Top Gear as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car both in the UK and US. Despite all this, I rarely see SX4s on the road, which I believe is the result of weak consumer marketing. Buyers of cheap compacts cars aren't necessarily watching Top Gear and WRC races. I also don't like the odd piece of glass between the A-pillar and door frame, which makes the car look cheap.

Suzuki Forenza
The now-defunct Forenza sedan / Reno hatchback, also designed by Italdesign, is a pair of reasonably attractive cars also sold under a plethora of names around the world, ranging from the Chevy Lacetti (as seen in the UK Top Gear), Holden Viva in Australia, Buick Excelle, Daewoo Nubira, and a variety of other names. After Daewoo left the US as an independent brand, its parent GM decided to pump their econoboxes through every partner and sub-brand possible, and the US got the Suzuki Forenza. At the end of the day, poor marketing killed the success of this bland yet competent car.

Suzuki Verona
The Verona, also now defunct, was another forgettable Italdesigned GM/Daewoo concoction, competent but not relevant enough to compete with the Camry, Accord, etc. If GM felt so highly about this design, wouldn't they have used it in place of their Malibu / Impala? The truth is, they didn't, so they gave the Verona to Suzuki to sell. Its success was miserable.

Suzuki Kizashi
Starting to see a trend? The Kizashi is Suzuki's replacement for the unmemorable Verona. It consistently performs well in comparison tests, but you see none on the road because of lack of marketing (and probably because of that ugly Lincoln Continental-style hump on the trunklid...ugly!). The front end, side profiles, and interior of the car are attractive, but I don't anticipate this car being successful enough to make a compelling business case in the US.

Suzuki Grand Vitara
Suzuki has historically seen success in the SUV market, and this is where they should continue to focus their efforts. The Grand Vitara (and the larger and slightly uglier XL7) is based on the Chevy Equinox platform, but is altered enough so as to mask the part-sharing. This is the one Suzuki you DO see on the road because it is consistent with the company's heritage. The Vitara is the modern-day replacement for the Sidekick, which was very successful in the US, along with its rebadged sister, the Chevy/Geo Tracker.

Suzuki Sidekick
I can't say the Sidekick has held up very well over the years, but at its time, it held a dominating position in the small, fun SUV category - a more refined alternative to the Jeep Wrangler. The convertible top (now absent from the Vitara) was an appealing feature for young buyers.

So, my advice for Suzuki? Marketing is not your forte, so stop selling cars no one knows about or cares about. Scale down your partnership with GM/Daewoo, which isn't helping you. Focus on the small SUV market where you actually have brand equity, and actually create something innovative people WANT to drive. Otherwise, you will always be an also-ran, no matter who you get to design your cars (ahem...Italdesign). Selling a poorly rebadged Nissan Frontier does not fool buyers, just as selling a rebadged Dodge Dakota did not fare well with Mitsubishi.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Honda Insight review: why does it get such a bad rap?

The car I was driving in my previous post on the Ferrari 458 was the Honda Insight, one of my favorite Zipcars because of its lower hourly cost compared to gas-powered cars. While the Prius is overall a better car than the Insight, there are many things I actually like about the Insight. Contrary to just about every review out there, I actually don't mind driving the Insight. Click through to see my impressions:

In a number of ways, the Honda Insight is very similar to the Toyota Prius, especially from the side profile. The original Insight from the late-'90s was the first mainstream hybrid to hit US dealerships, even before the Prius. It was a weird-looking 3-door hatchback that looked like it needed training wheels. Honda attempted to make the car as aerodynamic as possible, and in the process, probably alienated certain prospective buyers. However, in the latest iteration, the Insight looks mainstream, yet refreshingly futuristic.

The front end looks great - more so than the more bland-looking Prius. The traditional 3-bar Honda grille, which looks ghastly on the Crosstour, looks much better on the Insight. The plastic around the headlights has an interesting blue tint that adds to the car's mystique.

Compared to the Prius, the Insight accelerates slower, but neither car is fast by any means. The Insight's engine sounds like a lawn-mower and accelerates at only one speed - slow. However, you're not buying a 5-door hybrid for performance; you're buying it for gas mileage, status, and for the environment (all worthy causes in my book). The Insight's regenerative braking is an awesome idea that all cars (including gas-powered ones) should have, and it makes for fairly responsive braking.

I was disappointed by the crummy plastic hubcaps, which can't be very aerodynamic. The original Insight had distinct flat alloy wheels that appeared to easily cut through the wind.

The Insight's interior does not have the fit and finish of the Prius, but it is also priced lower than Prius. The layout is much simpler and filled with hard plastics, but the dashboard is pleasantly contoured, similar to the Honda Fit and now-defunct Acura RSX. If you keep in mind that the Insight targets economy hybrid buyers, it isn't so bad.

Simple yet trendy, the Insight's radio and A/C controls are easy to figure out and look appealing. This base model does not have the trademark computer screen the Prius has, but who needs that anyway? It only adds to the sticker price.

One thing I love about the Insight (and Civic Hybrid) dashboard is the little blue light surrounding the speedometer, which turns green when you are using the electric motor (i.e., when you lift off the gas or hit the brakes). For me, driving the Insight becomes somewhat of a videogame to keep the light green as long as possible, especially given the inherent lack of power in the engine.

The final comment I would make is how practical the Insight is. I had to buy some large pillows and bedding and the Insight easily fit the large packages in the spacious trunk. The only problem with the design of the Insight (and the Prius) is that the spoiler cuts right into my rearview visibility. Otherwise, I think this 5-door hatchback is a great design concept. Overall, I would definitely consider buying the Insight if I was looking for a hybrid given its lower price point, intelligent color-coded dashboard, spacious trunk, and scarcity value - you don't see as many on the road as the relatively ubiquitous Prius, so the Insight is much more of a head-turner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Look what I saw...a Ferrari 458 Italia

I probably shouldn't snap pictures while driving, but I was practically parked given the heavy traffic, and this Ferrari 458 Italia was begging to be photographed! Is there anything worse than driving a Ferrari in stop-and-go traffic? Well, maybe driving a Camry...but you get the point. The 458 has been oft described as the most beautiful, technologically advanced Ferrari ever. I like it a lot, but based on looks alone, I would probably get a Lambo Aventador, Lexus LFA, Mercedes SLS AMG, or McLaren MP-4 before I get a 458 (not that I can afford any of them...yet!). I tend to prefer the more calculated, rigid looks of older Ferraris like the 512TR, 348, and 355 as opposed to the more recently flowing designs, but that is just a matter of taste. The 458's engine does sounds thoroughly amazing and lets everyone know you are coming from miles away.

Can anyone guess what kind of car I am driving? I will only give 2 hints: it is a Zipcar, and it is the polar opposite of a Ferrari 458. Leave a comment with your guess...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Nissan LEAF after Five Months

[Please click on any post to expand the view to the full size]

The end of August marked the end of our fifth trouble-free and happy month, and over 4,100 miles with our LEAF.  

That statement deserves some emphasis.  

This is the first mass produced highway capable electric car at an affordable price point.  It is absolutely remarkable to be able to say with confidence that I have had ZERO problems with the reliability or any other aspect of the car.  I may have some preferences for improvements for the next generation LEAF, but none of these causes me to be anything less than extremely satisfied with this car.  That is saying a LOT for a car that is ground breaking in its technology for a mass market product and represents a radical change in the fuel source and required refueling behavior.

Cost of Driving:
The LEAF continues to be our primary car for all trips within 35 miles of our home.  This turns out to be the majority of our driving.   We drive our Prius for longer trips.  We've only had to put gas in the Prius about once a month over the past two months, about 7 gallons of gas usage each month.  Since our electricity cost for charging the LEAF is likely to be zero for the year, because of our household solar PV system, our only fuel cost for our household driving will come from these monthly Prius fill-ups.  We drive the LEAF about 1,000 fuel cost-free miles per month and the Prius takes 7 gallons for 300 miles of driving, so we use 7 gallons of gas for 1,300 miles of total driving, or a household miles-per-gallon of 186 mpg!  At $4 per gallon of gas, our total fuel cost is about 2.1 cents per mile.  Obviously, we're very happy about this.

For August, we used more power from the utility grid than in any prior summer month, 234 kWh.  This was because we had more family members living with us as well as the fact that we were charging the LEAF for 1,028 miles of driving, more miles than in any prior month.  So did our electrical bill for the month show a large expense?  No, it showed a CREDIT of $52.90!  As in the previous summer months, this was because our solar PV system generated power during the expensive, high demand Peak hours and we used power during the less expensive Off Peak and Super Off Peak hours.  So our credits for producing lots of power during Peak hours were higher than our costs for our power usage during hours when power was in lower demand.  This is the big benefit of home solar power and Time of Use rates.

Compared with a Plug-In Hybrid:
It's interesting to compare the costs of driving a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) like the LEAF with the cost of driving a plug-in hybrid.  If I had chosen a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, instead of the LEAF, my maximum miles per day on electricity would have been about 40 instead of the 75 or so miles with the LEAF.  In August, there were 12 days of the 27 days we that drove the LEAF when we drove over 40 miles.  For those days, we drove a total of 161 electric miles in the LEAF for which the Volt would have used gasoline.  At about 35 mpg when the Volt burns gasoline, this would have cost about $19.80 more for the month, or $237 more for the year.

If we replaced our 2007 Prius hybrid with a plug-in hybrid like the Volt, however, we would fare even better than we do now.  Though we use the Prius for trips that are longer than the range of the LEAF, such as trips to Los Angeles or San Diego, most of the Prius trips are local because we need to drive two cars that day.  Most of the miles for these local trips would be electric miles in a Volt, and would likely be at no cost due to our home's rooftop solar power system.  

So for a two car household like ours, with most trips within a 35 mile radius, the combination of a BEV and a plug-in hybrid would work very well.  However, every driver's needs and driving are different.  If both drivers have a 70 mile daily commute, for instance, 30 miles of one person's daily driving would be on gasoline in the Volt.  At 21 workdays per average month, that would amount to 630 gasoline miles, or 18 gallons of gas and $77 per month in gas costs.   Compared with a Prius, at 50 mpg, the Prius would cost $117 per month for this commute, so the plug-in hybrid still beats a hybrid by $40 per month if the family has solar power and pays nothing extra for electricity to charge the car.  If the family pays an average of 11 cents per kWh, the difference between the Prius and the Volt drops to only about $11 a month in favor of the Volt.

However, if one had a Volt instead of a Prius and were going to take it on a driving vacation, the Prius would begin to make more sense.  If the driving trip was 1,000 miles, a round trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the first 40 miles in the Volt would be on electricity, but the rest of the miles would likely be on gasoline.  Lets even assume that 80 miles are electric, since the driver might be able to charge up at the destination.  Then 920 miles would be on gasoline.  The Prius would take 20  gallons for this trip.  The Volt would take 26.3 gallons.  The cost difference at $4 per gallon would favor the Prius by about $25 for the trip.  

Considering that most people don't make more than a couple of driving trips like this per year, that amount of savings of a pure hybrid over a plug-in hybrid is pretty minimal.  If the family goes on lots of long drives, though, the pure hybrid with better gas mileage makes more sense than a plug-in hybrid with lower gas mileage.  Of course, if the plug-in hybrid has similar gas mileage to the pure hybrid, an example being the soon-to-be-released Prius Plug-In, the advantage goes to the plug-in hybrid.  This is an example of why the choice of a fuel efficient car is an individual decision and depends on a variety of factors, including the family's driving behavior and needs, the cost to buy or lease the car, including available rebates and incentives, and the family's willingness to do the additional daily planning and thinking that owning a plug-in car requires.

Overall,  for a two car family with daily commutes and one or two driving trips per year, the combination of a BEV such as the LEAF and a plug-in hybrid with about 40 miles of electric range, such as the Volt, makes good sense.  Of course, this doesn't take into account the purchase cost of these cars and the space and utility needs of the family.  The good news, though, is that before too many years, there should be a good selection of BEVs and plug in hybrids with a variety of seating and interior space configurations to choose from, at increasingly reasonable price points.

For all of the above comparisons, as gasoline increases in price, as most people think is inevitable, the logic favors the plug-in car, either a BEV like the LEAF, or a plug-in hybrid even more strongly over a traditional gasoline fueled car or a standard hybrid, except for long driving trips, where the standard hybrid with better gasoline mileage will do better than a plug-in hybrid with lower gas mileage.  New plug-in hybrids, like the Prius PHEV, may have similar gasoline mileage to the full hybrid version, though, so the PHEV will likely do better in all driving scenarios, although for a higher purchase price.  This also assumes that the family can charge the plug-in car at low night time rates of about 10 cents per kWh without incurring a large penalty for any daytime uses such as air conditioning.

State of Charge Meter:
As I've written before, with an EV such as the LEAF, information about remaining driving range is the most important type of information for the driver to know.  Unfortunately, it is even more difficult for an EV maker to make an accurate meter to show remaining range than it is for a gasoline powered car.  This is because "State of Charge" is a more complex quantity than "gallons remaining" in a gas tank.  The state of useful charge of a battery is influenced not only by the kWh of electrical charge remaining, but by the balance of charge between the battery cells, and the voltage of the lowest voltage cells.

The fuel gauge and range remaining instruments that Nissan included in the LEAF have limited usefulness.  The "Miles Remaining" display is so influenced by recent past driving behavior, that the range shown when the battery is full is usually very optimistic.  At lower levels of battery charge, the number displayed is probably more accurate, especially since Nissan updated the car's software and added what is effectively a "reserve" at the bottom end of the scale.  The twelve bar "fuel" scale is more useful, and the "reserve" makes it less likely for drivers to run out of charge abruptly when the gauge reads zero bars.  However, when there are less than about ten miles of actual remaining range, the display may show zero of twelve bars of charge and a flashing set of dashes for the miles remaining.  This leaves the driver with no information at all with which to decide whether to stop immediately or go the extra five miles home. 

Home Grown SOC Meter showing 93 of total 281 charge "counts".

Enter the home grown "State of Charge" (SOC) meter.  Some remarkably smart and inventive members of the MyNissanLEAF forum have "hacked" the LEAF's onboard diagnostics (OBDII) data feed ("CAN bus") and found data that provides some more detailed charge information than the LEAF's own instruments show.  They discovered a data type that, with a numerical range of zero to 281, generally correlates with battery state of charge. I purchased a kit with which to build one of these meters and with very generous help from its designer, Gary, I've built and installed one in my LEAF.

SOC Meter showing 33% State of Charge

As I expected, I find the homegrown SOC meter to be most useful when the battery charge is very low.  When the miles remaining on the LEAF display disappears, I can still use the SOC meter to provide some information about remaining battery charge.  I can see a number on the zero to 281 scale that I can use to give me confidence to drive those few extra miles home to the charging dock  in my garage.  This information needs to be used with caution, since, at low states of charge, the SOC numbers drop more rapidly with each mile than in the upper ranges of charge.  Any driver who expects to rely on this SOC information needs to gain experience with the meter in their car when the charge state is low, so that they can learn the behavior of the meter as the charge truly approaches zero miles remaining.

With a recent software update, the home grown SOC meter can now display battery voltage, amperage and instantaneous power use and regenerative braking charge in kW.  With more experience in the hands of users, this data will become more valuable over time.

The Numbers:
Month:  August 2011
Total Miles at Month End:  4,167
Miles Driven in Month:  1,028 miles
Electric Power Used for Charging: 327.7 kWh (measured at wall power source, includes public charging)
Public Charging:
 4.3 kWh

Home Charging: 323.4 kWh
Energy Efficiency, Month of August 3.14 miles/kWh (wall to wheels)

Energy Efficiency, Lifetime:  3.14 miles/kWh (wall to wheels)
Most Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Day in August: 18.6 kWh  (4.9 charging hours)
Least Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Charging Day: 6.4 kWh  (1.7 charging hours)
Average Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Charging Day:  12.4 kWh  (3.3 charging hours)
Household Power Used for Month:  790.6 kWh (without car charging)
Total Power Used for Month:  1,114 kWh (includes car charging)
Solar PV Power Generated for Month:  880 kWh
Net Power Used or Sent to Grid for Month:  234 kWh net used
Electric Bill, So Cal Edison, Schedule TOU-D-TEV: 
 -$52.90 (A credit in this amount will be added to our net metering total credit for the year, offsetting future bills for months with lower solar output.)
Solar Net Metering Year Total kWh at Month #6: -136 kWh (Total of 136 kWh sent to the grid)

Solar Net Metering Year Total Cost at Month #6: -$357.84 (Total credit for the net metering year to date)
Cost for Charging Car in August:  $0.00
Cost per Mile:  $0.00
Cost for Charging Car, Lifetime: $0.00
Cost per Mile, Lifetime: $0.00

(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost for Charging Car in August: $42.04)
(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost per Mile in August: $0.041) 
Average Miles per Driving Day:  38.1miles
Longest Day's Driving:  65.1 miles
Shortest Day's Driving:  20.7 miles
Number of Times we Took the Prius Instead of the LEAF Due to Low Charge: One
Unexpected Low Charge and Unable to Reach Destination:  Never