At the beginning of December I set myself a goal of living one month without directly burning any fossil fuels. Obviously, because we live in a society, I can’t completely eliminate my dependence on gasoline and diesel, as pretty much every product or service purchased is facilitated by burning hydrocarbons. I can’t control what everyone else does, but for a little over a month I heated my home with electric heat, drove or rode only those vehicles powered by electrons and paid extra for the electric utility to offset all of my electricity usage with geothermal, solar and hydro energy production.
So, how bleak is the future for automotive enthusiasts like us when the world makes the transition to zero-emissions vehicles? Can we still have fun, or should we just bow down and accept our boring fate now? The answer to both of those questions is...well, it’s complicated.
First, let’s look at what this transition to fully electric living cost.
This is a really interesting chart. For one thing, I picked up my cheap-ass Nissan Leaf on November 10th, and I brought the Harley-Davidson LiveWire home on November 20th. The first day with the Tesla Model Y was November 28th. Some of the increased electricity usage across the month of November can be attributed to charging that car, but you’ll also notice that temperatures dropped below 45 degrees F, which also correlates to more electricity usage. Our peak usage for the month was on Thanksgiving, when we were running the stove and oven for hours at a time.
November average usage - 43.9224 kWh per day
November peak usage - 75.0290 kWh on Thanksgiving
Now let’s look at December. Our average daily usage was definitely affected here, as daily temperatures stayed steadily below 40 F, and there were a few big charging events during the month. The weekend after Christmas, for example, we took the Model Y for a long road trip and returned home with a pretty low state of charge. Getting from 12 percent SOC to the artificially capped 80 percent SOC on a 110v outlet takes a while and draws a lot of electricity. That’s why you see a big spike on the 27th and 28th. We gave the big Tesla battery a full charge, and it cost about $15.00 worth of electricity to do it.
December average usage - 69.8411 kWh per day
December peak usage - 136.9920 kWh on Dec 27th
In all, our December bill was about $80 more than our November bill. Some of that can be attributed to overnight low temperatures frequently in the teens, and some of that can be chalked up to having a slew of electric vehicles to keep charged. In all, I rode a total of about 500 miles on these three motorcycles across the month, drove a couple of hundred miles of local travel in the Leaf and logged just shy of 700 miles in the Tesla. One longish trip to the middle of nowhere took three trips to the Tesla Supercharger, though if the car had been plugged in the night before we left, it would have needed just two.
Replace the miles driven in the Tesla with our usual daily driver, the Buick Regal TourX, and 700 miles would have cost us around $100 at current local gas prices and the car’s rated 24 mpg combined average. So effectively, I got to heat my home, ride bikes and drive my Leaf for free. And we saved about $20 in the process. OK, so electric vehicles can be cost-effective.
As an enthusiast I derive fun, and by extension dopamine, from vehicle dynamics, wrenching and aesthetics. If a car drives well, it’s fun. If I’m fixing something or modifying something for my personal enjoyment, it’s fun. If a car looks good, it’s fun. That tracks, right? We interact with our cars and derive enjoyment from the experience. Can you do that with electric vehicles?
Yes and no.
The Tesla is an extremely competent car, but after a month with it and over 1,000 miles driven , I just couldn’t develop an emotional connection. It looks OK, and it’s an extremely competent daily driver. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as millions of people feel nothing for their daily drivers right now, and most of those are powered by gasoline. Is it fun? Well, it’s quick, which has its charms. Dynamically, it feels pretty much like a compact crossover that weighs 4,400 pounds. There’s no getting around that.
The Leaf is a little better, honestly, because it has some quirks, some relatability, and it’s actually decent to drive because it doesn’t weigh two tons. It’s still 3,400 pounds, but it’s endearing. Also, because it was so cheap, I was able to effect modifications to the car without feeling guilty about it. I can get my modification jollies by swapping out the wheels and painting the tail lights. Sure it still looks like a weird jelly bean, but it’s my weird jelly bean.
Given what is currently on the market for electric transportation, there’s nothing quite ready to take over the spot in the garage for one of my vintage Porsches, for example. I had a few moments of weakness in December where I wished I could pile into my ’76 Porsche 912E and hit the mountain roads. Using that as a measuring stick, I’d say electric transportation isn’t quite ready for car enthusiasts to turn their collective backs on gasoline. If the jokers at Honda would get off their duffs and bring the Sports EV Concept to market, or Ford would give us a real actual Mustang electric, then maybe that could change, but not just yet.
Motorcycle enthusiasts, however...our time is right fucking now. After over a month of getting intimately familiar with a Harley-Davidson LiveWire and two of Zero’s finest, I’m as sold as I’m ever going to be on electric two-wheeling. The DSR Black Forest is a competent soft-roader dual-sport machine that delivered miles of trail-riding fun. The LiveWire can tackle curvy mountain roads with the best of them, smashing my face with unbroken acceleration. The SR/S is a next-level commuter sport bike. It can do everything pretty competently.
If you aren’t one of those weirdos who likes to ride motorcycles across the country in a handful of days, electric is probably ready for your personal use case. Sure, the bikes are still pretty expensive, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t worth it. I’m convinced at this point that I’d rather have a LiveWire than any other production motorcycle in existence. Maybe I’ve been drinking the Flavor Aid, but this bike will do damn near anything I need it to.
If you’re looking to build the perfect enthusiast garage, there’s certainly space in it for an electric machine. If you want a competent daily driver that will do everything you need a daily driver for, something like a Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-E or Volkswagen ID.4 will probably do a kickass job of it. If you want a fast and fun motorcycle to bomb some back roads on a weekend ride, a LiveWire or SR/S will probably do a kickass job of it. If you want a proper sports car to provide the levels of engagement and driver feedback you’re used to, you probably won’t find it yet.
Am I looking for a replacement for our Buick Regal TourX? Probably not right away, but don’t think I’m not deeply intrigued by the Volvo V60 Recharge Polestar Engineered plug-in hybrid wagon as an exciting electrified replacement. Because I really am.
Am I looking to pick up a Harley LiveWire for my own garage? Well, last time I was at the Harley dealer I jokingly told the salesman I’d be interested at $20,000, and he countered with $22,000. That’s mighty tempting, if you ask me.
As for the Leaf, I’m really digging this shitty little car. It’s quirky and endearing in the way that I’ve always found terrible little hatchbacks to be. As an around-town bomber that has some scoot and a beguiling style, it’s really hard to beat. I think I’ll keep it around for a while. Maybe forever.
In the end, though, December is over and the first thing I did in the New Year was take my 912E for a very loud and very gasoline-powered drive. It felt nice, like putting on a comfortable and familiar pair of sweat pants. I think of that drive as a reward for reducing my carbon emissions for a month. I’m going to carry what I learned here into the new year and keep my personal emissions to a minimum. But I’ll keep my gas-powered sports car for a while, thanks.