My return to Jalopnik this year began with a story about how I’d felt forsaken during the Texas deep freeze back in February, and how it changed my buying habits and vehicle preferences. Today’s featured EV owner, Clemente, has a similar story to the one I told, but with a much, much different vehicular choice, and arguably a much smarter outcome.
Welcome to EV Ownership Stories! Every week, we’ll be posting an interview with an owner of an electric vehicle. We’re here to show that people have been living with EVs for longer than you’d think, in stranger places than you’d imagine. If you’d like to be featured, instructions are at the bottom of the article.
Clemente has a 2020 Chevy Bolt and lives in Brazil, a country with relatively few charging stations and very little EV infrastructure in general. He has a couple ICE cars to supplement it, including an overlanding-oriented Land Rover Defender and an early-2010s Subaru Forester. Still, he’s put 8,000 miles on his Bolt in the year he’s owned it, so he clearly gets his use out of it nonetheless.
The Bolt nameplate itself has been around since 2017. The five-door GM hatchback won accolades upon introduction for its impressive specs for its size. It boasted 200 horsepower and 266 foot pounds of torque while still offering almost 240 miles of range. These stats put it closer to hot hatch territory than most EVs, with a sub-three-second 0-30 mph and a sub-seven-second 0-60. Unlike the competing Leaf, GM offered it with active battery temperature management from its inception to help range consistency and battery longevity, making it an impressive first pure EV for GM. (Alright, well, not quite the first. This is just the first contemporary lithium-powered one). The car received a mild facelift in 2020 as well as an additional 21 miles of range thanks to a redesigned battery pack that added 6 extra kWh of capacity. This latest iteration is what Clemente drives.
Clemente initially lived in Sao Paulo with his EV, working for an American tech company. When COVID struck early last year, he moved out to the countryside and decided to keep his Bolt. Sao Paulo was comparatively well-suited to the Bolt, as he had an apartment with a 32A Level 2 charger to keep the battery full at home, as well as paved roads. In his new, rural digs, the roads are completely dirt, you see, so he’s racked up miles of off-road driving since he moved. When I asked how the 3,500 pound hatch tackled being thrown into a rally stage for daily driving, Clemente told me:
Well ... the Chevy Bolt really hates unpaved roads. More of a fish trying to climb a tree. Due to the rather high tire pressures, ±42 psi, and quite stiff ride and short travel suspension, you feel a lot of the harshness and the bumps. Running the pressure down isn’t always an option, it compromises the range and risks the sidewalls in the event of a collision with a rock or pothole. But this is far from the most annoying issue! It is the low riding height of the car! It does drag its belly, or battery pack if you prefer, all the time. [But] traction wise, the car is just amazing. The traction control works flawlessly, it diverts the power to the right wheel in a blink of an eye. Really impressive! Not even the Subaru matches it on how fast it reacts when it loses traction.
Clearly, someone needs to get to work on developing a lift kit for the Bolt, so we can begin an EV-only rally series. (Editor’s note: That’s pretty much all GM did to make the new Bolt EUV, though we could use that rally series. ARA, you have our number.) I was impressed that the car could handle it at all; EVs have not generally been known for impressive offroading until much, much more recently, so it was good to hear that the Bolt was more capable than it looked.
That was only the beginning of how the Bolt made itself an ideal companion for rural living. Clemente told me that in rural Brazil, the power grid is notoriously unreliable, and “we [lose] power for at least 10 hours every week.” This is a problem as a remote employee whose job involves computers. Clemente’s solution? Turn the Bolt into a battery backup for his home.
Clemente CAD modeled brackets and plug covers for a power socket to attach from the Bolt’s DC-DC auxiliary power module (the part of the car that steps down the high voltage main power battery to the 12V charging system, like an EV alternator) to a 1500W sine wave inverter. He then printed out the plugs and brackets using a 3D printer and installed them to the car. He did all that without needing to cut or drill or splice into the OEM wiring, allowing him to keep his warranty intact. The end result?
It [runs] the fridge, fiber modem, two Macs, monitors, iPads and iPhones. All thanks to the car’s 66kWh battery. Now we’ve got power to keep me working off-grid for at least eight days and at the same time holding the cabin fridge running, some light, etc… Between the 1.5kW pure sine wave inverter and cables and home-made 3D parts and tinkering, it sat me back about USD $500.
All of $500 is less than half of what a decent, similarly-equipped generator would actually set you back, and Clemente still gets to actually drive his Bolt, making it a win-win. He also made his plug cover and bracket designs licensed under Creative Commons and free to download on Thingiverse, so if anyone else would like to run their home using their Chevrolet, it’s even easier than it was for him!
Clemente gets enough power from the grid every week that he’s able to keep the Bolt charged enough to consistently use it as his home backup, and I have to admit his story has made me rethink how I’d like to deal with long, potentially dangerous power outages in the future. Maybe instead of escaping the weather, I could just hunker down with an EV running my house. Either way, thank you so much for sharing your story Clemente, and safe travels on those rough roads! We’d love to hear from more readers about their EVs, modern or classic, factory or otherwise.
What car do you own? (If you owned a car in the past, let us know what years!)
Where do you live with it?
How and where do you charge it?
How was buying it?
How long have you had it?
How has it lived up to your expectations?
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If you want to be interviewed, please let us know an email with an re: EV Ownership Stories to tscott at jalopnik dot com!