Q&A for Electric Vehicle Research Program participants

Please note that Pean Street’s EV rebate program has ended.  The questions below are posted online for existing program participants, but new rebate applications will not be processed.

How much is the rebate that Pecan Street is offering?

  • For residents who purchase a Chevrolet Volt, Pecan Street will provide a rebate of $7,500.
  • For residents who lease a Chevrolet Volt for three years or more, Pecan Street will provide a rebate of $3,000.

Is there a limit on how many residents can purchase a Volt and receive the full rebate?

  • Based on feedback we have received from residents, we have decided not to limit the number of available purchases. Instead, we are holding back on two other capital equipment purchases under our research grant until we understand fully the budget impact.
  • So, Pecan Street is offering rebates for 100 selected residents to lease or purchase a Chevrolet Volt (or other approved electric vehicle). If all 100 residents elect to purchase (rather than lease), we will pay all 100 residents the $7,500 rebate. No questions asked.

I want to lease. What are the available lease options?

  • Leases for the Volt are generally in one-year increments. A common lease is for three years. The base model Volt’s advertised lease term is generally $2,500 down with monthly payments of $350 per month. The amount of the lease payments will increase based on the options a resident wants to have in her/his Volt.
  • We are visiting in the coming days with General Motors and local dealers and anticipate having more information to pass on to you at that time about leasing options.

Can I trade in my current car even if I lease?

  • Yes. Dealers will do trade-ins as part of a lease transaction in the same way that they do trade-ins on purchases. In fact, that’s exactly what Pecan Street’s executive director, Brewster McCracken, did when he leased a Chevrolet Volt – he traded in his car and even received money back after the trade-in was applied to cover the lease downpayment. (Brewster is not receiving any funds from Pecan Street for his Volt.)

How long do I have to complete the transaction to buy or lease?

  • Once you have received authorization to move forward, you have 21 days to purchase, lease or order your Volt. If an issue arises and you need more time, please let us know. We can accommodate extensions of time (within reason), but we do need to hear from you.

How do I get my rebate from Pecan Street once I have acquired my Volt?

  • Execute and return the Electric Vehicle Research Participation Agreement.
  • Upon taking possession of your Volt, provide Pecan Street with a copy of your sales receipt, proof of insurance that shows the primary address where the vehicle will be located and a completed Check Request Form (available on our website).
  • Once Pecan Street receives all of this information, we will be able to verify your purchase (this is a requirement for our research grant), and we will issue payment to you within 60 days. We will of course strive to provide this payment to you far sooner than 60 days.

I’ve heard that Chevrolet is suspending production of the Volt. How does that impact my ability to obtain a Volt?

  • Chevrolet had two major announcements about the Volt recently, one of which was disappointing, the second of which was good news.
  • First, as you might have heard, Chevrolet announced that it was taking a temporary shutdown of the assembly line that produces Volts – for five weeks (from March 19 through April 23). They announced they were doing this because inventories were sufficiently high and they wanted to avoid an oversupply.
  • (You might also recall that last year, potential Volt buyers – including our board president Roger Duncan – faced long waiting lists due to insufficient inventory.)
  • This news affects you in two ways. First, it signifies there are plenty of Volts right now. (We have confirmed strong availability from our dealer support rep from GM.) Second, it does mean you might face a challenge if you want to custom order a Volt. None of us know whether in fact you would face a delay from a custom order, but it’s a possibility.
  • Now, for the good news: the European Car of the Year jury named the Volt the European Car of the Year. This comes 14 months after the Volt was awarded the North American Car of the Year. In announcing that the Volt had taken the top prize, Hakan Matson, president of the judging panel and an auto critic for Dagens Industri, said: “The Ampera [the Volt’s European name] and Volt won in a field of strong competitors, particularly on account of the outstanding technical progress they reflect. With its range extender, the Ampera presents a very sound new concept on our way to e-mobility. By solving the problem of range anxiety, it is a remarkable step into the future of electrification.”
  • We know that General Motors wants to sell more Volts (and Nissan wants to sell more Leafs). But to put this in historical context, hybrid vehicles (the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight) sold 9,350 cars in their first year of availability (2000). By comparison, the Leaf and Volt last year combined to sell over 17,000 electric vehicles in their first year.
  • These things take time. And those who lead exert an important influence on the future. That’s where you come in.

Can I get an electric vehicle other than a Volt?

  • We are able to provide a limited number of rebates for Leafs and (if it is available by this summer in Austin) plug-in Prius. Each has a different research value compared to the Volt that impacts our deliverables to our grantor and impacts our internal research team resources.
  • We unfortunately have been unsuccessful to date in getting cooperation from Nissan. GM, on the other hand, holds biweekly technical calls with our team, their dealers are working with us actively, and in every respect Chevrolet has been incredibly helpful.
  • Here is one example of why it’s critical to have the engaged support of the car manufacturer: Through OnStar, we will be able to capture not only at-home grid consumption, but also pump consumption. We are also working with Austin Energy and their EV charging program to capture charging station consumption. We have a team of nearly a dozen researchers (the largest contingent being from UT) meeting every two weeks on this research trial. We won’t get everything perfect, we know, but it won’t be due to lack of work or lack of attention.
  • Here is a second example: We are working with SunEdison, GM and the home energy management providers on approaches that will make it possible to charge your car through your rooftop solar panels.
  • Here is a third: We anticipate being able to make at least one other exciting announcement in the coming months that is a direct result of the incredible cooperation and support we have been receiving from Chevrolet.
  • Additionally, while the Leaf and Volt have very well-developed remote information portals and are full-performance electric cars, the Prius plug-in only has an EPA-estimated 11 mile electric range, the gasoline motor may kick in to provide assist for the electric motor and the electronics for the Prius are programmed to prevent the car from exceeding 62 miles per hour in electric mode. Because of these performance differences, the Prius is eligible only for a $2,500 federal tax credit (compared to up to $7,500 for the Volt and Leaf).
  • Please contact us before acquiring either a Leaf.

I’m interested in purchasing or leasing an electric vehicle other than the Volt and the Leaf. Can I still get a rebate?

  • Pecan Street needs to understand the charging impact of these vehicles on electricity distribution systems. To know that, we need to have confidence that applications like OnStar are featured in each car so that we can gather information about how much electric charging has taken place. This helps our project team better understand the potential impact of high penetrations of electric vehicles.
    For these reasons, those who are interested in a car other than the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf must provide information about their preferred model’s monitoring application. Further, you must provide proof of availability of these cars within the deadline for taking delivery. We currently expect for all Electric Vehicle Research Program participants to have taken delivery of their vehicle by June 30th, 2012.

Do I need a special plug?

  • You do not need a special plug to charge your Volt at home. The Volt’s factory-supplied charger plugs in to a standard electric outlet (3-prong grounded variety).
  • The Volt comes with a standard electric vehicle charger. One end plugs in to the “charge tank” on the front left side of the car, while the other end plugs in to a standard wall outlet. It is portable – you can carry it around in your trunk or leave it in your garage.
  • So, if you have a free electric outlet anywhere in your garage or outside your house, you can plug in your Volt with the factory-supplied charger. The cord on the charger is long and can reach most outlets, but you can plug it into a standard outdoor extension cord if you need to.
  • If you want to plug in your car at the higher 240 v rate (this is the plug level for most clothes dryers), you do need a special charger. (More on this below.) Most public charging stations in Austin charge at 240 v. Your Volt comes ready to be charged at either 120 v or 240 v. In essence, if you take your Volt to a public charging station and plug in, the Volt’s onboard electronics will detect the higher charging rate and charge automatically at that higher voltage.

How long does it take to charge?

  • Charging the Volt from a standard wall outlet (with the factory-supplied charger) takes about 10 hours. Charging the Volt from a special 240 v charger (known as a Level 2 charger) takes about 3 1⁄2 hours.

Will Pecan Street provide me with a Level 2 (240 v) charger?

  • Yes – we are offering the Schneider Square D Level 2 charger at no cost to participants who buy or lease. Austin Energy is providing a rebate of 50% of the cost of the charger and installation and Pecan Street is covering the rest. Participants in the Electric Vehicle Research Program should not independently apply for the Austin Energy Plug-In Partner program; Pecan Street will apply for the rebates on your behalf. More details will be provided prior to the charger installation.

Do I need OnStar? How much will it cost?

  • You do need OnStar. When you take delivery of your Volt, please activate OnStar. It is being provided to you at no cost. OnStar comes with a very helpful smart phone app for iPhone and Android phones that provides you with information such as the state of charge of your battery.

How does the cost of running the Volt on electricity compare to the cost of running it on gasoline?

  • The cost to travel 35 miles on gas in the Volt is the price of one gallon of premium gasoline. Today, that translates to roughly $3.85 to travel 35 miles.
  • The cost to travel 35 miles on electricity in the Volt is 12.5 kilowatt hours. At 12 cents a kilowatt hour (the national average and, coincidentally, the average between Austin Energy’s summer and winter rates), the cost to travel 35 miles is $1.50.
  • The cost per mile on gasoline in the Volt is $0.11. The cost per mile on electricity in the Volt is $0.04. Gasoline is thus 2.57 times more expensive than electricity per mile in the Volt.
  • Owners of midsize gasoline sedans can expect to use 480 gallons of gas a year. Owners of a Volt can expect to use 34 gallons of gas a year.
  • Owners of midsize sedans can expect to spend $1,752 a year on gasoline. Volt drivers can expect to spend a combined $595 on gas and electricity ($132 on gas, $463 on electricity).
  • Over three years, Volt owners can expect to save about $3,500 in operating costs compared to owners of gasoline-powered midsize sedans.
  • Owners of an gasoline midsize sedan will spend three times as much to fuel their car as will owners of Volts (on combined gas and electricity).
  • Here are the assumptions: 12,000 miles per year, $3.65 for regular unleaded (for midsize sedan) and $3.85 for premium unleaded (Volt), 25 miles per gallon fuel economy for the midsize sedan (the Chevy Cruze’s fuel economy is 22-28 miles per gallon), and a 90/10 split between electricity and gasoline for the Volt. The Volt’s battery has a range of 35 miles. It’s gasoline fuel economy is approximately 35 miles (EPA estimates 36 miles per gallon).

How would Austin Energy’s proposed rate increase affect the comparative value of electricity versus gasoline?

  • First, we don’t know what rate the Austin City Council and Texas Public Utility Commission may ultimately authorize. Second, quite a bit of the proposed rate change to date has been focused on a fixed rate portion. But if residential electric rates were to increase by 20 percent, this could increase the annual projected costs of charging the Volt by the rate percentage increase (excluding fixed charges). Likewise, if gasoline prices spike to a range of $5 to $6 dollars a gallon, as some analysts have forecast, this would increase the relative cost benefit of having a Volt.

How far can I travel?

  • The Volt’s total driving range is about 315 miles (35 miles electric plus 285 miles on gas). According to EPA, the Leaf’s driving range is 73 miles; Nissan estimates the Leaf’s driving range varies from 62 miles to 100 miles depending on weather and traffic.

How fast can the Volt go?

  • We aren’t here to condone unlawfully fast or reckless driving – but if you were driving a Volt and found yourself on a stretch of road where the speed limit, miraculously, was 100 miles per hour, rest assured that you’d be able to keep up with traffic.

What are the environmental benefits of electric cars compared to gasoline cars?

  • Your participation in this research will help the country better understand the answer to this question.
  • We know this much, though. Most cars charge in the early evening through the night. The marginal fossil power generation to supply electricity during much of this period comes from natural gas, with marginal power from coal and wind a larger part of the mix at night. Natural gas and wind are far lower in carbon emissions than gasoline auto emissions, and even electricity produced from coal at night has an estimated ⅓ reduction in carbon compared to car auto emissions during the day. Also, there are local air quality impacts from an electric car compared to a gasoline car.
  • Finally, many participants have rooftop solar panels, and 50 participants in Sony’s home energy trial will have in-home batteries. The work that our research teams are doing with SunEdison, Furukawa, GM, Intel and Sony in particular will make it possible to test approaches for powering your Volt from sunshine.

Will Pecan Street ever attempt to control when I charge my car or limit how I use it?

  • No. A few participants may be asked to participate voluntarily in specific research trials that include shifting the time of charging, but you are not required as a condition of this vehicle rebate program to sign up for any research that would limit when you charge or how much you charge.

Will I be able to find out on the Internet or with a smartphone app how much I am charging my car and what it’s costing me?

  • Yes. That is part of the information that you will be able to receive from the home energy portal as part of your participation in the overall demonstration project. This capability is currently under development, though. That means you will become among the first in the nation to have access to such information in real-time from your phone or computer.

What impact will charging an electric vehicle have on my home’s electric systems and on my utility service?

  • Since November, our research team, led by lab director Scott Hinson, has been carrying out specialized performance testing on Volts and home charge stations at a home in Mueller. We wanted to find out from actual testing in a Mueller home (as opposed to simply relying on simulation models drawn from lab research) the answers to questions such as how long it takes to charge a Volt, the power quality of the car and how integrating a home’s solar panels and electric car works best.
  • There is good news in this regard: the Volt’s power quality is essentially perfect (smooth sinusoid, power factor of approximately 1.00). That has important positive implications for your electric bill and for generation demands. Of course, it is previously untested what impact high penetration of electric cars will have on utility distribution load curves, but that is a central – and closely monitored – component of this research.

What are the terms of the federal tax credit available for electric vehicles?

  • As we understand it, the question for calculating eligibility begins with a determination of one’s “taxable income.” Whether you receive a refund does not determine your eligibility; rather, the amount of eligibility is based on your taxable income.
  • For married filing-jointly households, eligibility for the full $7,500 rebate would kick in at an approximate household taxable income of $55,669.
  • For taxpayers filing at the single rate, the full $7,500 tax credit would kick in at an approximate taxable income of $45,500.
  • A taxpayer should look into his/her tax return at what is owed based on the reported taxable income. On a Form 1040, taxable income is reported on line 43, and the tax obligation is reported on line 46. Look at line 46: that’s the number. If that number is $7,500 or greater, then you should be able to receive the full $7,500 credit. If that number on line 46 is less than $7,500, then that number is the amount of tax credit available to claim.
  • Both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf qualify for the full $7,500 tax credit, and the vehicle must be new (not used or previously owned). The tax credit only applies to the first owner of the car and is not transferable. They’ll be phased out gradually once 200,000 vehicles are sold. To date, a little under 10,000 Volts have been sold.
  • If the vehicle is being leased, the tax credit will stay with the leasing company and, in most cases, the tax credit will be factored into the cost of the lease.
  • You should always consult your own accountant to evaluate how this information applies in your particular situation.

I heard that the government is going to increase the federal rebate to $10,000.

  • The key point to remember about the $10,000 rebate proposal is that it truly is just a proposal and would require congressional approval before being implemented. You are encouraged to make your own determination about whether this can realistically take place this year or not.

I’d like to factor the rebate in to the terms of my loan. Is this possible?

  • Contact Pecan Street in advance if you would like for us to write a check to the dealer in order to be applied at closing.