Dec 13, 2015: Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is.

This whole Greeny Flat thing started with the idea that we have to learn how to live without fossil fuels. By designing, building, living in and monitoring the Greeny Flat we’ve been able to prove that it is relatively easy to inexpensive to create a house that makes more energy than it uses. In fact, over the year-and-a-half that Cintia and I have been testing it, we have exported over three times more power to the grid than we have imported from it. So what’s the next step? How can we use that excess solar power to further reduce our carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels?

Well… may I present our New Car!

The Greeny Flat Gets New Wheels

Regular readers of these Newsletters will know that I have been looking into Electric Vehicles (EV’s) in great depth over the last year or so. In fact, as I wrote in our Newsletter just two weeks ago, we recently went to Canberra to march for climate change and to test drive some EV’s. It was at the Climate March that I saw my first Outlander PHEV and yesterday we drove home in our own.

PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and the Outlander claims to be ‘the world’s first plug-in hybrid SUV’. (SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle and basically means a four wheel drive although, these days, they’re a far cry from the early Jeeps, Landrovers, and Toyota Landcruisers which were rough and rugged). The SUV we drove home yesterday is a highly sophisticated, luxurious, technological marvel but if I had to drive into the outback I’d take an old Landcruiser any day. There is way too much that could go wrong with the PHEV. But we’re not looking to explore the bush in it… we just want to help save the planet with it.

After looking carefully at all of the available options for plug-in EV’s in Australia we decided that this is the one that makes the most sense for us. As I wrote two weeks ago, A Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) offers something like the best of both worlds. It has an electric motor and enough battery capacity to give it a range of about 50km after which the petrol motor kicks in and it becomes a hybrid vehicle, much like a Toyota Prius. The difference is that the Outlander is a 4WD SUV so is quite a bit heavier and only gets about 6L/100km. But the fact is that most people only drive a short distance on a daily basis and only take occasional longer trips. A PHEV has the advantage that you can do your short trips in all-electric mode and you don’t have to worry about the range for longer trips. The disadvantages are that you have two complete sets of drive system which makes the vehicle more complex and heavy.

1.9L/100km... an eye-catching but extravagant claim!

1.9L/100km… an eye-catching but extravagant claim!

There is clearly a big discrepancy between the 6L/100km I wrote about above and the sticker on the back of the car which claims 1.9L/100km. The latter figure is the official fuel-efficiency number for the Outlander PHEV and the sticker was put there by the nice people at Lander Mitsubishi in Blacktown to grab people’s attention. I plan to leave it there for the same reason. In fact I’m leaving all the stickers on the car for two reasons. One, because I want people to ask me questions about the car, and two, because Lander Mitsubishi gave me a very good deal because I offered to advertise for them. And I’m happy to do it because I believe that this car is an excellent step in the right direction towards a fossil-fuel-free future.

The car we bought was a demo model with about 7oook’s on the clock and we paid $30,000 for it. The retail price is about $49,000 and there are similar models on for anything from $30k up to $55k. I’ve never spent anywhere near this much money on a car before and part of me thinks I’m crazy. But I’ve done my homework and this is the best-value car that will do what I need it to do (I do quite a lot of building work and I have the occasional guilty pleasure of a trip down the coast for a surf so I need a bit more size, range and versatility than the other EV options offer) while also doing what we all need to do… i.e. reduce our carbon emissions.

As for the fuel economy… time will tell. After driving it home from Blacktown yesterday with the air-conditioning running it was showing that we had used 5.4L/100km which is pretty impressive for something this big and heavy. In fact it’s about what Cintia gets from her beloved little Honda Jazz. We have yet to become familiar with the car but we’re already learning that the way we drive will make a huge difference to our fuel economy.

The Instrument Display of the Outlander PHEV.

The Instrument Display of the Outlander PHEV.

The photo above shows the dashboard display of the Outlander. There is another, larger, touch screen in the centre console that controls the ‘Communications Centre’ but, in terms of getting the most out of every litre of petrol, this is where the action is. The dial on the left shows, at all times, how economical the driver is being. We’ve already learned that we want to keep this as close to the blue ‘Charge’ area as possible. The car has 6 levels of regenerative breaking which adjusts how much you use the electric motors (the Outlander has two) to slow down while generating electricity and saving it to the batteries.

There are many different settings for the power management display in the centre. The one in the photo is showing that we have 9km of range left for driving in electric only and a total of 476km of range using petrol and electric. The blue gauge on the left shows how much charge is left in the battery and the one on the right shows how much petrol is left in the tank.

As we get more familiar with the car and how to drive it most efficiently we’ll find out what sort of fuel-efficiency we can really get. One of the salesmen at Lander said he drove one up to Queensland and back and averaged 3L/100km with only a charge before he left Sydney and one before he left for the return. That seems hard to believe but I’m realising that, if we charge the battery regularly and only drive short trips in all-electric mode, we could go weeks without using any petrol at all. In fact the Owner’s Manual (Cintia can’t believe that I would actually read it) warns that we should be careful to use at least 20L every six months otherwise the fuel can deteriorate in the tank. Not many car manuals have that sort of warning!

Obviously, charging it and driving it on all electric is only of benefit to the planet if the electricity we use to charge it comes from renewable sources. We have a lot of excess power from our solar system and it’s going to be very interesting to gauge whether that’s enough to power the car for the majority of our close-to-home driving. The dream is to get to where we can run our house and car entirely on renewable energy. We’re not there yet but our new PHEV should help take us a few more steps in that direction. Stay tuned as we learn how to get the most out of it.

12 comments to Dec 13, 2015: Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is.

  • KOM

    I look forward to when electric cars are cheaper.
    I was wondering though how to you plug it in? Do you need an electrician to set up a special recharge station and/or extra equipment or does a normal household electrical socket in the garage suffice?
    I live in the country and travel 80km each day for work. A Prius driver once told me that hybrids seem to be more suited to city conditions rather than doing 100k/hr runs to and from work.

    • admin

      Sorry for the slow reply… you’re correct that hybrids generally are better suited to city conditions because the stop and start driving allows them to make best use of their regenerative braking capabilities. However the PHEV is a slightly different beast. If your daily commute is 80km and you have the ability to charge both at home and at work then I think you should seriously consider it. The Outlander PHEV will go about 50km on a full charge so you would be able to get to work and back on all electric if you charge at work. I am already finding that it is cheaper to run it on electric, even if I have to pay full price for the electricity (much cheaper when I can charge during the day from my solar system).

      As far as charging equipment goes, we needed nothing special. The car comes with two chargers, one is a 10A charger that will plug into any normal powerpoint. It uses about 1800W and takes about 5 hours for a full charge (about 10kWh which costs about $2.20). The other charger is a 15A one that would require a special powerpoint (the earth pin is larger so it won’t plug into a standard powerpoint). Since we don’t have a 15A powerpoint we haven’t used it but it would take about 3.5 hours for a full charge.

      Hope that helps. Regards, Andy

  • Mark

    I’ll be very interested to know how you go with this in terms of how often you get away on electric only.

    We looked at it very seriously, as for logistical reasons we ended up needing a second vehicle (a child outgrew our bike trailer). Our future needs mean this probably needs to be a car, and it needs to be a 4wd to access parts of a new property. In short our Prius wasn’t going to cut it. The outlander PHEV looked very much like it fits all of our needs and desires to stop burning dino juice. We also occasionally want to tow, although only a very light load.

    However we just couldn’t justify buying a new car – although maybe the second hand market for the outlander will get us in yet. I’m currently looking down the path of converting a 4wd to a battery electric vehicle. It looks like this should (hopefully) come out around $15K (with a bit of free labour), but it should fulfil all our needs. It would still be a second car though – we wouldn’t be taking it on long trips. A price of around $30K does change that equation somewhat – although having a petrol engine as well does add servicing costs that a pure EV doesn’t have.

    • admin

      Apologies for the slow response… I also looked into converting my little Holden Combo van to all electric. I’m no mechanic so it would have cost me about $20k and I would have had aobut 50km range. As you noted, I still would have had an old chassis and plenty of range anxiety. For $30k the Outlander is SO much more with 50km on electric then another 550km on petrol. It’s really a luxury car to drive (which I don’t need but have to admit to enjoying – up to the point where something goes wrong then I might regret it). For now I’m loving getting to know it.

      Good point about the servicing costs. Basically everything is more complex, heavier and somewhat redundant when you have two drive systems.

      Keep me posted on what you decide. Cheers, Andy

  • Matt

    Hi Andy,

    I will be really interested to track your adventures and experiences in the PHEV if it delivers the economy that it claims it’ll be great.

    I am moving from a 3.5l 6 cylinder to a smaller diesel 4 cyl… and will similarly log it’s performance as it trundles up and down Macquarie Pass or down to Nowra. Moving to PHEV could be a possibility down the track.

    Look forward to comparing notes!

    • admin

      Sounds good Matt, keep us posted on the performance of the 4 cylinder diesel. Meanwhile you might be interested in Rob’s comments on the same post. He has been driving his Outlander PHEV for over 18 months during which time they have used 334L of petrol for an average 1.5L/100km. Pretty impressive! Andy

  • Hi,
    Love your blog and choice of vehicle. We’ve owned an Outlander PHEV for just over 18 months now and have found the advertised fuel consumption figures easily achievable with a little effort. In fact, so far we have covered a bit over 22,000 klms for a total of 334L, averaging a tad over 1.5L/100km.

    Luckily, my most common drive is around 35km each way and as I can recharge at my destination (simply plugging in to a 15A power point, though a 10A will do at a pinch), I can do this on battery alone provided I’m prepared to accelerate gently up hills. Yesterday we drove a long-standing friend for the first time since we’d acquired the car and he told me: “You drive like an old woman with this new car”. I took this as a compliment!

    Note, if you use “too little” petrol, you’ll find one day you start up the vehicle and it will fire up the petrol motor with a warning on the dash saying “maintaining fuel system”. The only way to get back to battery is to go straight to the nearest petrol station and fill up your tank! This happened to me a few days ago as we’d last filled the tank in October last year and had done 3200km since that time. Filled up with 16L (!) and she was happily back running on battery again.

    Hope you enjoy your PHEV as much as we enjoy ours

    Rob Hills
    Waikiki, Western Australia

    • admin

      Thanks Rob, that’s awesome! Do you also have a solar power system or a way to charge your PHEV with renewable energy?

      One comment I would like to make is that petrol can go stale if it sits in the tank for too long so it’s probably a good idea to use a tankful now and then just to ensure that you have fresh fuel in the tank. It can be extremely harmful to the engine if it burns too much stale fuel. I chuckled at the warning in the Owner’s Manual that I should use ‘at least 20L of fuel every six months’ but it sounds like, at least in your case, this could be a serious issue.

      Cheers, Andy

  • Great to hear about another happy PHEV owner. We have owned ours for about 9 months and its fantastic. We actually bought it after buying an iMiEV 2nd hand for $14k, so we’re now an EV family.
    We have driven the PHEV from Sydney to Gold Coast twice and I can tell you the 3L/100km mentioned in your article as being claimed by the dealer is a lie. Its more like 6.7-7.3L/100km on a trip like that, which is still great for a medium SUV. Our overall petrol usage for 11,000km is 3.7L/100km due to lots of EV only trips inbetween the two QLD trips.
    If any PHEV owner is interested, I’ve written an Android App which allows you to see what is going on inside your PHEV battery and Emotors etc. More details here

  • Frank

    Thanks Andy for the blog and info. I’ve been planning to buy an Outlander since 2010 (having read the reviews of o/s experiences) but due to transfer and looking for the ‘perfect’ house at Buderim we have been renting an apartment. Body Corp issues and being a renter means buying is not sensible and I really want to do as you are, charge it from solar. I’ve tested driven an Aspire in 2014 and agree with your wrap on them being very comfortable and feel very safe. The 4×4 option is attractive to us with climate change to bring more intense rainfall and flash flooding on the Sunshine Coast. I’ll be interested in your running data and maintenance costs. I can’t see any other vehicle like it on the market and the hydrid seems the best option as recharge stations for pure EV will be a long way off in Australia I think. Well done and enjoy it.

    • admin

      Thanks for the comments. I agree that there appears to be nothing else like it on the Australian market although I’ve been reading about Kia and Hyundai as well as Volvo and probably others coming out with PHEV-SUV’s for the European market. The Outlander PHEV is apparently hugely popular in Europe where it qualifies for a 10,000Euro Electric Vehicle rebate. It seems the other manufacturers are rushing to try to catch up with Mitsubishi over there. Meanwhile Mitsubishi Australia is doing an appalling job of marketing the PHEV over here. It would be an excellent vehicle for a parent with two or three kids, lots of gear to haul around and lots of short trips to school, shopping, sports practice etc. But they can’t sell them. I don’t think they have a clue what they got. Oh well, I’m lovin’ it.

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