Cool Rides Electric car talk with Barry Woods

Electric car talk with Barry Woods

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Barry Woods stands in front of his Chevy Bolt, an electric car, at a charging station. He sees a huge ramp-up in consumer interest and the quality of the electric cars in coming years.

Barry Woods is not by definition a “car guy.” He did not grow up with a wrench in his hand, did not spend his youth rebuilding fine old cars in his father’s garage, would not know a Shelby Mustang from a Fastback 2+2 by just glancing at the chassis. He is the director of electric vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy in Portland, and he is a very serious and a very wise man embarked on a very wise and serious mission: broadening and deepening the American electro-vehicular infrastructure.

“I’m looking at how this developing technology fits within Revision’s broader mission of clean energy products,” he says. “I think the idea was to look at how clean energy can fuel clean transportation. And by nature it’s pretty innovative, so I kind of look at myself as like an entrepreneur, developing a division within the company that’s, you know, a little bit of a different technology suite, but fits nicely within the existing structure.”

Woods says he came to electric cars through his interest in smart-grid related technologies and how they affect the existing energy system. His approach to the subject is entirely practical and reasonable, and he says he sees electric cars as a way for consumers to get their minds around the larger issues of energy and transportation.

“It’s the first smart appliance the consumer is actually going to be able to purchase and see how it affects their budget,” he says, “and how it can be used by their local utility to potentially increase the grid’s efficiency and maybe pay back the user for the storage, the whole suite of benefits that come from an electric transport with a large battery.”

So is it all about policy and practice, Barry Woods’ interest in electric cars? Hardly.

“I’m not a car guy, but I think driving ’em is pretty eye-opening,” says Woods. “I’ve been through four different vehicles, and now I’m on the Chevy Bolt, which has been a really interesting car, a really fun car, significantly improved over the other iterations. I think the vehicle itself provides a superior driving experience. So if you’re into cars and you’re thinking about what it is that attracts you to them, the idea of having a car that has instant torque, that’s quiet, that has 90 percent fewer moving parts, that’s more reliable—I think the whole experience is actually very different from driving [internal] combustion.”

And ultimately, says Woods, the enhanced driving experience of the electric car is going to be what wins people over, not so much all that wonderful technological innovation.

“That’s part of the reason it’s a very disruptive technology,” he says. “People don’t know what to expect when they start driving them, and when they finally do, particularly the new generation, I think they’re astounded by the difference in the experience. From a performance standpoint, they’re incredibly fast, so they’re fun to drive. That’s been a touchstone for most people who experience the technology.”

And whereas the electric car might seem like a nascent industry—well, as “nascent” as an industry can be whose technology hit the streets 185 years ago—the entire electric car world is just about to start spinning in earnest.

“I think the next three years are probably going to see a huge ramp-up in terms of both consumer interest and the quality of the vehicles,” says Woods. “I think we’ve got two things going on right now that are going to create much difference in the automaker world. One is, the batteries are becoming much more cost effective. The size of the batteries going into the car is getting bigger, which means that the range and the functional distance is going to continue to increase, along with the reduction in the price. So that’s one huge difference in the next two to three years.

In addition, he says, “we have funding that’s starting to come through and more policy direction that’s favoring creation of more robust public charging infrastructure, particularly in the DC fast charge [electric-vehicle charging station] area, where Tesla’s already taken a market leadership role in developing its supercharger network nationally to benefit its own drivers. So you’re going to see the cars improving at the same time the infrastructure availability is broadening and exposure is increasing.”

There’s another reason Barry Woods is excited about the future of electric cars: He’s fairly high on the waiting list for the Tesla 3, the fabulous and fabled mid-size, all-electric, four-door luxury sedan that is about to take the market by electrical storm.

“I have not seen one personally in the wild yet,” he says. “I’ve driven the other versions, the roadster and the S. I haven’t driven the X, the SUV, but anecdotally, it sounds like it’s a pretty formidable challenger for the price point that it’s at. But the 3, I’m looking forward to it. Probably it’ll be 2018. I’m fairly high in the queue, because I got in early, so hopefully that will translate into something like, by next summer. We’ll see.”

Favorite electric car trips

As you might imagine, with the charging station infrastructure still in its infancy, relatively speaking, one does not simply throw a dart at a map and go there: You’ve got to be able to plug in, coming and going.

“I have the plug-share app on my phone,” says Woods, “which tells you where charging stations are located across the United States and Canada.”

Sounds handy enough, but Woods also says he doesn’t have to be that cautious. The Tesla 3’s range is between 220 and 310 miles, depending on your options, which is comparable to a tank of gas, and the grid is expanding daily. Meanwhile, Woods is out there owning the road in his Chevy Bolt, an electric car with good range and a lot of upside.

“I’ve taken it down to Cape Cod, taken it down to the Boston area,” he says. “I haven’t gotten into Maine, like Down East, yet. But I’ve taken it anyplace where I’d normally consider a vacation or a road trip. This next-generation vehicle, I’ve really gotten comfortable driving it most distances. The rural locations in New Hampshire and Maine still need to get more infrastructure built out, but you can always find some charging availability. It’s not as uncommon as it was three years ago. Even if I have to charge overnight on a level-one regular wall outlet, it’s still something you can figure out a way to find. We’re never too far from electricity, which is a good thing.”

And Woods said that electric car owners have one advantage over their gas-fired friends: There are a lot of unique and desirable destinations where they can go without paying for fuel.

“A lot of the destination resorts and hospitality industry,” he says, “they’re providing free charging for guests. One of the things that’s very interesting that people don’t seem to realize is that, the car actually has the capacity to go the distance. In Chevy Bolt, I routinely get 250 miles of range out of one charge. And the other thing is, when you arrive at these destinations, a lot of times, they give you your fuel, free.

“And the reason they do that is, they want you to come patronize their hotel or restaurant,” he says. “It’s not your usual gas-station-type fueling model; it’s a model where anybody with electricity has a capacity to be creative. Even with the cost of gas low, electricity is almost half the cost gasoline is per mile. It’s a pretty dramatic change in the way we think about driving and the costs associated with it.”

Will Cutlip drives a boring old analog vehicle to and from his home in Brunswick.

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