MONEY Autos

The Case for Buying an Electric Car Is About to Get a Whole Lot Better

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Luke Ray—Fuel Press Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle with more than 200 miles of range and a price tag around $30,000.

Drive 200+ miles on a single charge, without paying Tesla prices.

Electric car sales have stagnated through the first half of 2015. Sales have slumped for several reasons, including cheap gas prices and increased fuel efficiency among gas-powered automobiles.

In May, dramatic price cuts helped boost sales of models such as the Chevy Volt, and the month saw the most EV sales of 2015, according to InsideEVs. Still, the May 2015 EV sales total of 11,540 was 7% lower than May 2014. The Nissan Leaf, the overall electric-car category leader, has been struggling in particular. After failing to cross 2,000 unit sales in any month in 2015, the Leaf finally hit the mark in May. But through the first five months of the year, only 7,742 Nissan Leafs have been purchased, a decrease of more than 25% off last year’s pace.

Over the next few years, however, advances in electric car technology could very well turn skeptics into plug-in adopters.

While purchase prices have decreased, EVs remain impractical for many households for the time being. Presumably, a large portion of drivers is reluctant to go electric because of limited driving range. Unless you’re willing to pay $70,000 or more for the likes of a Tesla, you’ll be limited to driving 70 or 80 miles per charge with the Leaf and nearly every other reasonably priced purely battery-powered vehicle. That’s just not enough for drivers who want a car that’ll be worry-free on road trips, longer commutes, and long days full of running errands.

Soon, though, the so-called “range anxiety” factor could be reduced significantly. Earlier this year, GM introduced a concept called the Chevy Bolt, an all-electric vehicle that should appeal to the masses seeing as it’s expected to be both affordable (around $30,000) and practical (200 miles per charge).

Chevy hasn’t said when, exactly, the Bolt will be available for purchase, but it’s been widely reported that the likely date is sometime in 2017—probably late 2017. According to industry analysts cited by Automotive News, buyers could be behind the wheel of Bolts sooner than that. Production of the Bolt is expected to begin in October 2016, and sales would commence shortly thereafter.

By then, there could be even more compelling reasons to wait a little longer for what Nissan has in the works for the Leaf. Another Automotive News post notes that Nissan is working on a next-generation battery that would allow the Leaf a driving range of roughly 310 miles per charge. Such an impressive range won’t be available in the forthcoming 2017 Nissan Leaf, which should hit the market next year with an expected range of 105 to 120 miles.

What’s more, next year Tesla, which thus far has focused on the high-end market, is expected to introduce the Model 3, a mass-market vehicle rumored to have an impressive driving range and starting price ($35,000) that could come to dominate the field.

Overall, one or more of these new vehicles could be real game changers, with affordable prices and vastly improved driving ranges that’ll make the best arguments yet for switching to an EV.

Read next: Cheap Gas Helps Pull the Plug on Electric Cars

MONEY Autos

Honda’s Adorable Little SUV Is This Summer’s Hottest New Car

150616_EM_HondaHRV
Honda—Wieck 2016 Honda HR-V

Subcompact HR-V is selling like hotcakes

Honda’s brand new HR-V, a subcompact SUV that’s taller than the Honda Fit compact and smaller than big sister crossover CR-V, has only been available for purchase for a few weeks. But during the last two weeks of May—the model’s first two weeks on the market—an impressive 6,381 HR-Vs were sold.

That’s triple the amount that any other automaker has achieved with a new model in the tiny SUV category, Bloomberg reported, and Honda hit this sales mark without even launching an advertising campaign for the vehicle. Honda sees the HR-V, which starts under $20,000 and gets 35 mpg on the highway, as the perfect vehicle for a broad swath of consumers, no matter if gas prices rise, fall, or stay flat.

“This is a small crossover that people will look at as the ultimate hedge against everything,” John Mendel, executive vice president of Honda’s U.S. sales unit, told Bloomberg. “I think, personally, the car is going to be a home run, but we’ll bear that out over some time.”

Before the HR-V arrived at Honda dealers, some analysts expressed concern that the new model would simply tempt customers away from purchasing the larger, pricier CR-V, which has a sticker price starting roughly $4,000 higher. According to Honda, however, one-third of HR-V buyers haven’t been Honda customers in the past, and CR-V sales have remained strong even with its smaller, cheaper sibling on the market.

“[We’ve been asked]: Was this going to cannibalize it? Well, we sold exactly what we did with CR-V last year, which was well over 30,000 units, so no cannibalization there,” Honda’s Mendel explained to Wards Auto.

TIME natural disaster

Thousands Evacuated in Indonesia After Volcano Starts Spewing Ash and Toxic Gas

More people expected to flee in the coming days

Thousands of people living in the vicinity of a volcano on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra have been evacuated from their homes after it began erupting.

Mount Sinabung started to flare up over the weekend, sending hot ash and gas — known as pyroclastic flows — gushing down its slopes, reports the BBC. No injuries have been reported.

Authorities raised the alert level on June 2 after detecting a sharp increase in activity at Sinabung. In the past month, at least 3,000 villagers, including 1,200 on Monday, have been ordered from their homes and officials expect thousands more people will need to be evacuated in the coming days.

The volcano had been dormant for more than four centuries but roused back to life in 2010 and has been highly active since. In February 2014, at least 14 people were killed as pyroclastic flows engulfed nearby villages.

[BBC]

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Could Reach 2009 Lows

This summer, gas prices may be the lowest they've been since 2009, but it's not all good news.

According to a report from AAA, gas prices could hit the lowest price per gallon they’ve hit in six years. The national average is $2.75 right now, which is higher than it was earlier this year. But stabilizing crude oil costs and refinery maintenance are expected to bring the prices back down. Some places won’t see the low prices, like California’s north-of-$3 average.

MONEY Gas

Gas Prices Have Probably Peaked for the Year

150601_EM_GasPrices
Win McNamee—Getty Images Heavy Memorial Day traffic moves southbound and northbound along I-95 May 22, 2015 in Quantico, Virginia.

A price break is arriving in time for summer.

Unless you live in California, where gas prices have remained stubbornly high compared with the rest of the country, you probably aren’t agitated by how expensive it is to fill up the tank. That’s because, at least relatively speaking, it isn’t expensive. A gallon of regular gasoline is currently averaging $2.75 nationwide, about 90¢ cheaper than it was a year ago at this time.

Still, prices have increased for much of 2015—again, especially in California and the West Coast—with prices rising an average of 71¢ nationally since January. Prices inched up nearly every day in May.

According to AAA, however, this upward trend in gas prices has just about reached the end of the road. “There is a good chance that average U.S. gas prices will drop soon due to stabilizing crude oil costs and as refineries complete seasonal maintenance, which would result in the cheapest summertime gas prices since 2009,” a release from AAA states. “Gas prices often drop or remain flat in June as refineries complete seasonal maintenance and gear up production for the busy summer driving season. Gas prices have declined by an average of 12 cents per gallon in June over the past five years. This production trend likely will continue this year, which means gasoline supplies could soon grow even more plentiful.”

The forecast from AAA jibes with the longer-term report released last week by OPEC, which indicates that gas prices will remain low at least until around 2017.

If AAA’s analysis holds up, gas prices may have already hit their high for all of 2015, and gas prices for the Fourth of July holiday and prime summer road trip season will be even cheaper than Memorial Day 2015—which was the cheapest Memorial Day weekend for gas since 2009.

MONEY Gas

Low Gas Prices Expected Until at Least 2017

OPEC doesn't plan to cut production.

OPEC’s long-term strategy report, shown to Reuters in advance of a June summit, shows the 12-nation cartel thinks no one plans to slow oil production. With the cost of a barrel of oil about half what it was last year, that’s good news for drivers who can expect low gas prices until at least 2017.

MONEY Autos

This City May Soon Be the Best Place to Own an Electric Car

Over 1,000 KCP&L Clean Charge Network charging stations are currently being installed in the Greater Kansas City region.
courtesy KCP&L Over 1,000 KCP&L Clean Charge Network charging stations are currently being installed in the Greater Kansas City region.

A huge plan is in the works to juice electric vehicle adoption.

At the start of 2015, there were a little over 1,000 plug-in electric cars in the greater Kansas City area. By the end of 2015, there will roughly be one public electric vehicle charging station for each of those cars.

In January, the local power and electric company KCP&L announced an ambitious plan dubbed the Clean Charge Network, which calls for 1,001 new electric charging stations to be installed in its region, which is eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Only 40 EV charging stations were operational at the time. By the spring, 150 more had been installed, and the rest are expected to open by year’s end.

The massive $20 million initiative is working on the premise of “If you build it, they will come,” Chuck Caisley, KCP&L vice president of marketing and public affairs, explained to Automotive News recently.

Among the holdups standing in the way of widespread adoption of electric cars is that charging them has required a lot more time than gassing up a traditional vehicle, as well as the absence of infrastructure, which makes ownership inconvenient and impractical. The Clean Charge Network aims to address both of these issues by making charging stations (hopefully) nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations, and with the installation of 15 special 480-volt DC stations that can charge a Nissan Leaf to 80% in just 30 minutes.

Right now, the only state with more than 1,000 public charging stations is California. It’s no surprise, then, that California is also where the most electric cars have been purchased. Last September, California crossed the 100,000 mark for plug-in vehicles. The state with the next most plug-in vehicles is Washington, where around 12,000 electric cars have been registered.

The goal of the project centered in Kansas City is to dramatically boost electric car ownership. “It should be a big jump start for electric cars in the area,” Pasquale Romano, the president and CEO of ChargePoint, which is selling the chargers to KCP&L, said earlier this year.

Nissan, the maker of the world’s best-selling plug-in car, the Leaf, is a partner in the initiative. The hope is that the charging stations serve as advertisements for electric vehicle ownership in general: The commonplace sighting of charging stations should get people thinking more about them, while also proving that it’s theoretically convenient to charge depleted cars.

As a bonus, the charging stations will be free to car owners for the first two years. The costs of electricity will initially be borne by the host properties—Nissan dealerships, as well as supermarkets, movie theaters, malls, and such. More than enough such properties have been lobbying for KCP&L to install charging stations on site, with the idea that whatever money they’ll pay in electricity for charging cars will be made up for in terms of customers shopping or going to the movies while their vehicle batteries are being recharged. After the two-year free period, charging is expected to cost the cheap equivalent rate of around 70¢ per gallon.

As for why Kansas City of all places has decided to jumpstart electric car adoption, well, the city has already demonstrated a desire to be renowned as a forward-thinking hi-tech hub. After all, it was one of the first places to welcome the ultra-high-speed Internet service Google Fiber.

MONEY groceries

Eggs Aren’t The Only Thing That Just Got More Expensive

French fries and Egg McMuffins, we're looking at you.

More than half of American consumers say they are concerned about the bird flu outbreak, according to an NPD Group survey. And yes, there’s ample reason to fret: The virus has killed nearly 40 million birds, including 32 million hens, or about 10% of the nation’s egg producers. Understandably, egg prices have spiked as a consequence. The incredible edible egg isn’t the only everyday purchase that is getting more expensive for consumers lately. The price tags on these items are also going up.

  • Eggs

    Eggs produced from cage-free hens on sale in a supermarket in New York on Saturday, January 3, 2015. The recent outbreak of Avian Flu which impacted 10% of the egg-laying chickens has cut into the supply of eggs.
    Richard B. Levine—Newscom

    The bird flu outbreak has been wreaking havoc in the Midwest, with some 40 million turkeys and chicken exposed to the virus. Roughly 25 million chickens have been lost just in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer. One result is that wholesale and retail egg prices have soared. The wholesale price of “breaker” eggs purchased in bulk by fast food chains and baking manufacturers has nearly tripled in the past month, while the price of a dozen large eggs rose 58% in one month’s time in the Midwest.

    If the problem persists, it’s expected it won’t be long for baking companies and fast food outlets like McDonald’s to raise prices on products with eggs as primary ingredients. In other words, your Egg McMuffin could be getting a price hike soon.

  • Rental Cars

    Airport car rental offices at the Long Beach California Airport
    Daniel Dillon—Alamy

    It’s usually hard to tell when and by how much rental car companies increase prices because there are so many factors involved: Rates are determined by demand, location, how far in advance a traveler books, and so on. But recently Hertz, which also owns brands Dollar and Thrifty, publicly announced that as of mid-June it was raising rates $5 per day and $20 per week on rentals at airport locations, with $3 and $10 hikes, respectively, at off-airport rental lots.

    A quick 5% spike in Hertz’s stock price indicates that investors liked the move. That could be one reason why Hertz jacked up prices openly rather than stealthily. It also seems like Hertz is trying to push rates northward across the board in the industry, in the same way that all airlines tend to match the fare increases of any competitor. “Rent-a-car companies are normally very discreet about raising prices,” Mike Millman, who covers travel companies for Millman Research, told the New York Post. “What’s so unusual about this is Hertz is publicly declaring it wants to lead the industry up.”

  • Deep-Fried Foods

    French Fries coming out of fryer
    Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

    A prolonged dry spell in Canada’s prairies has meant big trouble for the crops used to make of one of the region’s prime products, canola oil. As Bloomberg News reported, the vegetable oil is necessary for McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and Frito-Lay to make so many of the deep-fried treats we crave while knowing they’re probably terrible for our health. Prices have jumped 18% since September, and it’s expected the increase will trickle onward to price hikes for potato chips, French fries, KFC chicken, and other deep-fried delicacies.

  • Turkey

    Shady Brook Farms brand Turkeys for sale in a supermarket refrigerator in New York
    Richard Levine—Alamy

    While the bird flu outbreak has primarily affected chickens, it has impacted turkey populations as well—and turkey prices. Wholesale prices are up 4.5% compared with a year ago, corresponding to 10% price increases for turkey breast meat at supermarket deli counters.

    The real fear is that the avian flu virus causes a ripple effect in America’s turkey population, potentially translating to shortages and price spikes for Thanksgiving, when the demand for turkey naturally reaches a yearlong high. For now at least, suppliers are maintaining that there will be more than plenty of turkeys available come Thanksgiving. Regardless, we’re predicting that there will be reports causing panic among turkey lovers in the months to come, as they seem to appear every autumn.

  • Gas

    Gas station attendant pumping gas in Andover, Mass., May 8, 2015.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Just in time for the summer travel season, gas prices are rising. As of Friday, the national average for a gallon of regular was $2.74, representing a rise of roughly 25¢ over the last month. Gas prices have remained particularly pricey on the West Coast, with drivers in Los Angeles seeing $4 per gallon at the pump. With California prices that have stayed stubbornly high compared to the rest of the country, some consumer advocates have accused the oil companies of gouging drivers.

    At the same time, it must be noted that gas is significantly less expensive compared with the same time last year, when the national average was $3.65. Cheap gas is one of the big reasons huge crowds—and epic traffic—are expected on the roads over Memorial Day weekend.

MONEY Autos

5 Reasons This Could Be the Worst Road Trip Weekend Ever

Crazy traffic is a given. But that's hardly the only reason Memorial Day could be a nightmare for road trips.

In a new survey conducted for Citi cards, 54% of Americans said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day. The most common reasons given for staying home for the holidays were traffic (47%) and high costs (30%).

Maybe these people are on to something. Here are a handful of reasons why the Memorial Day weekend is shaping up as a less-than-ideal time for getting on the road. As you’ll see, traffic and high costs are only part of the problem.

Horrendous Traffic
The forecast from AAA calls for 37.2 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That’s an increase of nearly 5% compared with Memorial Day 2014, and it would represent the heaviest amount of traffic on this weekend in a decade. Only a small portion of these travelers will fly: roughly 9 out of 10 will be in automobiles.

Cheap gas, an improving jobs scene, and pent-up demand after a long and brutally snowy winter in the Midwest and Northeast have been cited as reasons why so many Americans are more than ready to kick off summer with a road trip. The East Coast will be particularly clogged with cars. An estimated 890,000 vehicles will drive Maine Turnpike over the weekend, a 5.2% increase over last year. Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents are expected to travel this weekend—in a state that has a population of just 9 million. “Motorists need to pack their patience along with the sunscreen as they set out for the Jersey Shore,” a spokesperson from AAA Mid-Atlantic cautioned.

Aggressive Police Enforcement
To cope with holiday weekend crowds, police will be turning Miami Beach into a “mini police state,” in the words of the Miami New Times, with road closures, parking bans, barricades, one-way traffic loops, and police checkpoints in popular areas. Around the country, police have stated they will be aggressively enforcing everything from so-called “slow poke” left-lane driving rules to laws mandating the wearing of seatbelts with a national “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

Crackdowns on DUIs will be widespread as well—in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, to name just a few states. In the latter, police may employ “No Refusal” tactics, which allow them to seek a search warrant and draw blood from someone who is suspected of driving under the influence and refuses a breathalyzer test. The same kind of enforcement will be used by police in parts of Texas, where the “No Refusal” process can be applied not only to car drivers, but those behind the wheel of boats as well.

Drunk Drivers, Car Accidents
The main reason for ratcheting up enforcement of DUI laws and other driving regulations on Memorial Day weekend is that, hopefully, it sets the tone for the entire summer season. The holiday weekend starts what’s known as the 100 Deadliest Days on American roads (for teens especially), and the goal is to crack down hard at the beginning to save lives in the long run. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 146 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers during Memorial Day weekend in 2013.

Data from the National Safety Council forecasts that there will be 383 fatalities from traffic accidents over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and car crashes will result in another 46,300 injuries. What’s scary is that historically, the days around the July 4 holiday are even more dangerous for drivers and passengers than Memorial Day.

Texters, Tailgaters, Bikers, New Yorkers
Texting behind the wheel is the behavior most likely to induce road rage from fellow motorists, according to a new survey conducted on behalf of Expedia. Tailgaters and left-lane hogs tied for second place in terms of aggravating people on the roads, while New York City came out on top for having the country’s rudest drivers. All of this rage has manifested itself in drivers yelling or using profanity behind the wheel (26% admitted to doing so), and by employing a rude gesture that probably involves a single finger (17% admit to this, while 53% say they’ve been on the receiving end).

Memorial Day is also a traditional time for many biker rallies, which have been known to bring about traffic (and worse) in the past, and which this year may cause locals, police, and motorists to be more on edge than usual given the recent biker shootout that left nine people dead in Waco, Texas. Major motorcycle gatherings are planned this weekend in Washington, D.C., Red River, N.M., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.,, among other places.

Soaring Motel Rates
Hotel rates are up roughly 5% nationally compared to last year. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But the one segment of the lodging industry favored by road trippers has spiked to an outsized degree. According to AAA, rates at supposedly cheap two-diamond properties are averaging $144 per night, a rise of 16% over last year. That kind of sharp increase may more than offset the money you’re saving thanks to cheap gas.

MONEY Leisure

Summer is Coming: Memorial Day by the Numbers

More than 37 million Americans will hit the road to celebrate the start of summer and hot dog-eating season.

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