SPOTTED: Going Green with Nissan Leaf

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to check out the all new Nissan Leaf.  I was totally intrigued by a 100% electric car.  Although electric cars are not new to the market, it certainly seems to be picking up in popularity these days and this is the first MASS-marketed electric car to date.  Right off the bat we were told this electric car is not for everyone.  With only 100 miles to a full charge, this is great for 95% of America which drives less than that on any given day.  For those who do longer commutes, this isn’t for them.  That said, my skepticism was risen as my mother-in-law once did an average of 200 miles a day for her commute to and from work.  A fuel efficient car in my mind was ideal for her.  Putting that aside, I thought about my own daily car usage and surmised that this car might in fact be great for me.  With trips to drop the girl off to pre-kindergarten in September and a wishful job in her area, even if I made a stop at the mall or grocery store, I’d only clock about 50-60 miles.

Well that’s great and all, but how is it powered?  Electricity, yes… but how much and from where?  I found out it has a 24kWh lithium ion battery which fully charges for an approximate 100 miles.  On a 220v outlet, like the ones used to power your air conditioner and washer/dryer units, the Leaf will power up fully in 7 hours.  It can also be powered via your standard 110v home outlet for 16 hours.  What if you’re out and about, gone a little too far from home, where can you pick up a quick charge?  Nissan has teamed up with your local Walmart’s and Kmarts and other shopping centers to install their universal electric charging stations.  Not only can Nissan Leaf’s charge up, but so can other electric cars.  Using the commercially zoned 430v, the Nissan Leaf can be fully powered in an amazing 25 minutes.  Now that’s my kind of speed!  Unfortunately the 430v charge is only available commercially and while the charge is free while you do your shopping, the parking spot may cost you around $3-$5.

The real savings here is in the cost of gas.  At the national average of $3.89 a gallon, the Nissan Leaf is tooting an amazing 18¢ per kilowatt.  A full charge, equivalent to approximately 4 gallons of gas, will cost you approximately $4.50 to the $16.00 for gas.

So is the 100 mile per charge a true 100 miles?  I was told that the car can actually average as much as 130 miles per charge, but depending on the driver and their preferences for speed, heat or air conditioning, they can safely guarantee at least 100 miles on a full charge.  Making the car as efficient as possible, it also passively self charges — regenerative braking — when the car is stopped or cruising, the battery turns into a generator, as well as converting solar energy to electricity for use (in the SL model).

The car itself was impressive too.  The seats are make from partially recycled material such as plastic bottles — we loved that!  It seats a roomy 5 passengers in its super quiet cabin.  I was actually quite taken with how much room it had.  With my girl in the back, I still could imagine my other two fitting, car seats and all, quite comfortably.  As with other eco-cars, the drive itself was rather unassuming.  Aside from the dash turning on, you’ll never actually hear it turning on.  It actually takes some getting use to.  With only 3 modes — drive, reverse and park, it’s simplicity at its best.  You can still have all the bells and whistles that you’ve come to love in cars like a navigation system which notifies you where the nearest charging stations are, bluetooth phone systems and homelink transreceiver (SL model).

I was so excited to tell my husband all about it.  What I got instead was an interesting debate.  As a typical male, he made a lot of really great points which took my excitement down a few notches.  He loved how far electric cars have come but he said the real value would be for the drivers like his mother that do the long commutes.  They would see the payoffs in spades.  He felt if any car company  could get a charge to go up to 200-300 miles, more like a gas car, they would have a really good lock on the market.

He wasn’t as impressed by the thrown in charging station as I was.  I thought it was great that I never had to go searching for a gas station.  The car would always be ready for me when I needed it.  He raised questions about the installation of a 220v line to charge the car.  He felt this was a necessary install to minimize the actual charge time but could be a costly investment on top of the cost of the actual car.  He described that for ourselves, our line would have to be dug underground from our house to the garage and could cost us a couple thousand dollars to run this line.  He felt charging the car for 16 hours on a 110 line was shear ridiculousness and should only be done if you’re visiting a friend and need a little boost to get you home.  Well little did he know that Nissan actually helps with a home assessment to help identify what is needed to make the home Nissan Leaf ready.

He also wanted to know if installing the station locked him into continually buying Nissan electric cars, or was it also a universal unit?  It’s a universal babe!  He did like the idea of charging stations at grocery stores, etc., It was smart business, charging while you shop.  Although when we looked at the map, only a small percentage of the 13,000 charging stations being installed in 2012 will be Level 1 DC Quick Charges, sadly -zero- in New York.  He said if all the charging stations were the 430kWh Quick Charges and as easy to find as a grocery store, that would be ideal.  Soooo if Target had a charging station….

He agreed that this car would be great for someone like me to drive our girl to and from school and possibly my new job.  He was still worried about the car running out of “gas” as conditions can greatly effect the actual mileage gained from a full charge.  On a summer day, cooling the car can utilizing additional energy stores as well as a larger cargo weight after say shopping at our wholesale club.  When I told him you could pre-program the car, while charging over night to “wake-up” and heat/cool the car while still hooked up to power, reducing power usage, he was impressed.

I was actually amazed to learn that the Nissan Leaf had several warning mechanisms to a gas-powered cars one:

  • The LEAF on-board navigation system is “smart” enough to tell you based on destination input and state of charge whether you have the range to “make it,” and if not, search for nearby charging station along the route, displaying your current range throughout the drive
  • The telematics system called CARWINGS® will alert owners of the need to charge and find charging stations before it runs out of charge
  • When your battery has 4kWh remaining, your empty warning light will come on. A notification on your screen will indicate where to find all charging stations within range.
  • In the event that your battery becomes critically low, power limitation mode will automatically minimize your energy consumption and reduce your speed to help you get to a charging dock (like turning off AC)
  • The “trickle charger” for a 110/120V 20-Amp dedicated outlet comes with the vehicle for emergencies to plug-in if necessary at slower rate.

If all that warning isn’t enough, it’s a good thing they throw in 3-years complimentary roadside assistance!  If there were more quick charge stations, I would definitely be an early adopter.  At an approximate $33,000 sticker price, I felt it incredibly reasonable.  With the Federal incentives up to $8500 in savings and additional incentives by state, it’s a NO BRAINER! For this NYC family, we get Unlimited use of Long Island Expressway HOV lanes by vehicle displaying clean vehicle sticker.  Wowzers!  The husband never considered a hybrid because of the miniscule savings (approximately an additional 5 miles to the gallon), not to mention the higher price tag because of the novelty.  He was definitely open to an electric car after learning all about the Nissan Leaf but convenience was his priority.  Actually he is more worried about me pushing the car to its limits.  I’m a little infamous for ignoring the empty tank warning. He he he!

Having seen charging stations all over California, I’m excited to see the whole country adapt.    I certainly think it’s time for an electric car.  So maybe my husband isn’t an early-adapter.  I was definitely impressed with how far it’s come and it definitely will come into consideration when we decide to purchase another family car.  It gave me a lot of food for thought.  [quote]I’m always looking for ways to go a little greener and this would definitely be one in a BIG way.[/quote]