Saturday, June 23, 2012

I'm Electric!

Normally this blog is for Mac-oriented content, but it's the only blog I have and I have been wanting to write about my new Leaf. I went electric on Memorial Day weekend, and have been feeling my way around the gasless universe ever since.

It's a really attractive car, a dark red 2012 Nissan Leaf, and it drives and feels like a Lexus. Since it's bloody expensive, Nissan included all the features found in their higher-end gas models. Nicest car I have ever owned. (Owned in the figurative sense; it's leased.)

It became affordable because the Feds offer a $7500 tax credit to anyone who buys electric. However, to take advantage of that you need to be making so much money you would owe that much in income taxes in one year. I'm not even close. However, since Nissan Leasing is the official owner of the car, they take the credit themselves and cut it off of the overall purchase price. That and the trade-in value of my 2009 Cube brought the total down to where the monthly lease became affordable.

The dealer had told me about this trick several months ago when I first looked into getting one. He said that even if you plan to buy it outright, do a lease anyway, even if for only a month, and then switch over to buying out the lease. You still get the credit that way.

Home Charging

I opted for the lower-end model to save a few thousand bucks, forgoing only the 440-volt DC charging port and the free charging station for my home. I lived with 110-volt charging for the first two weeks but it takes over 12 hours to recharge an 80%-depleted battery where 240 volts can charge in 3 or 4 hours. So I shopped around and got a charger for $995 plus $240 for the electrician to put it in.

One of the places I shopped was Home Despot, where they offered a charger for $795 if I used their own contractor for the installation. While they weren't forthcoming with the exact installation cost, what they did tell me made it look like it would cost over $1000 to install it. Nice generous discount, guys.

But what is worse, and this is only an unverified statement from someone in the business of selling these chargers, is that Home Depot contracts with some of the manufacturers to have a special version of their chargers, labeled identically but made with cheaper parts and therefore more likely to die or burn out earlier than the "real" brand chargers.

So I went with a charger from Platt Electric online, and had the installation done by Bear Electric, who I had previous experience with. Going to 240 was a very wise move.

Getting Lost on my way to the Microcar Show

My normal driving habits, for both work and recreation, have almost always been less than 80 miles a day, which fit in with the range of the batteries. Only once have I come close to getting stuck: recently I went to Forest Grove for the Microcar Expo, which was pretty far but within range if I could not find a charger on site. However, the road out, Highway 8, had changed alignment and signage since the last time I drove it so I proceeded to get diverted and wound driving back from Hillsboro to Beaverton before I realized what had happened. I was not using the navigation software that came with the car, and it was cloudy so I did not feel the sun change position as I lost my sense of direction.

Have you ever gotten turned around and no matter how hard you tried, you could not convince your brain you were traveling west instead of east until you finally saw familiar landmarks? I hate that effect. Now I want a car compass. Sure, I could use the navigation system, but it's a bit of a nuisance and I am more used to just checking my Thomas Brothers map book.

Well, I finally made it to Forest Grove with just 35% charge remaining and found the McMenamin's site did not have a charging station! Fortunately, there were some other electric people there and they let me park and plug in to the 110-volt port in the field where the show cars were (and another Leaf with them) so I got enough of a reload to get home on with 24 miles to spare on the "tank."

Pictures of the micro-cars at the show are here. I have long been an enthusiast of micros, but the only ones I have ever owned are the not-so-micro 2004 Mini-Cooper and the SmartCar. There are so many fun cars at the show; I wish I had the money to pursue the hobby too (not to mention the large garage I would need as well).

Other Lessons

Watching the miles-remaining readout on the dashboard is something like watching a software installer progress monitor. You are familiar with how "45 minutes remaining" can suddenly become "17 minutes remaining" and then "Less than a minute" can take 600 seconds to complete? Starting out fresh in the morning my gauge tells me I have 101 miles range. Switch to eco-mode which cuts power to the motor by a third jumps the remaining to 111 miles. Then driving normally on flat roads for a couple of miles will show the remaining increase to 114 miles. As long as I am on flat roads, I get about 1.3 miles for each "mile" of discharge on the meter.

But let the road start climbing a hill and I lose about three miles for each mile. When I climb a real hill, like Hwy. 26 from downtown Portland to the top at Sylvan, a 3-mile climb can use up 40 miles of range. Fortunately, I get about 70% of that back when I come down that same hill, thanks to regenerative braking.

Speed and Acceleration

This car compromises nothing when I need to get moving in a hurry. Flooring it, whether in Eco or normal Drive mode, can squeal the tires. (Front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive.) I get full torque and no shifting. I can accelerate to 75 from zero on a freeway onramp in less time than any other car I have owned, including the Mini Cooper S. I usually drive 75 or so on our 55 to 60-mph roads, but it uses more power to maintain speed than at a slower speed, or on surface streets. Start and stop driving is where the electric really shines. There is no "idle;" it is either feeding the motor or it isn't. I manage to avoid the rush-hour crowds, but when I am forced into them for some reason I never feel like the jam will drain my battery. I almost always drive in Eco mode, but I like the feel of power in normal Drive.

This is a full-size car, too, slightly longer than my Cube was and with less headroom, but a bigger rear storage area. It's actually a mid-size car so it parks anywhere I could put the Cube.

Among the built-in luxury items, the radio has a USB port where I can plug my iPod and control it from the radio screen. Strangely, the older iPod I used for years with the Smart and the Cube would not register with the Leaf radio. I had to switch to a more-recent Nano that I had sitting in a drawer. The system also pairs with my iPhone via Bluetooth, so when the phone rings in my bag I can answer it through the radio control button on the steering wheel. No more ear bud needed! I also have a 3-month free trial of XM radio but have not found any stations on it that I like. Besides, I subscribe to enough podcasts to keep me listening whenever I am driving.

Oh, did I mention quiet? It sure is. All you can hear while driving is the tire noise on the road. That's fairly loud, but normal engine noise blends with it. Take away engine noise and hear the difference. There is, of course, NO increase in noise when I punch it and am under hard acceleration.

Gasless Living

I am still getting used to the fact that I will never have to darken the archway of a gas station again. Shortly after I bought it, Oregon gas prices, which were the highest in the country, started dropping dramatically. (You're welcome.) I still have not calculated the monthly cost in electricity to run it, but the gauge tells me I am getting 4 miles per Kwh. I plug in the charger every time I get home.

I have joined the EV Owners Association in Portland, where I can talk to other Leafers and learn from their experiences. There is an unofficial Leaf forum at Already found useful answers there. For the first few weeks I was alone because I did not know anyone else who had one.


Basil Glenn said...

I was totally impressed with the exterior of this car. It somewhat looks like a sports car because of the front lights. It’s very sleek! Some of the people I know who have driven this car find it very fun to drive. They say it is so smooth to handle. ->Basil Glenn

Prince Moss said...

Wow! You own an electric car? That's awesome! It must be like a dream come true for you to drive that no fuel car. And it seems you had a pretty good deal on leasing this. Well, I hope it'll serve you well. If you want to experience the feeling of driving a true Lexus Hybrid car, you might want to trade it with any of the Lexus' Hybrids like the Lexus CT 200h.
Prince Moss @ Lexus of An Arbor