THUNDER BAY, ON ---- October 26, 2012 Recently I had to opportunity to spend some time with Ty Alderdice of Half-Way Motors Nissan. We talked about the new Nissan Leaf, an all electric vehicle. On my way over for the interview I wondered what it would be like to never again pay for a tank of fuel, and I wondered if an all electric car would drive like some sort of buggy and I wondered if the thing would be any good in a Thunder Bay winter.
After a short conversation with Ty, I soon had the answers I needed. It seems as though many people share the same concerns. After driving the car it is easy to be impressed. It is the farthest thing from a buggy, but a refined modern automobile that simply never uses gasoline.
The car stores its energy in a large Lithium Ion battery, Nissan warranties this battery for 8 years or 160,000 km, but as Ty said it is most unlikely that you will ever need to replace the battery. “The battery is engineered to outlast the life of the car”. A full charge can be accomplished using a 220 volt home charging station in about 2 hours, and in off peak hours will add about $4.00 to your power bill. During peak hours that figure rises to $6.00. In the fully charged test vehicle the display indicated a driving range of 182 Km. (depending how you drive of course) It is rumoured that the 2013 Leaf will have improvements to the battery and charging system that will extend the range of the car to 155 miles with a quicker recharge time. Using a public or commercial 440 volt charger the car can be fully charges in as little as 30 minutes.
When a Leaf is purchased, the price quoted includes a home charging station like the one shown. The owner will need to pay for installation. The charging station will also work on other electric cars since there is a convention where all electric cars will use the same standard charging systems.
There are savings to driving electric, for one they are very low maintenance cars. The electric motor requires a rare inspection from time to time; there is no transmission, exhaust system, cooling system, no oil and filter to change and so on. The biggest item is tire rotation!. In urban areas the average driver will spend about $2,400 a year on fuel and the above maintenance items. This works out to about $600 every three months. A similar experience with the Leaf will cost the owner about $90.00 a month.
Comparing the Leaf with other well known cars the Leaf will:
- Travel 49 Km on $1.00 worth of energy
- A Toyota Prius will travel 24 Km on $1.00 worth of energy
- A Honda Civic will go 13 Km on $1.00 worth of energy
Here I am a full size guy so I thought I would test our the Nissan claim that there is room for 5 people in this car. Here I am sitting in the back seat with the front seat pushed back fully. There is room to travel comfortably but little to stretch out is the front seat passenger want their chair back. If all the passengers are my size it would be a tight fit with three across the back. On the plus side the back seats are a little higher than the front seats, improving the view for the passenger. Nissan claims this also reduces incidents of car sickness.
The driver’s cabin area offers all the comforts of a modern car. There is an intuitive display regarding energy consumption and the state of charge for your car. The navigation centre will notify you of the location of public charging stations. When you turn the car on it is silent. The process is similar to booting up a computer. The car can communicate with its driver through their cell phone. The state of charge can be displayed but the communication will allow the driver to have the car pre-heated, defrosted and ready to roll on a cold winter evening all before the driver gets to the car. When the unit is plugged into its charger you are still able to leave with a full charge.
In time things will improve for electric drivers. There will be more and more public charging stations as the cars begin to sell. In Norway Ty tells me that the Leaf is a bestselling car. Their energy prices are much higher than ours and driving long distance is not done as often as we do here. Also there will be improvements to the cars and their power trains hopefully making these cars more affordable to more buyers in the future.
At present the Ontario government is offering a $8,500 incentive to those who buy electric. This will reduce the price of the fully optioned car downwards from the $40,000 quoted price. I did a quick search for this car on Auto Trader and found 16 available, ranging in price from $27,900 to the high 30’s. Ty tells me that these cares are most likely daily rentals finishing up their first year lease.
The Nissan Leaf is a nice fun car to drive. It is a well appointed car with a lot of taste thrown in for good measure. It will meet the needs of most drivers 90% of the time. Even at the future price of fuel, you can buy a lot of gas for the premium asked for this car, but driving electric is an experience different from gasoline, and I think it may prove just as addictive to future generations as fossil fuels were to my parent’s generation. The electric car is quickly evolving and in a short time breakthroughs in technology will increase the range and reduce the expense of these cars.
The world of driving is changing. For the first time in generations car makers are not just offering up the same old package with a new skin each year. They are being forced to offer more, especially in regards to fuel economy. When customers are watching their cash car companies will see their sales drop if they do not make changes to their models. This is the first in a series of automotive articles concerning new products on the market here and now.