We hit 21,000 Km on the Leaf this month and it’s been almost a year since we first took delivery so I thought it would be a good time for a long due update. Overall it’s been a great journey, an incredible experience to be able to drive as much as half the Earth’s circumference without burning any fossil fuel. Not bad for a “range limited” car. So let’s look at the highlights of the experience so far, what went well and the few bumps along the way.
The Leaf continues to perform like day one. According to the Leaf Range Chart, we’re supposed to have a 2% degradation in battery capacity after 15,000 Km, but that’s something still way to small to be noticeable, and I haven’t noticed any difference really. One of the most recent trips we did was a camping trip, carrying three people, camping gear, a roof rack and a cargo box. We drove 78 Km at speed limit (80 Km/h max) and arrived with 48% of charge left, giving an estimated full range of 162 Km. Temperature was 28 C but dry enough to go without A/C. On a second camping trip, under the same conditions but with A/C on, we drove 122 Km and arrived with 20% of charge left, giving an estimated total range of 152 Km.
Our hydro bill has gone up $28 a month on average. That’s about half of a gas tank of a Corolla, our second car. The difference is that we drive an average of 1,800 Km a month, mostly in the city, about 1,500 Km more than the Corolla would be able to do with the same amount of money.
In addition, 21,000 Km would require at least 2 oil changes, and the Leaf of course needed none. In total, we spent $326 in home electricity with the Leaf so far. At current gas and oil prices, driving the same distance with the Corolla would have cost us approximately $2,183, resulting in $1,857 of savings. If we add the savings with car insurance (yes, it is cheaper to insure an electric car than it is to insure a regular car), we have saved more than 5% of what we paid for the Leaf. That’s 5% of the full cost of the car recovered in just one year.
Granted, these electricity costs don’t include the charging we’ve done away from home, which were all free. I trickle charge at work, at the Science Museum during our monthly EVCO meetings, and at camping sites when we travel. Most recently, a local shopping mall installed a Level 2 charging station, which is free for customers, and I’ve been there a couple of times. Finally, I also charged at the dealer a few times. It’s very difficult to estimate how much it would cost if I had done *all* the charging at home, but reality is, electricity is available everywhere and it ends up being provided as a courtesy or as part of a service by businesses, and also as way for employers like IBM to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. I tell my friends at work that even if I tried to squeeze every single kWh from my employer (I don’t) all I would save would be $20 a month in home electricity. It’s just not worth the effort. I only charge to 80% at work, roughly 2 to 3 hours a day mid-peak. The electricity costs for my employer is equivalent to one Tim Hortons coffee a week!
Since we received the Leaf, there have been two, only two public charging stations installed in Ottawa (Level 2 stations). One by a local shopping mall and another by a local college. That’s about it. Everything else are from dealers, with limited access to non-customers. This is a stark contrast with other municipalities like Montreal and Vancouver. Something really embarrassing for the National Capital. Ontario has also been very slow in developing any program to promote public charging stations, falling behind provinces like BC and Quebec. I was recently interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about this subject and the article has just been published today.
The Home Charging Station
Not much to say about the AeroVironment home charging station other than it has just worked flawlessly. It is a very straight-forward device so it just sits there, doing its work every night, never letting me down.
Things that didn’t go very well
There were a couple of recalls and one software update but they were all optional and were able to be scheduled at our own convenience. I did spot one water leak in the trunk, most noticeable after a car wash, but that was also fixed quickly and without any costs. The only mechanical issue I had was when the parking brake woke up stuck at the ON position. The parking brake on the Leaf is electronic, with no physical cables between the parking brake handle and the electric actuator that does the real work. In my case, the light on the parking brake switch started to blink and an alarm started to flash on the display saying “visit dealer”, which wasn’t very helpful since I couldn’t move the car out of the garage.
Fortunately Nissan designed an override system to release the parking brake manually, bypassing the electric actuator. The instructions are on the owner’s manual so I won’t go into much details here. After the procedure and I was able to move the car out of the garage and drive it myself to the dealer, despite the audio alarm on the dashboard saying I was driving with the parking brake on. The dealer had to order a new actuator from Toronto, which was shipped overnight. The part was replaced and the car was ready the next morning.
Other than that, there has been absolutely no problem with the power train or anything else mechanic in the car.
Carwings has been the only big disappointment of the whole experience so far. It started working well, I was able to review all the telemetry from the car, see the performance statistics, rankings, etc. After a few months the server became very unstable, constantly going down and people on the Leaf community in Canada started to get frustrated. We would constantly lose the ability to communicate with the car via the iPhone app. The problem was resolved after a lot of complaining, and people were happy again, except that our car would still lose connectivity once in a while. I was also getting gaps in my telemetry, until one day the car stopped sending data completely. It would still download information feeds like Google Maps but would not respond to queries from the iPhone app, send notifications about charging events or upload any telemetry. The issue went all the way to Japan. They collected and analyzed several logs and the conclusion was that they wanted to replace my TCU (Telematics Communication Unit) and have the original one sent to them for analysis. They sent one specialist from Toronto for the operation. They gave me a loaner car and I picked up the Leaf the next day. It felt like a brain transplant but the car was OK.
Carwings connectivity came back online a few hours later and I was able to communicate with the car again. Everything looked ok, emails worked again, until I noticed I was not getting emails for *all* notifications, only for some of them (charging complete events, for example, were never reported). After many back and forth emails with technical support, the problem is yet to be resolved. And things got worse recently when the car stopped uploading telemetry again. So Carwings has been kind of a nightmare. Nissan continues to assure me they’re looking into the issue as hard as they can but I’m yet to see a final resolution. I haven’t heard of any other Leaf owner having this problem so I think I was the lucky one.
Range anxiety only lasted a couple of weeks. After I learned how to plan our day and our trips, and learned bit by bit what the car can and cannot do, it became really hard to get in a situation where I would run out of charge. It hasn’t happened to me yet, and I don’t think it will.
The funniest story I got about range anxiety didn’t come from me but from a friend. We were going on the same car camping trip to a provincial park 120 Km away. That was our second camping trip with the Leaf so I knew I would have enough range to spare. I knew I was going to take the shortest route, but not necessarily the fastest one, so I told my friend the day before that we could leave at different times so she could pick her own route and drive at her own pace (i.e., faster). The next day our friend called us saying she was concerned that we might run out of charge in the middle of the road so she wanted to go together and be there if we needed. 🙂 It took some convincing to explain we had enough charge for the trip and we finally hit the road in separate ways. Needless to say, we got there without any problems, with about 30 Km of range to spare.
My son got his G1 driver’s license last month and took his first driving lesson on our Leaf. It was the first time he drove a car in his life, and it was an electric car.
One of the things I missed the most in the Leaf is a more accurate battery gauge, one that would show the exact percentage of battery charge. This is particularly important when you’re trying to measure your driving performance during long trips. The 12 bars are simply not precise enough and the dashboard range “guess-o-meter” is not totally reliable. I learned how to use a very convoluted way to estimate a more precise percentage, which involves reading the “120 V charge time” to figure out how much charge is left, but it only gives you a 2 to 4% precision and requires some calibration. Other Leaf drivers went out of the way and developed their own “SOC meter” device, plugged into the car diagnostics bus, but I was hoping Nissan would listen to those early adopters and provide the same functionality in a software update. That would be a very good move, to show that they’re listening. I’m surprised Nissan didn’t take the hint.
I look forward to seeing more public charging stations deployed in Ottawa and Ontario. That will significantly expand our range. I know it’s just a matter of time but it has been a very long wait. I also wanted to see Level 3 stations installed between Ottawa and Montreal, and along the 401. One day…