First scheduled maintenance service (6 months)

We took our LEAF for its first check-up last Friday, exactly 6 months after delivery and two weeks after hitting 10,000 Km. Normally, the first mandatory service is after one year, or 24,000 Km. After six months, the only service required is a tire rotation, which I would have to do it anyway as we moved from winter to all-season tires. However, with all the snow, sand and salt we get during the winter in Ottawa, I decided to go with a more comprehensive check-up.

Service was $85 + taxes (+ $1.99 of lubricants). It included road test, checking lights, wipers, coolant system, brakes, tires, charge port, seals, suspension, lube locks, latches and hinges, and swapping winter tires to all-season (the low tire pressure warning light is gone now). I found the cost reasonable. It was equivalent of servicing a Versa, minus the oil change. A similar service on the Corolla cost us $115 + taxes last time.

The dealer (Hunt Club Nissan) also  measured the current thickness of the brake pads: 9 mm at the front, 7 mm at the back. Brand new pads are 10 mm thick. At this rate, due to the wonders of regenerative braking, the front brake pads should last about 100,000 Km, which is excellent! But the rear brakes, only 33,000 Km. They told me the rear brake pads should wear down faster because of the parking brake, which was news to me… I’m curious to see how thick they progress six months from now.

The latest software upgrade was installed. I noticed the audible alarm if you put the car in drive or reverse while one of the doors is still open (I actually did that accidentally!) A few counters got reset, but everything else was preserved, including the performance history and charging stations on the map. I’ll keep monitoring the state of charge and range to see if there’s any difference. So far I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.

We received a new owner’s manual, revised in Jan 2012. Recycled the old one.

They installed the lower-apron bracket, which is a minor recall “added for vehicles used in cold weather areas to prevent the possibility of snow and ice entering and accumulating in the motor compartment.”

We also got the windows tinted, as dark as legally allowed. Finally some privacy! 🙂 Good thing I didn’t do it before the heat wave because we’re not supposed to lower the windows for 3-5 days, until the film is cured. Cost was $300 + taxes.

The LEAF was charging at the dealer when I arrived. They also drove me to and back from work, which was nice. Never had this kind of service from Toyota!

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How much does it cost to fill up your LEAF?

I get this question a lot but the answer is a bit tricky when, in theory, it should be very simple. Tricky because people are normally used to filling up their gas tanks only when they’re near empty, so they end up paying more or less the same amount of money, aside from fluctuations of gas prices. EV owners, on the other hand, follow a different habit. We plug in every night, regardless of the current state of charge. Therefore, the amount we pay on each “fill up” depends on how much we drove that day. We very rarely get home “empty”, and we normally don’t charge to 100%, but to 80% instead, in order to extend battery life. So “empty-to-full” almost never happens so cost estimates are normally theoretical: we know how much the battery can hold, multiplied by the electricity costs, so we will throw a rough number at you.

Last week, I decided to answer this question using hard numbers, so I went to my records to try to find one of those days where I charged to full (or near full) from near empty. Based on the report we get from our smart meter, the charger draws 3.8 KW of power during charge (i.e., 3.8 kWh per hour). The longest continuous charge I found on record was 5.2 hours, from completely depleted (turtle mode) to 11 bars (out of 12). At the end of the charge, the car dashboard estimated I still had one hour to go to get to 100%. So in total, 6.2 hours of charge would have drawn 23.56 kWh . We pay 12.8 cents per kWh off-peak, according to our hydro bill. That includes electricity cost, delivery, taxes, debt retirement and rebates. So that full charge would cost $3.01.

That was the day where I drove 125 Km on a full charge, as part of a cold temperature range experiment (temperature was -10C), so that trip only cost us 3 dollars. For comparison, making the same trip with our second car (a Corolla, doing about 10 liters/100 Km in the winter) would have cost us $15.83, or 425% more.

So there you have it: $3 dollars to fill it up. Or the equivalent of 2.4 liters of gas. But I still don’t think that means much to a regular car owner. Because EVs have to “fill up” every day, right? Yes, but no… What really hits them is when I say “it is as if I were buying gas for less than 24 cents a liter, while you’re paying $1.25.” 🙂

Four weeks and counting

Tomorrow it will be exactly four weeks since we took delivery of our Nissan LEAF. It’s been a tremendous experience but what probably impresses me the most is how inexpensive it is to drive: almost 1,700 Km for less than $25. That’s about $1.50 per 100 Km!

For comparison, our Corolla would need 116 liters of gas to get this far, at a cost of $145. And our old Sienna, which we just sold last weekend, would need 181 liters, at a cost of $226. Since the Sienna was the car I was driving the most, that’s about $200 saved in a month!

However, some of these savings come from the fact that my employer IBM allows me to trickle charge at work. I do it for about 4 hours during the morning, in order to avoid the afternoon’s peak hours. That’s about enough to recoup the round trip to work. Without it, I estimate that my costs would likely be $2 per 100 Km, which is still very impressive.

Next week, I’m planning an adventure trip to Ogdensburg, NY to purchase a set of winter tires, and I’ll be driving the Leaf! Wait. Why are you going to the United States to buy snow tires? Simple. Because they are so much cheaper over there . I’ll be getting a set of four low rolling resistance MICHELIN, X-ICE XI2, 205/55R16 + rims. All balanced and installed for US$836. The tires are made in North America so there are no duties at the border, just the HST. After taxes, that’s $350 less than buying them here in Ottawa.

The next question is, how am I going to get that far and still have enough charge to come back? The round trip is tight: 167 Km in total. It might sound OK given the advertised 160 Km average range of the Leaf, but that’s for mostly city traffic and we’re talking highway here. Opposite to what we’re used to with gas-powered cars, the Leaf is less efficient on the highway than it is in the city. On the  highway, you spend a lot of energy to cut through the increasingly higher air resistance, while in the city you’re going much slower and taking a lot of advantage of regenerative breaking. I can drive 185 Km on a single charge in the city, but on the highway, even going 10 below speed limit, I can only drive 130 Km on a charge. So how am I going to get there?

First, I won’t be taking the highway. Instead, I’ll be following some fairly pleasant country roads where I can average 70 Km/h. The distance is about the same and it’ll be a Saturday so I’ll have the time. Second, I’ll be driving in Eco mode, very conservatively. Third, the place where I’ll be installing the tires will let me trickle charge while the service is being performed, and a bit more if I need to. This should give me the extra range to get back home. And finally, to be extra safe, I contacted an old friend that lives in Kemptville, ON, 128 Km into the round trip and only 39 Km from home, and he’s more than happy to let me trickle charge at his house if I really need to. I already booked an appointment for next Saturday, Oct 29, so wish me luck!

First week with the Leaf

It’s been a week already and we’re still excited to own and drive a Nissan LEAF. We had very high expectations, but the Leaf has exceeded every single one of them.

Range

We’ve driven 546 Km already since taken delivery of the Leaf last Friday. That’s way above average for us. At this rate, we’re on the way to drive more 28K in one year. Nevertheless, We’ve never went back home at night with less than 40 Km of range left. My longest drive in one day was 141 Km, and a bit of Level 1 charging at work kept any feeling of range anxiety out of the way.

Costs

Electricity consumption numbers for the first two days: 33.6 KWh ($3.96) for 198 Km driven (80% city, 20% country roads). Average 5.9 Km/KWh. With gas at $1.207, that’s equivalent to 1.66L/100Km. Quite impressive.

Monday was my first trip to work. The ability to trickle charge at the office is great but makes the cost calculations a bit more difficult. Without the reports from the smart meter, I can’t tell for sure how many KWh went into batteries, but I do know that trickle charging alone is not enough to keep me going during the week. I still need to Level 2 charge at home.

For the first four days, my Level 2 charger used 51 KWh of electricity, or $6.02 (5 liters of gas). With a little boost from IBM’s level one charger, I was able to drive 339 Km, or 1.47L/100Km.

Driving Experience

The Leaf continues to be by far the best car I’ve ever driven. Reminds me the AMC slogan: Silence is golden. And at the same time, I leave every other car behind after the traffic light goes green. Amazingly fun to drive.

Attention

People on the road don’t really notice the Leaf is a special car. I’ve kept a bit of an eye on other drivers and pedestrians, to see their reaction, and there really isn’t one. My friends get  surprised when they see the “electric car” for the first time because they expected something very small or very odd shaped, not a 5-door roomy hatchback.

Room

I had four adults already in the car and they were all impressed by how much space they had inside. Space in the trunk is also not bad at all. At one point we had 3 or 4 gym bags with lots of room to spare. Not a problem for groceries either and if you need more room you can flip the backseats.

Media attention

I gave two more interviews after delivery day. One to a university radio station in Toronto and another to the local newspaper, Kanata Kourier. I took the reporter, Jessica Cunha, for a ride around the neighborhood and nearby roads, while answering all of her questions. I think it was the best interview so far.

Charging at work

We have two reserved parking spots at IBM. They’ve far apart so I can’t always see who’s using the other one. Today I drove by and saw an electric bike charging there. It didn’t prevent an actual car from parking there so I guess it won’t be a problem when someone else at the office starts driving an electric car to work.

I’ve been voluntarily limiting the Level 1 charging to mid-peak hours (7am to 11am). We still have several coal-fire power plants in Ontario used during peak hours so I want to avoid getting dirty electricity from them (the Leaf would cough). In the winter, the time-of-use schedule changes so I’ll be able to recharge between 11am and 5pm.

I get about 7.5Km of extra range for every hour trickle charged at work. Cost for IBM is about 1.4KWh/h or 25 cents/h at mid-peak. If I charge for 4 hours, that’s a dollar. Cheaper than a coffee a day. And we already have free coffee at the office. 🙂

Carwings

Probably the biggest surprise at all. Just the sheer amount of telemetry information saved by the car and available for analysis. You can see your daily driving records, how many Km driven, how much energy used, how much energy regenerated by the brakes, total electricity costs (estimated), your rankings compared to other Leaf drivers all over the world, it goes on and on and on. I started ranked #300 but I recently dropped to #690 with an average energy economy of 9.6 Km/KWh. The champion’s score is 37.2 Km/KWh but I have no clue how he’s able to do that. That would be equivalent to driving 892 Km in one charge, so there’s gotta be something wrong…

Other Activities

I took the Leaf to a charity garage sale the day after it was delivered. People would have to give a donation to get a tour of the car. More generous donations would get a ride around the block.

I was also invited to attend the monthly meeting of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa. I got there 30 minutes before the meeting so that people had a chance to see the Leaf at the parking lot, together with a few other electric cars, mostly ICE cars converted to plugins. It was a bit of a short notice and had another commitment the same night. I was able to speak and answer questions at the beginning of the meeting, and as a token of their appreciation, I was presented with a free one-year membership which I intend to use.

No trips to the gas station

Not much to say here. Probably the best single thing in this whole experience!

Gadgets

iPhone integration works perfectly. The car connects automatically after you turn it on. You can answer phone calls on the screen, and if you were listening to a podcast when parked your car, that same podcast resumes playing, even with the iPhone still in your pocket! Same for any music. Really neat.

The navigation system is fairly good, with both 2D and 3D views. I’m a bit used to the way Google Maps works on my phone so it takes a while to get used to a different way of displaying things. I also noticed some of the newer streets in Ottawa are still not showing up on the navigation map. Wondering how that will get updated.

I programmed the HomeLink garage door opener tonight and it worked perfectly, but you do have to follow the instructions on the owner’s manual. By the way, I think this is the first car I had that I actually *read* the owner’s manual. Lots of info in there, makes it easier to figure out all those buttons on the dashboard.

The iPhone app also works very well. I’ve turned on climate control a few minutes before I left work, just for fun because it wasn’t any hot, and it was really neat to see it working. It will be very useful in the winter.

Alerts

You can configure the car to send you emails and text messages for different events. The most useful is the one that alerts me if I forget to plug in the car at night. It also alerts me if I leave the car charging at work and the power in the parking garage goes out or someone disconnects the charger.

Come on… Any negatives?

I’ll have to dig really deep to find anything wrong with this car, but I’ll give it a try.

The data access is a bit too slow. We’re used to immediate responses on everything we do online, but getting updates from the Leaf may take 30 seconds to a few minutes. Downloading information from the touch display is also slow — it’s more like an old “Edge” phone browsing the web, not a 3G phone.

I also find the regenerative braking in Eco mode way too aggressive and even dangerous if someone is following you too close. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the car decelerates very quickly, almost like you’re braking. But without the stop lights.

I think that’s all for this week. I’ll try to do smaller posts more often for now on. A week of updates turned out to be a very long list!

The Leaf is finally home! Delivery day report.

I took delivery of our Leaf yesterday from the hands of Allen Childs, president of Nissan Canada. It was a busy day, but also a very fun and exciting day.

The event received a lot of media attention. I gave interviews to several local radio stations and newspapers. The main newspaper in Ottawa, the Ottawa Citizen, published this story on the front page of its Business and Technology section.

There was also a story on CBC News, Auto123.com, several news segments on CBC Radio and CFRA, and short news story on TV at CTV News.

Getting the car keys from Allen Childs, President of Nissan Canada

I drove our Leaf for the first time with Allen Childs as a passenger. Then I took my family for a ride. Then I gave more interviews. Then we went home.

First report

I drove 99 Km the first day and arrived at home with 51 Km range to spare (3 bars). The average energy efficiency is sitting at 7.6 Km/KWh, which is really good. All my cost estimates were based on 6.6 Km/KWh. I plugged the car in for 2.5 hours in the evening before I had to leave again for an errand, and arrived later at night. I continued the charge overnight but my smart meter report only shows the first 2.5 hours right now, so here are the numbers:

– 2.5 h charge = 9.8 KWh
– Times 11 cents/KWh = $1.08
– Estimated range went up from 51 Km to 135 Km, or 84 Km.

Our Leaf finally recharging at home.

Now, that’s quite amazing. For less than a liter of gas, I can drive 84 Km. In the city!

I think the estimate is a bit optimistic though. Given my average of 7.6 Km/KWh, that charge should actually give me 74 Km, which is still very very good. I should get more precise numbers in the next few days, after a few full recharges.

iPhone app status after a full recharge overnight

As for the iPhone app, it works really well but don’t expect fast responses. You’re not talking to the car directly but through a central server. Update requests take about a minute to receive a response from the car.

ECO mode is sluggish but I’m starting to make sense out of it. It drives as if you had five heavy people in the car and lots of luggage. It gets to the speed you want but accelerates much more slowly than what you’re used to on the Leaf by default. On the other hand, the acceleration is very similar to a small gas-powered car, so you’re not making any people behind you crazy. It’s worth getting used to it because it saves a lot of energy, and you can always click it back to “sport mode” when you need it.

One thing to watch for in ECO mode: the regenerative breaking is very aggressive. That means you rarely have to step on the break when getting close to a red light. That’s great for recharging the battery but remember the person behind you will NOT see any break lights while you’re decelerating so make sure there’s enough room between you and the car behind you.

Today I drove another 82 Km and ended the day with a 67 Km range, or 4 bars. A full recharge was estimated to take 4.5 hours but took a bit more than 3.5h. The hydro report will be available tomorrow.

Why the Leaf?

I get this question a lot. Actually two questions: Why are you buying an electric car? And why the Leaf among all electric cars? For the answer, I have to take you back about a year and half ago.

In the spring 2010, our oldest car turned 10 years old and we started looking around to trade it for a new one. We have two cars in the house, built about five years apart from each other. We found that getting a new car and keeping it for 10 years work the best for us in terms of cost/benefit. We keep them long enough to get a good return compared to leasing, and we still get the pleasure of driving a new car every five years or so. The car we were trading that time was our good old Sienna minivan. Gas prices were a big concern so we decided to go for something smaller.  A new Prius model was just being launched, loaded with a huge technology package that makes any geek like me drool, so it felt like a perfect match… until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened.

I’m no environmentalist but after watching that out-of-control oil spill for three long months, something hit me. The people that died in the explosion, the extensive damage to marine and wildlife, the communities affected by the impact on fishing and tourism, the pictures from space showing the monster spill moving each day, and the unbelievable cynicism of people in the oil industry, particularly the CEO of BP and his infamous “I want my life back” comment. I just didn’t want to be any part of that.

We go to war because of oil. Lobbies inject millions of dollars into the political system in exchange for easy regulations and high subsidies. Per day, tar sands operations in Alberta release as much CO2 as all the cars in Canada combined. Oil companies are the most profitable companies in the planet, and gas prices always go up inexplicably every Friday before a long weekend. Want it or not, we support this industry. We are a society addicted to oil. After the Deepwater Horizon accident, I decided I should try to break my own addiction.

In early 2010, electric cars were starting to shift from a model of limited-production and very expensive cars, to a system of mass-production affordable cars. The Mitsubishi iMiev announced a cross-Canada tour, and both GM and Nissan started to take orders for the Volt and the Leaf in the United States. I knew it would be just a matter of time before these cars were available in Canada, so I decided to keep my old car a bit longer and registered as a hand-raiser for all three of them.

Both Volt and Leaf were delivered to their first US customers in December 2010. Prices in Canada were announced in the spring 2011 and I was able to test drive a Leaf in May.

So why the Leaf?

It’s the car that best fits our needs. It’s 100% electric and it looks and drives just like a regular car. In terms of size, it’s the only electric car available with five seats and considerable cargo space. It is loaded with high-tech features including 3G access for telemetry and an iPhone app. Its 160 Km range is more than we can ever drive in one day in Ottawa so it will be our primary car (with our second car used for backups and longer road trips). The Leaf is extremely silent and has no vibration. It is very smooth to drive and also incredibly fast to accelerate. It has a very low center of gravity allowing for very sharp turns. Overall it’s a lot of fun to drive.

I look forward to own a car that needs no visits to the gas station and requires no oil change. A car that is clean and doesn’t contribute to air pollution. A car that doesn’t idle in traffic wasting fuel, uses energy efficiently, and charges at night when electricity demand is low and no coal-fired power plants are running.

I also look forward to drive the Leaf in the winter. As one of the first Leaf delivered in cold climates, I plan to monitor the car performance and share the data with other Leaf owners.

Finally, the amount of savings we’ll be making in terms of fuel will easily pay back the extra costs during the lifetime of the vehicle. Compared to our other car, it will be like buying gas at 25 cents a liter, saving us at least $1,500 in fuel and oil changes every year.

All in all, not a very difficult choice to make.

What’s the real MPG-equivalent of a Nissan Leaf?

What is the fuel efficiency of the Nissan Leaf compared to gas-powered cars? How many “miles per gallon”or “liters per 100 Km” does it make? Regardless of the published EPA metrics, the real answer for me depends on a few local variables:

  • How many kilometers you can drive with 1 KWh of electricity (K)
  • What the electricity costs are in your area (E)
  • What the current price of gas is in your area (G)

The first one really depends on your driving habits and weather conditions. Since I don’t have a Leaf yet, I’m’ going to use the estimated average range from Nissan: 160 Km per full charge. That’s 160/24 = 6.7 Km/KWh.

Second, check your hydro bill. If you’re paying flat rate, get your total after delivery and taxes and divide by the number of KWh consumed in that period. For example, if you paid $161 for 1,242 Kwh, you’re paying 13 cents/KWh. If your area has TOU (time of use) rates, then you have to consider that you’ll mostly be charging your car overnight, when electricity is off-peak and much cheaper (in my case, 5.9 cents/KWh compared to 10.7 cents/KWh during peak hours). You have to break down your bill and figure out what the after-taxes off-peak cost of electricity is. In my bill, I figured it’s 11.8 cents/KWh.

Finally, the average gas price in your area. Average because with all the speculation from the oil industry, gas prices keep changing all the time, even during the same day (and particularly the day before long weekends, which kills me). Where I live, the current average is $1.25 per liter.

So now we have everything we need: K = 6.7, E = 11.8 and G = 1.25

So let’s have some fun with these numbers.

How much does it cost to fully charge the Leaf?

Easy: 24 KWh * E = $2.83 — Notice this is the cost to charge a car that is *completely* discharged. That will be very unlikely to happen. Assuming you’ll charge every night, you will only be charging the amount you drove the previous day. For example, if you drove 53 Km, you used about 1/3 of your charge. Topping that off will cost you 95 cents.

What’s the “mileage” of the Leaf?

So you can drive 160 Km with $2.83. With this money, I can buy 2.26 liters of gas. So the Leaf can drive 160/2.26 = 70.8 Km with one liter, or 1.4 L/100 Km, or 166 MPG. That’s quite impressive!

How much cheap would gas have to be for my current car to drive at the same cost?

Good question! Depends on the car. Our Corolla can drive about 14Km with a liter of gas in the city. To drive 160 Km, it would need 11.4 liters. If we were to pay only $2.83 to drive those 160 Km, one liter of gas would have to cost 24.7 cents! Or 93 cents a gallon, south of the border. In the case of our minivan (9 Km/l) — not a very fair comparison, but still, that’s the car I drive to work today, it would be like paying 16 cents a liter (60 cents/gallon).

How much money will I be saving per year?

Depends on how much you drive and what car you drive. I expect to drive 20,000 Km per year with the Leaf. The cost of driving this much will be $2.83/160 * 20,000 = $354. To drive the same distance with our Corolla, we would pay $1.25/14 * 20,000 = $1,785. The Corolla would also need an oil change every 6,000 Km ($50/change), which brings the total to $1952. Therefore the Leaf will save us 1,952 – 354 = $1,598 per year.

Compared to our minivan, the savings are even more dramatic: $2,590 per year!

Conclusions

Yes, the Leaf is more expensive than a regular car, but when you factor in the driving costs, the picture changes completely. You can put it this way: The Leaf without the batteries costs roughly the same as a well-equipped car. The money you will save in fuel costs will pay for the batteries after several years. How many years? It depends on which car you’re comparing with. That will be the subject of a future article. Stay tuned.

By canadianleaf Posted in Costs