So last month I traded in my Range Rover for a Nissan Leaf. No really.
After my first 1,000 miles here are some rambling thoughts, early observations and opinions on living with an EV…
I’ve been driving SUV’s for more than 7 years, but in 2013 I had my first test drive in an electric car and it’s been on my mind ever since. This isn’t something I’ve decided to do on a whim.
In order for our family to try living with an EV one of our cars had to go. With a small petrol saloon and a 3 ton 4.4L V8 diesel in the garage, in one way it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
In another way of course it was. Giving up the comfort, equipment and the high driving position in particular will be difficult as I go back to sitting in a lower, smaller car.
There’s no nice way to put it, the Leaf has a face only a mother could love. The shape of those front headlights is functional, managing the airflow around the bodywork. But Tesla can make an aero efficient car that’s beautiful too.
It seems well built (in Sunderland) and does have personality. It’s bigger than it looks, can take 5 adults and has a decent sized boot too.
My better half had only one stipulation about the new car, it had to have heated seats. That meant going for the Tekna model which comes with some other upgrades like a Bose sound system, 360 degree external camera setup and a leather interior, vegans need not apply.
Getting the car enrolled on the ironically named ‘Nissan Connect’ system was painful. It took several days to get the app paired with our Leaf and there was even an excursion under the bonnet for a serial number engraved on the motor at the request of the support staff. It was disappointing after the excellent experience we had with the salesman at the Belfast dealership.
When we finally got the car connected we received an email confirmation which contained an incorrect URL that lead to even more head scratching and lost time too.
I tried hard to get someone in Nissan to allow me to share my experience and suggestions and save others from going through the same pain (some have even given up). But despite tweets emails and online chats I got nowhere.
You can check on the state of charge and start the Climate Control remotely with the apps. Usefully the on-board timer can schedule the car to pre-heat the cabin for you each morning while still connected to the mains.
The cabin is a nice place to be and that wonderfully weird and eerie silence as you back out of the garage each morning never gets old.
That sound, or lack of it, is something that’s often overlooked with an EV, but it makes it such a pleasant experience, one that you really appreciate once you go back to a regular car. The lack of vibrations, right from the starter motor on, really does make a difference. My better half will take the Leaf at any opportunity over the petrol car. And that’s not just because she doesn’t have to fuel it, she genuinely prefers its quiet, smooth drive too.
Once you’re behind the wheel, using the Eco mode dulls the acceleration for the most economical driving. Pressing the throttle flat finds a button on the floor that allows you to easily over-ride it and temporarily access full power if required. It feels pleasantly torquey and is decently quick 0-30 and you can easily invoke the traction control on a damp road.
Of course it’s not the sort of car for hooning around in. The new challenge is to max out your economy. There are various features to help you monitor your driving style, score your technique and gamify the whole experience.
The dash is a confusing, cluttered and inconsistent design from the school of more is more. You grow little trees on the top display, the more economically you drive, the more trees you grow.
Flicking the ‘gear lever’ down into Drive a second time switches the car into Brake Mode. This increases braking regen and recuperates more energy, allowing you to one-pedal drive, only needing to touch the brake pedal when coming to a complete stop.
The web interface provides (slow) access to all this data and rates your driving too. Here’s a summary from the web interface after around 10 days of driving the Leaf.
I think if everyone had an EV for a week it would give them a great insight into how to drive much more economically. Back in the petrol car I found myself frowning at all that energy I was throwing away on motorways off ramps and down hills.
Range & Public Charging
Even though its real world range is only around 85 miles, we can reach pretty much any part of Northern Ireland in the 24kWh Leaf, even without a full battery (check out the range map below with the car at around 65% charge). Both my wife and I averaged around 20 miles per day last year so 85 is more than enough for 99% of our journeys. And unlike a petrol or diesel car you leave the house every morning with a full ‘tank’.
We have several Rapid chargers around us that can bring the EV to 80% in just 30 minutes. Type 2 chargers are much slower but so far we’ve not needed them.
We did try the one in the photo below out of curiosity during a recent weekend away to the coast. Our destination was around 80 miles from home and although we could just about have made it we took a 20min Rapid charge on the motorway services. Check out plugshare.com for a look at the chargers available in your area.
As an absolute last resort there’s a 3 year recovery service with the car that will put you on a flat bed and take you to your nearest charger should you get into trouble.
We’ve met the nicest people at public chargers, an interesting bunch that are friendly and helpful. So far we’ve not been ICE’d and all chargers we visited bar-one have been in working order.
There does seem to be a serious issue with some public chargers being out of order for long periods though. Also some are in car parks that are locked at night which seems really stupid, especially as many were installed with the help of public money. They should all be accessible 24/7.
For the 1% of trips that are further afield we have the petrol car to fall back on. In addition Nissan will lend you a fossil powered car for up to 2 weeks a year at no charge (you’ll need to swap your own insurance onto the vehicle for the duration).
The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme / OLEV gave us a £500 government grant and our PCP deal with Nissan qualified us for the rest of the money (£390) to fit a free 16amp Pod Point charger in our garage.
More accurately these are special power outlets as the charger is actually in the car.
Even though our Leaf doesn’t have the faster 6.6kW charger on board, we wanted to future proof the grant-aided home installation as much as possible so we paid £95 to upgrade to the 32amp / 7kW version.
A grand (on paper at least) for this charger seems way over priced. A quick look on eBay shows 16amp chargers available for under £200 and the simple install took less than 2 hours. Is someone making a killing from this gov scheme?
Sun Powered Car?
We’re looking forward to charging the Leaf from our solar array. While a 4kW system in Northern Europe is unlikely to ever provide enough surplus power for even the lowest mileage users, it should be able to contribute something over the brighter months of the year.
That will rely on us charging fairly slowly though so as not to be pulling in power from the grid. We will have to use the 13amp 3-pin ‘granny’ charger to limit the rate.
Coal Powered Car?
So where does the electricity for your fancy electric car really come from then? It’s a fair question.
This table from our latest electricity bill shows the source of our electrons (using 2014 data). It may be a surprise to see that the largest contributor is Renewable (wind) energy at 36%. For EVs to make the most sense though we need to push that much higher – dirty coal is still third at 25%. But with the current trend, the EV you buy today will get cleaner over time.
Even if the BEV was powered completely by electricity generated from fossil fuels, it would still be a huge improvement over an ICE car though. The internal combustion engine is around 20% efficient compared to more than 80% for an electric motor.
1 litre of petrol or diesel contains approximately 10 kWh’s of energy (petrol 9.7 kWh/l, diesel 10.7 kWh/l ). Therefore…
- 1 litre of diesel takes you about 6 miles in the Range Rover
- The equivalent 10.7 kWh takes you about 43 miles in the Leaf
But lets take a more comparable smaller ICE car that can average say 40mpg. The Leaf will still go 4 to 5 times further with the same amount of energy, whilst moving all those toxic fumes out of our towns and cities.
Even though there’s currently plenty of spare generation capacity on the national grid at night, if we all changed to EV’s tomorrow it would be in big trouble. Last week Elon Musk said that globally we need 3 times the current level of generation to move to an all electric economy.
The Best Car is…..a Bike
We’re in a period of transition and we need to ramp up sustainable energy and transportation technologies. Sure there are environmental costs in building all these new things, but unless we’re all going to be huddled in caves wearing animal fur again we need to find a way to balance our modern way of life whilst reducing our consumption. At the same time this blog brings you shiny new products every week to covet and that irony is not lost on me.
Electric car critics often site higher initial manufacturing emissions for these vehicles, but we’re barely in the second generation of the modern EV compared to a century of development of the ICE and it’s manufacturing processes. Oh, and remember about the on-going energy requirements to refine the fuels to keep our ICE’s running…
Self Driving / Level 5 Autonomy
The environmental benefits of EVs include the potential for fewer cars on the roads in the future too. Rather than your second largest purchase sitting idle for 90% of its life, it could be working for you. Alternatively you may just end up with a subscription for a car in the future (CaaS – Car as a Service?), summoning an autonomous vehicle from an app when you need it.
Check out the video below in this weeks homework section on the science behind the autonomous self-driving cars that are only perhaps a year away (the tech will be here by then, if not the legislation).
A side-effect of our EV experiment is the reduced costs of our family transport. This 24kWh Leaf is basically a run out model, due to be discontinued in favour of the existing and larger 30kW model very soon. Additionally, the announcement of the completely new generation Leaf is due any day now to replace the current ageing design thats been around since 2010.
All that means there are some great deals around. The £4,500 Plug-In Car Grant from the government helps the lease company so our 3 year x 8,000 mile PCP payments don’t even come close to paying just the depreciation on the car.
All in all a really inexpensive way of dipping our toe in the EV world and if we can get by with a first gen, limited range car like this then anything in the future will be easy. Here are some of the annual savings…
£500 saved on road tax – £0 road tax for Leaf versus £500 for the Range Rover.
£1,300 on fuel – We’re averaging an indicated 4.0 miles per kWh so far, that works out at a little over £0.03 per mile vs around £0.19 per mile for the SUV. Those savings are calculated on electricity vs diesel over 8,000 miles annually and ignores the potential for home Solar charging and (still free, but not for long) public chargers in Northern Ireland.
£350 saved on insurance – Unsurprisingly the Leaf is much cheaper to insure than the RR.
BIK – If you’re lucky enough to get a company car (I’m not) then an EV will provide the lowest benefit in kind rate. I talked to a friend the other day who told me he’d effectively given himself a £2K pay rise by moving to an EV.
Fabulous or Folly
We’re only 3 years away from the decade of change over to the EV according to Bloomberg. The time when an electric car will be the same price as an ICE powered one, range will be high enough to no longer matter and running costs will still be hugely advantageous. The time when buying the ICE car over the EV will be the strange decision, not the other way around.
As electric cars start to become the norm, the model choice will increase from the relatively small offering available today. Who knows, I could be sitting high up again but in an EV, or maybe I’ll stick with being closer to the ground.
So there it is, it’s early days in our EV experiment, but so far so good.
What do you call the opposite of a mid-life crisis? A mid-life cognisance? Maybe. I’m all in.
Next time I measure every electrical device in the Automated Home trying to reduce our baseline. In the meantime here’s a couple more interesting videos to check out.
Full disclosure: I actually got a private buyer for the range rover between the time we agreed the deal with Nissan and the new Leaf was delivered, so technically I didn’t ‘trade it in’.