Category Archives: Zero Emission decal

Reality Check- Four Months in with the Nissan LEAF

I bought (actually leased) the Nissan LEAF on September 17, 2011.  I have had it for over 3900 miles and four months. So, how is it going?

Interestingly, today is the first time I ever walked away from the car in a parking lot leaving it on without realizing it. This may sound strange but the car is so silent, and if you are distracted, as I was because I misplaced the key fob while two friends waited for me to join them on a five mile run in the Arboreteum, you can just walk away from it without noticing.  When I came back an hour later and opened the door, I immediately realized something was wrong as the interior was hot and the fans were running. I could have at least shut off the climate control! That said I still had plenty of charge to get back.

So, other than this mishap, I have not run out of “gas” nor have I experienced any buyer’s remorse.  What are notable observations?  I have applied the brakes hard twice to avoid a collision, when another driver pulled out directly in front of me- it stopped without a problem.  I have run the battery down to four miles or less of range- which did provoke range consternation, though not anxiety.  I still enjoy driving it because the torque is striking and responsive.  I could try to snow you about the performance, but, when it is in its regular D mode, it really is fast– 0-60 in 7 seconds.  I have inadvertently squeaked its tires while accelerating in a curve.

I wish there were more far flung public charging stations so I could use the car for extended travel.  Those charging stations that are out there need MUCH better signage.  I literally drove around an entire multi-level parking structure in Salem looking for two level 2 chargers and never found them, later to be told they were there. Still I do 99% of my charging at my residence which is a function of my typical mile usage during the day.  I seldom neglect to connect the charger at night.  When I do charge downtown, I tend to use the same public charging locations.  I miss having the gas station attendant clean the front and rear windows; if you don’t have to gas up, you don’t get any personalized attention.    I also tend to average 75 miles per full charge if counting highway miles and use of climate control.

When I now drive a combustion vehicle I immediately have to recalibrate my foot pressure on the gas pedal because I notice the ICE is not as responsive as the EV and requires more finesse to keep from accelerating in a herky-jerky fashion. EVs accelerate cleanly and evenly with foot pressure.

I have had only one person, a pedestrian, notice the “Zero Emission” decal while I was driving (in this case stopped at a light) and actually engage me in conversation.  Otherwise people are completely oblivious to the car and its message.

I tend to shut off the noise manufacturing device as it irritates me.

I can’t imagine the car yet being suitable for colder climate states.  I lived in Maine for ten years and I can tell you that this vehicle is not ready for the trial of a long winter- activating the climate control taxes the battery and reduces the range by 10-15% immediately.  Even pre-heating it while it is attached to a charger does not offer much advantage as the car chills down quickly when used; windows offer little insulation and the car does not retain heat.

Perhaps the most interesting change of driving awareness dynamic arises from the “fuel” gauge, which ostensibly tells you how many miles  remain on your battery.   For those who are video-game-minded, the whole point is to maximize your mileage.  So, while driving up a hill saps the battery by 7 miles, tapping the brakes (did I tell you it uses regenerative braking?) on the downhill puts you up by 1.  Driving becomes a game of terra firma give and take.  My goal is to return home with more energy than I left with.  Driving the Nissan LEAF, I find myself much more conscious of the influence of terrain on my driving experience.   Have you ever thought in those terms driving a combustion engine?





Innovator’s Dilemma- A 1997 Prediction Borne Out?

I spent some time recently reading Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, which considers, using case studies of actual industries, how disruptive technologies overtake otherwise well managed and visionary businesses. While this book came out in 1997, some truths remain worth revisiting.

The innovator’s dilemma is illustrated where a technology becomes successful and takes on imitators and where its ongoing leadership in sustaining the original innovation is no longer competitively important.  The followers do as well as the leaders since the technology becomes understood, business plans routine, and customers expectations clear.   First mover advantages only occur in new technology and where disruptive innovation provides a new market and defines a new customer base.

How can one predict when a innovation will be disruptive? One of the main lessons is that when a  disruptive technology’s performance improvement  strikes a trajectory that exceeds the pace of improvement demanded by the market, it will overtake the existing technology and replace it.  This may at first appear unlikely.  However Professor Christenson profiles three industries to provide analytical illustration of his principles at work in the marketplace. Most interesting to me, he chooses to apply his theorems to a new technology in Chapter Ten as a case study.  For this he chooses electric vehicles.

Not really wishing to be a spoiler, I suggest you read his book.  However, in 1997, EVs looked very different than they do in 2011.  As a result, Christenson concludes that EVs cannot be used for mainstream applications because they don’t satisfy basic performance requirements.  He also suggests that no one can learn from market research what the early markets for EVs will be– because they are new and with as yet to be determined customer needs.  The only useful information will come from forays into the marketplace and testing of ideas through trial and error and by selling products to people who pay real money. Business plans must then remain flexible, tied to learning rather than a preconceived strategy.  What might emerge as the initial value network for EVs?   One in which its weaknesses will be seen as strengths- small parcel delivery, taxis, teenagers commuting to school, islands.  In all the likelihood the winning design will be characterized by simplicity, convenience, and reliability.  It must be capable of being designed with features, functions and styling that can be changed quickly and at low cost.  It must hit a low price point.   Clearly Professor Christenson has a lens to the future.  EV innovators would do well to consider how 1997’s premonition has borne out in 2011 reality.

Okay, now you need to read the full version.