Tag Archives: Nissan LEAF acceleration

Dirty Electricity; The New Oxymoron

A recent Headline from the NYT Sunday paper-How Green are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.  suggests that EVs may not be the cleanest form of transportation available and cites a soon to be published Union of Concerned Scientists study.   As an example of the tone- “[W]here generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids.”

(Portland General Electric’s Boardman Coal Fired Plant, now slated to close.)

I re-raise this issue of whether an EV from well to wheel is the greenest transportation alternative because we are now parsing it down region by region, yielding some very interesting variations. See the national graphic found at Carbon In, Carbon Out, Sorting out the Power Grid. For example, Buffalo, NY’s electricity has THE highest per mile equivalency of any region in the country, which means that its kWh generation is the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions and it would take an ICE vehicle having 86 mpg to equal the carbon emission of a Nissan Leaf charging in that region. (Thank you, Niagara Falls) Which zipcode(s) are the worst? Hmm. Think Red States- a swath that cuts from the Dakotas to the midwest to the Southeast.  These are regions heavily reliant on coal generation.  Perhaps most interestingly, Hawaii had one of the worst carbon equivalencies- it would only take a 37 mpg vehicle to equal the carbon emission of a Leaf in Hilo, HI.  Apparently Hawaii needs to accelerate its transition away from non-renewable, imported oil and coal if it is to truly benefit from BEV’s zero emission potential.  And I believe that will happen, as it has adopted several progressive laws incentivizing consumers to buy EVs and landowners to get charging infrastructure in place.  [Note- Denver apparently has a coal problem and is the dirtiest electricity in the country, needing only a 33 mpg vehicle to equal a Leaf.]

But back to the point.  I see that even a 37 mpg ICE is a high efficiency engine compared to the national average, which in 2008 was 25 mpg.  So, even in a region hosting the most dirty electricity out there, in order to beat the emission savings of a Nissan Leaf,  a consumer would still have to buy a small economy car capable of very high mileage.  In most other jurisdictions, few mass marketed vehicles exist (other than a hybrid Prius perhaps 53/46 city and highway mpg) that are capable of attaining the 50 mpg range equivalency.

The transition to renewable energy and away from coal burning plants will continue to raise the mpg equivalencies, region by region. It will also mean that EVs will get cleaner the longer you drive them.  Consider the other benefits.  All the money we spend on electricity, in even the dirtiest jurisdiction, stays in the United States and gets fed into a virtuous loop of economic activity.  Electricity  is domestically produced, comes from diverse and renewable resources and has traditionally been viewed as a quasi-public resource such that it’s pricing structure is extremely stable.  Charging station infrastructure uses an existing electric grid and utilities already have built in excess capacity to meet the load demands of millions of EVs.

We just need consumers (and National newspapers) to start recognizing that clean coal and dirty electricity are both oxymorons.




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?





The Lowdown on Driving the Nissan LEAF.


What is it like to actually drive the Nissan LEAF?

First, I would emphasize that you should absolutely go out and rent one to fully experience it.  Enterprise Rent A Car has Nissan LEAFs available in Portland, Oregon for $14 per day on the weekend.  You’ll have to dog the Level 2 or Level 3 charger(s) around town but I think the range shouldn’t be a problem.  The car does come with a trickle charger so you should be able to access your home 110v outlet as well.

If you want my opinion about driving the car, it’s simple.  The car is fun.

It has two drive modes, Drive and ECO.  If I want smooth, rapid acceleration, the regular drive mode provides 0-60 in 7 secs, with 207 ft/lbs of torque and an AC electric drive that delivers the equivalent of 107 hp.  That’s plenty for me and I have had to hold the steering wheel with both hands while accelerating out of a turn because the car has seat of the pants torque.  I actually don’t find the ECO mode to be much less- it just makes the pedal harder to push and slows the car down faster when coasting or braking because of the regenerative braking attribute.  The ECO mode is a different game entirely.  So while I may keep it in “D” when I am at the stop light or merging onto the highway, I keep it in ECO for 95% of the time.  This is the game of “Give and Take”.  When I first started driving the car, I ascended a steep, long hill near my home and watched the battery get sucked down from 98 miles to 88 miles (the battery/range meter is notoriously inaccurate- which isn’t a problem unless you like to get it as close to drained out as possible).  I was alarmed by the usage but then watched the battery re-power on the downhill through regenerative breaking.  The game now is to return home with as much or more power then you left with, coasting on downhills, coasting on the freeway, drafting large semis, keeping the speed at the optimum level to minimize excessive battery use.  There is a display feature, an arc of white globes, that shows you when you are using the battery, and how much, and when you are generating power.  As you drive efficiently, you also begin to add layers to a visual symbol that becomes a leaf on the dashboard. You can amass four leaves per charge, if you are good.  I have only been averaging 3.7 miles per kWh because I like to drive the car somewhat aggressively, which I rationalize is to show other drivers that my car is no wimp (I can think of less PC terms for this).  I have drained it down to “turtle mode”- with less than 3 miles showing on the screen.  This is a bit of a misnomer, as the car does not appear to panic or slow itself down.  It just gets more and more aggressive about telling you to find a nearby charger.

As an aside, when I now get into a CEV I find that my foot has been trained to push a bit harder because of ECO mode and I also find the acceleration very choppy and almost crude- and that’s driving a Honda Accord or a Toyota Highlander.  The electric drive is just much smoother than even the latest generation gas driven transmission during normal use.

Besides the speed, the car corners and handles well, almost too crisply for me.  The weight is centered low because of the battery placement beneath the seats (600lbs).  You definitely feel as if the car is of normal mass (3300lbs) and not at any disadvantage compared to most sedans/hatchbacks.

The car is impressively quiet.  It actually is designed to manufacture a high pitched noise to counter this, with a button you can use to stop it.  The dealer said this was to protect blind pedestrians in crosswalks.  I have seen it get the attention of dogs on leashes as I cruise by as well.

Lastly, the car comes equipped with a video camera mounted over the rear license plate.  Yes, a camera.  I thought this was overkill, distracting and unnecessary, but now that I have used it, I like it very much.  As soon as you put it into reverse, the car issues a low level beeping sound to alert nearby pedestrians and the full image of what’s behind the car emerges on the GPS screen, along with virtual lines to guide you.  You can actually rely completely on the camera, like a pilot relies on instrumentation, when backing it into your garage.  Now that I have gotten used to it, I am a fan.

Okay, what don’t I like.

The interior upholstery is cheap and stains easily; the seats are not very supportive or adjustable.  Activating the climate control reduces the battery, significantly.  This makes me tend to use it more in bursts rather than for prolonged periods.  The heater does kick in well but if I am planning on an extended trip I ere on the side of conservative use.  I would be concerned if living in a cold or hot climate that my daily range would be impacted.  For some reason I experience fogging of interior front windshield  frequently.  The front side windows afford poor visibility.  You really have to pay attention and focus on these blindspots if operating around parking lots or in the city. The seating configuration is a real tight fit for five people.  The car automatically locks the doors itself during operation, which I find distracting and inconvenient and I have to manually open them often just to exit the car. At night there is no rear light for the hatchback or where the back seat is located.  The rear seat belts are hard to connect, especially at night.

Next up, the new frontier of Nissan LEAF communication.