Friday, August 5, 2011

Want to test drive a Nissan Leaf electric car????

Nissan has set up a demo station at Montgomery Mall (Westlake Terrace side near Macys) till sometime on Sunday, August 7. I walked in, registered, and was able to ask all kinds of questions, examine the car, drive it, and talk with a rep of the company that installs the charging docks. See below for my impressions.

Drivability: the car handles and drives very well, is comfortable, and includes nav, bluetooth, and other cool items. The more expensive model (approx. $37k before gov't rebate of about $7500) has a solar panel that trickle-charges the accessories, so the radio, etc. won't stress the batteries. It also has a backup camera and quick-charge outlet in addition to the standard charging outlet on the front of the car.
Batteries: lithium-ion cells set up on a rack that is bolted below the seats so that it can be removed from below the car when it is on a rack. Warranted for 8 yrs. or 100,000 miles, but engineered to still have 75% of charging capacity after 10 years. The nice thing about this is that single cells can be replaced, as opposed to my Civic Hybrid, which has one large battery. The battery array health is evaluated electronically in a yearly service, so that any poorly performing cells can be swapped out. Nice design.
Charging: charging takes 8 hours in the standard method with a 220v dock. Nissan sends someone to your house to evaluate the house's ability to have a charging dock (photo above) before they sell you a car. Standard dock installation costs about $2500, with a 30% gov't rebate till the end of this year. It requires a 40 amp breaker on your house box with 220v. The dock has a cord of about 15' to reach the car. Could be longer. The dock is completely weatherproof, and the rep said that you could put the plug into a bucket of water with no ill effects. It only runs current when it senses that it is hooked up to the vehicle. The company, AV ( is installing charging docks all over the place, including workplaces, condos, etc. I was told that there will be one soon at the end of Democracy Blvd (I'm assuming they meant somewhere around Wildwood Shopping Center).  It is possible to quick-charge in 30 minutes with the beefier outlet and corresponding dock (avail. only in a commercial setting, so they are working to install them along I-5 in California to facilitate trips longer than 100 miles).
Range: it goes an average of 100 miles per charge, according to the company, but that will vary with the electric usage you have while driving (heating, AC, radio, etc. along with your driving habits). Long trips would require a coffee stop periodically with a 30 minute quick-charge. Not convenient, but most of our driving is around town.
Power drains: this was interesting. Apparently, heating in winter is a bigger drain than summer AC. The 2012 Leaf is designed (all models) with heated seats and steering wheel so that the driver and any passengers can warm themselves directly through their seats and keep the air temp in the cabin cooler than they normally would have. The engineers have determined that this cuts the power load substantially, allowing the car to travel further per charge.

All in all, a very, very interesting car, and I think it's ready for prime-time if your driving habits are mainly local.

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