20,000 miles in the electric non-space car

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 6, 2016, 4:45 PM | comments: 0

My last post was about our first 10k in the Model S, but I realized today while running an errand that our EV story does not start with Tesla. It starts with the noble Nissan Leaf, and it deserves a lot of love.

We're closing in on 19k miles on our 2015 model, which we've had for almost two years. It's a lease, and I'm not sure what happens when we're done, but Nissan generally seems pretty cool about extending leases for this particular car (more on that in a minute). We're way under-budget on miles, because Diana works part-time, and I rarely go into an office more than twice a week. Our combined driving mileage annually is probably around 20k miles at most.

I remember first seeing the Leaf when we lived in Seattle, and while the limited range seemed like a problem at the time, it didn't deter the early adopters. When I came down to Orlando in June, 2013, to interview for my contract gig and also do some recon around the area for places to live, I was able to rent a Leaf out of MCO. I was immediately intrigued when I was driving westbound on Sand Lake, and floored it on a green light. It was giggle-inducing, in fact. I ended up driving it about 120 miles in the 48 hours I was there, with a free charge at GKTW. It was a lot of fun to drive for a car that I expected to be practical and uninteresting.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014, and Diana's 2008 Hyundai Elantra suffered a catastrophic loss of transmission fluid (it had a hose to the radiator to cool it, and it broke). Fortunately, the fix was covered under the drivetrain warranty (100k miles), but we figured that six years was a good run, and the years in Cleveland winters probably didn't do it any favors. There were some good deals to be had for the leases on Leafs (Leaves?), so we investigated. A short lease seemed like a great way to try on an EV without over-committing.

We really liked the car immediately. Most of my cars have been small, the Prius V being the only one that was somewhat bigger (being a wagon), but the Leaf drives like an electric go-kart. The instant torque, which I suspect is somewhat moderated to accommodate the battery technology they use, is fantastic. It won't win any drag races, but you'll definitely surprise the little shit next to you at a red light driving some shitty Honda with a dropped suspension and ridiculous wheels. It's a tall car with all of the room you need to cart a bunch of crap around town, or luggage to the airport. It's damn near the perfect commuter car, in my opinion. And best of all, we plug it into a standard 110v outlet in the garage.

Our model has a 24 kWh battery (for context, our Model S has a 70 kWh battery). It's rated for something like 84 miles of range, but in practical terms, we could generally go 100 unless it's all highway and we've got the AC cranked to frigid. As there isn't really anywhere we would typically go in excess of 40 miles from our house, the range is good enough for 99% of our driving scenarios, and we charge overnight. I can't quite describe how fantastic it is to never stop for gas, ever. Leaving every morning with a "full tank" is a convenience that I don't think non-EV drivers fully understand.

While it has been a great car for us, Nissan is definitely getting beat up a bit lately. A lot of people (including us) were so convinced by the EV goodness that they bought a car they would otherwise never spend ridiculous money for in the form of a Model S. While they bumped the 2016 model to a 30 kWh battery, extending the rated range from 84 to 107 miles, persistent rumors of a future higher capacity model are dogging sales. If that weren't enough, Chevy plans to ship the 200-mile Bolt before the end of the year, and Tesla hysteria has caused hundreds of thousands of people to reserve a Model 3. What's bad for Nissan is good for us though, because from what I've read online, they're not anxious to take these cars back after the lease. They aren't selling well used. If we can keep paying $100 a month to keep it, I suspect that we might do that for awhile.

It's kind of a bummer for Nissan, because I really feel like they cracked the code for mass-market EV's, at least initially. In a 2-car family where there are no cases of both cars needing to do long-distances (a scenario that has 100% worked for us in two years), it's a fantastic car. The purchase price is a little high, even with the $7,500 federal tax credit (MSRP probably averages $35k), but the lease deals have been solid if you could put some money down. But the problem stands that the cars aren't very popular right now with longer range options coming. BMW seems to be in a similar boat with its i3.

What a great little car, though. It will be a shame if Nissan can't turn it around next year, because the Leaf definitely has an important place in EV history.


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