I drive an electric vehicle. A Nissan Leaf. I love it. For almost three years now, I’ve spent about $20 a month charging it at home, instead of as much as $200 or more on gas. It’s an incredible vehicle for commuting. I get access to the car pool lane. The range can get me to and from work two days in a row before I have to charge it. It’s wonderful … this thing called an electric car. I always want to have an electric car now.
Did you know, by the way, that the first cars were electric cars but the technology wasn’t so much way back in the 19th century. The combustion engine came along and pretty much destroyed the idea of electric cars for decades, bringing with it pollution, dependence on foreign oil, and a whole lot of other adverse effects.
But there are all sorts of issues with having an electric car. It completely changes your approach to driving. The Queen Midget was driving it a month or two ago and she looked at the range indicator and commented that when her gas-powered car gets down to 60-70 miles left before the tank hits empty, she’s starting to worry and thinking about where to get a fill up. 60-70 miles is like having your cake and eating it too when you drive an electric car.
My Leaf can go 80-85 miles on a charge. Maybe. If it’s too cold or too hot, it’s less than that. The more freeway driving at high speed, the lower the range. So, let’s put that at 70-75 most of the time. And then there’s this. Once the range indicator gets down to single digits … well, you know you can’t just pull over and get a charge and get on home in ten minutes like with a fill up. Which means you don’t really ever want to get down into single digits because you just don’t trust the thing … what happens if you suddenly drop to zero? You’re stuck. Absolutely stuck.
There are Level 3 chargers which can get an electric car to an 80% charge in 30 minutes. But they are expensive and few and far between. Level 2 chargers are much more prevalent. However, they take 3-5 hours at a minimum to get to a full charge and who knows where they are. And then there are level 1 charging — which basically means plugging your car into a regular wall outlet. We’re talking about 12, 15, 18 hours for a full charge that way.
What all of this means is that you have to completely re-evaluate your whole approach to driving. Shortly after I got my Leaf, I went to a concert in Davis, California. The distance between home and Davis was right at the outer limit of the range of the Leaf. Getting there and back home without a charge was going to be … right there. There are chargers at the venue where the concert was. But how do I know they will be available when I get there? And what if my car is finished charging and the concert is half over?
You see there’s an etiquette about this. If you have an electric car and you use a public charging station, you are supposed to move your car when done charging to make sure it is clear for the next person in need of a charge. I considered all of this … and took the family car that was still powered by gas.
And that’s the problem. This great opportunity gets narrower and narrower. Anything other than a out and back trip in the local town means not using the electric car
Here’s another example … tomorrow, I want to get up early and head to the American River for a walk and some pictures. It’s been awhile and it’s time for me to get back there. Then I want to go to REI and get a couple of things for my next backpacking trip. I know I can get those two trips done on one charge in the Leaf, but it means I’m limited in the places along the river I can go to. And I’m completely prevented from any other side trips.
And I’m just kind of done with that. I love my Leaf. I hate it. I hate the way it has limited my ability to explore and get around. During the week, my ability to run errands or take side trips to or from work is almost non-existent. A couple of days ago when the Queen Midget was dealing with some major issues with her father, who is in his final days, I unfortunately had to tell her that I couldn’t join her at her parents’ house, because the remaining charge wouldn’t get me there and then back home.
I’ve got two months left on the lease of my Leaf. I so wish I could continue driving a car like it. The car is incredible. Not just the electric. Not just the savings. The acceleration on the thing is incredible. From what I’ve read, the new Leaf models have a range of only 20 miles more. Or so. Somewhere around 100 miles on a charge. And that just doesn’t get it done. And I can’t afford a Tesla with it’s 200+ mile range.
Here’s where I’m at. I’m likely going to lease a Chevy Volt. It’s got both an electric power source and a gas-powered engine. The range on the electric side is about 50 miles — enough to get me to and from work every day. With the gas powered engine there to kick in when needed, I’ll have the flexibility I need to go further afield.
But I’d really like to not have to go back to gas power. I really want to cross this bridge and stay on the other side. This is one of those things I think people need to embrace and be a part of a desperately needed change. I don’t have a choice, however. The battery technology, the charging technology, the overall approach to these cars has simply not advanced to the point where us average Joe’s can have a car like this for anything more than the most basic of commuting. And that simply isn’t enough.