Randy Mays of Mequon, one of the first people in Wisconsin to order a Nissan leaf from a Wisconsin auto dealership, offered a down-to-earth account of how the all-electric vehicle really fits into daily living at the Sept 6 meeting of Drive $mart Wisconsin, still remembered by some for its original name, Milwaukee Hybrid Group.
With regular round trip commutes of 9 miles to a local high school, 8 1/2 miles to his preferred grocery store, 7 1/2 miles to a farm where relatives work, 23 miles to Bayshore shopping mall, 30 miles to downtown Milwaukee, and 50 miles to and from the Milwaukee airport, he's never had to worry about his battery running down and leaving him stranded. In 9000 miles of driving so far, every time he leaves home, he has the electrical equivalent of a full tank.
"I don't agree that electrics are inevitable" he cautioned, offering by comparison that if Toyota hadn't offered considerable improvements in the second generation Prius, that model might have flopped and been withdrawn from the market. With 2,000 Leafs selling per month in the United States as of June 2012, Mays called the car a success, not a hit, but sustainable enough that Nissan won't cancel the car. "If we don't buy them" however, "they'll stop making them."
One plus is that with no internal combustion, the Leaf needs very little maintenance, just an occasional oil change. Mays said that a typical gasoline-powered vehicle getting 25 miles per gallon would cost $43 to drive 300 miles with gas at $3.60. The same 300 miles costs him $7.80 for electric charge, at standard rates. "If I only charged the battery overnight, and paid time of day rates for electricity, I could get that down to $3.00," he added, but with teen-agers in the house, he can't come out ahead with time of day pricing.
Mays has found the instant torque available from the electric motor is very helpful merging into freeway traffic -- there is no delay building up speed. The car is "unbelievably quiet, even at 70 miles per hour," but looks a little odd with no tail pipe and no radiator.
For living in or around Milwaukee, Mays finds his real life comfort range driving the Leaf is 75 miles, and he rarely has to drive that much between charges. He suggested that the Leaf is a good car "if its not your only vehicle," and if you have a garage to set up charging equipement. He also estimated it takes a 15 percent hit on range in the winter, while the aggressive tractor control can drain a lot of power on slippery surfaces. Drive $mart founder Bradley Fons noted that every vehicle loses 10 to 15 percent in fuel efficiency during the winter, "its called physics."
The 220 volt charger Mays uses will add sufficient charge for 30 miles driving each hour the car is hooked up, although the most basic 110 volt charging system adds only 5 miles capacity per hour. A charging system can be purchased for about $800 today he estimated. He hasn't noticed significant power drain from the LED lighting system.
May advised that in the Leaf, Nissan has a good product, but still has to see if they can ramp up sufficient levels of production to bring the price down. Its made enough of an impression on the market that BMW and Lexus are looking at offering electric models, and the upscale Tesla electric has captured 8 percent of the luxury market.
With a $7500 federal income tax credit, the effective price is a little below $30,000, and for people who don't pay enough tax to claim the credit, Mays advises leasing. The dealership can claim the credit, and apply a portion to the monthly payment.