John’s EV Adventure – February 2012
After my order for the Nissan Leaf was confirmed Nov. 10 by an email from Nissan, I followed the progress through “my account” on the Nissan Leaf website. I could see that the delivery date of late January was still good and as we headed into the holiday season, the estimated delivery date got bumped up one week to Jan. 19. So I confirmed my agreement to purchase the charging station manufactured by AeroVironment and have it installed by the recommended contractor, Lightscape. As we rolled into January and the delivery date was fast approaching, that also meant that I needed to clean my garage and move a lot of things out of the way for the charging dock installation. The garage cleaning turned out to be a larger project than I expected but I was really happy with the results – it needed to be done anyway and I love hanging out in my garage, something I rarely do anymore.
Installation of the Charging Station
The charging station was scheduled to be installed on January 16 but the installer contacted me by phone the week before to let me know that AeroVironment had made a change to the equipment. I could either have them install the charging dock on the scheduled date and then they would come back a week later with the updated equipment or postpone the installation. I chose to postpone the installation. Problem was, I would be out of town or tied up until Friday January 27. As it turned out, January 27 was the day the charging station was installed and also the day we picked up the new Leaf.
Lightscape, the company that installed the charging equipment, was terrific. A guy named Gordon was responsive, professional and he managed the 2 electricians that did the installation. They were right on time at 8:30 a.m. and they were done by 11:30. If I understood Gordon correctly, the update that we waited for was actually a change to the testing unit that the installer used to confirm the unit was working properly. And that testing was part of the reason I decided to pay the money to have this company install the unit. If I installed this myself, I really wouldn’t know if it was working properly until I actually hooked it up to the car. And if there was a problem with my installation…well that’s why I figured I would pay the professionals. Gordon came back at 1:30 in afternoon for the inspection by the Village of Palatine. In the end, although I could have done this myself, I could not have done it any better. I was very pleased with the quality of the work. Since the conduit was run outside of the wall, it needed to be a work of art to satisfy my tastes and it was.
I was somewhat surprised when Gordon told me I was their 5th installation since September. And he said their last installation was in Chicago somewhere. So this company is covering a fairly large area. I knew I would be one of the first with a Leaf but I didn’t think I would be one of the first 10.
Delivery of the New Nissan Leaf
After the charging station was installed on January 27, we headed to the Nissan dealer to pick up our new Leaf. We had been notified a week earlier that the vehicle had arrived, but I was out of town and busy right up until the day we went to get it. R.J. became our salesperson sometime back in November or early-December when the original person we dealt with left the dealership. Both of these guys seemed to be well trained and we liked R.J. He had been working at this dealership for some time and knew his way around all the paperwork. And let me tell you, there is a ton of paperwork when you buy a Leaf.
On one of my earlier stops at the dealership, I was told to allow 2 to 3 hours when I picked up the Leaf because of the paperwork and all of the instructions. Knowing that ahead of time helped a lot. We made sure not to schedule anything that evening and I was in the right frame of mind to spend as much time as it would take.
So, every time I buy a car, new or used, I never plan on keeping it more than about 2 or 3 years. And guess what? I have run almost every car I owned into the ground. So this time, as we listened to R.J. tell us about options like an extended warranty or a protection package for the interior and exterior, we decided to spend the extra money under the assumption that we keep this vehicle forever. The battery comes with an 8 year warranty but the rest of the equipment had a 36 month/36,000 mile warranty. Since I’ll probably never be able to work on this car like I have on all of my past cars, I extended the warranty to 96 months/100,000 miles. And this extended warranty covers the electric motor, too. I don’t know how expensive the motor is to replace, but I would bet it’s more than the extended warranty costs. I also added a protection package for the exterior and interior. The paint job is now covered for something like 6 years.
When it was all said and done, the entire process of picking up the new Leaf did take about 2 hours. That included all of the typical paperwork involved with setting up the loan and transferring the registration from our old car. But it also included activating CARWINGS, a program that allows the owner to access information about the vehicle remotely. We also added an ap to my iPhone that let’s me see what charge level the car is at and I can also turn on the climate control system remotely. The ability to turn on the climate control system remotely is more helpful that one would think because if the car is still plugged into the charger, you can warm or cool the car using wired electricity before you start driving and have to use the battery to heat or cool. I expect that feature will come in handy here in Chicago. And we spent some time with R.J. just sitting in the vehicle going through the menus and navigation system.
This car came with about 3 inches of manuals – and I’m not exaggerating. One entire manual is devoted just to the navigation system. It’s nice to know all the info is there, but so far I’ve only looked at a few pages about charging. I am sure I’ll read more of the manual as I develop questions about how this car works.
Driving the Leaf and Adjusting to an Electric Vehicle
Driving this vehicle home from the dealership, I noticed two things right away; (1) before you know it, you are 10 to 15 miles/hour above the speed limit and (2) there is a lot of information in front of you about energy use. In short, this car can really fly but you can also see the penalty right away for driving like you’re on a race track. The Leaf has an ECO mode that makes the car drive like an undersized 4 cylinder engine. As you can imagine, the ECO mode uses considerably less energy and when the car is switched into ECO, the range readout immediately jumps by at least 10%. But I haven’t driven a car this fast in a long time (maybe never), so I just can’t resist all that power right now. Hopefully the thrill will wear off before I get a bunch of speeding tickets.
When my wife drove the car for the first time, she liked everything about it. But I said to her at one point; “You know you are almost doing 50, don’t you?” We were in a 35. “Oh my God! I had no idea. Thanks for saying something.” Like I said, before you know it, you are 10 to 15 over. And since this car makes no noise, it’s an easy thing to do without realizing it. This Leaf is an amazingly smooth ride.
With the regenerative braking, coasting and braking are tools that can make a difference in extending the range. The amount of energy being used is shown where a speedometer is located on a normal car. And the amount of energy being regenerated is shown in that same spot. I like the way Nissan did that. I am finding that display quite helpful but it is also making me change the way I drive. If I see a red light a couple of blocks away, I can press the brake slightly which starts the generator and I can see how much energy I am generating. If there is no one behind me, why should I waste energy just to drive up to a red light? I can coast in that regenerative braking mode and if it goes on long enough, I see the range actually increase by a mile or two. It’s like a video game. But when the light turns green, this car can really take off!
Having barely driven this car a week, I am convinced the Leaf will do everything we need. I have already made a few rounds of errands with no concern at all about using up the battery. I made a run for supplies for my wife’s coffee shop and picked up 16 gallons of milk, a case of soy milk, 12 quarts of ½ & ½ and some other odds and ends. No problem with trunk space. Added a stop at the bank, a stop at the post office and a stop at the bakery – about a total of 60 miles. Still had 20 miles left and I was driving like Andy Lally (NASCAR 2011 Rookie of the Year). I know I can get over 100 miles on a charge but right now, I just can’t resist all that power! You’re probably saying, “wait until he gets the electric bill”, and you could be right. I’ll certainly have something to write about when my ComEd bill arrives.