HOME ON THE RANGE ANXIETY
The Z takes home the Nissan LEAF
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Jul 16, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Zoran Segina
"You'll be okay with it?"
The query by the press fleet manager is touching. He just he handed me the keys to the 2014 Nissan LEAF, and the 120-volt charging cable. I appreciate his concern for my well-being, but I have reviewed cars for years and the LEAF (also known as Nissan’s Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car) is just a car. Of course I'll be okay with it.
It is after 10:00 that evening and I am definitely not okay with it. A twenty mile trip to my house reduced the available range by about half, leaving me with roughly 47 miles. I took out the extension cord which powered last Christmas decorations, ran it along the house, and plugged the charger in. The green blinking light on the charger must mean I have power. I plugged the nozzle (is it called a nozzle on the electric car?) into the charging receptacle on the hood, walked into the house and closed the door.
Several hours later I got into the LEAF just to see how everything is coming along. And it is not. The range has not changed which means that the charger does not work. I am frantically leafing through a thick manual learning about kilowatt hours, charging times, and three blue lights on the dashboard that blink when LEAF is charging properly. My dashboard is ominously dark. I must get to work in the morning, and if the twenty mile trip reduced the battery capacity by half, additional seventeen mile commute may end up badly. What if I cannot charge the LEAF at work? Do I call AAA? Can they charge my car? I know they carry gas, but electricity? In a frantic midnight call to the service manager I am explaining that the charger does not work. They use 240-volt wall-mounted powerful chargers for the LEAF, so perhaps they did not check mine.
Fortunately I live next to Santa Monica, a city renowned for its environmental involvement. An internet search reveals that the closest charging station is at the Whole Foods Market on Wilshire Blvd., less than a mile away. They do have 240-volt Level 2 chargers. If I get up early, I can buy some groceries, plug the LEAF in, and after a brief delay, be on my way. My keychain even has a Charge Point - a waivable credit card to activate the chargers, if needed.
Except that the chargers at the Whole Foods belong to the "blink" network which remains un-phased by my frantic waving of the Charge Point card. The screen is inviting me to join their network, but pressing the required buttons disconnects the system. Ten minutes later I am back at the charging station with Doug, the store manager. He also cannot get the “blink” to blink, which brings an interesting question. Why can I get all of my groceries at the Whole Foods, but cannot purchase two dollars-worth of electricity. Since Doug is entrusted with running a large grocery store, couldn’t he carry a “blink” card and be allowed to sell the electricity to his customers?
But indomitable Doug remembers that the compressor room at the far end the underground parking may have a wall outlet. Doug cracks open the door, I drive the LEAF next to it, we plug her in, and this time everything works! Except that, according to the dashboard display, it will take seven hours of 120-volt charging to get the full tank. After a slow shopping, and a very leisurely cup of large cappuccino, I have to get going. Down the road an LA Car Guy dealer on Santa Monica Boulevard has the 240V fast chargers. For free. I have always known that anything with the name LA Car in it must be first rate. I pull into the lot, and spend ten minutes charging. The range increases somewhat.
Before heading to work I have to stop at the OSH hardware store on Bundy in West LA to buy a thicker extension cord. This time I am determined to test the whole system, which causes the sales staff at OSH to cast nervous glances at the sweaty guy who is dragging large electric cables around the store looking for outlets. The test, however, is a resounding success.
The LEAF is left with enough juice to get me to work, and - even better - my assigned parking spot has two outlets next to it. I plug the car in. Five hours later, I am back in the garage just to see if everything is okay. I turn the key. The range indicator shows I gained fifteen miles. All this time spent sucking electrical power for only fifteen miles? At least it will get me back home.
Usually when coming home from work, I park my car on the street, and do not look at it until next morning. But this evening is different. I have to re-position the Tall Girl's car in the driveway (oh how sweet the sound of an internal combustion engine!), bring the LEAF next to it, and commence search for a suitable plug. The stuff from my high school tech education classes is coming back. Thickness of the cable is related to resistance. Multiply amperes with voltage to get wattage. I am checking circuit breakers. If I plug the extension cord into a garage outlet I can close the door, run the cord by the side of house and plug the LEAF in.
I am tired. I haven't hauled so many electrical cables since my days in the band on the Croatian coast many decades ago.
But next morning the lights are gone and the LEAF is fully charged. Off to work, plug the car, unplug in the evening, drive home, do some errands and plug her again. Ed Begley Jr.'s house in Studio City for sure has several solar-powered high-efficiency 240V chargers ready to be used. But the 120V electrical outlets at the Segina's abode in West LA are designed to power Christmas lights in winter as opposed to feeding lithium ion batteries on midsummer nights.
Several days later, however, the LEAF is beginning to grow on me. I enjoy almost eerie silence when I drive the car. Sitting in freeway traffic does not bother me because I use no energy. The LEAF has pleasing lines, and well-appointed interior. Low center of gravity (because of the battery pack) combined with the competent architecture, and 17-inch low profile Michelins turn the car a sporty performer ready - and willing - to be thrown around. And when I push on the button which brings the LEAF out of Eco mode, and summons all available power, makes me feel I am using similar system on the 900 hp Formula 1 car made by the same manufacturer. Ah, the glory of a flat torque curve! Acceleration is instant and surprising because there is no engine noise. I have to monitor the speedometer since there is no aural reminder once I press the accelerator (cannot call it a gas pedal.)
It is true that manual seat adjustments are only on the driver's side, and that the body panels seem hollow thin. But the LEAF comfortably sits four, and the trunk space can be enlarged by simply pulling a couple of levers. It will swallow a folded nine-foot rubber dinghy together with bunch of other stuff. After several days, I am audacious enough to leave the LEAF unplugged overnight.
I discover that crawling at 20 mph in heavy street traffic uses little or no power. A freeway jaunt is a kilowatt guzzler because of air resistance.
After a week with the LEAF, I firmly believe that there is a future in electric cars, but it depends on a portable source of generating power built within the system. A small gasoline, diesel, or natural gas powered engine (perhaps a turbine) should be powerful enough for a let's say a three-kilowatt generator to recharge the batteries. With a plug-in option available, I would spend most of my days driving around on electricity alone, yet still have a back-up source of energy to avoid range anxiety (in my case more of a full-blown panic attack.)
A breakfast meeting with a friend who is into cars and engineering broaches an interesting subject: What if we welded a towing hitch on the LEAF. We could tow a small trailer with a portable 240Vdiesel generator. If we re-routed the charging connector from the hood to the trunk, and perhaps installed the remote start button for the generator.
We’ll discuss this at the next breakfast.
GOING ELECTRIC - A New LEAF on Life A former Silicon Valley engineer retired, moved to Hawaii, built a house, installed solar panels, bought a Nissan LEAF, produced enough energy to power his house and car—and even enough to give back to the electric company to help power the rest of the town. Read the full story by the late Benno Wang, in LA Car’s GOING ELECTRIC – A New LEAF on Life. For more information about Nissan products, go to nissanusa.com. SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2014 Nissan LEAF SL Price: $28,980 (base model) $35,020.00 (SL model) $37,090.00 (SL model as tested) Subtract $10,000 for Federal tax credit and California cash rebate EPA miles per gallon equivalent estimates 126 City/101 Highway/114 Combined MPGe EPA estimated electric range: 84 miles LA Car observed: 3.6 miles per kilowatt/hour Engine type: 80 kilowatt AC synchronous motor Horsepower: 80 kW = 107 HP Torque: 187 pound-feet at 0 rpm Transmission type: Single speed reduction gear. Automatic with D, N, R, and P positions Drive configuration: Front wheel drive Steering: Speed-sensitive electric power steering Suspension Front: Independent strut with coil springs, stabilizer bars Rear: Torsion bar axle with coil springs, stabilizer bars Wheels and tires: 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, with P215/50R17 Michelin Energy tires. Brakes Front: vented discs, regenerative braking system, electronic brake distribution Rear: vented discs, regenerative braking system Dimensions Overall length: 175 inches Overall width: 69.7 inches Overall height: 61 inches Curb weight: 3326 pounds Performance 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds; 93 mph top speed