Thursday, September 22, 2011

The economics of Nissan Leaf ownership

[Updated December 2012] We got our @NissanLeaf at the end of June 2011, and are very happy with it. It's fun to drive and is our first choice for any journey within range. Since the car is nearly silent and has over 200 lb-ft of torque, I often use full power for acceleration away from the lights, which quietly leaves the other cars behind. The low noise level is also great for listening to speech or music, and the steering wheel controls and bluetooth integration with my iPhone works well for phone calls and iPod or Pandora.

Laurel usually takes it for her 66 mile round trip commute, and if not, I take it on my 20 miles round trip commute, and any shopping trips at the weekend. So far we have averaged about 1000 miles per month, mostly mountain roads and freeways, which is the worst case for electrical consumption. The Leaf collects its milage and power use, and we can go back to look at the activity.

The record shows 1003 miles at 3.8 miles/KWh and a total of 264.6 KWh. We pay 10c/KWh, so if we had charged at home that's $26.46. Since we charge at work for free it's more like $15. We have grid-tied solar power and time of use metering for a cheap overnight rate. The meter runs backwards during the day at a higher price, and the Leaf has a charging delay timer so that we can plug it in when we get home, then it starts charging when the cheapest rate starts at 9pm.

1003 miles in the cars we would normally drive, which get about 20mpg, uses 50 gallons of premium gas at about $4.10 and about $206. So we actually saved $180 in August 2011.

If Laurel drives every day, 22 work days a month at 66 miles is 1452 miles, she tops up the charge at work each day and gets about 4 miles/KWh on that route so that's under a dollar a day. Our gas cost would be $298, so she could be saving about $280/month. That takes a big chunk out of the cost of buying the car in the first place. On top of that, the servicing costs are minimal, no engine oil changes, no gearbox, and the brakes last longer because the regenerative braking system takes a lot of the load. We have had to buy a new tire after popping it on a pothole, that was about $150, installed, but could happen to any car. We could have saved on gas costs by buying a hybrid, but they are less fun to drive and you are still paying to maintain a gas engine and a very complex transmission.

The icing on the cake is our white (for pure electric) car pool lane stickers, so Laurel can take the freeway in rush hour and zip silently past all the Prius drivers whose yellow (for hybrid) stickers no longer get them in the car pool lane. It took a total of ten weeks to get the license plates, then apply and get the white stickers.

So the value proposition for the Leaf is that it is much more fun to drive than a high mpg economy car like a Prius, gets you in the car pool lane (if you live in California), and the purchase cost is offset by ultra-low running costs if you use it regularly.

We aren't alone in figuring out that this is a good deal. At last count (end of 2012) there are more than ten Nissan Leaf owners at Netflix, along with several Volts (the latest version gets a green carpool lane sticker) and several Teslas. At Informatica, Laurel is among several Leafs and Volts sharing the chargers.

We leased our car on a three year 36,000 mile plan. We included the home charger installation in the payment (about $2K), put down a $2K initial payment, got a $7500 federal rebate bundled into the deal. Actual payment including taxes as one of the first Leaf owners was over $500/month, the current deals are much lower than this and Nissan is about to release the cost reduced US built Leaf in January 2013. We got a $2500 state rebate paid directly to us after signing up for it which covers the initial payment. We leased because we think that in three years time there may be big advances in electric car technology, we could decide to keep the Leaf, or give it back and get a the pick of the 2014 models.

For much more discussion about the car, the My Nissan Leaf forum is quite active. One thing I found there is that upgraded springs and dampers are available, since we do a lot of mountain driving, we upgraded the suspension to be stiffer and better damped than stock.

The first question everyone asks is how far will the Leaf go, and the answer is between 60 and 100 miles per charge, but it depends on where you live and how hard you drive. The usable capacity of the battery pack is about 21KWh, the actual spec is 24KWh, so there is a little bit of extra capacity beyond it's "I'm empty" point. if you drive a lot of freeways at speed and climb mountains like we do, 3-4 miles/KWh gets you 60-80 miles. In a flat urban environment 4-5 miles/KWh is quite possible to get 80-100 miles.

Since we live at the top of a mountain (2400ft) and work near sea level, it's a good idea to charge the car to 80% full at home, and 100% full at work. This way there is regenerative braking for the initial downhill run, which is free power and also saves the brake pads.

Our "carwings" summary page for August 2011 is shown below.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Moving Planet - Day of Action Saturday 24th Sept

There is a world-wide movement coordinated by the global warming action group which has set this coming Saturday as a day of action to raise awareness.

You can find an event near you at the Moving Planet Site. Many of the events are based around bike rides.

For people local to the bay area, there is also a large Electric Vehicle car show in Palo Alto organized by the Electric Auto Association of Silicon Valley, where people can see and get rides in electric cars like the Nissan Leaf. The electric world speed record holding 216mph Lightning Motorbike should also be there.

We have been having a lot of fun driving our Nissan Leaf, we use it almost every day, and going back to a conventional car seems so broken. What's this gearbox thing and why does it keep having to change gear? The quiet instant torque of direct drive electric power is addictive. At last count there are six Nissan Leaf's parked at Netflix every day. We have several chargers for people who need a top up, but most of us just charge at home.

For more mainstream activities, the San Jose Mercury is also organizing a big car show in central San Jose on the same day,, they have a Fisker hybrid on their poster and there will be electric cars and lots of classic cars as well.

I'm aiming to write some more blog posts on our solar system and the Nissan Leaf over the next few days.