I purchased my Nissan Leaf in March 2011. I couldn’t resist the appeal of zero emissions, cool styling, fun driving, green status, well-engineered and built car, and a 100 mile range. I must say it has delivered on all of these promises, with the exception of the range. For me, range has been a bit problematic because I live in Santa Barbara, and I have an office in Hollywood. My commute is 92 miles door-to-door. I thought, I’d have 100 miles of range, so hey, no problem.
Real life experience
Well, here’s my real life experience over the last year or so. Fortunately, I don’t make that commute every day, only once a week. I have a loft in L.A. so I stay for a few days, mid-week, and drive back to S.B. for 4-day weekends. Bottom line — I have made the 92 mile commute on a number of occasions, but on many of the trips I’ve had to avail myself of one of the four Nissan dealers along my route for a free, level 2 charge, stopping anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Adding an hour, to an hour-and-half commute is not a lot of fun. (With a one hour charge, I can pick up about 12 miles of additional range).
I’ve learned about range anxiety first hand. It sits right under one’s sternum, something that pilots and race car drivers know all too well. I’ve also learned there are a number of factors that affect the range I am able to get on each trip such as:
- Driving mode – eco mode or regular
- Driving style – lead foot, or with an egg between your foot and the accelerator
- Terrain – along my route I climb the 800ft Conejo Grade
- Temperature – the Leaf cools it’s works, but no heating
- Load – weight of passengers and cargo
- Accessories – heat, AC and lights
- Solar charger on the rear wing
- Altitude – thinner air in certain locations
- State of charge
Tactics to extend range
I’ve come to learn that the largest factor is aerodynamics. Even though the Leaf is nicely shaped to cut through the wind, and even deflect it around the side view mirrors with its bubble-lensed headlights, pushing all that air out of our way takes lots of energy. So the faster we go, the harder we have to push against all that air. (Race car drivers know that at top speeds it takes an enormous increase in horsepower to gain just a few more MPH.)
I’ve come to learn this in two ways. I can make my 92 mile commute without having to stop for a charge if I draft a big rig truck down the coast. I let the trucker push the air out of my way with his fossil fuel. I don’t recommend this practice as it’s just as nerve racking as the range anxiety I’m trying to overcome. It’s also dangerous and you’re likely to pick up your share of rock chips.
The second way, is on the days I’ve hit stop-and-go traffic along the 101, I can make the 92 miles, by poking along well under the speed limit. However, if the traffic is moving along at a clip, it’s also a bit dangerous to try to go 50 mph with traffic zipping by you at 70.
Since I am trying to make my commute without stopping, I’ve also over inflated my tires by four or five pounds, tinted the windows so I can leave the AC off and added some GasPods along the rear roofline. I don’t know if they help, buy hey, any bit helps and I only need just a few more miles.
DC Quick Charging Stations
With just one DC quick charger along my route I’d be set. In the same time it takes one to pump a tank of gas, use the restroom and grab a beverage for the road, I can pick up enough range to make my commute comfortably. All I need is 10 minutes on a DC quick charger, and I’m home free. I hear there are charging station companies evaluating DC quick charging stations along my route. I can’t wait!
On a side note…. there is a hidden danger of using the level 2 chargers. I stopped at the Nissan dealer in Camarillo for an hour to gain some additional range. I was feeling good about picking up 50 cents worth of free electricity courtesy of Nissan, until I realized I was walking back to my car from Frys Electronics having just spent $200! A month or so later the same thing happened when I used the free charger in front of the Malibu Public Library and walked over to the Cross Creek Shopping Center and spent $150 on clothes. This is something that is not mentioned in the owner’s manual. So beware. (However, I’m up to speed with my tech toys and I’m better dressed thanks to my Leaf’s need for more juice.)
See you on the 101!