Recently, I wrote an article on some of the features of EVs that actually make them better than conventional gasoline powered cars. I also promised a firsthand article on some of the drawbacks of EV life. Well, I was reminded of that promise just this week when I encountered one of those drawbacks. With that, here are some of the minor annoyances I have encountered during my two and half years of daily driving an EV.
You Must Charge an EV Daily: One of the first drawbacks to driving an EV daily is that you must charge it daily. I was reminded of this when on Tuesday evening I forgot to plug in the Leaf. Getting out of the car with two kids plus their assorted
necessities crap will do that. I discovered this failure at 4:45 a.m. as I raised the door to the garage to head for the gym. At that point, all I could do was plug in the Leaf, set it charging, and walk to the gym (it's not really that far and the weather was mild). Which brings me to the next drawback:
EVs take a long time to charge: Today's EVs in general take a long time to charge - typically on the order of hours. I have a first gen Leaf with the slow 3.3 kW charger. It takes around 6 hours to charge from 0 to 100%. Even though the leaf was only about 75% depleted, this still equated to about 4 hours of charging. While my Leaf does have CHAdeMO fast charger capability which would allow it to charge to 80% in 30 minutes, this is only available from a dealer and the nearest dealer is about 12 miles away. So, this brings me to my next drawback:
You must have a backup plan: Note that I did not say that you must have another car, although that is an option. Many things will work – public transportation, a cab, Uber, s spouse, a neighbor, an ex-girlfriend, a current girlfriend or being ambulatory among others. I am fortunate to have a couple of backup vehicles. Even though the Leaf was probably 80% charged by the time I got back from the gym, showered and was ready to go, I chose to take the Fiat. Had I discovered my failure at 7:00 a.m., when I leave the house on non-gym days, I wouldn't have really had a choice in the matter.
Limited Range: All of today's electric cars have some sort of range limitation. In complete fairness, all cars have a range limitation. But, as noted before, it takes a significant amount of time to restore the range of an EV once it is depleted. This means that you must plan. If you aren't the planning type, then perhaps an EV isn't for you. Knowing and understanding the range limitations and more importantly understanding the conditions that will exacerbate limited range will go a long way to having a happy EV life.
Range Anxiety: Ok, this is not the same thing as Range above. Range anxiety is the fear that your EV will leave you stranded on the side of the road at 3 a.m., in the rain where you will be hacked to death by a serial killer in a white van and then eaten by wild dingos. Range is a function of engineering and physics. Range Anxiety is a function of you watching too many episodes of Americas Most Wanted and poor planning skills as noted above. All kidding aside, this was one of the trepidations I had as I pondered whether or not an EV was right for me. As an engineer, I knew what the vehicle was capable of doing and that with proper planning and a margin of error, I should be ok. So far, so good. I have yet to be stranded and I have pushed my luck once or twice. This is one of those things you are either capable of dealing with or not.
High Speed Driving: This is simple physics. The faster you drive the more energy you use. This is universal for all vehicles. Channeling my inner James May - wind resistance or drag is the primary culprit and it is a function of the vehicles speed squared, the coefficient of drag of the vehicle and the frontal area of the vehicle along with the density of the air. Without getting too far into the weeds, suffice it to say that a doubling of speed quadruples the drag. If you primarily commute on the interstate at 70+ mph, your range will be significantly reduced. The first 11 or so miles of my commute is on the interstate at around 70 mph and I generally have around 40-45 miles of range left when I exit the interstate. My commute home takes a different route which avoids the interstate, so no worries there.
Cold Weather Operation: I leased my Leaf in October of 2012 and soon after, I became acquainted with the Leaf 1.0 resistance heater. The resistance heater on these early models uses an appalling amount of power – power you need for driving. I estimate that my range went from a comfortable 73 miles in temperate weather to about 50 miles in extreme cold if I ran the heat at say 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This was when the car was new which is important as I will explain later. Newer Leafs have an available heat pump which if it is anything like the air conditioning should be far more efficient. One annoying thing that I haven't managed to mitigate is that apparently there are openings in the front of the Leaf that allow (cold) air into the cabin while driving and they cannot be closed off.
Inconsistent Braking: This may be a Leaf specific thing, but because the level of regeneration changes based on temperature, battery state of charge and perhaps some other criteria, the braking can be inconsistent. Sometimes, it honestly feels downright dangerous. Braking is one area where you should know what to expect. This is something that I hope Nissan can address in Leaf 2.0.
Software Changes: It seems that every time I take my car in for service (which Nissan requires every 7,500 miles), they change something in the software. Most recently and devastatingly, they changed the amount of regeneration the car has in extreme cold conditions. Basically, less energy is being recaptured when the battery is cold. This is supposed to be better for the battery. That's all fine and good, but I leased the car and its probably going back in October, so I sort of don't care. Couple this with the poor performance of the resistance heater and now my range has dropped even more. And, this brings me to the final drawback.
Capacity Loss: I have had my Leaf for two and a half years and 27,500 miles. Thus far I have lost one capacity bar. Basically, all Leafs start out with 12 capacity bars representing the battery's state of charge. Think of the capacity bar as a fuel gage for the battery. Apparently, the first capacity bar represents 15% of the battery with the remaining bars representing 6.5% (head nod Roadtripper). This may not be exact as I understand there may be some conservatism built in to just how much of the 24 KWh battery is available for use and there may be some reserve. But, suffice it to say, I have lost some of my available energy storage and therefore, my range. Couple this with the resistance heater and Nissan reprogramming the car and my cold weather range is now well below 50 miles. I have managed thus far by pre-heating the cabin, using the heated steering wheel and seats, reducing the thermostat to the mid-sixties and using the recirculate function and driving slower on the interstate.
You'll notice that the last few negatives are all related to range or things that affect range. I think, now that we have had four years (and it really has only been four years) of EV early adoption the way forward is becoming clear. It is more range and faster charging. If those two parameters can be improved to the point that they are at least on par with typical internal combustion engined vehicles then I believe EVs can ultimately become the primary mode of personal automotive transportation. All of the major automobile companies seem to now be pointed in this direction and I think it is almost inevitable.
Despite all the negatives, I love my Leaf. I knew there would be compromises, but overall, it has been a good experience. When this one goes back in October, I will have a decision to make. Will my next car be another EV or will I go another direction. One thing I know for sure is that if I do choose to go the EV route again, I will have more choices and improved products from which to choose.
Leave any questions in the comments and I will be happy to answer them.