New car reviews

2011 Nissan Leaf

The NO of Nissan

Lou Ann Hammond, Wed, 09 Mar 2011 12:02:24 PST

The NO of Nissan

I have to spend an entire morning cleaning out my garage of stuff I haven't seen or used in months, but am sure I still need. Why? Because I'm getting the Nissan Leaf. An electric car that is going to need to be charged, and the only place to charge it will be in the garage. It's a new concept, but one I have been anxiously awaiting.

I've had other vehicles that are deemed alternative energy. I get flex-fuel vehicles, but don't even try to find E85 (ethanol) out here in California. When I get a diesel vehicle I am aware of running out of diesel, even though forty percent of gasoline stations have diesel fuel.

The NO of a Nissan Leaf

No tailpipe, no emissions, no engine, no transmission no gas. Nissan has termed the Leaf, a smart fluidity. A dichotomy of a name since the Leaf takes no fluid.

No Noise. Not even windnoise. It's November, and it's cold and rainy. I hear other cars roaring by, but that doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when I stop at the stop sign. The bloody windshield wipers keep clack, clack, clacking. It's amazing how one sound can be so noisy when there are no other sounds.

No trade deficit

According to the Foreign Trade division of the Census Bureau imported oil will cost the United States roughly 270 Billion dollars for 2010. Bob Tippee, editor of the Oil and Gas Journal, helped me extrapolate the yearly refined motor gasoline from imported oil. Tippee estimates that we are paying 113 billion dollars for imported oil refined into motor gasoline for 2010. We still have no energy policy and no competition against oil, until today.

No Trailer

Nissan wanted to bring the car up in a trailer, but I suggested they drive it up to my house from Sacramento. Sacramento is only forty miles away, but it is cold outside and there are some hills. Both of those items eat up electricity, but the Leaf has a hundred mile charge, so the car would make it easily.

Owen Thunes, senior project engineer for electric and fuel cell vehicles at Nissan's Sacramento-based technical center brought the Leaf up to my home in Auburn, CA.

It was 8:30 in the morning when Thunes arrived at the house. The Leaf had been fully charged the night before. Thunes went through the panels with me, showing me the last panel of the Leaf coming up the hill to my house. Holy kilowatts batman.

Two Models

The 2011 Nissan LEAF is offered in two well-equipped models, the LEAF SV, $32,780, and LEAF SL, $34,570. Both have a 24-kilowatt-hour li-ion battery pack coupled to an 80-kilowatt electric motor.

Nissan reports that the standard features include a 6-way manual driver's seat, 4-way manual front passenger's seat, front door map pockets, passenger seat map pockets, trip computer (instant and average energy consumption, driving time, outside temperature and autonomy range), Automatic Temperature Control (ATC), center console storage and electric parking brake.

Other standard equipment includes an AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA CD-ROM playback capability and 6 speakers, auxiliary input jack ad USB Connection Port for iPod and other compatible devices, Nissan Intelligent Key with Push Button Start, power windows with driver's window one-touch auto up/down, power door locks with auto locking feature, remote charge door release, two cupholders, two bottle holders, variable intermittent windshield wipers, 12-volt power outlet and remote keyless entry system with remote windows down and hatch release.

The Nissan LEAF SL model includes a photovoltaic spoiler panel spoiler, fog lights, auto on/off headlights, cargo cover, HomeLink Universal Transceiver and RearView Monitor.

The real cost

There is a $7,500 federal income tax credit, and state rebates and tax credits. There is a $5,000 rebate for California residents, and Tennessee (where the Leaf is being built) offers $2,500 for the first 1,000 cars.

Firewood - Pine wood versus Blue Oak

Anyone who starts a fire in the winter does so to stay warm. The key to warmth is the density of the seasoned wood. No matter what type of wood I use it has to be approximately the same size, since my insert will only fit wood less than 17 inches long.

If I use pine wood there isn't much heat, the wood burns very quickly and there is a lot of emissions. If I use seasoned blue oak there is more heat for a longer length of time, and a cleaner burn, meaning less emissions.

Batteries can be the same - the battery pack in a Tesla Roadster is 53 kilowatts-hour. The battery pack in the Chevy Volt is 16 kilowatt-hour. The Nissan LEAF battery pack is 24 kilowatt-hour. Other electric vehicles average around 30 kilowatt-hour battery packs.

Electric batteries remind me of fire wood. You can buy seasoned blue oak, but it's going to cost a lot more than pine wood. Seasoned blue oak would be the Tesla battery pack of wood. The battery pack Nissan is using is better than pine wood, but not as expensive as blue oak.

Following that logic the Nissan Leaf battery won't go as far as the Tesla battery, but the Leaf is not as expensive as a Tesla.

Nissan did their homework and found that their buying customers are good with a 100 miles range, so they went with the battery pack that gave them the most energy for the length of time needed.

I asked Thunes if the charge read 100 miles when it was fully charged. Thunes gave me a bit of information I didn't know, "The energy is read in miles per kilowatt hour, not miles per gallon. But it is the same, some distance for some amount of energy used. The Leaf begins to know how you drive and your surroundings. It takes its estimate from the most recent driving. It takes what you've done previously and based on its current energy, what your predicted range will be."

On a day-to-day basis I don't travel more than forty miles per day. Since I work from home, some days I don't travel any further than to the gym and back, a round-trip of ten miles. But we live in the hills and that will suck up the energy. But it's not just the hills that suck the energy out of a car.

One doesn't even think about turning on the heater in an internal combustion engine. Heat is a by-product of an internal combustion engine, unlike the electric vehicle. It takes energy to heat a vehicle, especially when it's 30 degrees outside and you want your car to be a toasty 72 degrees inside.

Electricity versus gasoline

Because we have a smart meter at our house I was able to see the increase in usuage on my bill and calculate the difference charging an electric vehicle cost me.

To charge the car 40 miles, it cost me $2.98. If you have a car that averages twenty miles per gallon you're going to spend $6.00 for forty miles.

Hairdryers and cloth wiring

The Nation's infrastructure is not ready for everyone to go full electric, and neither are most homes. Whether it is a case of reconfiguring circuit breakers so that hair dryers are not on the same circuit breaker as your EV, or rewiring your old house because you still have cloth wiring, or knowing that your reset button on your Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is in a completely different part of the house. One learns more about what they have taken for granted, and how much of our infrastructure needs to be changed before we can have a mass market of electric vehicles.

Before Thunes could show me how to charge the car he had to make sure we were on a dedicated circuit. Thunes told me that a Leaf pulls a constant 12 amps while charging. On a fifteen amp circuit that's fine as long as you don't load up the circuit.

Two charging units:

The 110 charging unit is standard with the car. There is an optional DC fast charger you can buy for $700 that allows you to charge quicker, around 30 minutes, and will allow you to charge in public structures.

Nissan's 220-volt home charging unit cost $2,200 installed. There is a small federal tax credit for installing a home charger, 30% up to $1,000.

Creating an infrastructure

One screen in the Leaf shows you the public electric charging units. As more public electric charging units open up that information will automatically be pushed to the vehicle. ECOtality is one group that just received $287 million to oversee the installation of 2,750 home charging stations and 30 DC fast charging stations throughout the Bay Area. The nice part about charging units is that they can be placed in areas that are convenient to you, such as malls, or offices.

The Leaf will be sold initially in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington; by the end of 2011 it will be offered in all states.

When you drive a Nissan Leaf it gives you a paradigm of thinking about you, your house, your budget, the energy infrastructure, the Nation's debt.

NO doubt about it.

 


2011 Nissan Leaf


two types of chargers


a spike in electricity, but only 11 cents a kwH hour


41 miles of energy in 20.7 miles of driving

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