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Living with the Leaf, Part 5: After six months, we’re sold

The owner's log

  • Electricity used in April, May and June: 249.2 kWh, 179.4 kWh, 145.1 kWh, respectively
  • Current mileage: 5,814 km
  • Total cost of EV electricity for April to June: $67.18
  • Average spring fuel economy: 1. 7 litres/100km equivalent
  • Average cost per 100 km: $2.62 (or $0.0262/km)
  • Observed spring maximum range: 154 km
  • Calculated maximum range: for April, 140 km; May, 165 km; June, 203 km

As I trundled back and forth to plug in our electric lawn trimmer, mower and car before packing it in for the night recently, I began to wonder whether this was all too much, or too little. Too much plugging in to be good for the grid or the environment, amid continuing power conservation efforts during an early summer heat wave. Or too little, for the grid or the planet, to make much of an impact on either.

Now that summer has arrived with its more frequent (but thankfully short) blackouts, there was a touch of extra trepidation with a car that runs only on electricity. But there have been no issues on this front, and remember, no electricity means gas stations can't pump gas, either.

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It has been just more than six full months since we brought our ocean-blue Leaf home. After going through the depths of winter and some record high summer temperatures in almost 6,000 km of daily commuting and weekend craziness, we've now silently motored through a full range of Canadian weather conditions.

The positives of electric car ownership are well documented. It's quieter to drive than a Rolls-Royce Phantom, has the low-end torque to make a heavy V-8 pickup blush, plus EV drivers get to spend those drive-through lines scornfully eyeing other able-bodied drivers without kids in the car for unnecessary idling, and slowing down our guilt-free path to our own espresso-spiked ice cappuccinos.

Whether it's access to all those in-town or highway HOV lanes when you're on your own, all the time and money saved by having ridiculously cheap fuel brought to you at home (943 pennies worth in all of June for us, to travel 710 km, and that's after Ontario hydro rates went up in May), or the generous $8,500 Ontario rebate the government hands to EV buyers, it's easy to feel like you've bought in to a little-known but valuable automotive VIP service. And wonder why more folks aren't jumping in with you.

The answer is not simply cost and range, the two issues most often cited for holding back EV sales. After the rebate, our Leaf cost less than the Nissan Maxima I borrowed recently, both of which are classified as mid-size cars by the EPA. Plus, the Maxima didn't come with a navi system, back-up camera or heated rear seats.

As for range, it's obvious the Leaf enjoys hot weather much more than cold temperatures. Helping me to discern exactly how much this preference paid off at the EVSE (charger) over the past few months was a unique EV data monitoring program by FleetCarma, a Waterloo, Ont.-based technology company that helps fleet operators save money by analyzing employee driving patterns. Plug in a little matchbox-size logger into the OBD II sensor under the steering wheel, and it will tell you your exact kilometres driven per day/week/year, an Eco Score that rates your driving out of 100, as well as how many kilometres you could have travelled that day, all based on your real-world driving patterns.

It showed us that between April 17 and June 29, the Leaf averaged 1.7 litres/100 km equivalent, and used 412 kWh to travel 2,217 km. Combine those figures with the Toronto Hydro cost figures that measures only the juice going to recharge the Leaf, and the overall cost and range pictures clearly shows that even with some record high May and June temperatures, and lots of A/C use, the Leaf was still slightly more efficient in those months than in the last two weeks of April, when most days averaged less than 10 degrees.

An interesting figure contained there was the real-world range estimate the program provided, which tells you on each day how far you could have travelled before recharging, based on your driving style, temperatures and traffic patterns. It suggested on a couple occasions that more than 200 km per full charge was possible in our hot June, a 165 km max in May, and a 140 km max in April. Our furthest actual travelled distance was closer to 150 km, since we rarely let it go under a 20 per cent charge.

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Sadly, many EV owners including us have witnessed seemingly strong industry resistance to EVs across all auto makers, even among the few who sell plug-in cars. Good friends of ours tried to buy a Leaf, after test-driving ours, but found they were discouraged from taking the EV plunge by three separate Nissan dealers.

One wasn't a Leaf dealer, and couldn't tell them where the nearest Leaf dealer was, they said, before poo-pooing EVs, then pushing them on a Juke or Rogue. The next one didn't have the single "Leaf rep" available that day, nor have anyone else that could talk pricing or even answer questions on it. By the time they found a more helpful Leaf sales rep at Nissan dealer number three, he addressed most of their questions, yet once again seemed reluctant to actually bring out a Leaf contract, at which point they gave up. They ended up in a Mazda CX-5 instead.

I think about this couple's experience every time I read about disappointing EV sales, and wonder how many other prospective purchasers have been steered away. To its credit, Nissan Canada officials had a conference call with them to listen and learn from their experience. Yet Canadian EV owners and enthusiasts of all plug-in makes have reported many similar experiences online, suggesting there's more holding back EV sales than buyer trepidation, with little dealer financial incentive at this early EV stage to sell these low-volume, low-profit (forget haggling) and virtually no-service-required vehicles.

This is unfortunate, as we're very happy overall with our Leaf. Keeping tabs on how far you're driving that day and the remaining range left – especially in the winter – will perhaps seem like a little too much hassle for some. But for us, that seems a small price to pay for such four-wheeled VIP service.

Correction: An earlier online version of this story misidentified the figures for the cost of charging the Leaf in April, May and June. This has been amended.

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