6 months with an Outlander PHEV and a Nissan LEAF Mk2

Farewell Mk1 Nissan LEAF….

After 3 years and 34,000 miles it was time for the Mk1 Nissan LEAF to be returned. I was a tad emotional to give back the car that has changed my view on driving forever. Here’s my ‘one take’ farewell drive the day before ‘Bex’ went back….

30,000 Mile Nissan LEAF Mk1 Update after 2.5 years

30,000 Mile milestone

30,000 Mile milestone

Last week another significant electric driving milestone was met, 30,000 miles now on the clock of our 2012 Nissan LEAF Mk1. Now if this was any other road car this digit would pass without event but it also coincides with our 2.5 year mark, meaning 6 months only left with this car.

End of a LEAF?
So after 3 years and 30,000 miles the decision is made to move AWAY from the LEAF as a company car. So what happened? Did I stop loving the LEAF? Did it fail to live up to the hype? What went wrong? Well nothing and no. In fact out of the 25+ cars I have driven the LEAF has single-handedly changed how I not only consider cars but it opens a door where you question your energy usage, where it comes from and more.

So why ditch the LEAF?
Well its not really a complete walk away from a LEAF but more a financial adaptation. When I took delivery of the LEAF in 2012 I was one of the first few hundred electric car drivers in the UK. Compare that tO Last year where 13,000 LEAFs were sold so a significant exponential growth in adoption DESPITE a plummeting oil price. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few company cars before and I have learned that such time boxed leases are more financial than emotional decisions about as car I will never own. Before a LEAF I drove a diesel car and was feeling the year on year increase in Company Car Tax.

Company Car Tax
Now before your eyes glaze over at the mention of tax it’s a pretty big thing. HALF of all UK new cars are sold to fleets and if Company Car Drivers have to pay a Benefit in Kind tax for the ‘privilege’. For a decade this has been linked to the CO2 emissions of a vehicle designed to incentivise drivers to choose lower emission cars. Essentially it’s a sliding scale dependent on the emission the more it gunk out the exahaust, the more you pay. The real bonus for the past 2.5 years has been that all electric cars pay NO company car tax. So if I had chosen a VW GOLF in 2012 instead of a LEAF I would have paid over £1,000 more in company car tax each year. Zero Emission cars were taxed at 0% and this is the PRIMARY reason I chose an electric car. HOWEVER the Government is SCRAPPING the 0% rate for zero emission cars and lumping all cars that emit less than 50 CO2 into one big bucket. AND the rate goes from 0% to 5% in April 2015, the 7% in 2016, then 9%, nnext year and up to 13% the year after that. So take out a zero emission car like the LEAF on a 3 year lease and by the end of it your BIK company car tax will have shot from £0 in 2015 to over £1000 a year by 2017.

This utter madness means that a cheaper car, like the VW Golf at £10k less purchase price than a Nissan LEAF will be CHEAPER than a car that emissions nothing out the tailpipe. At the very time when there are huge health concerns about the toxic gasses from Diesel cars the Government is scrapping the very incentive that got me into a zero emission car in the first place. At a time where Paris is banning all diesel cars by 2020 and London is breaching EU regulations on air quality and considering the same.

Loving the LEAF
Before talking about my decision lets just praise the technological marvel that is the LEAF. I have driven round Silverstone track and all the way to Snowdon in North Wales proving, that with some basic planning, Electric Cars can work for long jounrneys. When I tok delivery of my LEAF in August 2012 there was less than 100 rapid Chargers in the UK now there are over 800 Nationwide including EVERY motorway service station. There is also something magnificent of laying in bed reaching for your iPhone and telling the car to heat itself up on af frosty morning. Or plugging it into charge on a sunny day knowning that you are charging, and hence driving, for free. The Traffic Light Grand Prix that has left many a boy race grappling for the right gear as this silent car launches into the distance. All this in a car which can take all 5 of our family plus the dog in the boot.

Range
Lets make a caveat; the Mk2 LEAF is a significant improvement on the MK1 I have been driving for 3 years. BUT one of the challenges of being an early adopter is that you are soon left with yesterdays tech. In our LEAF this has manifested itself in a terrible heating system which, on a cold wet evening, can mean you are sat on a Motorway trying to demist a window watching the range haemorrhage as the heating takes 4kw to try and heat the cabin. Now thats an extreme example but it has happened. And before someone lifts that soundbite out of context; the Mk2 LEAF Accenta and Tekna models largely resolve this with a far more efficient heat pump heating system. It’s also means that we can’t travel further than 30 miles form home with our relying on some form of public charging to get back home again, and this has had its challenges.

RANGE ANXIETY IS JUST A POINT IN TIME. It is widely speculated that by 2016/2017 we will see at least a doubling of the range of the LEAF to 150 miles, possibly 200 milesalong with cars from GM and Tesla with a similar range and price point; and at that point EVs becomes far more adoptable.

Next car decision
Having driven nearly all UK available EVs in the past year, our LEAF replacement in August will be the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GX4h. Do I need a 1.8 tonnes 4×4 car for our usage? No. And that is the compromise. But with this car we have a 27 mile electric range and then a petrol hybrid that extends that range to over 300 miles. Another great advantage is that is has the same 2 sockets for charging as the LEAF so a J1772 plug for home and public charging and a CHAdeMO socket for a 20 minute rapid charge at a motorway service station. BUT, and its a meaningful BUT, if you arrive at that motorway service station and the Rapid Charger is DOWN, or if there is 1 LEAF on Charge and another waiting, you don’t have to wait AN HOUR until you can continue your journey. The Outlander is also a very smooth drive, loads of technology as standard and very familiar with all the controls and buttons in the same place as the LEAF.

OPTIONS it’s all about options. We can choose when we want to drive electric and when we can use the petrol 2 litre engine to drive or charge the batteries. Its the flexibility of never worrying about range yet still paying the same company car tax rate as a Nissan LEAF. It’s the flexibility to carry stuff in a decent boot or on a roof rack, both missing in the BMW i3. And moreover it’s the ideal stop-gap for 2 years until we see the longer range electric cars in 2017. Telsa, GM and Nissan are all racing to bring out a 200 mile range EV by 2017. Also, as Ecotricity struggle to prop up their motorway charging network, there is a good chance of those growing pains to have diminished by 2017.

It’s all about 2017.

Goodbye LEAF?
Not quite, So while all the above talks of Company Car tax and financials the Outlander is not without its compromises. It has a pretty rudimental satnav and no luxury of laying-in-bed-climate-control and it also uses a lot more electric to move it than the LEAF. Now that may sound mad in the context of ICE engine vs Electric as both the LEAF and Outlander PHEV are over 90% cheaper to drive than an ICE; but I want the full 80 miles electric range. So we plan to sell our 2nd car, a BWM Mini, and either buy or lease a Nissan LEAF Tekna 6.6kw. Now EVs depreciate quickly so there are all sorts of calculations and sums to be done but my mindset is; we just drive it into the ground. If we personally but a LEAF there is no road tax, insurance is a couple of hundred quid a year, I have a nissan dealer with rapid charger 5 miles from home and supermarket with 4 x 7kw free charging posts. So really there should be next to no running costs if we have a personal owned LEAF to compliment the Outlander PHEV.

So that’s the plan; to bid farewell to the game-changing LEAF in August as a company car, swap it our for an Outlander and in the interim stalk a decent low mileage LEAF Mk2 Tekna or PCP deal to make us a twin EV family.

And what of that comment of beware the door it opens, well I already had solar electric panels on my roof, but soon after getting my LEAF I added Solar thermal hot water, then added solar electric hot water heating and I continue to drive down our family’s dependency on fossil fuels. I present at many public events on our journey with the LEAF and drive and blog about the revolution in electric driving. You cease to be tied to a petrol station or an energy provider for all your heat and hot water needs and start to have options about how we consume energy and drive our cars. It’s been a fabulous 30,000 miles in the LEAF but what’s round the corner looks even more exciting

Christmas Eve, Chicken Run and look, Cheap Petrol!

Christmas Eve 2014; the normal hectic dash of last minute shopping, wrapping presents, tables, chairs, cards etc and two unconnected events which perfectly captured a sustainable point in time.

First off, the brilliant Chicken Run on BBC1 Christmas Eve afternoon; I’d not seen it in a while but have always thought this was the funniest, and best written, Aardman Animations Film; from the characters right through to the shamelessly cloned Theme Tune from the Great Escape.

There’s a scene where the dictator-styled Farmers Wife enters the Chicken Coup and the Chicken that has laid the least eggs is summarily removed and slaughtered as the leased productive of the flock. But on this occasion rather that being hauled off for Sunday Roast the chickens are given extra feed and without a moments thought set about eating as much of extra feast as possible. Only Babs , their industrious leader, sees the new Chicken Pie machine being set up across the yard where these newly fattened chickens will soon meet their timely demise.

mrs tweedy

It reminded me of a recent post on my Facebook wall by a friend who had commented on the recent falling price of Petrol and a tounge-in-cheek suggestion about the viability of the Electric Car. As sure as those chickens gorged on their extra food, the current blip in Petrol prices in guaranteed the same end, but onto the second ‘Canary in the Coalmine’ that December 24th…

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 17.44.13

This brings me to the second event that Christmas Eve; the Today Programme on Radio 4 at 6am and a news article whereby OPEC, the cartel that fixes Middle East oil prices by manipulating oil production; said that it would not cut oil production EVEN oil if it fell to $20 per barrel. This was MASSIVE and knocked me sideways; not because of my advocacy of Electric Cars but the tactics that OPEC was now deploying.

To briefly summarise; anytime in the past the price of oil fell, OPEC would reduce the amount of oil it extracts hence constraining demand forcing up prices to ensure all member countries continue to make billions of dollars of profit.

However; the price of oil falling in 2014 was attributable to one fact; US Fracked Oil. The USA has been fracking the rocks (a really unsafe practice) and extracting oil for it’s own supply hence reducing the need , and dependency, to import it from the Middle East and Russia. This new supply has directly resulted in the falling price of oil and many analysts were expecting OPEC to cut production to force the price up. So why this Christmas Eve statement about no such reduction in supply?

Well earlier in December UK North Sea Oil drilling companies announced 2,500 job cuts as it was no longer viable to extract oil from beneath the sea bed if the market price falls below $60 a barrel. And the penny dropped; the Middle East still extract oil from their shallow Land based oil wells which is much cheaper than an oil rig in the North Sea. And certainly a lot cheaper than horizontal drilling and fracking which the USA has been doing to self supply .

So OPEC are looking to kill off the competition by not reducing supply. There will come a point whereby it is not financially viable to extract oil from the North Sea in the UK or by fracking in the USA. OPEC will have wiped out their competition and will then to recommence their control of global oil pricing and the strategic goal of increased oil prices year on year will recommence.

So yes, right now the price of forecourt petrol prices is falling, but if you look at a graph over the past 60 years you will see there are frequent short-lived temporary drops in prices but the overall price continues . And let’s not forget that we are past Peak Oil, that is the point whereby we have extracted all the easy oil and continued supply requires very dangerous practices like fracking rocks next to drinking water supplies or drilling the Artic.

fracking.injection.wells_.contamination.public.water_occupycorporatism

When a Fracking well Pollutes Drinking Water

Now a pragmatist would suggest taking advantage of the low oil prices while the price is low and I agree with the idea of choices; indeed our next car will be a part  electric / part petrol plug in hybrid; but we also plan to keep a 100% electric car charged from the solar panels on our home.

But to suggest that this temporary dip in petrol prices should divert people away from transportation run on non-fossil fuels is as short sighted as those Chickens gorging on an apparent free meal without care for their impending fate. Still, there’s a lot to be said for a good Chicken and Mushroom pie.

chicken pie

Breaking: Nissan LEAF comes with BOTH charging cables with 6.6kW Upgrade

Just been told that anyone ordering a Nissan LEAF from 1 October 2014 and who pays for the 6.6 kW charging upgrade will get BOTH the 3 pin “EVSE Brick” charging cable as well as the Type 2 to Type 1 charging cable which allows the full 6.6 kW charging.

Nissan “EVSE Brick” allowing a trickle charge from a 3 pin socket

Previously customers had to pay an extra £400 for the 3 pin EVSE brick as they got the Type 2 to Type 1 cable only

1 year and 14.4k miles in a Nissan LEAF. The family car that changed it all.

“I’d love to know what you’d think after driving the car for a year” came the question from the audience as I presented my decision to choose an Electric Car at the 2012 IBM North Harbour Sustainability day. And it’s a fair question for many seeking reassurance of this “brave new transportation world”. A year is a long time to reconsider a passionate or hurried purchase. A years wear and tear can expose a flaw or a substandard product. Can the marketing hype be born out in reality? Has the sheen worn off the 100% Electric Nissan LEAF after living with it through four seasons? Is Range Anxiety a reality? Would I do it again?

That year is now up.

IMG_6499
Day 1 with the Nissan LEAF – out for a drive!

If you have never read any of my former blogs; a bit about myself, family and transport needs. I’ve been with IBM 18 Years and for the last 9 of those years I have been able to choose a company car from a free choice of makes and models. My previous 2 cars were on 4 year leases; a VW Golf MK5 TDi Sport followed by a Seat Altea XL (both with same 2L Diesel Sport engine). Our family requirements; we’re a family of 5 with 3 kids ages ranging from 6-17 plus an English Springer Spaniel (so a full load!) I work full time from home but my partner commutes daily on a 35 mile round trip along the M27.  Now rather than go through all the rationale as to why we chose a Nissan LEAF you can just refer back to my decision making blog here. You can also see a video of my first day with the car on YouTube. :

After a year, how do you find driving the LEAF every day?

We have blown the estimates for our annual mileage and have covered 14,432 miles in the LEAF in a year.  I’ve had over 25 cars over the years and nothing quite prepares you for the smile when you drive an EV (Electric Vehicle) for the first time. That grin is still there 1 year on.

A ‘normal’ car is hopelessly inefficient at generating power. It wheezes and puffs and bangs to produce power and it’s still not enough so a gearbox tries to scale it up and after all that showmanship only 20% of the fuel you put in makes the car move. The rest is wasted. An electric car simply has a battery, an inverter and a motor and 80% of that power goes instantly to the wheels as torque (or power). And there is nothing quite as satisfying as pulling up silently at a traffic lights next to some boy racer. Then leaving them standing as they struggle with gear changes, and their ego, the LEAF silently launches in a relentless surge off the line. With all it’s eco credentials, it’s something that was such a huge surprise.  I’m not recommending that as a driving strategy but to every Top Gear spotty nosed teenager viewer who thinks you need many horses of power, don’t forget its the torque that counts.

The LEAF is an utter joy to drive. It’s smooth, quiet, refined and such an immensely relaxing drive. I use the steering wheel mounted digital cruise control the majority of the time and find the fact you can choose exactly lets’s say 32mph is such a nice touch, especially through speed controlled roadworks. Out of our 2 cars I choose to drive the LEAF. I wait for it to get home before running errands. And Jo has commented (out of my earshot!) what a great car and how simple it is to drive. It’s when you get back in an old ICE (internal Combustion Engine) car that you realise how unrefined and dirty and noisy it is.

What’s the longest trip you have done in the LEAF?

Last November I was invited to be part of World Record Electric Vehicle convoy at Silverstone Race circuit. This required me to get from Emsworth to Northampton with the need to stop and charge on the way. It’s a 140 mile trip, in November. Now the LEAF can recharge at a dedicated Rapid Charging station in under 30 mins. That’s from flat to 80% charged. This would be my first trip where I was relying on what was then an emerging Rapid charging network. Thankfully things have changed a bit since then but last November there were very few places to Rapid Charge so I had backup charging plans and contingencies all over the place. I still have the spreadsheet on my desktop with the miles between stops and backup locations if anything was not working.

nissan-leaf-parade-at-silverstone
Nissan LEAFs breaking the World Record EV Convoy at Silverstone

Now before any readers start with the ‘oh thats far too much hassle’ I don’t mind being an early adopter of many things. I hope that the bumps and challenges I encounter, and then feedback, helps smooth things out for those who follow along after. And there many more Rapid Charging locations live now 10 months on but let’s head back to last November.

I had planned my route with 2 Rapid Charge stops. “But can’t the LEAF do 100 miles on a single charge?” I hear you cry. Well that car you drive now, remember when you first got it and the manufacturer claimed it would do 58 mpg or so,  but you only get about 45 mpg on your daily drive?. Well that’s because manufacturers use unrealistic measurements to achieve that MPG. The same is true of Electric Car range. They too can be affected my how you drive it, how heavy your right foot is and the speed at which they are driven. They also can be impacted by things like heating and lights in the winter months.

So whilst I did meet one driver who had driven up from Portsmouth to Silverstone only stopping once, I decided that I would like to go a reasonable speed and treat myself to some heat !! I Rapid Charged at West Way Southampton then at Waitrose Abingdon and made it to the hotel in Northampton with 30% battery remaining. Total cost of journey £0 . And the hotel had ordinary 3 pin sockets in their grounds for when they had outdoor events and the LEAF happily plugged in and trickle charged overnight. People forget it can just trickle charge from a 3 pin plug.

A lot of LEAFs in the Silverstone pit lane
A lot of LEAFs in the Silverstone pit lane

Are you forever hunting charging locations pent up with Range Anxiety?

I’ll admit that I am now evangelical about Electric Cars; but the rest of the family are less so. Jo is bored of me talking about them, but thinks the LEAF is a great car. Our 17 year old, who watches at least 3 episodes of Top Gear a day on Dave, thinks unless the car is drifting sideways round a disused airfield making lots of noise it’s not a car. And our 14 year old is mortally embarrassed that we have something different from her other friends and are tooooo eco. However whilst our 6 year old boy doesn’t understand the environmental benefits or technical reasoning for an Electric Car, he knows how to plug it in, and happily talks about other LEAFs he saw on a recent trip to London. His generation will be the one that really make the switch.

Charging at Work
Charging at Work
Top up charge whilst shopping (Portsmouth)
Top up charge whilst shopping (Portsmouth)

The point is Jo drives the company car LEAF more than I do commuting 4 days a week in all weathers, so she knows what it can and can’t do. She’ll glance at the battery gauge and just drive. Yesterday case and point. She drove from home to Southampton General Hospital and back, plugged in for 45 mins then to Chichester and back in the evening (so lights on etc) and made it home with 2 bars / 20 miles remaining. Now I would have given myself more top up time, or parked and charged in Chichester but when you drive this car for a year through all the seasons you know what it can do, and you drive to that range. The car was plugged in at 10pm and at 2.15am this morning I got the normal email saying the car was 100% charged and ready to go again. So if you have a short journey then you can drive a little faster knowing that overnight it will be fully charged at home. If there’s snow on the ground, and you’re doing a longer journey then you drive more steadily using heat, lights etc. Again knowing that overnight at home it will fully charge and be ready to go.

So Range Anxiety can easily be overcome. We charge our car 99% of the time from home using a dedicated charging station. If you are in England and reading this before April 2015 you too can get a Free Electric Car charging station, even if you don’t own an electric car yet.

A free to use Rapid Charger charges the car in under 30 minutes
A free to use Rapid Charger charges the car in under 30 minutes

I only Rapid Charge if on a longer journey or if on a return trip and I know I need to do another trip later in the day. And there is now a Rapid Charger 5 miles from home at WKB Nissan Waterlooville. So if I have 30 mins spare I’ll nip up there and charge for free. In the last year the number of Rapid Chargers has ‘Rapidly’ grown. In the past month Fleet Services, both North and Southbound M3, have free to use (with free card) chargers which allows me to recharge on the way in or out of London, IKEA have just announced loads of planned installs with free to use provide Ecotricity.

UK Rapid Chargers (Aug 2013)
UK Rapid Chargers (Aug 2013)

Take a look for yourselves on : http://www.zap-map.com for all current installed chargers and this map from Ecotricity to see where they are installing free to use rapid chargers:

Ecotricity's Map inc planned Rapid chargers at IKEAs
Ecotricity’s Map inc planned Rapid chargers at IKEAs

What lessons have you learnt over the year?

The biggest lesson learnt is how tied people are to NOT making the switch to Electric Cars. I have colleagues, friends and family, who I have lots of respect for, still baulk at the idea of stepping away from their petrol/diesel car. I find it quite frankly, bizarre.

I’ve presented and spoken about Electric Cars with a lot of people over the last year and I still thrive on the response I get. I’ve seen in an auditorium full of people “the lightbulb moment” or when the penny drops. “It’s 90% cheaper to run, really?”, “You mean you charge the whole battery in 30 minutes?” “You can run it for free of Solar, but I spend 綀a month on diesel”. BUT in 12 months the reasons people choose not to make the switch to EVs have not altered one bit; they start talking about Range and 100 miles yet over 95% of their journeys. There’s an Aunt in Norfolk or the annual vacation in the Lake District. To me it seems madness to drive a car that you only might need for 1 or 2 journeys a year and then for the other 360 days a year you could drive a car that is 90% cheaper to run. Why not drive a car that meets the majority of your needs and use a different car for those 1 or 2 times a year.

I priced it up yesterday. I could hire a small car for £26 a day. So having saved £2,500 by switching from a diesel to an electric car just spend £26 to do that one long trip. OR just make allowance that you need to grab a coffee while the LEAF is on charge for 30 minutes at one of the many Rapid Chargers.

The LEAF has four speeds of charging:
– Rapid Charge – 80% of the battery in 30 min
– Fast 32 Amp charge – Optional extra on the UK 2013 Built LEAF – charges the car in 4 hours
– Fast 16 Amp charge – Charges the car in 6 hours (this is the how I charge at home)
– Trickle 3 pin plug charge – 8 hours ish

Do the savings really add up?

This decision to drive a LEAF was initially a financial considered purchase, the driving experience came as an enormous surprise! With ٞRoad Tax, ٞLondon Congestion Charge, ٞCompany Car Tax and cheaper servicing costs it came out cheaper to drive than many other cars I could have chosen.

Our actual Solar PV and Nissan LEAF kWh charge
Our actual Solar PV and Nissan LEAF kWh charge

It costs less than £2 a night to charge this car from flat to full. In reality it costs us £1 a night to charge it up as we rarely run it that low. Install some Solar Panels on your house and not only will you get a 20 year tax free income from the Government but you could use that generated electricity to power your car. That’s what we do and for 10 months of the year we generate electricity more than the car uses to charge. Free driving? However, even without Solar PV panels on your house there are still 90% savings to be have by making the switch to an electric car.

I’m the kind of person who makes up spreadsheets to validate such decisions. It costs about  £1,900 a year to drive 10,000 miles in a frugal diesel car. It costs about £200 a year in electric to do the same if you 100% charge at home on a standard online Tariff. It’s that simple, you can drive as you do today but wiping out the dependency on yo-yo fuel prices. And with no messy oil or fuels or sparkplugs, servicing is much less as well.

Now if 90% savings are not enough:
– Choose an Economy 7 tariff and you could save 30% on that electric cost by using cheap off peak electric
– Install renewable energy and potentially charge your EV for free
– You can FIX your electric cost. Imagine fixing the price of Diesel for 12 months….
– Use a Rapid Charger or charge at work for free
– There is no duty on domestic electric and only 5% VAT.

Financial Winner: ELECTRIC CAR

Electric Cars are only useful as a second car “run-around”

Apart from the Nissan LEAF we have a Volkswagen EOS 2.0 TDi Sport as a personal car. We got this 2 years ago and it’s a really great car, especially in the summer with the roof down. HOWEVER, since taking delivery of the LEAF a year ago:
– The VW EOS has done 2,500 miles
– The LEAF has done 14,400 miles
– We only use the EOS when we both need to drive

I loathe putting £65 of diesel in the EOS so I positively choose to wait until the LEAF is home. As such the VW EOS only gets filled up every couple of months.

“Who are you trying to fool, it’s not that green? Still needs power to drive the thing?”

Electric Cars are by far the most environmentally friendly switch that many of us could make. They remove cancer causing fumes from street level by emitting ZERO emissions whilst being driven. Electric Cars are normally charged overnight when the National Grid is emitting the lowest level of emissions. BUT even if you did plug an Electric Car to charge up from a dirty coal fired power station it would still only use 40g/km of CO2.

Now a car like the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion has a CO2 figure of 119g/km of CO2 but that’s just what it emits whilst it’s driving. To make a fair comparison you have to use the “well to wheel” argument that is the amount of fuel it takes to :

  • Drag the oil out the ground
  • Store it
  • Transport it
  • Store it
  • Ship it
  • Store it
  • The massive amounts on energy used to refine crude oil
  • Store it
  • Transport it
  • Store it
  • Transport it
  • Store it
  • And THEN put it in a car

It’s actually about 450 – 500g/km of CO2 for a modern efficient family car vs 40h/km if you charged it from the dirtiest power station. And what’s more you can choose a company like Green Energy or Ecotricty and charge your Electric Car from 100% Renewable Energy, or generate your own electricity. The poor old petrol car has no choice, it has to get it’s fuel from a petrol station where the price is fixed by a cartel called OPEC and which the government then applies huge fuel duty and VAT tax levies.

“But when Jeremy Clarkson had a LEAF and a Tesla on Top Gear it ran out of battery. So Electric Cars are crap!”

Jeremy Clarkson is a baffoon. Top Gear is an entertainment show, not a consumer advice programme, unless you think driving a Smart Car off a cliff or firing cars at caravans in a disused quarry is meaningful journalistic research.

If you were to drive a Ferrari F40 Sports Car round the Top Gear track it will achieve only 1 mile per gallon. it would only have half the range of an Electric Car. But they don’t mention that it. If you were to run out of petrol in the middle of the countryside you are probably 30 miles from your nearest petrol station where as an electric car could plug into the farmers cottage, they skip over that as well.

“Yeah but that silly Tesla Roadster ran out of battery and had to get pushed off the Top Gear track, ha ha snort ha”. No it didn’t. Tesla representatives where there and drove the car off the track with lots of battery remaining, After an official complaint Top Gear published a small apology saying that the piece demonstrated what WOULD happen if an electric car runs our of power. They just never show a petrol car running of petrol 30 miles from the nearest petrol station.

The BBC has been really poor on it’s electric car coverage with plenty of factual errors and contradictions. HOWEVER, even the Surrey Baffoon himself conceded that the Electric Merc Super car on the last series was great “for when the oil ran out” and even Radio 4’s Costing The Earth programme yesterday was positive speculating if this really is the time for EVs. The media tide MIGHT be beginning to turn.

It’s a looks like an old dears car!

Yes this one surprised me when I heard it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. I love the LEAF and a year ago we were a select bunch of 1,500 cars in the UK (that’s now doubled in number), so when you see one it’s normally lots of waving and such.

But whilst all my experiences talk of the Nissan LEAF there’s a lot of other electric cars out there or about to come to market including:

  • The BMW i3 launching November with a 100 mile electric range but a 180 mile extended range option with a small petrol generator under the bonnet. Prices from £25k
  • The Renault Zoe – Fiesta sized, again about 100 miles with prices starting at £14k + battery lease
  • Vaxhall AmperaChevrolet Volt – 40 mile electric then a petrol generator allowing up to 250 miles range. £30k price tag
  • The Tesla Model S – pure electric up to 7 seats and 300 mile range launching in UK later this year prices £55k+
  • VW Golf Blue-e-motion: Fully electric Golf with sophisticated regen breaking – launching Frankfurt motor show

But the Battery will not last and cost a fortune to replace

No they don’t.  There’s a LEAF in the USA that has 70k miles and all 12 capacity bars still intact. There are 2 cars in the UK that I know about with over 40k miles in 2 years and have no loss in capacity. Nissan has increased the warranty on it’s battery pack that the car will retain 9 out of the 12 bars (approx 70%) for 5 years or 100,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. That is capacity not power. By the time anyone needs to think about reconditioning the battery pack this will be no more painful than a changing a clutch on a petrol car. And what happens to the battery packs after they are no longer used; well first up they can be reconditioned but they also make perfect renewable energy stores, so you can store all that free electric from Solar Panels during the day and power your house overnight. Joined up thinking.

If something sounds too good to be true…… 

OK here’s the reality check. I was NEARLY stranded once due to a dealer telling me at 10am the Rapid Charger was working and when I arrived at noon it was not [Link to story]. And right now there are a number of charging providers requiring different cards to charge and there is no one single web page listing ALL charging points. But these are growing pains. I have not ONCE been stranded. And with so many new charging points coming online it so much more advanced in just 1 year.

“Would you choose an electric car ever again?”

I write this article in late August 2013; the Nissan LEAF has sold twice the number of cars already in the UK vs 2012; the incredible Tesla Model S with its 300 mile all electric range outselling Porsche and Range Rover in California and has JUST launched in Europe.

I recall as clear as yesterday trying to explain to my Nan and Mother in 1996 why I had developed my first web site Emsworth OnLine on this thing called the internet, just before it took off. Or as recent as 2 years ago trying to justify installing Solar PV to a room full of folks who really thought a new kitchen was a better application of funds; then the government slashed the Feed In Tariffs weeks after my install. I’m a Realistic Optimist. There is now considerably more interest in Electric Cars than a year ago, BMW stepping into the ring has made Mr Mainstream sit up and many more people have engaged in dialogue with me rather than just me banging on about how great Electric Cars are.

I spent a year in the Motor Trade before joining IBM 18 years ago, people are INCREDIBLY passionate about their cars. Getting people out of dirty petrol cars to electric cars will takes lots of time with many carrots and sticks.  The charging network we need for long journeys is still rolling out. The range of the cars on the market is increasing and new models are on their way. Yet if you make that switch now you will get the ٣k grant and free charging station from the government but you will NEVER have to pull into a petrol station again.

Every single one of us will be driving an electric car (of some sort) in the future. Anyone who differs from that conclusion does not understand the issues, has their head in the sand or is called Jeremy Clarkson. My VW EOS, a great car, is doing 2k miles a year and depreciating by ٠k a year, it’s pointless holding onto it. So it’s going. And in it’s place a Japan built Mk1 Pearl White Nissan LEAF is on the shopping list. Exactly the same as the LEAF we drive today. We will have a matching pair.

To answer those questions in your head right now. Here’s the strategy:

  • Our company car Nissan LEAF has 2 years left to run on it’s lease. This would be replaced in 2015 with an Extended Range Electric Car like the BMW i3, or similar. This would allow us to drive 180 mile on an electric motor, 100 miles using the battery and 8 0 miles using the small 4 cylinder petrol BMW motorbike engine as a generator. It rapid charges like the LEAF (on AC rather than DC) and with a petrol backup you have that flexibility.
  • Yes there is a UK built new Nissan LEAF, I drove it last week and it does have a slightly better range and the drive is certainly better than the Mk1 Jap built car.  However, to get the same level of equipment as in the Mk1 LEAF you need to be looking at the middle or top level of trim and we are now fast approaching £25k level
  • Right now there are over 150 nearly new LEAFs on Auto Trader. Most have less than 10,000 miles on the clock and prices start at £12k
  • If we need to do a long journey before August 2015 we either use a Rapid Charger or hire a car for the day for £26

So today you can purchase a 2 year old electric car, with all the technology for a saving of 66% against it’s original price. Purchase that from a Nissan Dealer and you’ll get a 2 year warranty and 2 year free servicing (usually 12 months). And with ٞroad tax, ٞcongestion charge the only thing you have to pay is insurance, for me that’s under £200 a year. Which is exactly what I plan to do……..

Summer drive in the South Downs National Park

Had an hour to spare yesterday pre-BBQ so took my LEAF into the South Downs National park armed with my iPhone 5; to cheer up any wet February Day:
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And why I just love the pearlescent white…….

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My £300 32Amp Charging Station Install

In recent days I have received letters and offers of FREE charging station installations quoting prices that would normally be £1,313 (Polar March 2013); And this is just for a 16A charging station, if I want the 32 amp version I have to cough up another £75. Plus these ‘free’ charging stations require 3G data signals and data logging my charging to be shared with who knows who.

So a few weeks ago a forum member advertised their used 32A Rolec Unit (Retails for just over £400 new) and I snapped it up. This is the story of my installation and internal pictures of why these charging stations should NEVER cost anything like £1,000. Mine was bought and installed for less than £300.

First up the Rolec unit itself with the lid off:

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It’s a fairly basic unit with a Siemens control module and the 32A contactor to the right of it. At the top of the case is the fuse and that’s it – 3 components. In later vesions of this unit you will find the Zero Carbon World unit inside this Rolec Charging Station.

Off to the garage….

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This had been our ‘charging station’ for the first 6 months of Nissan LEAF driving. A £17 Screwfix double socket. We plugged in each night and next day a full battery ready for the off. It NEVER failed, worked in all weathers and requires no contract with anyone. Just £40 for the sparky to connect each end (I ran the cable along the inside garage wall – it’s just a cable, some clips and hammer). A standard outside socket is a perfectly safe and acceptable solution to charge your Nissan LEAF at 10 Amps, just make sure a sparky checks your wiring. This cost us £60 to buy, and install including the socket, 10 meters of cable, the breaker and the sparky.

Back to the charging station install: As all the connections and meter where the other side of the wall I decided to mount the Rolec 32A charger just beneath this double socket. First up was the decision on where to enter the cable into the charger. I decided on a entry point on the back plate of the unit so simply drilled a hold just beneath the metal cable support bracket. This was just a pilot hole then a hole saw from any standard drill set:

 

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The hole to the right was my first attempt that then was covered when I re-attached the cable support bracket.

Next up drilling the hole through the garage wall. You either need a good hammer drill with a long masonary bit – I used my father-in-laws SDS drill with a huge long bit on the end; I then slid this through the entry point on the charging station:

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I then also drilled 2 drain holes in the base of the charging station case to allow any moisture or condensation a route to drain out:

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I then TEMPORARILY wired the unit in to test it before my sparky came and made the FINAL connection. Please re-read that – you need to get a qualified electrician to make the proper connection (I did not have the earth cable sheathed for instance):

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The point is that this simple kit is out there and getting cheaper. You should be able to buy and install such a station for between £400 – £500. No contracts and it’s all 100% yours. The fact that some companies are building in 3G data modules and asking you to sign contracts and claim the cost would be over £1,300 is, frankly, astounding.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Overall this unit works great and charging at 16 Amps versus 10 Amps does make a difference. The unit is plastic and does flex a little; especially with such a substantial cable and plug attached; but this is a small issue for the usability this offers versus taking the EVSe cable out the boot twice a day.

5,000 miles in under 4 months – my 100% Electric Nissan LEAF update

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The World Record Breaking Electric Vehicle convoy of Nissan LEAFs at Silverstone, November 2012

On 20th December a we reached a  significant milestone with our electric car ownership, 5,000 miles in under four months. “Well so what?!” I hear you ask.  5,000 miles in a modern car has barely broken the engine in but with some people only thinking that electric cars are for short journeys, or unusable in the real world; I wanted to continue how, as a family of five, we have used our 100% Electric Car  for everything a normal family would use a vehicle for, except the considerable running cost saving.

Our daily use of the Nissan LEAF is about 40 to 50 miles this includes a round-trip commute of 36 miles plus various after-school clubs, shopping trips etc.  There has also been an extended trip taking the vehicle on a 360 mile round trip from Chichester to Northampton and back again in one weekend.

After 4 months and 5,000 miles you really get to know how a car feels and whether you’ve made the right decision beyond the initial test drive. Not only am I utterly convinced with the electric car proposition I can’t wait to get another electric car and relieve this family of expensive, inefficient, polluting oil based motoring.

So what’s behind my EV conviction? First and foremost is the sheer driving experience. It is so smooth, so quiet, so refined and yet responsive – it’s just a dream to drive. Monday to Friday we have the car programmed so it preheats (it’s December!) so that it is ready for departure at 8:10am at a perfect 21 degrees celcius.  The car measures the outside temperature, what time and energy it needs to bring the car up to 21° and uses the energy from the house plug rather than the battery to ready the car by the same time every working day. On cold frosty mornings this means the car is completely de-iced and heated up ready to go negating any need to use the car battery for any heating. Once on the road the car behaves impeccably I typically get up to speed and set the cruise control to about 58MPH. The car can go 80+ MPH but, as with a petrol car, the amount of energy used to get a car from 60-70mph is considerable, so a steady 58MPH gets the best use of energy and hence the best range.  With the integrated IT systems the car phone and audio are instantly connected through Bluetooth, and the car consistently gets real time traffic updates through it’s embedded 3G data SIM.  And my last comment on the drive; without any vibration, or shudder you just sit in silence when at a set of lights whilst all around you other cars are burning fuel, money and belching out carcinogenic diesel fumes.

Secondly the economics. How far can you drive your car on £48 of fuel? About 300 miles more or less depending how efficient your car is. In the last month for that same £48 of electric we have driven our electric car over 1,100 miles, over three times further than a modern efficient diesel. Multiply that up over the 5,000 miles and we have saved our family £800 by driving an electric car versus our old diesel car. And 99% of that charging is from a 3 pin plug on the front of our house.  It’s actually less than that for us due to the 4kWp solar PV system on our roof that also contributed to the charging of our electric car but nevertheless even without a solar PV system the savings are still around 90%  versus an efficient diesel car.

Thirdly there is the environmental impact. Yes this was a new car and all cars use materials and Earth resources to construct, and the Nissan LEAF also requires all the components of an ordinary car plus a battery pack, but once it leaves the factory gate and is delivered to the customer at that point there are Zero emissions whilst driving the car. No carcinogenic diesel fumes pumping out of the car and no vehicle or engine noise compounding our congested towns and cities. For those questioning where the electricity comes from there are two parts to this; Firstly there are dedicated renewable power companies, like Good Energy, where all Electricity comes from renewable sources. Secondly, only this week the government has announced that we are well on our way to producing 20% of energy from Renewable Energy so even with a standard energy provider more of the power comes from zero emission renewable wind turbines. And a modern gas turbine is 50% efficient vs the 20% efficiency of the internal combustion engine.

Also pair that with the time of day when we charge our car in the middle of the night. By charging at night we are helping the National Grid stay efficient or the ‘bath-tub effect’ or the low utilisation of the electricity  network is the ideal time to charge electric vehicles as the emissions and CO2 emissions from the grid are low, and the environmental impact is low compared to plugging in at peak time. With the introduction of Smart Meters nationwide over the next 4 years you can expect to see attractive overnight rates to better manage the grid and the growth in Electric Cars

My final reason is really strategic; we have fixed our electricity price until October 2013 so we can now predict exactly what it will cost to run our car for the next year. Imagine if you could fix the price of diesel for a year…..

Now I believe in objective and transparent and there have been changes that we have made to how we use an electric car versus a combustion engine, but none of these were difficult. 99% of our charging is from a three pin plug on the front of the house but there are times when planning a longer journey that we do need to factor in where we can plug-in and charge. Now this can be as simple as topping up the charge whilst shopping, or factoring in 30 minute charges on longer journeys.  So when I made the 130 mile trip to Northampton I stopped at Nissan Southampton where I enjoyed a free coffee and free Rapid Charge to 100%  of the battery, before stopping again at Waitrose Abingdon to top up charge for free again in only 30 mins. The leg of the trip from Southampton to Northampton was 62 miles across the hilly A34 and I arrived with about 20 miles left in the battery pack. I parked the car, strectched my legs and bought a couple of items in Waitrose before returning to the car and using the heater to warm the car whilst it finished the Rapid Charge – again FREE rapid charging, I arrived as Northampton after some significant traffic congestion with about 25 miles of range left on the battery. And as the Hilton Northampton had a socket for plugging in garden machinery I plugged the car in  there overnight where it fully charged and preheated the car ready for the Saturday Silverstone trip.

So the point here is that if you are planning a longer trip a car can easily make that trip you just need to build in those 30 minute stops. I covered 360 miles without having to spend anything on the Charging infrastructure saving around £58 of diesel in the process. Just brilliant.

Now after 5,000 miles you get the hang of how to drive an electric car dependent on your trip. I know Jo, who drives the car on the daily commute, has got into a mindset where she only has to worry about the car getting her to work and back with a little bit of running around after that. This means she tends to drive the car at 70MPH amd uses more heat in the car in the knowledge that with an overnight charge its ready the next day.  When trying to get more range we drive the car at 58MPh on motorways and use ECO mode and sporadic demisting to get more miles.

The simple way to remember this is 70MPH = 70 miles of range; At 60mph = 80 miles; 30mph = 150 miles and so on. Just like a combustion engine, the more smoothly you drive the car a better economy it returns. On my trip back from Northampton I made sure the car stayed between 55 and 60 miles an hour and that easily allowed me a 70 to 80 mile range even with occasional heat usage and a very hilly A34 road.

We are a two car family with our non-electric car being a Volkswagen EOS 2.0 Diesel Sport. This has been a magnificent car to drive especially in the summer and regularly returns 50 MPG; However the financial benefits of the electric car has now resigned this car to our garage with maybe once or twice a week it coming out for a short run and only when the LEAF is being driven at the same time. I now positively choose to drive the LEAF and wait until we do things like grocery shopping as the benefits are so great.

A lot of this article talks about the Nissan LEAF as at the moment, it is the most usable 5-seater family car out and our EV of choice on a 3 year lease , however there is a raft of new vehicles coming in the next few months and predictions of a doubling of sales of EVs in 2013. The Renault Zoe launches mid year with a £13k price tag and £70 pm battery lease; along with the BMW i3 and the larger i8 in 2014. Expect another electric car from Nissan by 2015 as well as Volkswagen Audi group dipping their toe in the EV pond with the Golf eBlueMotion.

So to conclude would I recommend an electric car to somebody else? Without hesitation. The superior drive the substantial running and servicing cost savings paired with the fixed electricity price and environmental benefits make an electric car an obvious choice. And if you want something slightly more progressive than a five seater family car then check out the Tesla Model S –that is heading to Europe in 2013; a luxury car with a 300 miles range. The real challenge is to get bums on seats – that is to get people into electric cars and trying them because once someone has driven an electric car and realised the benefits there is no going back. For me I simply Cannot see me ever buying a non-electric car again.

Nissan LEAF 3,000 mile update

Another milestone passed in the Nissan LEAF today when 3,000 miles came up since taking delivery of the car on 22 August. So just under three months using the car, time to review a number of real world situations to stretch it’s capabilities as well as have the chance to look back at the decision that was made and consider if it was the right decision. To give you an idea how positive we still feel about this car;  as a family we now use this car on a daily basis for over 95% of the driving we do. We have another car, a Volkswagen EOS diesel, which now comes out of the garage once maybe twice a week and only when we both need to use a car. I don’t like driving traditional cars now as I completely prefer the smooth, silent and far more comfortable refined drive of an electric vehicle.

Me plugging in the Nissan LEAF at home into a standard 3-pin Plug

Really can’t think of driving any other vehicle apart from an electric car and looking forward to the next generation of EVs with greater range coming out in the next 2 to 3 years. Lookout for the Renault Zoe coming next year you can preorder from this month – a car with 130 mile range, still 100% electric from the same Renault / Nissan partnership but with a much lower pricetag of around £13,000 but you do lease the battery at a cost of £70 a month. So a more novel way of making electric vehicles affordable also providing some reassurance if the battery capacity does fall below 75% Renault replace the battery.

I’ve also been out presenting a number of times at department and location meetings with regards to why I chose electric vehicle there are some articles going in the local press and media with regards to the electric vehicle choice I’ve made and why the Business Case for EVS  is not just compelling but inevitable. The future is electric or hybrid electric.

So how’s the car been for the last three months? As I’ve already mention we use it on a daily basis and in that three months period  there was only one day when we got down to 18 miles of charge and had to let it charge. It was a very stormy day, monsoon condition rains whilst driving with demisters on picking up teenagers we got home with 18 miles left on the guessometer.  I had to go to the Portsmouth straight away so did not have any time to top up the charge, even 1 hour on home charge would have been enough, so had to use the other car. And that’s it; one 20 trip we had to use the diesel alernative  the rest of the time its been happy with it’s 40 mile a day commute and all the other run arounds.

Savings? Approximately £550 of Diesel cost wiped out so far, and some longer trips to Northampton and Bath planned in the next few weeks.

What’s the greatest advice I can give? Just go and test drive an electric car. It doesn’t have to be a Nissan LEAF you can take out a Vauchall Ampera, or the Renault Zoe when it comes out but once you drive an Electric Car; there’s no going back to a normal car – it  just seems unrefined and it’s  noisy and clunky. And when you’ve driven an EV let me know what you think always happy to discuss how people respond to electric vehicles.

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