Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Driving A Nissan Leaf In Kansas City Missouri

March 5, 2014

When our 2002 Lincoln LS blew it's Jaguar-type torque converter at 125,000 miles we were left with a real dilemma: pay the $3,000+ to fix it, and continue pumping 91 octane premium unleaded into it at about $60 per tank, or contemplate making the ultimate off-oil move you can make with cars: going all electric.  We had heard for sometime that the range on the Leaf was pretty much as advertised by Nissan but that weather factors could seriously impede it like very cold weather - so much so that the rumors made claims of getting only 30 miles of range if it was 10 degrees or colder outside.  Those rumors gave us serious pause because if even partly true you could really end up in a bind if your electric car drops below the range needed to return you home or at least to a location where you can charge up which are still fairly limited here in the Kansas City area.  Thankfully we applied the "believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see" principal and decided that instead of throwing good money after bad, perhaps the time was right to make this move and try out the 2014 Nissan Leaf.

Thus far this amazing little hatchback has crawled uphill through loose snow pack, uphill through muddy areas on a farm driveway, and across ice-covered parking lots with out ever losing it's grip.  It has also made two 30 mile circuits (60 miles total) in one day across Clay and Platte Counties on a day below freezing with long stretches of highway driving at 70 mph, then stop-and-go surface roads up and down hills and still retained enough charge to for sure get to a charging station or even all the way back to our house, a further 15 miles and all the while carrying two adults plus 250 lbs of miscellaneous cargo in the rear.  This is being done only using the factory-issued 110v charging cable/adaptor, we have not even had to install the 220v charging station yet and have not been impeded at all in our daily travels.  

For those that don't know, Kansas City presents a challenging driving environment:
- This city sprawls over more space than cities with 5 or even 10 times the population so the potential driving area is enormous;  there are areas of stereotypically flat Kansas terrain but the Missouri side - which is 80% of the Kansas City area - is very much Missouri which equals hilly, variable terrain and even some genuinely steep and mile-long or longer inclines in places.  Plus, the weather can really zig zag here...
...everyone lives somewhere where the weather can change a lot, but this place can be extraordinary: -15 F air temperature with -25 F windchill and 10 inches of snow freshly fallen with 20% or less humidity and 35 - 45 mph winds, then up to 55 degrees and 50% humidity with no wind just 48 hours later. 

What we have found is that the Leaf is performing WONDERFULLY.  I want to mention that this is a hard thing to revel in since I have bought Fords for years and years: an F-350 Super Duty diesel, an F-250 Super Duty diesel, a Taurus, an Escort, and the aforementioned Lincoln LS.  Going Nissan went against all of that, but I am thusfar extremely glad to make this change.  Plus, even though Nissan is Japanese they built a dedicated plant in Tennessee and designed the car through their California design shop so in actuality this Leaf is more American made than either my 2002 Lincoln LS or my 2007 F-250 Super Duty.

The only thing that caught us off guard was SemaConnect, which is the company that installs and runs the rapid charging stations at Walgreens.  First off, even though the store managers at both the Liberty and Gladstone Walgreens thought they were free, they are very much NOT free.  Walgreens says SemaConnect runs the chargers, SemaConnect says Walgreens controls them.  Second, neither store even knew how to turn the things on leaving us to Google "SemaConnect" on our phone to figure out how to get the units to provide charge.  Then, SemaConnect itself is not clear on what it is doing, the phone computer prompt menu was hard to understand and the listed amount of $1.97 worth of electricity the unit showed we took was not what showed up in our checking account - a $20 "recurring" charge did instead.  Turns out it is a one-time charge and after that you would only pay for whatever quantity of electricity you get from a Walgreens SemaConnect charging station, but this aspect of the electric car lifestyle was as completely confusing and uncertain as you can get.  This does not at all impact our liking of the Leaf, but it is a case of consumer beware because obviously Nissan cannot control every element of owning and using electric vehicles and these other actors are kind of fuzzy about their own business.   As a convenience these Walgreens stations are a no-brainer, but the reality of using them is definitely still rough around the edges.

Here are some more specific examples of how our Leaf is handling this frigid Missouri winter:

On 45-50 degree days, we are easily getting 82 - 85 miles on a charge (there is probably more range but we don't want to actually run the car out on the road somewhere...we are always getting home first!).

On the numerous 10 degree days we've had here in 2014, running the heater, we are getting a solid 70 miles of range.

Both these ranges on the Leaf are in a topography that is NOT flat and has a total mix of stoplights and also full speed highways.

Bravo to Nissan for going all out to make real-world usable electric vehicles.  They are really on to something here!

(The above photos show our Leaf in the horse barn on a 15 degree day charging up, then outside on a 35 degree day after some snow melt happened, and then back in the horse barn during an incoming hail/sleet storm.  This has been a frigid, snowy winter here in KC making it a great venue to test out an electric car.
As a neat aside, note that these pictures depict 19th century green motive power and 21st century green motive power side by side.)

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