Archive for July, 2011

My Nissan Leaf test drive and review

Cliffs notes: not ready for the mainstream.

As noted in the forum, I don’t have pictures or specs to accompany this review because there are a million pics and technical specs you can find elsewhere if you don’t know what this car looks like or is about.  This review is just my opinion of the car.

The main reason is that to be mainstream, it requires a change in consumer behavior.  People aren’t used to plugging in the car overnight or planning their routes.  This is necessary because the car’s range is around 100 miles.  Unfortunately, the EPA estimates range at 73 miles/charge which is closer to many people will see.   Under conditions like a heat wave or very cold temperatures, range could be further reduced because you’re blasting the AC or heater.  While you can plug in the car to preheat or pre-cool the car, you will most likely not have this ability where you’re parked during the day.

The technical specialist did a good job comparing charging the Leaf to charging cell phones.  Most people plug them in overnight and don’t think about it at all.  When people are exposed to new things, they are most comfortable when it combines new concepts with familiar concepts.  This is a basic concept of learning.  Unfortunately, another basic concept of learning is that the first thing they are exposed to is what they will have the strongest affinity towards.  People are used to a pattern of behavior and it requires a reason to change.  Rising fuel prices are a good reason for change right?

There is talk about reaching peak oil and the price at which consumers will switch over to a more fuel efficient car.  $4.50/gal has been mentioned and although prices have gone over this, people are still driving inefficient cars.  Meanwhile, in Europe, fuel costs over $10/gal and they’re just driving smaller and more fuel efficient cars, not EV. The point is that although most people say they would buy an electric car when surveyed, I believe their relatively high purchase price, range concerns, and change in behavior required to use them effectively currently limit them to early adopters.

Is this more of a reflection on the qualities of the car or the people?  I think a little of both.  So what does this mean for the early VW electric cars and VW hybrid?  This is not a surprise, but I think it’ll be only early adopters who are driving these first cars.  This is why I said the Leaf is not for the mainstream.  It’ll probably be Leaf V3.0 before they aren’t thought of being special and just thought of as cars.   How long did it take for the smug to wear off the Prius?  At what point will people overcome their resistance to EV?  $10/gal alone might not do it.  Much change has to come from within.

As for the actual test drive: the Nissan Leaf drives like a car.  Despite the unique look of the car, it’s not a UFO.  If you press the accelerator pedal and it goes.  If you press the brakes it stops.  The regenerative brakes are a little on the sensitive side, resulting in applying the brakes more by travel than by feel.  Acceleration is slow but acceptable.  It isn’t sporting or fast, consistent with the purpose of the car.  If you can get past the unique look, there is really nothing that special about it other than the drivetrain.  It runs quietly because there’s no engine so you do notice wind and tire noise but other than that, you get what you expect: a car!

I would gladly own one but wouldn’t buy one because of my driving style -  I need a car with a longer range for my primary driving  and because it’s still quite expensive.  Nissan has an app which lets you plan your daily drive and see how the Leaf fits in your driving style: http://www.drivenissanleaf.com/Open/100Mile.aspx .  This is a nice “first car” for local driving or city driving or a second family car.  But until Leaf V3.0 comes around, I’ll be waiting with the mainstream.  Since I’m a VW -Audi fan, I look forward to reviewing the electric Golf :) and seeing how it compares.

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Another diesel hybrid but not from the usual VW suspects

In North America, when people think of diesel passenger cars, they think of VW.  Audi, BMW, and Mercedes Benz also have diesel cars but their diesel sales are not even close to the VW diesel sales.  So when I heard of diesel hybrids, I thought of the Golf diesel hybrid concept car.  Unfortunately, the VW Golf hybrid diesel is not going to happen anytime soon in the US due to cost concerns.  In Europe, when people think of diesel hybrids, they think of Peugeot.

Peugeot’s first diesel hybrid was the 3008.  Their new hybrid diesel, the 508 RXH uses the same diesel hybrid drivetrain as the 3008 but in a larger car.  The 2.0L diesel and hybrid motor make a combined 200 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque.  On the Euro cycle, it’s rated at 56 mpg.  Because the Euro cycle is more generous than the EPA test cycle, it would probably get around 45 miles/US gallons.

While this is certainly very good combined mpg, is it worth the additional cost and weight of the hybrid system?  Would this thing pass emissions in the US?  My guess on both counts is no.  Even still, it’s a very interesting vehicle.

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Why a hybrid or electric vehicle should get window tint

Electric vehicles or hybrids should have window tint to reduce strain and the load on the battery pack

The reason why is because less light means the climate control system doesn’t have to work as hard to bring the cabin to comfortable temperatures and stay there.  However, one strange thing about motor vehicle law in the US is that trucks and SUV are allowed window tint on the rear and back windows but passenger cars aren’t.  Laws vary by state regarding window tint on the front windows (not the windshield) and the darkness of aftermarket tint.  One loophole is that many states restrict the darkness of aftermarket tint in allowed areas even though a SUV could have factory tint that is darker.

What does this mean for the future of state regulation of window tint?  As electric vehicles and hybrids start to become more widespread, could states loosen the regulations on window tint in allowed areas for passenger vehicles?

On a side note, light colored cars put less strain on the AC than dark colored cars.  Is the next step a ban on dark colors?

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