As a seasoned neurotic, I’ve been most intrigued by the term “range anxiety.” The fear of draining your electric car’s battery power before reaching a destination, or at least a charging station, seems to be the biggest argument against electric cars.
This might be a problem for someone who hasn’t leveraged their obsessive compulsive disorder into colour co-ordinated sweater drawers. Not only do I face my fears head on, I put them to work for me.
So I called up Nissan Canada and asked them if I could borrow a Leaf EV for a week. Getting a parking spot with an electric outlet was no problem in my housing co-operative, as friendly neighbours were happy to swap parking spots with me for a week.
However, when I went to pick up the Leaf, it wasn’t ready and my throat tightened just a bit. I was told it would be delivered the next day on a flat-bed truck. And my car would be towed back to Mississauga in its place so I wouldn’t have to pay for an extra parking spot. Plus I was promised a lesson in using the Leaf’s features and telematics.
The next day, the Leaf was indeed delivered – to the wrong address. I ran after the tow truck driver, and asked him to pull around to load up my car. He looked at me quizzically – no one had told him to take a car back. He also didn’t know how to plug in the Leaf.
I started hyperventilating.
Fortunately, after a quick phone call, a driver was dispatched to provide me with a Leaf tutorial, and then took away my daily driver. I breathed a sigh of relief and finally jumped in behind the wheel of the Leaf. I couldn’t tell I was sitting on recycled plastic bottles – the plush seat nestled my posterior in utmost comfort. It felt like a regular car, but more luxe than usual.
Everything was digital, in the most literal sense of the word. Not an analogue gauge or display in sight. And all I needed to drive was one finger – to turn on the car, change gears, bring up various screens. No pushing, pulling, yanking, twisting, tugging or wrenching.
As I drove along the beach, little trees starting growing on the dashboard as I gently accelerated and braked. A readout showed me how many kilometres I had left, which was somewhat disconcerting as they kept disappearing. I pulled into an industrial yard to get a few photos of the sparkling red Leaf against a battered grey chimney.
After I’d snapped a few photos, a security guard in a smart car came beetling toward me. Once he realized why I was taking pictures, he was fascinated and peppered me with questions about the Leaf. What a charming conversation we had!
The next day, I noticed the Leaf was taking an awfully long time to charge. Although I had been told the Leaf would take 14 hours to charge on a 120 V outlet, it seemed to take more like 19 or 20 hours. My 15 year old Burmese cat takes less time to recharge.
The next evening, I went to pick up a buddy in the east end, to catch our friends performing in the west end. Just in case, I calculateed the distance before I left. We drove along in cushy comfort, plugging in the iPhone and working the console’s touchscreen menu to select tunes. A marvelous time was had by all, with nary a phobia or fear raising its ugly head.
Unfortunately, that was about to change.
I headed out to my favourite tea shop in Waterdown the next day to refill my Golden Monkey Black Tea. (that’s how I recharge!) It was about a 120 kilometre drive and the Leaf was good for 140. That’s scaling back from Nissan’s optimistic promise of a 160 k range, which doesn’t account for driving habits or weather conditions.
Well, I got my tea, but along the way, the Leaf had gobbled up juice. I fought a little hyperventilation, and at Bronte Road – a good 40 kilometres from home – I ran out of juice. The dashboard warned “BATTERY LEVEL IS LOW!” and the kilometres were redlining. With my stomach flipping over and my knees quivering, I pulled over and called Nissan Roadside Assistance. They would tow me to the nearest Nissan dealer, but no guarantees on getting me home. As my heart was pounding louder than the raindrops on the windshield, I called the CAA. They agreed to send a flatbed truck to tow me all the way home.
Within 20 minutes, the truck was there. The driver deftly hooked the Leaf on to the flatbed, and we drove home to Toronto in the pouring rain. It took about an hour, and no mood stabilizers were necessary.
I wanted to run a few errands the next day, but as I backed out the Leaf, I had to mash the brake pedal right to the floor to stop. Removing my heart from my throat, I returned the car to its parking spot. That’s where it stayed for the next two days, until the driver came to take it away. He was going to drive it back to Mississauga, and I warned him that the brakes were shot. However, he insisted on driving it, shoddy brakes and all. What can you do?
Even with range anxiety, the Leaf was a great ride. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the EV industry is in its infancy. For anyone with a commute under 100 k’s, the Leaf is a great car. Eventually, the price will come down and the range will go up.
And ultimately, someone will build an EV that charges in less time than it takes a geriatric kitty to catch up on her sleep.