Facing range anxiety with a Nissan Leaf

Written by on November 4, 2012 in Cars and Chicks, Perspectives, Trends - 12 Comments

Leaf and hydro towersAs 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.Leaf controls

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.

Leaf dash displayAnd oh, the silence. It was positively Zen! Not a sound beyond the quiet chord that announced the engine had leapt to life. How could anyone get anxious in this serene, snug environment?

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.Leaf against 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.

Mimi rechargingThe 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.

Leaf and White HouseWell, 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.Leaf on flatbed

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.

Leaf recharging








12 Comments on "Facing range anxiety with a Nissan Leaf"

  1. Geek Girl November 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm · Reply

    I loved this post! I can SO relate. The closest I have been to an electric car was my Toyota hybrid. I did not need to suffer the pain of wondering whether or not I could make it home for a charge. Here from BHB on LinkedIn. 🙂

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm · Reply

      Glad you could relate! The Leaf is a great car – felt great to drive by gas stations for an entire week. But the notion of running out of charge is disturbing and even though when it happens, it’s not the end of the world, once in one lifetime is enough!

  2. Jon Jefferson November 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm · Reply

    A factory I used to work in had electric fork lifts (quite a few of them). So many in fact that they had a couple people dedicated to swapping batteries throughout each shift. Basically on the forklifts you could be assured of changing out your battery once a shift.

    I can see something like this in the future. Instead of charging stations, there will be stations with batteries charging that people can stop at to swap out for a fully charged and then continue on their merry way.

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm · Reply

      Yes – you’re right on the money! There’s a company called Better Place, based in Israel, that has developed a switchable battery and is installing swapping stations. Can’t wait for them to arrive in Canada!!

  3. Susan Cooper November 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm · Reply

    I would be right there with you about worrying bout running out of battery power. Heck, I fill up my car when it’s half full. Does that give you any idea about how I would be with this… LOL. Regardless, the car sounds really cool. As you said, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it is just the beginning of this new technology. I cant wait the see where it takes us.

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm · Reply

      Hey Susan, I’m the same way, my tank is never less than half full. Especially now after the storm, you hear about the line-ups for gas in the U.S. – as bad or worse than it was in the 1970s. Right now electric cars are aimed for the “affluent green” market, those folks who are into the technology, will pay for it, and will adapt their driving habits to it. But it is exciting to see what’s coming!!!

  4. Doreen Pendgracs November 6, 2012 at 4:25 am · Reply

    Thanks for taking us along on the ride in the leaf, Krystyna. I don’t think I’d like to have to deal with the uncertainties the car brings in its current rendition. I love my RAV 4. Have had it for 5.5 years and it still rides like a charm, is safe and comfortable. Maybe … someday … when the electric cars have more juice holding capacity it might be an option for me. But not now.

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm · Reply

      Your RAV4 will likely give you many more years of worry free driving, Doreen, and that’s what it’s all about. There are electric cars with greater range (Tessla has 250 kilometer range!) but they’re verrry expensive. As demand goes up, that technology will trickle down to more affordable vehicles. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

  5. Patrick Huff November 8, 2012 at 4:13 am · Reply

    That must have been very intense indeed. car sure sounds cool. I shall ride vicariously through you.

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 10, 2012 at 2:26 am · Reply

      Thanks, Patrick. The Leaf was an experience unlike any other car, for sure. Despite the hiccups, it was awesome!

  6. Renny Schweiger November 21, 2012 at 3:30 am · Reply

    Hi Krystyna,

    Hi again. Fun article, and lots of comments! And I’m glad you enjoyed the thrill of driving clean and free of the limited supply of CO2-producing dead dinosaurs. Also, I can relate to your story of uncertainty and range anxiety. (Let’s leave the strange brake behaviour issue aside for now.) However, I’d like to offer another perspective.

    As a LEAF owner of just over a year and with 33,000 km under Beverly’s belt, I can make a case for just the opposite of the comments about “worrying about running out of power”, or “suffering the pain of wondering”. For a year I’ve been driving my round trip commute of 120 km reliably. I know Bev will take me to work with kms to spare, and once charged at work, return me home. This is at highway speeds too; traffic jams or slowdowns actually extend my range. There is no wondering, no suffering, no anxiety — only certainty. Every time I leave work or home, I’m charged (unlike the time I left work with my old Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car and got on the 407 after forgetting to stop at the gas pump — talk about white-knuckle anxiety!).

    Now, this did take some time to develop. I, too, had some near misses and a good story about reaching the driveway with — on the range display. It takes time to understand how much range you have, and how to translate the gauges on the dash into actual driving distance based on where (and how fast) you want to go. You likely got surprised by how your range was reduced by driving faster, or perhaps by the use of the heater. Once you understand these things, you incorporate them automatically in your driving decisions. And as you aquire more experience, you will know how much to charge the battery to allow this very efficient machine to handle your regular driving patterns. I know I can comfortably get to work at 120 km/h when at a (life-extending) battery charge of 80%. I know what level of charge I need to move our family of four from Oakville to downtown Toronto for a show in the dead of winter with the defroster on. And I can squeeze out a trip to the local movie theatre and back easily with only 10% of battery charge left, and pick up groceries on the way home.

    While this is a great subject for a blog post on its own, please indulge me: Remember that direct comparisons to ICEVs is unfair, not only in comparing range, but how we relate to our cars and their differences in use of energy. We all have become dangerously addicted to the way-too-cheap and highly dense form of energy that’s a litre of gasoline. Compared to a Battery Electric Vehicle, the typical Internal Combustion Engine car is egregiously inefficent. If you could only put a maximum of 2 litres of gas in your car (roughly the equivalent to my full battery in terms of energy), run the heater, and go 120 km in stop-and-go city traffic, then you’d plan your trips in advance. You’d also view using the typical family’s two vehicles differently, choosing the BEV for short trips, and the other (a hybrid, perhaps?) for longer distances.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to make electric cars like ICEVs, but rather rethink our wasteful ways by trying to squeeze as much energy as we can out of a relatively free renewable resource like solar or wind, reserving our precious and finite petroleum for things like parachutes, soft contact lenses, artificial limbs, heart valves and guitar strings. We could spend a bit more time choosing the most efficient way to get from A to B (transit, bike, ICEV, Electric Scooter, Skype?) instead of insisting we have 800 km of range on tap at a moment’s notice sitting in the garage, when we only really need that 2% of the time.

    As for the weirdness with the brakes, I’d love to know what Nissan’s response was to that. Did they actually not work? Was the car on? Software glitch? The LEAF’s brakes are great, and given the low centre of gravity of the car and the assist you get from regenerative braking, it’s almost scary how quickly you can stop. Hopefully you can close the loop on the “shot brakes”.

    Thanks again for the great article!

    • Krystyna Lagowski November 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm · Reply

      Hey Renny, Great to hear from you! Thanks for the very detailed commentary. Good point that driving an EV involves a whole different mindset, especially regarding the efficiencies. We have become addicted, as you say, to the convenience of vehicles that can travel long distances. Unfortunately, I think this convenience is a stumbling block in gaining wider acceptance for EVs as they are today. While I had the Leaf, I became hyper aware of how much energy I was using, and it was a valuable exercise. I really enjoyed the car, despite the fact that it seemed like the universe was conspiring against me. This was more the lack of support I received from the organizations that were handling the Leaf. I never did hear back from anyone about the brake issue, which is too bad. After driving the Leaf, I’m more interested than ever in EVs, and there will hopefully be another in my future … very soon …

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