*Actually 32 months
Of late, we find ourselves sitting in front of the TV, watching the evening news when the next report on inflation comes on the screen. Of course, many of these are about gas prices, specifically prices that are skyrocketing, spiking, rising, surging, soaring, nowhere to go but up, pushing pump prices higher, record high, and on the rise. We are patiently waiting for the newsroom to get to the end of the Thesaurus (it’s “waxing” by the way) and then start over. Ritually, at the end each piece, we turn to each other and state, “Did you hear something? Gas prices, or something?” Ah, the insufferable smugness of being. We are just bad people. We are also EV owners.
In 2019, Linda and I purchased a new Nissan Leaf, Model SV Plus, which I have reported on numerous times.
For the last 2-1/2 plus years, the Leaf has been our main car, for which we have motored over 23,000 miles. Motored is the right word, as the Leaf doesn’t have an engine; it has a 160 kw motor that still manages to produce 214 hp. Our driving experience hasn’t changed since my 1-year review. The efficiency and range hasn’t changed. If anything, we’ve settled into a normalcy where we generally don’t think about the fact it is an EV.
One of the striking features of the Leaf is how quiet it is when riding. No engine noise, just wheels turning and the wind outside. It holds us, our groceries, and any additional passengers.
The heat and A/C works well. It draws on the battery a bit, but not as much as you might think, perhaps 4%. The blind spot monitoring safety features work well, but we rarely use the intelligent lane intervention system. The E-pedal system acts as an internal braking system. Many times, you don’t apply the brake to come to a full stop.
Cost to Own
Maintenance of the Leaf has been simple. For the 3 years we’ve had it, we’ve put in windshield washer fluid, check the air in the tires, and occasionally run it through the car wash. This last time, we needed to change the brake fluid. Like all modern new cars, the tires will be lucky to get to 30,000 miles, so that will be our next big investment. To date, we have had no repairs, although we did buy a $30 gizmo to disable the automatic door locks when the car is moving.
Inspection has also been simple. We get our inspection sticker, but do not need or get an emission sticker, which runs about $30. No oil change either. Over 3 cycles of inspection and scheduled maintenance, our total cost has been $348.
Fuel costs are low, compared with gasoline-powered vehicles. Since we bought the Leaf, our overall mpg-e is 128. Compare that with an average mpg of 24.9 for all new 2019 vehicles. On paper, that’s over 5x as efficient. If we modeled a new 2019 gas car, say a Volvo S60, along with the 2019 Leaf, for the same number of miles and the same energy costs – electricity versus gasoline, the total Leaf fuel costs are $926. The equivalent gasoline costs for the Volvo would be $2,928. Gas prices have risen dramatically. If we were to project current gasoline prices ($4.80 a gallon) for the entire year, our estimated 9,000 miles for 2022 would cost over $1,700 in gasoline, and less than $380 for electricity for the Leaf. This $380 includes the $0.017 per kWh in alternative fuel taxes owed on electrics.
Range and Road Trips
We’ve managed a few longer range trips, to BWI, to Indiana, PA, but generally use it locally for errands and shorter trips. The biggest limiter to more and longer trips is frankly the availability of charging stations, either Level 2 chargers at the hotel we would be staying or a Level 3 charger on the highway. The Level 3 chargers are critical for road trips as they have the ability to provide 80% charge in 30 minutes. Level 2 chargers take 5-10 hours to do the same. That the Pennsylvania Turnpike has so few Level 3 chargers at its rest stops is simply nuts. Of the 17 service plazas only 5 have non-Tesla chargers and all of these are near Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Eleven plazas have dog walk areas, so we know the PTK priorities. (Imagine if only 5 of the service plazas had gas pumps?)
In Central Pennsylvania, the situation is worse. In Cumberland County, there are four Level 3 chargers that are not Tesla proprietary, five in York County, two in Adams County. None in Perry nor Juniata Counties. Then again, Cumberland (431), York (588), Adams (120), Perry (35), and Juniata (6) have a grand total of 1,180 registered electric vehicles. All of Pennsylvania has just under 23,500, which represents 0.2% of all registered vehicles.
Going west on the Turnpike, the first Level 3 charger is at Bedford, off the Turnpike, 102 miles away. Going north to State College on US 322, there are none until you get to State College. On US 15 to the New York State line, there are no Level 3 chargers. Statewide, there are over 550 Level 3 chargers, but 2/3 of these are for Tesla only. More EV purchases would likely yield more charging stations, but availability of existing charging stations is one of the main reasons people don’t buy EV’s. A true chicken and egg situation.
The Infrastructure Bill is lauded for providing $171 m EV charging funding for Pennsylvania over 5 years, and $5b nationwide. No one is reporting how many Level 3 chargers will be installed. This does not bode well, as typically it takes $50-100,000 to put up a Level 3 charging station. Napkin math suggests if 25% of the funding will go to Level 3 chargers, which runs $80k per (the funding requires a 20% match), you would have 53 more Level 3 chargers over the 5 year period. Barely a dent. Even if 100% of the $171 million was devoted to Level 3 chargers and all of them were not Tesla proprietary, and the price was reduced to $50,000 each, you would only add 340 more charging stations.
Our 3-year old Leaf has proven to be a dependable and economic car that serves most of our needs. Its cost to operate is de-linked from the regular swings in gas prices. It does not produce emissions. Note: Transportation is responsible for a third of US CO2 emissions, so making electric transportation a major component of our lives is critical if we are to slow down global temperature rise.
We find the Leaf limiting insofar as we need a lot of planning to take longer trips, and in some cases, cannot get from Point A to Point B in it. We also need to pay attention to the range left in the battery so we do not risk being out of juice mid-trip. But that is a habit we have learned to adopt. We haven’t been stuck yet.
We are encouraged that our governments seem more committed to building out infrastructure, i.e., charging stations, and that we have noticed that hotels are beginning to install and feature Level 2 chargers that can refuel their EV guests overnight. Projections of sales of EV’s vary wildly but seem to suggest about half of new cars will be electric by 2035. That’s only 13 years away. And there is a lot to do before then.