by Tony Rushin
It has been over 7 months since I leased and wrote about “The Blackberry”; the name I gave to my Nissan Leaf. I’ve gained a lot of experience driving an electric vehicle (EV) since September, 2014. Sharing nuggets from that experience, plus recent Georgia Tax law changes that impact EVs, is the purpose of this article.
No More Free Car (starting July 1st)
The Georgia State legislature just passed a transportation bill (summary provided by the Georgia Highway Contractors Association) eliminating the $5,000 tax credit for EVs. This law goes into effect on July 1st so here’s the bottom line: to get your free car, buy or lease it by June 30, 2015!
The transportation bill also adds a $200 annual fee for an EV. The rationale: gas taxes are going up from 19.3 cents to 26 cents / gallon. If gas cars have to pay the tax then EVs should also pay the tax. Note: a gas car that gets 20 mpg and drives 15,000 per year will pay roughly $200 in gas taxes.
Here’s the article I wrote last year: (Tuesday Tip: Get Your Free Car). Because Nissan has become more aggressive with their prices and lease rates, you can still get a free car between now and June 30th. I’ve updated my spreadsheet; here are the numbers:
This quick math doesn’t take into account the increased cost of insurance (I didn’t get rid of my old car), the increased cost of electricity or the additional savings from not needing to change oil so often in my gas-guzzling car. I have a fairly sophisticated spreadsheet my wife got from a friend that takes these things into account. Let me know if you’d like me to email the spreadsheet to you.
In the spreadsheet above I took a swag at a lease rate. You’ll see rates all over the board and recently we’ve seen ads touting $199 / month lease rates. Do your homework. What I found is that dealers vary widely on the upfront charges coupled with the monthly lease price they quote. I went with the dealer that didn’t charge anything upfront except the title and registration; I also paid the first month’s lease payment upfront. Bottom line: make sure you’re comparing apples-to-apples when you’re comparing lease rates.
First of all, there are few important things you should know about my EV situation:
- I didn’t sell my gas car (a 1999 Lexus with 221K miles) and still drive it about once a week
- I have a 24 month / 24,000 mile lease on a Nissan Leaf S, their low-end model (my goal was to get a free car, which I couldn’t do if I leased a higher-end model)
Overall, I love The Blackberry. The pep and acceleration has pleasantly surprised me and the generous head room is nice. And since my gas car is a 1999, The Blackberry is my first car with built-in Bluetooth technology which is wonderful. Finally, the satisfied feeling (borderline smug) I have when I drive past a gas station is priceless. With that said, I thought it would be valuable to share some first-hand experiences (below) for those who are considering an EV (specifically, a Leaf but most of this applies to all EVs) before the Georgia tax credit expires.
Total range, when charged, is about 95 miles. However, there are three things that significantly impact this range: 1) driving on the highway 2) driving / accelerating fast – especially when not in “Eco” mode and 3) running the heater.
If you live about 40 miles from the airport and plan on driving down and back to catch a flight… good luck. I have an 18 mile commute into work with about 12 of those miles are on Georgia State Route 400. If I leave early and beat traffic (meaning I can go the usual 70+ mph on 400), I typically consume 23-28 miles of range on my 25 minute commute. I generally keep the car on Eco mode (which keeps it from accelerating too fast); driving in regular (non-Eco) mode would consume 28-33 miles of range. Now, if I slept in and made that same commute in normal rush hour traffic, it would only use 14-19 miles (but take me 45-60 minutes to commute into work). Slowing down, coasting and frequently stopping / applying the brakes regenerates the battery.
The heater consumes a lot of mileage. Generating heat takes a lot of energy, that’s why most household ovens and dryers run on a 240V circuit (compared with the rest of the house which runs on 110V). My commute on a cold day with the heater on would consume about 38 miles without traffic and 35 miles with traffic (sitting in traffic for 45 minutes with the heat on really consumes the battery). Luckily for me I enjoy cold weather. Plus the Leaf has wonderful heated seats, front and back, and a heated steering wheel that all run off of the regular 12V car battery so they have no impact on the driving range. I found that I only needed the car heater in spurts over the winter – usually to defog the window or heat up my toes on a really cold day.
So, if you are really uncomfortable when you’re cold (like my co-worker, Alisa), you really need to look into the mileage range of the EV you’re considering and plan on having 20% less range during the winter months.
You may be wondering what impact running the air conditioning has on the range. Thankfully for me, AC only impacts it a little compared to the heater. My commute with the AC on uses about 30 miles; 23 miles with traffic.
The Leaf has two or three different charging options, depending what you buy. All Leafs come equipped to handle a Level 1: slow (110V regular wall plug) and a Level 2: medium (240V charges like you mostly see out in public) charge. You can get an optional Level 3: fast (480V at car dealers) adapter.
Charging at home
Because I chose to keep my gas car, all I use at home is the Level 1 (110V) charger which charges about 5 miles / hour. On a normal day when I’m home at 6 pm with 20 to 30 miles of range still left I’m able to charge to capacity by the time I leave for the office at 6 am the next morning. However, there are many evenings when I get home at 8 or 9 because of a networking event or as late as midnight after a Braves game. In addition, there are the days I get home with less than 10 miles of range left. It’s because of these exceptions, plus the occasional days when I know I have to drive more than 90 miles, that I kept my gas car.
One way to insure that you can fully charge almost any night is to install a Level 2 (240V) charger at home. I really didn’t look into this since I knew I was keeping my gas car. However, from what I’ve read, a charger costs between $450 – $1,000 and installation costs between $400 – $1,500. There may be some rebates available from Georgia Power. A Level 2 charger provides about 12 miles / hour of charge time so you can charge from 0 to full in 8 hours.
Charging in public
As you would probably guess, the infrastructure for charging an EV in public is hit or miss. Nearly all of the chargers in public are the Level 2 type and you can find them easily by joining a network and downloading their free app onto your smart phone. I’ve joined both Blink and ChargePoint but both apps will show you the location of all chargers, whether they’re in their network or their competitor’s network, plus let you know if a specific charging station is in-use or available.
You need to think of charging differently from putting gas in your car. With gas you can pay at the pump, fill up and be on the road again in 5 minutes. With an EV it takes much more planning. However, I was able to make due while my son borrowed my gas car for a few weeks. Have a meeting with a client? Just scout out the charging stations near your meeting location and charge up while you’re at your meeting. This worked fine for me when I had a breakfast meeting in Buckhead and an AVLF event at the Aquarium. However, it didn’t work out so well when I had a meeting with a client downtown: there were two chargers in their parking garage but both were in use. I’ve used the charging stations at Walgreens in a pinch: grabbing some water and catching up on emails on my iPhone.
Prices vary for these public chargers: free (thank you, Chase Bank and Georgia Power), free for tenants, free for a visitor in a parking deck (but you pay to park) and a per minute or hour fee. The fees vary based on network, location, owner, etc. I’ve found some for $1 / hour, $2 / hour (Walgreens) and up to 6 cents a minute ($3.60 / hour). You can think of it relative to what you’d pay at the pump (my gas car needs premium and gets 19 miles / gallon which is equivalent to paying $1.64 / hour (for 12 miles of charge) for my Leaf.
If you’re looking to get a free car before July 1st, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions; I’m not an expert but I do have 7 months of hands-on experience that I’m happy to share.
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