I Don’t Brake for the Environment

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Energy, Technology, Transportation

I Don’t Brake for the Environment

Pretty pretty Nissan Leaf with Tenessee plates

Talk about “song-in-you-head. As we approached the 2018 Nissan Leaf the salesman points out the manufacturer’s Tennessee plates. John Haitt’s “Tennessee Plates” has run through my head ever since. “Crossed the Mississippi like an oil-slick fire,” is an appropriate description when you step on the accelerator in the Leaf.

The biggest thrill of the Leaf is what Nissan calls the ePedal. It’s a regenerative braking mode that at first feels like driving a golf cart, but with practice feels more natural than the old step-on-the-gas, step-on-the-brake two-step, that gives lie to the bumper sticker that says “I brake for the Environment’- to whit “if you ‘re using your brakes, you’ve just used too much gas.” When you back off on the accelerator in the Leaf, it starts to “regenerate” with a feeling like gentle braking. If you back off fully the Leaf will stop about as quickly as is comfortable without throwing you into the seatbelt. Once I got used to it I rarely used the brake pedal – coasting smoothly to a stop as kilowatts surged back into the battery.

Pulling up to the Catalyst offices and plugging the Leaf into the photovoltaic panels on the roof for a recharge was enormously rewarding. The 3.3 kilowatts of solar panels on the roof should give the Leaf a full charge in ten hours.

Recharging the Leaf from a 110 volt outlet is indeed a trickle charge, giving you about 5 miles of added range per hour of charging. A 220 volt outlet, like the one for electric clothes dryers and electric ranges, can double that. DC Quick Charging will give you 90 miles in 30 minutes, but you need special, and still expensive, charging stations. Everybody from the state, counties and cities, as well as Rocky Mountain Power and auto dealers are working to build a convenient network of recharging stations along Utah’s major transportation corridors and cities. Since I was charging the Leaf at work I didn’t need to use the software feature in the Leaf that works with the map program to lead you to the closest charging station.

The controls and instruments are simple and logical. The “gas gauge” reads out in miles of range rather than a percentage of battery charge or kilowatts. From an engineer’s perspective a readout in kilowatts would be interesting, but that would confuse most drivers.

The electric vehicle equivalent of the RPM gauge is the watt-meter. It tells you how much electricity you are using at the moment. When you are going down-hill and putting kilowatts in your tank the watt-meter goes below zero into the blue.

The cost of of electric vehicles is always the primary consideration, but the range is also an important factor. The Leaf’s range of 151 miles is comfortable for every day driving. Mileage may vary depending on whether you’re addicted to the thrill of regenerative braking and plugging into the sun for a recharge, or to the monkey of being forced into the back of the seat when you accelerate.

The Nissan Leaf is the largest electric vehicle in the world, having sold 300,000 by early 2018. Nissan has lead the way in the field of electric vehicles. It’s plant in Smyrna Tennessee can build 150,000 cars a year.

The 2018 Leaf, which won the Kelley Bluebook 5-year Cost to Own award, starts around $30,000. While most folks will want some of the extras, that price makes the Leaf affordable for most people.

The Leaf lives up to the name “rice-rocket,” taking off like a rocket when you really hit the accelerator.  I didn’t take the Leaf out on the Salt Flats, so I don’t know what it feels like to put the pedal to the floor, but I imagine in feels great. Maybe not your lips straining back along the sides of your face acceleration, but close. The front wheel drive and the 30 kilowatt hour, 480 lb. battery, slung under the passenger compartment, give the Leaf a sure footedness in turns.

Getting into the all-electric Nissan Leaf has the feel of putting on your angel wings. Driving one is like tooling around heaven as a full-fledged angelic being.

John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST.

 
 
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