Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Longer Range EVs and the Fate of Public Charging

My 2013 LEAF has transformed my driving habits! No, its not because its electric since my primary source of transportation has been electric since 2007. In fact, I turned in my 2011 LEAF to get the 2013 so what did cause the transformation?

Range! My 2013 having an extra handful of miles has allowed me to use public charging a lot less than in my 2011.  I do this by simply driving a bit slower, using neutral driving, and monitoring my progress using LEAF Spy. This has allowed me to squeeze that extra 4-5 miles out of my LEAF without doing the 15 minute pitstop I did so frequently in my 2011.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that the early days in my 2011, I had much less driving needs and I also was "driving blind." Without a battery monitoring device, it was nearly impossible for me to tell just how far my LEAF could go! So it was a crap shoot wondering just how long I had to sit charging somewhere to make it home. By the time I did change driving habits, degradation had set in albeit to a very modest degree, but degradation all the same.

So the real question is if a small increase in range has lessened my dependence on public charging, what will a big jump in range do? Are public charging companies about to fade away? Is their future doubtful?  Well to answer that question, I have to say for me I would use public charging more because trips that would take 3-5 charging stops or more could be reduced to 1-2 charging stops and if the chargers were placed well, could only slightly impact my total road time.

In my 2011, I did a road trip from Olympia, WA to Salem OR once.  I would have been ok with doing it more often but my passengers were not. It was "only" 7 charging stops for the 405 mile round trip which did include some local driving while in Salem but one charging stop (which was actually multiple sessions) was at the Salem destination on 120 volts at the home we were staying.

Now this trip has been done in the Prius several times (With a ZENN and its 35 mph limitations, road trips were not an option) and we always stopped at least once (or twice about half the times) for a meal which means a fast charge would  be applicable there.  With double the LEAF's range, only one stop would be needed to get to Salem. This makes the "Just leave the Prius at home and take the EV" argument a much more popular choice!  FYI; a few times it was predetermined that we would not be making any stops on the way since it is barely a 3 hour drive to the point where we had coolers with snacks, food, drink, etc and every time, we changed our plans and stopped somewhere anyways...

With the launch date probably 18 months or more away, its anyone's guess how much LEAF II and its near 200 mile range will cost but there have been hints it maybe just a little bit more than the current price range. This keeps it in the affordable range but the real question is how much more can be charged while keeping it in the range of the masses?  Well, I am guessing not too much. We already saw evidence with the Volt and Ford Focus EV that even with incentives, prices over $40,000 scare a lot of people away.

Where there is a lot of room is cutting costs to provide a cheaper EV option. There has always been rampant speculation as to how much it really costs to manufacture EVs and if you listen to Nissan, Chevy or what have you, they make it sound like they are really sacrificing to bring you the car at the prices currently offered.   Sorry but I couldn't swallow that line with the help of $300 Champagne!

The price of goods has always been determined by how much we are willing to pay for that item. No one does it for free or even close to free. Nissan has nowhere near the cash to support EVs or subsidized pricing so there is little doubt in my mind that they can come up with a version of the LEAF and a price that would compete directly with the gasoline car in the $20,000 price range before incentives. Sure Nissan had help with a generous loan from Uncle Sam to kick start their US operations but they would not have done it without a clear timeline for paying the loan back.

But an EV that competes directly with gasoline versions price wise is surely to make huge waves among the buying public. This forces the focus away from the sticker price to the huge differences in maintenance/fuel  TCO and I think this will be the main profit engine thru sheer volumes of sales. I also think this will be the main driver for future, longer range (and higher profit margin) EV purchases!

The only thing missing is a well placed public charging network. Hope someone is listening here!

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