Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nissan Offering 2 Years of Free Charging

Nissan is handing out free charging to any new LEAFers retroactive to April 1st.  They will be issuing EZ Charge  Cards that will pay for the first 30 minutes on a Chademo Fast Charger or the first hour on a 240 L2 charger.  The freebies will last 2 years and is estimated to be worth about $500 in free juice per car.

This move was apparently encouraged by the wild success of a similar pilot program Nissan ran in Texas.   Nissan also mentioned they will introduce "special" pricing for existing LEAFers starting July 1st.

Since I was one of the first to get a LEAF and charging fees are still relatively new, I had enjoyed a lot of charging on someone else's dime so begrudging any new LEAFers rights would seem to be a bit wrong to most but most of my free charging days were still in the early days of the renewed EV revolution so there was not a whole lot of LEAFs competing for plugs. That has changed and rapidly over the past year.

Being in an area where the LEAF has been the dominant Nissan model has simply hastened the situation where public charging support has not kept up with sales.

Undoubtedly, Nissan is doing this  to increase sales and it does benefit all LEAFers in general because it eliminates the need to carry and maintain several accounts.  a single price paid that covers all major players at a reasonable price is something I am very interested in doing.  Right now, there is no subscription plan out there I am even remotely interested and its because each company on its own simply does not come close to covering as much as half my needs.  But all of them together? That is something worth looking into!

But announcing this program without bolstering the charging network does not seem like a good idea to me.  There are still a few Nissan dealerships that do not have fast chargers. Putting one in each dealership would help but there is simply not that many dealerships around and West of here, there is none. The other thing is simply the free concept itself.

The other day, we spent the day in Seattle and decided to stop at the Nissan Dealer in Renton to get enough of a charge to make it home. I pulled up and there was already a LEAF plugged in who had Renton Nissan license plate frame so guessing he was a "local".  (ya, might have been way off as well since a lot of people did not get their LEAF from their local dealer)

When I got there, I checked the charger status and right away, I was a bit dismayed. He had been charging only 6 minutes but already had 82% SOC.  Wondering what he was doing or where he was going to plug in at what had to be greater than 50% SOC but I decided to hope for the best.  It did not happen.  43 minutes after I arrived, someone from the service dept came out and unplugged him at 98% to plug me in.  They apologized explaining they generally don't let anyone charge beyond 80% on the fast charger especially if someone is waiting.  Now, this they explained was not a Nissan charger, but their own and it was still free (I was expecting to pay at least $3) so I was happy about that. Either way,  23 minutes later, I had enough to make the 50 mile trip home.

But if the charger was billing based on time or had a timer limit, these things would not happen or at least, would not happen as often. But free is a very powerful marketing tool.

I think Nissan might have been better off to examine the usage of the charging stations.  Granted, it would have been better to collect data of how many people had to wait to use a charger or simply kept driving because there was too much of a line, etc.  and yes those types of situations could be present at L2's although its my opinion that is not likely.  There are several chargers I pass by frequently with the Blink complex at Tahoma Market in Fife being one of them.  I have NEVER driven by there when all the L2's were in use (but that could be because they were broken :) ) but have seen several times when there were 2 OR MORE LEAFs waiting to use the quick charger.

I think Nissan could help utilize the existing network with that very same free tactic while relieving other parts of the network. Maybe 20 minutes free on the fast chargers and 2 hours free on the L2's might shift the balance a bit.  Plus 2 hours on a fast charger is almost certain to encourage the LEAFer to investigate some of the retail establishments in the area which only makes hosting a charger more attractive.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Cleaning, EV Maintenance, and "Adjustable" Degradation!

Its been over a week since I attained the 5,000 mile mark so it was past time for tire rotations. My Brother, bless his soul, was a tire store manager and recommended tire rotations every 5,000 miles for longest life. Since he worked for Les Schwabs and they gave free rotations for life, it was not a money making ploy on his part.  So this is how I have managed to actually get the OEM rated mileage from tires on various cars that have a reputation of having cheap tires.

Both my 2006 and 2010 Prius exceeded their 50,000 mile ratings including the dreaded Ecopias on the 2010 (replaced at 54,000 miles)  and this was done with the regular 5,000 mile rotations and keeping the pressures at or near the max tire pressure listed on the tire.  The Ecopias are rated at 44 PSI on a cold tire so on the Prius I ran 42 PSI front, and 40 rear.  On my 2011 LEAF, I ran them about 42 PSI and have decided to run 44 PSI on the 2013.

Now there is trade offs to consider.  Higher pressures are supposed to lead to a rougher ride. Problems with that is the roads around here fall into two categories; the freeways around Olympia (the state capital) that are well maintained and nearly rut free to everywhere else in the state that are not and very rough at any tire pressure.   I actually experimented in the Prius with tire pressures finding the difference in the ride to be minimal. So I elected higher pressures based on personal observations by others stating a higher pressure reduces sidewall flex which makes the car more stable on turns and "may" make the tire less prone to sidewall damage on ruts and potholes.

But one thing is clear; the higher the pressure, the lower the rolling resistance which means the longer the range.

Anyway, if you have multiple cars (we have 3) rotating every 5,000 miles can get pretty hectic.  So rotating at the tire shop was out. Even if it was free, it wasn't. It was still time out of the day that needed to be blocked out and sometimes, it was ok but it only took a few times of picking the wrong day and being stuck there forever for me to think there has to be a better way.  Now, I am not a highly mechanical guy or anything like that but rotating tires is something I could handle. But working hard is not something I am into either, so to streamline the process, I use two floor jacks and an impact wrench.  I have actually gotten the process down pretty good to where I have actually done the 4 tire rotation and tire pressure adjustment in as little as 23 minutes.

So, I park the car in the yard.  (driveway is too steep, the garage too small...)  I dragged out all the stuff, I needed and started and on bolt # 3 of the first tire, my impact wrench died on me.   The compressor died a few years ago. So, I am also writing to recommend that anyone doing this not buy McCullough. The kit I bought didn't even last 10 years but then again, the kit was on sale for $39.95 so maybe it wasn't so bad

Either way, any thoughts of setting any new speed records were now out of the question.  So I had to use my cross wrench to loosen which was used for final torquing anyway so at least I did not have to do a 2nd rummage thru the garage. Now, keep in mind this was first time removing tires from the factory install and I was more than a bit shocked at how easily they broke free. Now, all my rotation training came from my Dad.  First you tighten the bolts snug then a pull on each in rotation and continuing until they would not tighten anymore. Now,  this was within reason but me being not strong or anything like that, was still able to get it reasonably tight.   This started me wondering if my LEAF tires were torqued properly or was I overdoing it?  Having used the impact wrench to take lug nuts off for the past 9 years made me realized I had no clue how tight they normally were, So I went to the Yaris which had new tires put on by Costco last Winter and they were tight. About as tight as I expected them to be. So, check your torque!

On other matters; 

As mentioned previously, at just over 5100 miles, my battery numbers started to decline, RAPIDLY.  I went from way over 100% to 96%  losing 1-2% per day. It was a bit shocking to say the least.  On the first day when I was at 99% SOH, I thought "one percent every 5,000 miles" was just about right.  Some were doing better like Steve Marsh. He just passed 110,000 miles and pretty sure his degradation is less than 22% so does lend fuel to the rate of degradation slowing down...eventually.

But watching my ahr drop from 67.36 to 63.06 in 5 days was disturbing. Now, several things had happened and I was more than willing to blame them for my battery's rapid decline.  LEAF Spy updated its software,  the weather turned warmer and my Son's Birthday meant taking a few days off work so my driving patterns changed as well.  But then I went back to work, resumed my driving and no improvement!  After playing with the LEAF Spy settings and realizing whether a GID was 77.5 ahr (don't know how I got that setting) or 80 ahr (which I changed it to) my numbers were not going to rise.

So finally, I used my last option to boost my battery and that was.... Quick Charging, and


Yesterday; Batt readings

ahr 63.04 SOH 96%  Hx  96.74  GID 273

Last night, I swung by Oly Nissan, paid my $ 3 since I still haven't received my complimentary Chargepoint card from them yet,  charged up from 8 to 83% increasing the batt temps from 59ºF to an eventual 78ºF and got up this morning and now I am at

ahr 66.37,  SOH 99%  Hx 99.97  (GIDs not checked because did not have a full charge)

Now, I wish I could tell you why this is happening but I can't and pretty sure daily fast charging will not be how I finally get my 150 mile battery...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

S.T.E.M and Electrathon America Lacey Grand Prix

Held in my hometown of Lacey, Washington on the first Saturday in May, it was previously known as the "Lacey Alternative Fuel Fair and Electric Car Rally."  This outdoor event held at Huntamer Park off College Street showcases solutions in all areas of energy savings, alternative fuels and conservation efforts. Yes! its very much a "Green thing!" What is S.T.E.M?  It is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics but EVs will still rule the day!

I became a presenter the first time in 2005 with my Prius when hybrids were still a new concept to most people. This gave me the opportunity to talk to a lot of people who were interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle.  Then in 2008, I started showing my ZENN, an NEV (neighborhood Electric Vehicle. these by WA State law are restricted to a maximum speed of 35 mph) and now its naturally its my LEAF.  Every year, the fair has grown and grown to the point where I probably talked with 100-150 people at the 2013 event.

But as nice as the solar demos, EVs, Puget Sound Energy's "Green Power" programs are, the real draw is the Electric Car Rally.

The rally is not a race of speed, its range. (after all, they are EVs and as EV drivers; what is our main concern?)  So the race starts and it has a time limit (which only a few can make) so its who finishes the most laps in a certain time frame or if no one can run the allotted time, its who finishes the most laps.

Its really nothing more than "Soap Box Derby" electrified.  about 75% of the cars are completely hand built by father/son teams and these are VERY complex projects.  One must have welding, fabrication, design and electrical skills to be able to complete one of these as it is but the level of knowledge increases exponentially when we add in the competition factor and the egos of your young child.

This is where the community comes in. Yes, there were teams that did not discuss their secrets with each other but then there were others that freely gave advice to the newer racers in the group. The synergy from the shared knowledge of the racers was a great thing to see. It was the feeling of witnessing the camaraderie that solidified my decision to get an EV which led to the ZENN (not such a good idea...)

So, if you are ever cruising thru Lacey WA about the first Saturday of May and you have a few hours, stop by and check it out. The Fair itself is free, its a great thing for the kids, and a wonderful way to see some of the new things just around the corner!

Unfortunately, I will miss it for the first time in Several years. (The last time was when my Son was less than a month old) I will be at Disneyland!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fighting Father Time

Well it took 5,000 miles before the declined started and its dropping like a rock.  Remember just a week ago I was bragging about my battery health?  had an Hx of 107.15% and SOH pegged at 100 %?

Remember, this was after a quick charge at Puyallup Nissan and I have always gotten a boost in Hx after a quick charge event which made me think that my battery simply liked warmer weather.

Well, the weather has been warmer especially Monday, two days ago when we had our warmest day of the year.  But my Hx went down.  I admit I did not quick charge.  Then, I had a day off,  a short drive day, a local job and now I get in the car and see this

So now  its 8 days and 300 miles later and what a difference!  I guess I have to say that after 5,000 plus miles, I should have lost something but wondering if this is a permanent thing?

Stay tuned; I may be swinging by a quick charge station more to see what happens than a need to extend my range.

Friday, April 4, 2014

March 2014 Drive Report.

WOW!! for the first time I am really seeing a benefit of the LEDs installed almost 2 months ago on my electric bill. My usage has really gone down. Now part of that was my yard light getting damaged in a storm early last month which I still have not replaced yet along with time change meaning more daylight in the evening.   But my total usage was only 604 Kwh which is a good 80 kwh below my average.

The Corolla drove 854.7 miles burning about $74 in gas for a cost of 8.7 cents per mile.  Sticking with as little in town driving as possible with minimal short trips, I was still able to average 39.5 MPG Work reimbursement amounted to $232.57 which lowers my lifetime TCO on the car to 89 cents per mile over the 2800 miles driven since purchase.   Gas prices are really starting to jump here going up over 25 cents a gallon during the month so might be parking the Corolla a lot more this month.

The LEAF drove 1324.6 miles using $28.54 in electricity costing 2.15 cents per mile.  I did not charge publicly during the month (Something that only lasted till April 1st) and did drive the Corolla a few times for work to destinations well within the LEAF's range, once because the Corolla had sat for over two weeks and wanted to drive it to keep it from decaying away. (cars that sit too long around here uncovered in Winter tend to get pretty musty and moldy after a while)  I actually went so far as to drive to a job wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the heat blasting away, changing clothes in the bathroom. I was there 45 mins early so it was an easy thing to do.  The other reason is that I am on pace to go way over my lease mileage limit so thought I should spread the wealth a little.  Work reimbursement amounted to $283.25 bringing TCO to 14.46 cents per mile.

Other than that, no other expenses to report other than the basic lease payment on the LEAF and insurance on both cars.  As far as health goes, there is still no sign of degradation at all according to LEAF Spy at 41 miles shy of 5,000 miles.

For the next two months, I will be going on Vacation 3 times including Disney at the end of April and my Son's High School graduation at the end of May so less driving probably.  Until next month!

Nissan's 135 Mile LEAF

Before we get too excited about it, let me clarify this is just a rumor started by someone (not me this time!) somewhere but it has gained a lot of steam.

Naturally more range means more options so its a good thing and as long as it is not the only thing, we will benefit.  Range choices gives peace of mind to those are are able and willing to pay for it while at the same time still allowing the  EV market to expand to the more budget conscious consumer with lesser transportation needs.

A lot has been said about the slow adoption rate of EVs but wondering if its really that slow or that the market is still not fully focused on volume sales?  There are really only two manufacturers even attempting anything remotely resembling volume and that is Tesla and Nissan and neither have an overabundance of units languishing on lots around the country.  Last month, Nissan posted 2nd best ever numbers at 2500+ which could be good if looking at plug in sales only but would be pathetic if looking at cars overall so has the EV launch been pathetic so far? Well ya. Only two pure EV manufacturers with volume.  One could put Chevy and Ford in the mix. They both have respectable ER EV  programs but even that puts participation well below 50%.  Sure we have new players coming in, at least according to the press releases but there has always been pending promises and that started years before the first of the new wave EVs hit the streets.

Its my opinion that its really the auto industry's attempt to minimize the impact that EVs are having.  I am too close to the EV industry as most of you are which makes it difficult to truly understand how little the general public knows about EVs but the evidence is plentiful and shocking.  Most people hesitate to look at the LEAF due to its limited range and high price.  For them; I say lease. Its a great way to be exposed to both the benefits and compromises of driving EV.  I only put it that way to sound balanced. We all know that EV Addiction is a powerful thing!

So, I decided on an experiment to not use public charging for the month of March.  I also lifted my 75 mile limit I imposed on my LEAF to see how much of an imposition it would be to rely on the LEAF.  Now, I did drive the gasser a few times in March but primarily to balance the mileage a bit. I am on pace to go way over my 45,000 mile lease so did pick a few trips to gas it that were well within the LEAF's range and also did have the LEAF "borrowed" for a day here and there (stolen actually!) unexpectedly...

Now since getting the 2013 and its new batteries, my driving style has gone back to normal with many trips averaging over 55 mph (which includes surface streets, etc) when previously in the 2011 the same trips were in the 44-45 mph range due to driving slower to extend the degraded range.  So first thing I wanted to do was find out about how far I could go if I elected to not stop to charge. So off I went on a Sunday afternoon with no time crunches to lunch with my Son. My freeway target speed was 60 mph and other than a few minor slowdowns, that was achieved as was a drive of 93.5 miles getting home with 11 GIDs to spare.  Conditions were dry and Sunny which meant no climate control was needed for the trip (actually had air on face for the return as it was getting warmer than I was comfortable with)  The lunch destination at South Center Mall was chosen as this was one place I worked at often and was out of the range of a single charge on the 2011.

But the weather was good.  A few days later during a heavy rain (most of the area set all time rain records for the month. Unfortunately that partially resulted in the Oso Disaster) my commute to the far side of Puyallup (includes a BIG hill in the middle) of 85.6 miles required me to reduce speeds to 50 mph (that and a very heavy rain which slowed all the traffic on I-5 to under 50 mph) getting home with just 7 GIDs.

Finally, another trip to Tukwila totaling 96.4 miles and averaging 60-62 mph going and a target  speed of 55 mph coming home and arriving with 17 GIDs.  I could have made 100 miles easily but had other errands to run later that day so plugged in at home to get the boost I needed before uploading the day's job, changing clothes and heading back out again.

Now what you actually get from your LEAF will vary. My conditions are different, my tires are pumped to 44 PSI, I drive in the slow lane, and I am hampered by a pathetically overwhelmed highway system  which simply makes driving slower acceptable and necessary.  But public charging is still a LONG way from being convenient and reliable so the big question here is what will be the most popular?  the 80 LEAF or the 135 mile LEAF?

That question will be answered by price.  The people I have talked to who are currently gassing it but thinking about an EV fall into mostly the category known as "budget conscious."  They currently have car payments that will be ending soon, multiple car households, short commutes, etc.  So a near perfect EV household for the most part.  Now, getting them beyond the leasing issue has been difficult but I stand by my statement that Nissan needs a car that gets a real 105 miles (which means 65 mph on the freeway in average conditions with a buffer) to account for the degradation that will start setting in after 2 years. (less if you don't live in my neighborhood)  This also takes out the complication of figuring your tax liability for the EV credit.  Let Nissan worry about that.  When I do end up buying a LEAF, it will be a lease/purchase.  I will have had 2-3 years to rethink the purchase issue and of course all that depends on the interest rates of the lease, etc...

Now if Nissan released 3 pack options say change the current pack option to 110 miles with an option to  135 miles. Then add a bargain priced LEAF with the standard 84 mile pack, I believe that fewer will take the 135 mile pack verses the 110 mile or 84 mile pack.  Nissan's cost to market has to be going down as it needs to be to repay their loan for the TN Battery plant but volumes have increased which should allow them to cut the price further. So if Nissan kept the 110 mile version at current prices with a $2500 bump for the longer pack, a $1500 cut for the shorter pack; I still think that more than half will take the cheaper option.  The 110 mile pack will be a close 2nd.

But every time I suggest this, there is howls of protest.  "Everyone" wants more range people say but what I am seeing is a handful that do (including me) consisting of the majority of the input while LEAFers who are happy with their range are simply not saying anything.

Now part of my stance is based on where I live. It took over 2 years before degradation was enough to really hamper my driving needs but my needs are beyond average, WAY beyond. But if I did not have a job that required travel, my 2011 LEAF would have lasted me about 11 years even with a commute 50% greater than the average distance driven in the US.  So even for my extreme needs,  a 105 mile LEAF would have lasted me long enough to get my "money's worth" before doing the trade in, buy new thing again.  But several areas of the country did see degradation up to triple my rate which amounted to about 12 % after 3 years and 45,000 miles.  There is some speculation (yet unseen) that degradation rates slow after a time.  Since the older LEAFs are barely 3, we have yet to see whether that is true or not.  Steve Marsh (our long distance litmus test) has expressed concerns about his upcoming Winter commute, so more on that in about 7 months.  Now we still have not had the time to see whether any new wrinkles to the battery chemistry have changed that at all.  I hope to see nothing after this Summer which would be good but all depends on whether we are warm like 2013 or cool like 2012.  Here's hoping for hot!

I ran into a LEAFer who is thinking about trading in his LEAF (despite the fact that he could drive another 7-8 years on his 45 mile commute)  for a Volt because he was talked into believing it was some sort of wise financial move when factoring in depreciated values.  I hope I had changed his mind.  For one thing; there are few (if any) cars that are immune to precipitous drops in value.  Be it they were simply overpriced to begin with or not built to last, the bottom line is changing cars means you WILL lose and lose a lot.   The actual difference between the LEAF and Volt is small to begin with  with trade in values being 38.8 and 41.6% respectively  (don't cry. the "leader" category was small compacts at 54% so no real winners here)   So if generalizing that LEAF was $33,000 and the Volt $36,000 that equates to $10,140 and $14,976  or a $4836 price difference. take off the original $3,000 price difference (waay favoring the Volt on these hypothetical numbers btw)  and now  its $1836.   For a 3 year period, this only leaves him room to average 2 gallons of gas a week after higher maintenance costs.  A tough proposition since work place charging is not likely to be an option for him.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spring Break and My Battery Is More Excited Than I Am!

 Its no secret that batteries are very much like people. Get them too cold and they don't want to work hard.  Too much heat saps their strength.  Just like us, they prefer a relatively moderate middle ground and the pack on my LEAF has made it no secret that temps in the upper 60's to low 70's is just about perfect.

Now, my 2013 LEAF will be much different than my first one in that I have monitored just about every parameter since mile one... I mean mile 44 from the minute it came into my possession.

So naturally it was less than 30 seconds after I got into the car for the first time that LEAF Spy was up and running and I was very pleased to see that I had more than 100% capacity (as if that was possible) including an Hx of 102.54%.  But after a week, the number started to drop. Not fast, just a fraction of one percent daily.  It was down to 100.42% when I did the first fast charge on the LEAF. The next day (this is when I was only checking LEAF Spy readings first thing in the morning) I noticed I had bumped back up and higher than before at 103.04%! This came as a big relief as I was concerned just how far and fast my Hx would continue to drop.

Then came a logistical challenge from work coupled with VERY cold weather where more range for peace of mind and comfort made multiple fast charges desirable. After one day where 3 stints of fast charging in one day (none longer than 17 minutes) I noticed that I was at 105.12% Hx! This was an all time high and it was then that I realized that the bumps in Hx happened when my batt temps were getting into the upper 50's and more. Keep in mind with a December delivery they were running in the mid to upper 40's º F.

Now this trend continued and eventually the Hx balanced out to a range running from 101.5 to 102.5.

Now, it only took a few trips for me to enjoy and take advantage of my LEAF's renewed range. I was back up to driving mostly in the 60-65 mph range (if not 70...) without a worry as most of my trips were well within the range my LEAF had to give. It was then that I decided to go cold turkey on public charging for the month of March (which I was able to do with one day to spare)

So today, April 1, was my first fast charge in over 6 weeks  and after getting 12 Kwh in 22 mins 12 seconds, I was off and glancing at LEAF Spy and saw this

ok so it was one of the if not the warmest day of the year at 60º and  batt temps did get up to 78, 75 and 72 º  but like WOW!

now has this translated to more range? probably not. I did drive 96 miles on Monday on a single charge (remember it was still no charge March!) but did drive VERY conservatively along with getting stuck in a few traffic jams to make it although I ended up with 17 GIDs making 100 miles probably an easy goal.  But range records are no longer that interesting to me. Its more like how to do it 2 years from now when I have 48,000 miles on the ticker instead of 4800. Now my previous LEAF I would not dare approach driving that far out of town. my 100 mile trips I did back then was predominately in town driving averaging 25-40 mph.  Monday's drive had probably 50% of the miles over 60 mph so don't know if its more range, more monitoring or simply more public chargers to fall back on if I "bite off more than I can drive"

either way, its still fun to me!