Saturday, May 24, 2014

Wants, Needs and Reality

Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag with Andy Palmer's statement that the 2016 LEAF will have multiple pack sizes to choose from, I think the real question is how much do we really need? Or better yet; when is too much simply too expensive?

The Tesla Model S definitely answers question # 2 for me anyway but what I am wondering is at what point do we make that decision?  Since the S 40 pretty much went away before it started, its really hard to say. Tesla said they dumped it because no one wanted it but who really knows what the real answer is?  How many took the S 40 simply because that was all they could afford? After all, when looking at EV savings, its a bottom up view.  Since every mile counts, we always see the savings on the very short trips. Its only the very long ones that come into question and by that I mean if you have to take the time to stop and charge, are you really saving anything? This makes it important to insure you have enough range without paying for range you don't need.

Put another way; if your primary driving need uses 75% of range (like an S 40) verses 35% of your range like an S 85,  are you saving money?  To get a "return" (arguments about the money pit aka new car purchases are fully understood by me so lets look beyond the terminology) on the purchase price, you want a car that best matches your need for the price, right?

Well, Nissan gets this. Most of us can barely afford the LEAF as it is and no, I am not talking about current owners. Its the fence sitters I am talking about. The mostly yet to be tapped market that will be the true watershed moment in EV adoption. So introducing a longer range LEAF would imply that the shorter range LEAF's price would likely drop.  There is a lot of speculation as to how much more we are willing to pay for the longer range and the unfortunate lack of competition means Nissan has a LOT of leeway on this but set the price too high and we are looking at another 2 year launch period like the 2011's?   So the right price is as critical as the right range.  Most fence sitters can't afford to add a car so they must replace a car and a limited range EV option without knowing the full options is simply too much of a leap in faith for many to take.

Now depending on which speculative story you read, the top of the line LEAF will be out at 135-180 miles.  Either would more than cover 99% of my driving needs which are extreme. I work as a contractor for a company that provides inventory/marketing/inspection services. So, I am on the road every day.  I do have access to company cars and that is what is usually required for longer trips over 100 miles one way.  For the rest, I have the option to use their cars or POVs. Now, not all of my co-workers have or want to use their cars so there is frequently not a car to get for shorter trips (we are responsible for providing our own transportation for any job less than 20 miles one way) which compromise roughly 90% of my work assignments.

I am ok with this! I am reimbursed tax free per mile driven and that reimbursement is based on the local price of gas. With gas hovering around $3.70 a gallon, I am receiving 38 cents per mile and that is round trip mileage booked. At roughly 2½ cents per mile,  using the LEAF is a significant financial boom to me.  (They don't pay me enough otherwise!) In 5 months, I have booked 5300 miles in the LEAF, about 3000 miles in the gasser, 4600 miles in company cars and several thousand miles in public transportation (mostly air travel)  The gasser mileage breaks down as long trips; (company car NA) 2100 miles,  LEAF NA; (borrowed or stolen!)  228 miles and the rest were shorter trips made because the gasser had been sitting too long. I try not to let it sit more than 2-3 weeks if possible.

The longer LEAF range would allow me to get rid of the gasser. Before I got the gasser, I was simply trading cars when the need arose with a family member but had lost too many opportunities to collect the mileage reimbursement which lead me to just getting an extra very cheap car. (it was just over $2500 after tax, licensing, etc). The longer range would put me into "car switch" mode at most a few times a year which is very doable but more importantly has the strong potential to never have to switch at all.

All this brings me back to the question of need. Someone states we drive an average of  just over 30 miles a day.  But this figure is very misleading. I do know a lot of people who drive a lot less than that but large metropolitan areas have a higher average simply due to space, cost of living and the fading allure of suburban living.  We bought cheap in the sticks and then commuted to work making a common daily driving range average closer to 60-80 miles.   I live in such an area.  Seattle's cost of living is accelerating to the point that a movement was started to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Ya, that is a clear indication of how expensive it is there.

So maybe Nissan has it right. The sweet spot is "around" 150 miles. This allows the longer commute plus errands, plus the Saturday afternoon family outing plus degradation and finally, the most important requirement; peace of mind.

Now there will always be the camp that won't accept EVs until they can do everything gassers can like drive cross country in 3 days and yes, I have done that and hope to never have to do it again.  For those maybe we should look at car carriers by rail. You drive to the terminal, load up your car, check into your cabin, enjoy the scenery and get dinner all while someone else does the driving or railroading as is in this case.  Either way; I have to think that even when 500 mile EVs come along, I will opt for my 150 mile EV simply because it will the the right price for my needs.  The other issue is waiting for that car. Well there is no reason to wait that long. The range will be here for MY 2016 which is probably 15-18 months at the most.  With 50,000 LEAFs on the road in the US approaching one BILLION EV miles, we can make a significant impact now.


  1. I just drove my 2012 Leaf 65.3 miles and had 7 miles remaining and 5miles on the inner ring. The OAT was 66 degrees. It would be better to have a solid 100 miles range. I drove at 55 mph on a 65 to 75 mph road.

  2. Ya, your batteries have degraded and the 2016 will have better batteries and the extra range will address the inevitable degradation when it comes. My 2011 did very well in the degradation dept compared to yours but my extreme driving needs made it a hassle after 2 years despite having only lost 10%

  3. You write this with an eye to driving in Washington state.

    Leaf owners in Calgary or Regina, on the other hand, absolutely need at least twice the battery capacity they have now when their total capacity drops by about 40-45% in cold weather. They'd be carrying around "more than they need" in summer so they can have "just enough" in the winter. As an added bonus, they can go further afield in summer, when most people do their road trips anyway.

    If the 2017 (not the 2016 - Nissan has already said they have no intention of releasing a Leaf 2.0 in the current product cycle, which ends around the end of 2016) Leaf is the same price as the current Leaf, then noone is going to care, although I'm sure there'd be more than a few willing to go with a lower cost car that "only" goes as far as the current cars do. But I guess that's the point of offering different range options, no?

    1. Anon; its not "more than you need" if you need it 6 months every year right? As far as claims Nissan has made in the past; EVERYTHING is subject to change. It is critical for them to continue to be first to market. They do not have any real peers except possibly the MiEV but only because of price. It is smaller and has less range but is comparable if that range works for you. Right now the ONLY EV that has the range we desire is the Not to be RAV 4 EV and besides, unless they cut the price $12,000 like they were, it was in a higher price bracket along with the fact that lease terms SUCKED

  4. How do the Rav4 EV lease terms "suck"? I believe they are discounting it by a lot more than $12k right now, $16,500 in lease cash is the current number and they are offering unlimited mileage leases. Roughly $480/mo with no money down. For someone who puts 25k+ miles/yr on a vehicle it's a bargain.

    1. ah you might be right but then again, maybe RAV leases wouldn't suck so much if I lived in one of the ?? one? two? states its available