Saturday, September 5, 2015

Chapter Two; LEAF Moves Forward

It was January 18th, 2011 and it was a good day, a very good day. Picking up my LEAF after months of waiting, conjecturing, assuming, predicting and so on!  It was from a dealership 56 miles from my home in the dead of Winter! (well, ok late Spring for you Midwesterners)

I remember not using the heat, toggling defrost just enough to keep the windows clear and driving EXACTLY 60 mph to insure I would make it. The GOM started at 93 miles and dropped 20 miles in the first 10 miles which did cause a bit of concern but then again, I was not worried because... well, lets go back 9 months.

After I sat in front of my computer for nearly 7 hours waiting for the email invite from Nissan to place a request to a dealership for a quote, I found myself with several weeks in front of me with nothing to do so I searched out and found ( MNL) where there were several others in my exact predicament.   So naturally after lurking a few weeks to see if this place was ok, I joined up and I am glad I did.

For one thing, the atmosphere was electric. Everyone had a wild level of anticipation over what the LEAF was and could do despite NO ONE ever setting eyes on a LEAF. Yes, that is right. I committed myself (although you could back out anytime but that is not my nature) to getting this car without having seen it or anything else. In fact; I turned down a test drive when picking up my LEAF cause it would have required a longer wait and I wanted to get home as soon as possible (issues with the uniqueness of EVs, WA State tax waivers, etc. made getting home quickly IMPOSSIBLE!)

Back then the Nissan hype was a 100 mile EV and they backed up their statement by posting a chart describing what range you would get in various weather conditions and I realized quickly that 100 miles was only possible during a very specific set of non normal circumstances.

So using this chart and my previous experiences with my ZENN which was reputedly supposed to have a 35 mile range @ 25 mph (mine was modified to go 35 mph) but only got 20 miles after the speed mod, I figured that 75 miles was a safe bet for range so my expectations were tempered to the circumstances quite well. I also knew from my Prius hypermiling days that I could easily get more miles if I needed to.  So my previous experiences immediately questioned the 70 mile highway results and the "suburban" 138 mile result. One seemed way too low, the other way too high.  But the "L 4" testing cycle was an unknown entity to me so I grudgingly pushed it to the back of my mind.

Now my ZENN used lead acid batteries and had no BMS to speak of which is why I had to buy aftermarket equipment to monitor and distribute voltages between the 6 deep cycle battery units. The problem with that is that the charge balancers worked adequately when the SOC was high, but the lower the SOC, the greater the voltage delta which caused one of two issues; very short range or very short battery life.  In the end, it was both.  The point being I was a more than a bit unfamiliar with the concept of BMS so the inaccessible top and bottom of the LEAF battery pack was something I did not know existed until reading posts from other more experienced EVers from California at MNL. Because of this, I always felt it better to charge to 100% over 80% as I prefered the closer balance of the higher SOC pack over the larger imbalance of a low SOC pack.

But it was a rough start.  Nissan came out with prices that were realistically too high especially for early adopters.  Ya, that IS how new technology works but this was not a $500 DVD player you could rebuy 2 years later for $50, it was a car that you wouldn't even be halfway thru your payments on in two years! It was this thought that caused me to make a last second switch from buyer to leaser and I am glad I did.

Now this last second decision did not come without some pain. I did not have nearly the tax liability to claim $7500 from the feds so I converted a chunk of my 401 K to a Roth which meant that all the income tax that was waived when it was deducted from my paycheck became due immediately. I did this the 1st week of December 2010 because I was thinking my LEAF would be delivered before the end of the year which (if you read line one) did not happen.

So I leased paying an equivalent of $442 a month for an SL with the charge package; IOW, the top line trim. I felt that a limited range LEAF without quick charge would be much less convenient for me despite my very modest transportation needs.  At the time, I lived, worked and did 90% of my shopping, driving locally so I was ok with the limited range, it was still a HUGE benefit to power a car by one of the cheapest electrical rates in the Nation.

Later Nissan lowered prices to spur sales which led to a huge increase in sales and interest but like any early adopters, I missed the bargains but my 2nd LEAF; a 2013 S trim with the charge package made up a lot of that. Better batteries, slightly more range all for $245 a month on lease with 15,000 mile annual allotment just like the 2011 SL at nearly $200 more per month. I was a happy camper but by then, my personal situation had changed dramatically. I left my old job because I was simply tired of it and did not like the direction the company was going in. They had changed ownership twice and used the 2009 recession as an excuse to change the pay and benefits structure dramatically in 2010. I put up with it for 17 months (much longer than I should have) and then opted into the class action suit against the company and left.

Which is how I ended up with my current job working in inventory. Now, I went from working locally to working the entire Puget Sound region and West to the Washington Coast. My transportation needs exploded.  But kinda worked out because I started the job just as the West Coast Electric Highway started installing their stations so again, LEAF life was good!

For me anyway but down South, things were not so good. They did have a lot of stations but a lot more people and cars and worst of all, a LOT more Sun. It was quickly realized that the LEAF despite having a test track in the Arizona desert, did not do well in hot weather.  Now, the question of why didn't Nissan employ TMS? (Temperature Management System) in their battery packs like others did?   Not sure if we ever got a real answer so have to say it was a money thing.  But the damage was done so Nissan in their haste to provide a quick fix did the unthinkable (at least in the battery world) and that was to retroactively give every LEAF a capacity warranty on the traction pack.  This helped but did not really fix the problem. There was still the dilemma of TMS using electricity which meant reduced range and the LEAF range was already small enough.

But until bigger batteries arrived, the only real option was getting a better handle on exactly what the LEAF battery pack could handle and this where the collective minds of MNL was at its best. Soon we have a multitude of battery monitoring apps that allowed us (or at least gave us the courage) to use every single electron in the pack.  The best of the best was LEAF Spy developed by Jim Pollack. (Turbo 3 on MNL)

The program is downloadable thru the common app stores online for a cost up to $19.99 and in the case of the Android platform,  only required an Android cellphone with a bluetooth-enabled CAN bus reader. The reader can  be had for around $20 and in my case, I simply pulled my old phone out of the drawer so for $40 (actually less since the CAN bus reader was given to me :) )

The huge amount of data available from the program essentially added 5-7 miles to my comfort zone which meant the once daunting task of tackling 100 mile commutes was now child's play.

But it still required me to do gas once every month in Summer and a few times a month during the Winter which ultimately meant a bigger battery.  Yes, I had to admit to myself that no amount of hypermiling or route planning was going to push me over the top so now here we are.

With less than 2,000 2015 LEAFs remaining, the 2016 LEAF with its new 30 kwh battery pack is just around the corner. Some are speculating Oct 11th, I am still going with September. I predicted the 15th which makes it in the midst of  Drive Electric Week. That simply makes sense.  No, its not LEAF II. Actually I suspect its more an extended test drive on the new battery packs that will go into LEAF II.  So my feeling is that one of two things will happen. One, the  2016 LEAF with the 30 kwh battery will perform as expected and there will be the double range LEAF II out in a year as the 2017 or things will not go perfectly and LEAF II will make and early 2018 model year debut.

All speculation mind you, but with 15 months left on my current lease, I have nothing but time...


  1. Great history Dave. Hoping Nissan with exceed our expectations this fall. - Pat Campbell, Vancouver, WA

    1. Thanks Pat! Ya, I think EVs will finally get some real momentum. I don't think 30 kwh is enough for the mainstream but it does bring in another 10-20% as far as driving needs go which will really only convince the people who needs are currently well under the range of the 2015's!