EV Street - Electric Vehicles for Dinosaurs

Electric Vehicles have come of age. But, it's going to take a revolution to make it happen.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Living with the Nissan Leaf (the Nissan Leaf)

In the beginning of November, I decided to try the Nissan Leaf all electric car. The model we chose was the 2012 SL, it's a hatch back. As a car goes, it's nice, had many amenities, is comfortable and functional and quick. If it had a gasoline motor it would be a respectable car in its own right.

However, for us, this was a financial decision, not a decision based on how much we liked the car itself. So as this blog grows, I will try to keep you updated on the detailed financial aspects of owning this car as well as problems and lifestyle changes.

The car's sticker price at the dealer was $37,000. That was the part that didn't make sense. That high of a price for a technology product, which the Leaf is more of than a ICE (gasoline or diesel) powered car, didn't make sense for us. But the lease did. With a low down payment, a government tax credit and manufacturer's rebate and monthly payments and out in three years, we were guessing that a steady $4/gal and over price of gasoline would make owning the car a respectable financial decision.

However, we have 5 cars which we own. Two Trucks, and couple of 4 cylinder cars and a street legal Dune Buggy (my first electric car). This was critical in our decision because the Leaf is not a good choice if it is your only car and you were commuting a lot or taking frequent road trips. With a practical range between charges of about 70 miles, you simply can't use it in situations where your daily mileage varies between one and three digits. Between one and two digits is workable. between charges.

We had the option of getting a leaf with a quick charge (440V Level 3 - typical charge time 30 minutes) but this was an option which would have added to the cost of the car. Since no one in my area at this time offered a L3 quick charge and with a 440V requirement, weren't likely too, I decided against the option. It's also turned out that this charging option is very unhealthy for your battery pack which constitutes about half of the price of the car by itself.

We live in an area where our daily commutes are typically less that 50 miles per day. We gave up one of the four cylinders which averaged about 26 MPG. The Leaf has a garage bay. I happen to have 220V and a separate 30 Amp 110V outlet in the garage by the car so I have more charging options immediately than most people.

The Leaf came with a "trickle charger" - this plugs into 110V and is said to charge to full between 12 to 18 hours. So far this is the only charger we're using. We drive the car to work, lunch maybe a little at night and then home and run a few errands, and plug in on the 110V.

So here's the financials so far:

$1000 down payment.
$323 per month for 39 months.
The first payment wasn't due for 30 days.
License and Registration cost $550.
Our cost in insurance increased about $73 per month.

Thus our out of pocket at the end of the first 30 days was $1,946. All things remaining constant, our remaining month expenses should be about $442 per month for the lease payment and all the legal requirements including full insurance.

One thing I must admit is that so far, I over estimated our annual mileage usage to 15K which unnecessarily increased the lease payment to $323 from $300 for 12K. So for the purpose of making show this more accurately for someone making a more competent decision here, I will use the $300/month in remaining comparisons.

Now, correcting the remaining 38 months at $419 per month. Now, this decision for me was not an addition, but a difference because I was giving up a vehicle for this one. The vehicle given up fetched about $3,700 on Craigslist. The Insurance on it ran $37/mo (liability only) Registration ran $200/year. Gasoline at $4/gal ran about $160 per month. Repairs ran about $67/mo (and were a hassle). Maintenance (oil changes, cooling system, transmission service, brakes, smog) $40/mo. Thus the total monthly cost of the lost vehicle averaged about $320/mo.

Thus, not counting the increase in electricity usage charging the car, the net difference looks like this:

Leaf: 1,946 + (38 X 442) = $18,742 over 39 months
Lost Car: 39 X $320 = $12,480 over 39 months.
Lost car sales price at end of 39 months estimated: $2,400.

Net difference over next 39 months:
18742-12480+2400 = $8,662
$8,662/39 = $222/month increase expense over the car we gave up.

At this point I've not received my first full month of accounting on my electric bill to know for sure but estimates for our electrical usage increase are $30 to $50/month. So actual net cost increase could be about $260/mo.

From a purely financial standpoint, keeping the older car would have made more sense. But keep in mind, the monthly amount of increase I'm showing above includes insurance, registration, maintenance and smog expenses. Most other new cars will cost this much not including those expenses.

Now for the intangibles. I value my time quite a bit these days. The idea of never having to visit the DMV and wait in line. Having to check and service oil and cooling and other such systems, wait in service shops, schedule smogs and such appeals to me greatly. The cost, headaches, time and inconveniences of the maintenance of the old car, can only be estimated since we will never really know. What we get for $260 is a car that is brand new. Everything is under warranty, tight and fresh. The car is unique, looks good, gets questions, draws praise and so there is an ego boost from it. It tends to draw new friends (you kind of join a club by owning one). The car, having almost no vibrations, is so pleasurable to drive... but these are for future postings.

If you have your own means of electrical production (solar, wind or other), the car gives you a way to live off the grid without worrying about gasoline. In my case the solar panels I own should offset the increase in electrical costs.

Let me focus more on service. The leaf uses many standard automotive parts. However, it lacks a transmission per say, a cooling system, an internal combustion engine, a mechanical electrical power generation system, a fuel system, an air intake and exhaust system, a smog control system, environmental protection systems and a few other things.

So lets go through what some of this means. No more oil stains on your driveway. No more dirty greasy engine compartment. No oil changes. No traditional cooling system maintenance (antifreeze, water pump, belts, fans). No oil pump, filter. No transmission fluids or maintenance. No shifting. No engine noise. No added heat in the summer when you pull the car in the garage. No performance differences regardless of your altitude or whether car is warm or cold. No need to ever leave the car "running". The cars internal environmental comforts can run without the need of the "engine" running. Brake wear is minimal because the regenerative braking slows the car most of the time. Never having to pump gas in the cold, heat or wind.

Most of these benefits are moot for someone considering whether to lease this type of car or a new ICE powered car, if it is your only vehicle the ICE car is the only way to go for now.

Of course, I've not really mentioned the drawbacks of owning one of these cars yet. Stay tuned, that's coming!


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