Turning over a new LEAF

I haven’t posted to this blog in a very, very long time. Many things have changed since then:

1. We welcomed a new life into this world.
2. We moved to a new, larger home. (See #1)
3. We purchased a Nissan LEAF.

Since this blog isn’t about me doting about my daughters (although it would be infinitely more adorable if it was!), let’s look at #3. It’s actually been nearly 2 years since we purchased the LEAF.

Knowing the prices of used LEAFs, I started occasionally searching on AutoTrader for lightly-used LEAFs. Since I live in Dallas and the temperatures get quite warm here (today’s high is forecasted to be 100°F; it’s already 100°F now, so I think we’ll break that again), I wanted to stick with the 2015 model year LEAF. It has the “lizard” battery, which is purported to last longer in hot climates than the earlier LEAF batteries.

I found what I was looking for: A 2015 LEAF “S” model, with absolutely NO options whatsoever. Coming from a base-model i-MiEV, this was STILL going to be a step up. The car had 215 miles on the odometer. It really was purchased by someone and returned within the first 200 miles. I can’t even imagine taking the hit on price vs. resale value. Ouch!

My wife and I drove to Ft. Worth (after some very poor interactions with the dealership, so I’m not going to name names) and looked at the car. When we pulled up, my wife asked me if the car had been wrecked! I looked closely, and no, there wasn’t a scratch on it. She pointed at the hood and asked, “Is it supposed to look like that?” Okay, okay, the LEAF is not a very attractive car.

Pricing is what made me pull the trigger. It was $10K off MSRP. Granted, used vehicles cannot get the tax credit for EVs, but I didn’t qualify for the tax credit anyway. Having $10K off the sticker was like having the full value of both the US and the Texas tax credits for a nearly-new car.

We drove the LEAF home from Ft. Worth, through some of Dallas’ famous rush-hour traffic. Fortunately, EVs do their best in stop-and-go traffic, and the LEAF made it home with ~40% left on the battery and all five efficiency “trees” illuminated. Not bad for a 58 mile drive. This means, if I needed to, I could drive to Ft. Worth, find a charging station (cough!), charge for a short while, and have enough for the return journey.

Today, the LEAF is still doing well. I frequently see 100+ mile remaining on the “guess o meter” range meter, since I do almost 100% city driving. I even saw 125 miles the other day! Whoo hoo! I know that’s not realistic on the highway, but it’s pretty close in the city.

There are several recalls outstanding for my vehicle that I’ll get to sometime. But the fact is that I have to make a special trip to the dealership to get the recall work done since the car needs no significant regular maintenance. At 22 months and 16,000 miles, the only maintenance I’m even considering is replacing the front tires. (The Escopia tires the car comes with are garbage.)

Locking Fueling Doors

This morning, I realized I didn’t charge my car overnight. No big deal — my trusty i-MiEV can make it to and from work on as little as 1/4 charge. I didn’t think anything of it.

When I went to lunch, I realized my EV plug door was open. I intended to charge my car last night and pulled the lever to open the door, but I never plugged in the car. I pressed it closed and went on my way.

Then I thought about it. Why do we still have locking “fueling” doors on cars? With gas-powered cars, a thief could siphon gas from the tank. With electric cars, what will they do? I guess they could be malicious and damage the charge port, but they sure aren’t going to siphon any electrons from our batteries!


If you tuned into the news lately, you know that Dallas had a nasty ice storm. Then again, any ice storm, especially in Dallas, is bad — worse than snow because there is nearly no friction between your car’s tires and the road surface. Dallas is rather ill-prepared for such storms, usually causing the entire city to grind to a hault. Or slide to a hault. Or a ditch.

In addition to treacherous driving conditions, we have downed power lines and hundreds of thousands of people out of power. Fortunately, our home did not lose power, but I did charge my i-MiEV ahead of the storm, just in case.

We went out for supplies on Wednesday night (before the big rush) and stayed home from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Then I ventured out for some food that we didn’t have to prepare, and to get a much-needed haircut.

Two things I noticed: One, the traction control on the i-MiEV is exceptional. There is still a bit of ice in the alleyway behind our home that I used to test things out. Night and day difference when disabling the traction control!

Two, I noticed a significant amount of range decrease. Two 5-mile drives with the heater on medium low and the seat heater on (no pre-heating in this case) took about 1/3rd of my battery. If I was driving to work, I would still have plenty of battery to make it home, but I was surprised at the amount of battery decrease. I really shouldn’t be that surprised — it was below freezing outside.

All in all, I’m still happy with the little i-MiEV. Will it be enough to lease a 2014 model when my lease is up? I’m not sure, but the heat-pump heater, dual front seat heaters, heated outside mirrors, and battery heater would sure make cold days a whole lot more bearable.


Since the Tokyo Auto Show, hydrogen has once again become a hot topic in “green” vehicles. Both Toyota and Honda showed a hydrogen-powered vehicle. Soon, Hyundai is releasing a fuel-cell vehicle to the public.

But what is a hydrogen-powered or fuel-cell vehicle? It’s an electric vehicle that, instead of a battery, uses a specialized fuel cell to fuse atoms of hydrogen with air (specifically the oxygen in the air) to make water and electricity — the reverse of hydrolysis. The exhaust is water vapor. Sounds great, right?

Well, getting the hydrogen from water (hydrolysis) requires electrical power. If this electrical power is from solar sources, then it’s still 100% clean energy. Some of the electrical power is lost during hydrolysis, making the process far from 100% efficient.

Next is the cooling of the hydrogen so it can be transported and stored. Cooling hydrogen to around -432 degrees F takes a lot of electricity. Again, we have a loss of efficiency.

At the fueling station (which also must keep the hydrogen at near 0 Kelvin — another loss of efficiency), pumps have to pump the fuel into the vehicle. Another loss of efficiency.

Finally, the car must fuse the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to make electricity. Another loss of efficiency.

At the end of the equation, we have around 30% efficiency. Still better than gasoline, but far from as good as an electric car. Like Elon Musk said, “Hydrogen-powered vehicles are so bullshit.

Rube Goldberg

Some of you may know who Rube Goldberg is. For those who don’t, I highly recommend learning about this artist. Mr. Goldberg made ridiculous illustrations involving many different steps to accomplish a relatively simple task.

Today, most people are driving around with similarly complex machinery under the hoods of the car — the gasoline engine. Even the simplest engine has over 300 parts. Most of the parts are a point of failure, and even those that don’t (such as a spark plug wire) cause the engine to run poorly.

Statisticians go crazy about what are called “single points of failure”. They love to calculate the possibility of failure based on something’s components.

I’m reminded about this because of a co-worker who complained about a certain “car care” company that did an exceptionally poor job maintaining his car’s engine. And at the time time, I’m reminded about how few points of failure an electric car has.

The drivetrain in a gas powered car has the engine (with its 300+ parts), and a transmission with multiple parts. An electric vehicle has its motor (2 major components: the housing/permanent magnets and the stator which spins) and a reduction gear that doesn’t change ratios. That’s it.

The next question is: What will mechanics and the car service companies do in the future?

VW e-Golf? Could it be a Contender?

Earlier I wrote about the VW e-Golf and the lack of differentiation (other than design) from the Nissan LEAF. Well, VW has a recent press release about the car and guess what? They added technology to differentiate it from the LEAF. Underwhelming.

  • 24.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Real-world range of approximately 80 miles (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 114 horsepower (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 199 pound-feet of torque (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 0 to 62 mph in 10.4 seconds (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • 87 mph top speed (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Drag coefficient of 0.28 (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Three drive modes: Normal, Eco and ECO+ (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Four levels of regenerative braking: D1, D2, D3 and B (okay, this is nice; the LEAF has 2 levels)
  • CCS standard in the US (there is exactly 1 charger in the US for CCS; I prefer CHAdeMO)
  • 13-hour recharge on standard 230-volt socket or 4 hours with optional wall-box charger (nearly identical to the LEAF)
  • Curb weight 3,090 pounds (slightly lighter than the LEAF)
  • 7.2 kW onboard charger (slightly faster than the LEAF’s available 6.6kW charger)

And that’s it, folks. At this time, we don’t know if the e-Golf will be a compliance car, but VW says availability is for “select states”. That screams “compliance car” to me.

Could it be a contender? Only if it significantly beats the LEAF on features (it doesn’t) or on price (it won’t).

Tesla – Not the Car, the Man

It was mentioned today about Nikola Tesla and his proposed wireless electricity transfer method. Invented in the late 1800s, Tesla’s invention would allow wireless electricity transfer around the entire world. His invention utilized harmonics in the atmosphere around the Earth (also known as the Schumann Resonance) to deliver and amplify electricity.

Tesla showed his invention at the 1893 World’s Fair, illuminating some lightbulbs from some distance from the power source. By combining several inventions, Tesla also showed the world’s first remote-controlled, remote-powered toy boat.

History is a little fuzzy about what happened next. There is speculation that Westinghouse, the same company that helped Nikola Tesla build the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, put the kibosh on his wireless electricity transfer invention because there was no way to meter power consumption.

But what if history was a little different? What is wireless electricity transfer became science-fact? Poor areas of the world would suddenly have access to power, and anything, anywhere, could be powered by electricity. Think about our electric cars: Only a tiny battery for “emergency disruptions” would be necessary. Think about shipping: Huge ocean liners wouldn’t need to burn thousands of gallons of dirty “bunker fuel”. Even cell phones could have unlimited talk and usage time.

All because a company couldn’t figure out a way to meter the power. Sad.

EV Conversions Better Than ICE Models?

EV conversion cars. ICE cars converted to electric models. The thought of this sends shivers up the spine of the EV enthusiast. But what about conversions that are better than their ICE donor cars?

Mitsubishi i-MiEV: This is probably the best example of a conversion that is better than the ICE model. The Mitsubishi “i” is a kei car, meaning it has specific size, weight, and engine displacement regulations. The Japanese love kei cars because they’re cheap, small, easy to park, and have copious insurance benefits.

The maximum displacement of a kei car is 660cc. Yes, 0.6 liters. Granted, 660cc of intercooled, turbocharged goodness, but still. Peak output of the ICE: 64HP. Peak output of the electric version: 66HP. Whooo! Big deal! Well, remember electric cars have full torque from 0 RPM. This makes the electric version significantly faster than the ICE version. All without any intrusion into the cabin or other EV conversion badness. (See this article for a comparison between the gas and electric versions of the “i”.)

Fiat 500e: Another conversion gone well, the 500e is actually faster than the non-turbocharged ICE version. With Fiat offering a lease that is the same for the gas model, the 500e is a great choice… if you live in California.

Honda Fit EV: Although the Fit EV loses its “magic seats”, that’s a small price for better performance and zero emissions. With the rock-bottom lease rate (again, only in California) that includes collision insurance and unlimited mileage, the Fit EV is flying off the shelves. Too bad you cannot buy them outright.

Why the Skinny Tires?

One of the most-asked questions I get about my i-MiEV is what’s with the skinny tires on this car?

With EVs, we focus mostly on efficiency, since we don’t have capacity to burn. My wife’s new car, a Jeep Compass, has large, 235 section, 16″ tires. Those were the second-largest available on the car. Each one weighs around 40 pounds, mounted on the wheel.


Jeep Compass with 16″ wheels

Maybe we should be asking this another way: Why do gas-powered cars have such large tires? The answer? Because they look cool. There is no reason a 3,097 pound vehicle should need 235-55R16 tires. Tires that wide were the size of the rear tires on the ’82 Corvette.

The Vette needed wider tires to get the power to the road. Why does a Jeep need ’em? Because they look cool.

What are the penalties of having these heavier tires? The first is “unsprung weight”. This means a part of the car that doesn’t have a suspension component between it and the road. Since the tires touch the road, they are considered unsprung weight.

Colin Chapman, one of the founders of Lotus Engineering, Ltd., was meticulous about unnecessary weight, specifically unsprung weight. (Here is a great reference.) He knew that not only does a heavy car burn more gas, it’s slower. Lotus vehicles are well known for Colin’s penchant for “adding lightness”.

Gas-powered cars can get away with these wastes of energy because they have energy to burn — literally. EVs don’t have this luxury. Hence, the skinny tires. Tires used on EVs are lighter (for less unsprung weight), skinnier (for less aerodynamic drag), and have lower rolling resistance (for better range, but lower traction).

The BMW i3 has an interesting work-around: BMW uses skinny tires, but large diameter. This allows for a 16″ tire-sized contact patch (the part of the tire that actually touches the road at any one time) in a 19″ tire, but with the lower aerodynamic losses. I just don’t want to see how much they cost to replace.  🙂

To Lease or Not To Lease… That is the Question!

Leasing has a bad rap. Why would you ever pay month after month with nothing to show for it? And yet, more and more people are renting their apartments, doing just that.

What do they know that we don’t?

Well, renting an apartment has benefits: You can move when you want (if you have a month-to-month lease!), you don’t have to pay for maintenance, and you don’t have to mow the lawn. However, at the end of your lease, you have nothing to show for it.

Is it just as bad for leasing a car? Yes and no.

For a regular gas-powered vehicle, leasing may not be the best idea, unless you want to have a new car every 2-3 years and don’t mind a continual car payment. During the first few years of car ownership, there is typically very little maintenance past standard scheduled maintenance. You also get to have the latest new car with new technology. At the end of the lease, if you really like your car, you can buy it outright, making those lease payments more of a down payment over time.

For electric vehicles, leasing is ideal. Why? Today’s EVs typically go fewer than 100 miles per charge. This is continually improving though. With improvements in battery technology, 100 miles per charge will be laughable in just a few years from now. How do we avoid this accelerated obsolescence? Leasing.

Purchasing an EV when you drive very few miles per year and you don’t live in a hot climate isn’t such a bad idea. You typically make the price difference between a gas-powered car and an EV in 5-6 years. If you do drive many miles or live in a hot climate, battery life will decrease faster than expected, and your car’s usable range will be less than you may need.

Leasing helps avoid this by giving you not only a new car every few years, but a new battery. This is worth having a continual car payment, don’t you think?