Local 'adapter' charged up about electric car


Electric vehicles, also known as EVs, are coming. And I've got one.

They may not be as prevalent as the leaves on my front lawn, but one by one, their population is increasing. I drive a 2012 Nissan Leaf. It is not a hybrid of any sort. It has no internal combustion engine, no gas tank and needs no oil changes. The only time I go to the gas station now is when I buy a lottery ticket.

So how did I end up with an electric car? I'm a car nut. I became one at the 1975 Chicago Auto show when an Alfa Romeo Spyder stole my heart. I was fresh out of Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., and destined to meet a ship out in the Pacific. Alas! Lost love. ... I've been a car nut ever since.

Flash forward 37 years to the Nissan Leaf, whereupon I felt like I had jumped into a “Jetsons” cartoon the first time I started one. The future has arrived! One tour around the block persuaded me to become an early adapter of EVs.

What's it like? It's a Stealth Pocket Rocket. It makes no sound. It's a surreal experience, especially for someone in love with the engine's music.

An honest-to-God electric vehicle is not a golf cart, nor a neighborhood electric vehicle, nor a four-wheel always-in-the-way mo-ped. The acceleration is so addictive I've had to slam on the brakes because I took off faster than the person in front of me. An EV embodies the instant torque of a hand drill with the convenience of an electric shaver.

I drive the car all day and plug it in at night. It's as simple as that. The battery has no memory. One does not have to wait for the miles remaining indicator to reach zero before recharging. It doesn't matter if I drive five miles that day or 50.

Many factors feed into the maximum range available at any one time. It's a moving target that is manipulated by the driver during the journey (Hyper-milers make great EV early adapters, by the way.).

Hard acceleration (fun comes at a price).

Speed (time travel has a price).

Using the fan, the heater, or the air conditioner.

Is the wife accompanying me, using the seat heater as always (marital harmony comes at a price)?

Are the windows down (open windows impede airflow and reduce range)?

How hard is the wind blowing?

Is it cold outside?

I can sum it all up by saying, I get about 80 miles per charge, but I never use it all. For example, Miss Chilly Willy and I traveled to Daniel Island. It was a 37.7-mile round trip. Available range when we got home was 50.

I quickly learned that a five-mile trip to the store is actually a 10-mile trip because one must get back home. This is true with any vehicle; the situation is just more evident in an electric vehicle. If I lived in West Ashley and worked downtown, I could zip around all day long and get darn near 100 miles out of one charge.

We have driven from home in North Charleston (Northwoods Mall area) to the Isle of Palms, driven around IOP and back home with miles to spare on one charge. Yes, it was a nice day with no heat or A/C used. We also have driven from home to Mount Pleasant and back at night with the heater on and had miles to spare on one charge.

Quite often I'll have, say, 50 miles of range remaining. I drive 5 miles in stop-and-go traffic, yet the miles remaining read 49! This is the joy of regenerative braking! When I take my foot off the gas, the electric motor becomes a generator and recharges the battery. This capability is enhanced in the Leaf's ECO mode, which has become default for me. Regenerative braking adds between 5 percent and 10 percent to the range.

Every new technology has a development period. Electric cars and battery technology are no different. They are evolving. I knew this when I acquired my car. That's why I consider myself an early adapter. Fortunately, Charleston and vicinity is a wonderful place to own an electric vehicle. Everything is conveniently within range, and the climate is a comfortable one for the lithium batteries. They are like people: They like the same temperatures as you and I. Their optimal performance comes at 75 degrees.

Cold weather reduces the amount of energy available in the battery pack. Just like people, batteries don't have as much energy when they're cold. Therefore, the biggest energy drain affecting range is heater use, followed by air-conditioner use and hard acceleration.

Fortunately, Charleston's climate and the car's capabilities are a good fit. The car can be programmed to pre-heat or pre-cool itself automatically. This can be done in the car via a computer connected to the Internet or via a mobile phone app called CarWings.

If the car is plugged in, external power is the source that is used. Thus, battery power is saved for use while on the road.

I put 965 miles on the Leaf last month, and it costs me $28.30 to recharge. That's the difference between my October 2011 and October 2012 electric bill. Contrast that with my V-6 Galant, which took premium gas. I filled up roughly every 10 days at $55 each time.

Back when I was in Chicago, electronic watches came out. They were huge affairs that would set you back $300 plus. Nowadays, better watches are sold for $10. Electric cars are getting better as well — exponentially. By the time my lease expires, my Leaf will be a dinosaur technology-wise. New battery technology is right around the corner. Check it out. “Google it.”

Ah! It gets even better.

Coming soon in 2013 to the Ford dealer near you will be the Focus EV. General Motors also is getting back in the game with the Spark EV. Choice is good. Competition is good. The differences between these examples will be worth considering.

My 2012 Leaf has significant advantages over the 2011. Yet the 2013 model will be even better. The 2013 Leaf recharges in half the time as my 2012, and real world range is improved by 14 percent. Plus, it'll have all the bells and whistles (read leather seats) that my wife prefers.

No, I don't work for Nissan or a Nissan dealer. But I do drive a Jetsonmobile, and it doesn't stink either.

Leonard C. DiAsio, an Ohio native and Navy veteran, is an engineering technician with Small Business Group in North Charleston. He is married to a Charlestonian, and they have two adult children.