Published on May 25th, 2017 | by Jose Pontes0
Electric Car Road Trip — Zoomin’ In The USA (Part 1/3)
May 25th, 2017 by Jose Pontes
The idea for this series of articles came one night while discussing with Zach (Director of CleanTechnica) my upcoming trip to the Northeast of the USA to visit relatives, he asked me:
Z – So, are you going to rent an EV while you are there?
J – Yeah, I thought about it, but it is really expensive, around twice as much as a regular Ford Focus rental…
Z – Really? Let me see if I can help you with that…
And so he did. After pulling some strings and connecting to the right people, Zach helped me to have not one, but two EVs for my two-week stay in the US, a red Nissan Leaf 30 kWh for the first days, followed by a blue BMW i3 REx with the new 33 kWh battery for the remainder of the journey.
By the way, my deepest appreciation to the people of Nissan USA and BMW USA for your dedication, professionalism, and sympathy in the vehicle delivery, assistance, and pickup process — you rock!
Day 1 – Arrival to JFK Airport and heading to Newark, New Jersey
After a complicated arrival, complete with border control holdups (apparently, I was mistaken for another person with a criminal record in the US…), we got to the scheduled place with only 3 hours of delay to pick up our top-of-the-range Nissan Leaf.
And it was kind like meeting an old friend — you haven’t met him for a while, but you know how it all works, you know what to expect, including the annoying foot brake.
The big surprise (to me, at least, being used to the 24kWh version) was the increased range of the thing, which was showing 101 miles in the guess-o-meter with 77% charge (equaling to some 130 miles/210 kms with a full charge).
210 kms! To have that kind of range on the 24 kWh units, I would have to go downhill AND have tailwind helping me out…
Day 2 – Running around Newark, NJ
We had a bit of driving in a full day running around the whereabouts of Newark, visiting friends and family, and shopping — looots of shopping! (Hey, it’s New Jersey, what else would you do?) I took the opportunity to escape the Stores Via Sacra and try out the local charging infrastructure.
And it was then that I realized how fortunate we are in Portugal for having an ATM-like system of charging cards, where you can have an “A” charging card, but regardless of that you can use it in the “B” charging network, or “C” or … whatever network that can put electricity into a car.
After all, for the end buyer, what you want is to charge your car, regardless of whoever does it, right?
Well, not in New Jersey. I had a ChargePoint card, but turns out the closest fast charging station belonged to EVgo, which actually allowed for other customers to charge … as long as they had a valid credit card (check!) and a valid local telephone number (What?!? Why?!?!).
I then understood the frustration of my German friends, who carry a bunch of charging cards, one for each company….
So, no deal there, which left me no solution but to ask my temporary host to provide an overnight charge at home, at 110 volts.
One other thing that struck me on the first full day in the US, was that everything was super-sized regarding Europe. A small drink in the US is a medium-sized choice in Europe, and the same thing happens regarding cars, with seemingly half the houses in suburban Newark having a big pickup truck and a 7-seater SUV on the garage entry, my Nissan Leaf didn’t look like the family car it is Europe, but something more … compact. Now I understand why the Leaf is classified as “compact car” in the land of Uncle Sam.
Day 3 and 4 – Catching the Subway to New York
Fortunately, the charge reached 100% by mid-morning, just in time to leave our home to the subway station with a full charge. That put the guess-o-meter at 130 miles (210 kms in metrical speak), which meant I had the same energy efficiency that the car had before coming to my hands, beating the EPA range in a sizeable manner, and I wasn’t even hypermiling — no ECO mode, occasionally using A/C in a city/highway mix. Not bad, not bad at all.…
Sure, the 250 km range (155 miles) announced by the NEDC was still a bit far off, but then again, I didn’t have the pink unicorns that help out EVs when running the European tests.…
Or maybe I’m just being mean — if you always run in ECO mode, never use air conditioning and drive like a nun, maybe, just maybe, you can reach the announced 250 km range.
“And what about EVs? Did you see a lot of them running around?,” you may ask.
Actually, I thought I would see more. Apart from the random Tesla (mostly Model S), we really had to have an eagle eye to spot them. I saw a white BMW i3 (being driven by an attractive 30-year-old girl, BTW), one second-generation Chevrolet Volt, and … that’s it.
Except for Tesla, which has a special aura that surpasses the fact that it’s electric (Autopilot, fast acceleration, etc.), this area is not especially EV-friendly, and that includes New York, which also disappointed a bit when it came to spotting EVs.
I guess it will be up to the Tesla Pickup Truck to finally win the “Regular Joe” mindset when it comes to EVs. Hurry up with that one, Tesla!
At the end of Day 4 and with the return of the Nissan Leaf scheduled for the next day, it was time to do a list of Likes and Dislikes of the Nissan model:
- Range! With over 100 miles range, it was really easy to use it in an urban environment. I had no sign of range anxiety, so I could drive it pretty much anywhere in the NJ area without looking at the guess-o-meter every 2 minutes or monitoring my driving style.
- Ease of use — maybe because I am most used to it, or because it is a straightforward car to drive, but the fact is that it was really intuitive to drive the Leaf. It has an easy-to-use multimedia system and no major secrets. It just works how we want it, and that’s a big plus for people new to electric vehicles.
- Family friendly vehicle. Space is not an issue in the car, be it in the front, in the rear seat, or in the trunk. And we really used it — after all, there was a time when we had five people in the car and the trunk had plenty of shopping bags…
- Foot Brake! It is sooo annoying and clunky. If there is one feature I would like to change for the upcoming Leaf, it is that Nissan finally ends the foot brake nonsense and makes a regular parking button, like regular EVs have. I mean, for a car designed to look like the 21st century future, the foot brake seems like a 19th Century relic!
- Cable storage. Sure, the trunk had no problems swallowing shopping bags, but should we use the full capacity of the trunk, we would have to remove the cable storage suitcase from the side and place it … somewhere. This is not the ideal solution. BMW solved it in the i3 by placing it in the small front trunk (frunk). I think Nissan could have found a better place to store the cables. Maybe in the next Leaf?