A couple weeks ago, Nissan and EVgo announced that their Nissan Energy Perks program signed up its 6,000th member. This latest program not only includes some limited free charging for new LEAF owners, but also involves Nissan funding an additional 200 stations in the EVgo network.
“The Nissan Energy Perks program empowers Nissan LEAF drivers with the confidence that comes with access to the nation’s largest fast charging network,” said Aditya Jairaj, director of EV sales and marketing, Nissan Americas. “We’re excited that 6,000 new EV drivers have embraced the LEAF and this program, and expect further adoption as the number of EV drivers continues to grow across the U.S. Nissan will continue to work closely with EVgo to make it even easier for drivers to go electric.”
Starting at the end of 2019, Nissan offered new LEAF and LEAF Plus owners the opportunity to activate an RFID card for EVgo with up to $250 in free charging over up to 30 charge sessions. Like previous programs, this allows the owners to get used to using DC Fast Chargers without having to shell out cash. Also, the incentive helps encourage new owners to get set up to use EVgo’s network, which is a little different from pumping gas at a gas station. It’s really smart for all involved.
EVgo’s network currently has 800 locations in 34 states, and has over 200,000 customers. This latest partnership with Nissan means the company will add 200 more stations. New stations will be in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New Brunswick, Sacramento, Seattle, Philadelphia, and along the I-95 corridor on the East Coast.
“For the last seven years, Nissan and EVgo have been working together to make it easier for U.S. drivers to go electric. The Nissan LEAF is an iconic vehicle and one of the world’s best-selling electric cars,” said EVgo Chief Commercial Officer Jonathan Levy. “We are proud to reach this enrollment milestone, which evidences the ongoing momentum of EV adoption and the expanding presence of EVgo. We look forward to making it even easier for new Nissan EV drivers to conveniently and reliably charge their cars on the go.”
Nissan Following In Tesla’s Footsteps, Cutting Back Free Charging
When I bought my LEAF in early 2018, the program was very different. Instead of partnering with only one network (EVgo), Nissan partnered with EVgo, Blink, Webasto, Greenlots, and ChargePoint. They also allowed for unlimited 30-minute sessions at any of those networks, but the rules varied some. I used the program heavily in the Phoenix metro area, and charged at almost every EVgo and Blink station. This gave me the opportunity to discover the #Rapidgate issue that many other drivers experienced, which was partially solved later by a software update.
Over 40,000 miles and over 300 DC fast charging sessions, I got a better idea than almost anyone how the car and the charging networks performed. You can read about that experience here.
When Tesla ended their free unlimited supercharging perk in 2017, Elon Musk said, “Sorry, it’s not really sustainable at volume production and doesn’t incentivize optimal behavior. We probably should have ended this earlier.” In many ways, Nissan probably had the same experience. I was probably one of the heaviest users (perhaps the heaviest), and that perk probably cost the company between $1,000–2000 (depending on whether they split the cost with EVgo and Blink). Most drivers probably didn’t charge at DC fast chargers nearly as much as I did, but even a few hundred people doing that would put a pretty significant dent in Nissan’s finances.
Unlike Tesla, the free unlimited sessions program was only for two years. At the beginning of 2020 (months after I moved to a place with no EVgo or Blink chargers), I didn’t get to do any more free charging. I still have the “EZ-Charge” card that allows me to use one card to access all of the different charging networks, though.
Starting in 2019, Nissan stopped offering the No Charge to Charge program for new customers. It was replaced a few months later with the latest version of the program with a $250, 30-session limit, which greatly reduced the company’s possible spending while still introducing people to DC Fast Charging. Most drivers would only use a DCFC session once or twice a month, so the program could last many drivers almost as long as the old one.
Free Charging Is Definitely Not The Future, But It Was Necessary
Nissan figured out the hard way that offering free charging was not sustainable. One of their main efforts was to get Nissan dealers to install DC Fast Charging stations, and many were put in not just in California, but in a number of other states. The dealer charge network never really expanded much outside of larger metro areas, but it did give early LEAF drivers a great way to add a few extra miles for in-city driving when needed.
This was a bigger deal for the earlier LEAF models that only had 24 and 30 kWh battery packs, and ranges generally under 100 miles. Second-generation LEAFs with 40 and 60 kWh packs could generally do almost all of a driver’s daily driving from home charging, so reliance on DC fast charging was likely a lot less.
Whether drivers needed the stations or not, big problems started to develop. Nissan bought the stations and had them installed in some cases, but the program wasn’t sustainable. As Nissan dealers realized what kind of money they were spending on electricity (especially demand charges), some stations didn’t do very well. When repairs were needed, many Nissan dealers dropped the ball. Sometimes, they turned the stations off even when they weren’t broken. In other cases, dealers limited charging speeds to reduce what they were paying to power them.
Whether a charging station is owned by the manufacturer or owned by another entity, it has to be self-sustaining. Giving away some charging makes sense to get people started (kind of like a free tank of gas when you buy an ICE car), but do too much of that and the charging stations can’t fund themselves going forward.
To be fair, EV charging infrastructure won’t be as big a project as gas stations were because 90% of EV charging happens at home, but being able to get a few more miles for extra around-town driving and being able to take road trips means that fast charging is an important part of the EV revolution.
Free charging programs were necessary to get the public used to the idea of slower DC fast charge sessions, but it’s time to move on to more sustainable arrangements.
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