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The Nissan LEAF’s Charging Future: Better In Some Ways, But Still In Question

With recent news that Tesla is going to allow EVs from other manufacturers to charge cars at their Supercharger stations, and new details coming out of the Q2 earnings call, it’s an exciting time for the owners of those other EVs. Unfortunately, the future is looking less and less bright for cars with CHAdeMO plugs, like the Nissan LEAF, with news that Electrify America plans to stop installing new CHAdeMO plugs at future stations. Plus, we aren’t quite sure that Tesla will supply or even allow CHAdeMO adapters, because Nissan LEAFs charge so slowly, especially once their batteries heat up.

In this article, I’m going to explore how helpful it would be were Tesla to allow CHAdeMO cars to charge, and then go through some of the uncertainties.

How Opening Superchargers To CHAdeMO Cars Would Help

Before we get into road trips (which generally suck in a Nissan LEAF of any year), let’s talk local driving, where most LEAFs get driven.

This tends to be the case because the first generation LEAF (2011–2017 model years) has very limited range. The early ones only had a 24 kWh battery, and many of those have serious degradation by now, sometimes leaving them with ranges under 50 miles. 2015+ LEAFs had much better batteries that didn’t degrade as much, but still have limited range (under 80 miles in most cases). The last of the first generation LEAFs came with a 30 kWh battery, giving a range of just over 100 miles.

While most larger metro areas have an abundance of charging stations that can support Nissan LEAFs, including these first generation cars, the smaller metro areas, suburbs, and exurbs are often a charging desert. While the cars can still be very useful with home charging in these environments, the lack of charging can still be a big pain.

Let’s take El Paso, Texas, for example:

Screenshot from Plugshare.com

The station on the right side is an Electrify America station, which is presently down. Not all of the plugs at this station are down right now, but the outage took out the location’s only CHAdeMO plug. At present, this is the only CHAdeMO plug within about 100 miles, so people in El Paso and nearby currently have no way to rapid charge a LEAF.

The station on the left is a Tesla Supercharger. If CHAdeMO cars could plug in there, it not only would double the capacity in the area, but provide a vital backup location in the even the other one goes down (like it is right now). It can also be massively inconvenient to drive a car from the west side of El Paso all the way to the east side just to get a rapid charge, so having stations on both sides of town would help a lot.

Going back to the topic of road trips, this is even a bigger deal. If someone wanted to drive along I-10 even in a second generation 60 kWh LEAF Plus, the outage at the Electrify America station would effectively strand them in El Paso and require they stay the night at a hotel with level 2 charging before moving on. Having a second charging option in El Paso would make trips along that route a lot better.

(And, as I was putting the finishing touches on this, I saw that the CHAdeMO station in Deming, NM, is now down, making this an even bigger stretch.)

In general, though, Electrify America’s practice of only putting one CHAdeMO plug in a city leaves no redundancy, and Tesla picking that slack up would help big.

Beyond that, having Supercharger access would open up many new routes for second generation LEAFs with bigger battery packs. Here’s an example, again involving El Paso:

As it stands currently, there are no CCS or CHAdeMO plugs along I-25 between Las Cruces, NM, and Albuquerque. Even with the best Nissan LEAF, you’re looking at going 40 MPH most of the way and probably getting killed by a semi truck that can’t stop in time to not run your ass over.

Adding the Truth or Consequences Supercharger plus two short stops (30 min) for bathroom and lunch using level 2 charging makes the route usable for the 60 kWh LEAF. Just one stop with DCFC added makes a huge difference.

Even my degraded 2018 40 kWh LEAF with 15% battery degradation could make the trip up that route without adding in an overnight stop anywhere along the way, which is a lot better than it achieves today without a little boost from Tesla.

Two Problems: Tesla Would Be Smart To Exclude the LEAF, Electrify America Isn’t Expanding for CHAdeMO

From the perspective of a Tesla owner, the article so far probably looks very cringey. Not only would it suck to be in the LEAF owner’s shoes, but there’s also the problem of sharing stations with these cars.

In the I-25 examples, the cars spend at least an hour at the Supercharger. At worst, I’ve spent 2 hours at a charging station. When the LEAF’s battery overheats, it can go as slow as 12 kW, which takes ages. During the Q2 call, Elon Musk said that they’ll charge more for slower cars charging, but there has to be a reasonable lower limit, and the LEAF could often fall below that threshold.

In other words, Tesla would be smart to do whatever they can do discourage LEAF owners from using their stations, and I’m one of the owners of those cars saying this. I’m just saying in Elon’s shoes, it wouldn’t really make sense to plague Supercharger stations with cars that don’t have liquid cooling.

The other thing that’s a downer for LEAF owners is that Electrify America recently announced that they don’t intend to build any new stations with a CHAdeMO plug, starting next year. That means the existing stations (when they’re working) will continue to support LEAF owners, but we shouldn’t expect to see anything new after next year.

It’s All On Tesla Now

This basically leaves the entire future of CHAdeMO cars now on Tesla. If they support Nissan LEAFs at Supercharger stations, the future of these cars is a lot better. Not only would they gain access to the best network, but also to future stations Tesla makes. Having an aging car with a small battery still sucks, but it doesn’t suck as bad with those additional stations.

If CHAdeMO cars aren’t supported by Supercharger stations, that’s basically the end of the line for LEAF charging. The CHAdeMO cars will continue to be served by existing stations (at least for now), but there’s no future infrastructure for those cars.

As much as that sucks for current owners, it might be time to concede that CHAdeMO lost the format war and that CCS is the future.

 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to explore the Southwest US with her partner, kids, and animals. Follow her on Twitter for her latest articles and other random things: https://twitter.com/JenniferSensiba

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