Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Farewell Space Wart, hello Maple TREE

Well, I did it. I traded in my 2006 Scion xA on a Nissan Leaf S lease, which we will be picking up in about an hour.

Since there’s a lot of discussion about what people “should” be driving, including some here about what I should be driving, let me explain what motivated me to take the Leaf Leap, so to speak.

First, while my xA had been an incredibly dependable car for seven years, I was pretty sure it was getting to the point in its life when it could be worth more to me as a trade on an EV than as a car I’d want to keep for the next several years.[1] When Nissan brought out the new, lower trim level (“S”) of the Leaf, and I found out I could get more for my xA as a trade-in than I expected, that completed the economics picture.

Second, I had long ago become more than a little frustrated with putting gasoline into two cars in our household. Part of it was simply not wanting the additional carbon footprint, and part was the need to feel I was pulling my own weight, from an environmental standpoint, and not being a hypocrite. While I understand and appreciate the arguments about keeping an existing car in service longer, I felt a powerful urge to get to zero marginal carbon emissions and, frankly, make a statement.

My wife and I seriously considered a Ford Focus EV[2], but it had several issues that were very problematic for us, not to mention a higher price. The result was we went across the street (literally) to a Nissan dealer and leased a Leaf.

I realize that “Life with a Leaf” will be an adventure, one worthy of its own category on this site. For example, we had originally planned to lease a Leaf for three years, but at the last minute the dealer offered us a two-year option at almost the exact same price/month, which raised the obvious question: How sure were we that this time we’d be correct in saying that EVs would be much better in a given time frame? I’m pretty confident, frankly, which is why I didn’t want to buy the Leaf and risk having the resale value go to pocket change when the 2015 Leaf 2.0 is expected to arrive.[3] But I also didn’t want to lock in to a three year lease in case the 2015 model was vastly better, so a lease for two years at the same payment/month seemed like a good fit. And if it isn’t, I’ll never admit it publicly.

My plan is to post about Life with a Leaf once in a while. I won’t bore everyone here with too frequent and typical new-EV-owner-esque updates about how many miles I’ve driven and how much CO2 I’ve avoided emitting, with the obvious, unspoken implication of how this makes me a superior human being, etc., but I will cover things like range anxiety, in-home vs. public charging, etc.

For example:

  • Insurance costs are basically the same. Maintaining the same exact coverage as my 2006 xA resulted in an increase of $20 per year.
  • In-garage charging will be a bit more interesting than I expected. The car supposedly draws 12 amps when charging, and requires a 15 amp circuit. I have three 15 amp outlets in my garage, but unfortunately they all seem to share the circuit with the garage door opener, which is (you guessed it), significantly more than 3 amps. In fact, it’s 6, which means opening or closing the door with the opener while charging will likely trip the breaker. I’ll test it just to be sure, but it looks like I’ll have to call an electrician to get a separate circuit installed.
  • Update: A quick test showed that the garage opener, which draws six amps, and the ceiling lights in the garage are not on the same circuit as the wall outlets. I am relieved, to say the least.
  • Update 2: We also find that our landscape lighting and radon mitigation system are on the same circuit as the garage outlets. This adds up to 13.5 amps (12 for the Leaf, 0.75 each for the lights and the radon system). In a pinch we can turn off the landscape lighting,
  • Looking at the cost of 240-volt charging, I have to wonder how much longer it will be before there’s a huge price drop in the equipment. The Leaf comes with a “Level 1″ charger, which plus into a 120-volt outlet. If you want faster, 240-volt recharging, it gets very spendy in a hurry. You can buy a modified version of the Nissan-supplied charger that will work with either 120- or 240-volt outlets, but at a cost of roughly $1,000. Over a 36-month lease, this is $27/month, which is more than your monthly bill for electricity to fuel the car.[4] And that doesn’t include the cost of getting an electrician to install a 240-volt line and receptacle in your garage. The official answer from Nissan is to get an AeroVironment Level 2 charger, which is around $1,000 for the hardware plus the electrician work.[5]
  • As EVs continue to sell, especially with a surge in sales from the US production of the S level Leaf, I expect the in-home charging options to improve significantly in the coming years. Until that happens, we’re going to try to get by with the Level 1 charger. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll reassess and find a minimally painful path to 240-volt nirvana.
  • Oh yeah — the name. Maple TREE: Maple because it’s a red leaf (get it?) and maple is one of my favorite woods[6], and TREE = Totally Runs on Electrical Energy. Yes, it’s dorky, but trust me, it could have been much worse.

Questions are welcome, as always.

[1] When my wife and I bought the xA in 2006, at a time when people in the US were freaking out because gasoline prices were over $2.50/gallon(!), we were sure that it would be a decent “bridge car” to get us to the fabled land of EV-ownership, in the far-off and magical year of 2010, when the automotive landscape would be simply lousy with EV offerings from all the major companies. Obviously, that didn’t quite pan out, timing-wise.

[2] Since I know people will ask, the main problems we saw in the Focus EV, aside from an additional $80/month in cost: Severely compromised trunk space thanks to the intrusive battery pack, incredibly grabby brakes, and a dashboard that looked like the illegitimate love child of Megatron and a Ford Edsel.

[3] And let’s be honest here: The residual values used in Leaf lease calculations are insanely optimistic. Buy one and drive it for two or three years, take excellent care of it, and I guarantee that you won’t be able to sell it for anywhere near the residual value Nissan is claiming. This keeps lease costs down, obviously, but it gives people who buy a Leaf a wildly unrealistic impression of the car’s eventual resale value.

[4] Assume 10,000 miles/year, 4 miles/kWh. That’s 2,500 kWh/year, 208 kWh/month. At 11 cents/kWh you get $23/month.

[5] Yes, one can get the charger that comes with the Leaf modified for only about $240 (see EVSE Upgrade, but on a leased car that’s not much of a solution, as I can’t turn the car in with a modified charger.

[6] In my absence from blogging over recent months, my wife and I were remodeling the house we downsized into, which included installing 1,200 square feet of maple hardwood flooring in six rooms. If I never use a pneumatic floor nailer again I will be a very happy guy.

6 comments to Farewell Space Wart, hello Maple TREE

  • Sasparilla

    Absolutely congratulations Lou! Totally envious and hope you enjoy the heck out of it – a lease on it is perfect, the next gen should be significantly better and you’ll get to flip off the oil companies in the mean time.

    Be sure and put a picture up when you get a chance. ;-)

  • Sasparilla

    Sorry for the double post, Lou, since I’m always considering these things, what were the issues you found with the FFE?

    BTW, Nissan is on track to have a record month for Leaf sales this month, you were obviously part of that.

    • Lou

      Mostly the things I mentioned in footnote 2 above (space, grabby brakes, interior design that made us shudder). It drove very well in terms of acceleration, stopping, and overall handling, I thought, and was more than sufficiently comfortable. But the Leaf felt like a better fit for us, plus it was $80/month less.

      The dealer said they’re delivering three more Leafs besides mine this week, and they’re seeing a lot of interest in them thanks to the lower prices and the cheaper S trim level.

      My first suggestion to Nissan would be to let people configure the power-up sound. The Star Trek going-to-warp-speed effect would be just about perfect.

  • Great news, Lou! Until you get the Level 2 charger, you won’t get more than about 40 miles of range with an overnight charge. Which might be OK given the small number of miles you drive.

  • Did u take in to account the construction carbon footprint of the cars in deciding to switch to a new car?

    • Lou

      I tried, but couldn’t find the data. Besides, I had to replace my car within the next couple of years, at most, and there is some benefit to putting another EV on the road now.

      A lot of this ongoing discussion I see online about “buy a new one or keep the old one until it falls apart” is, I think, largely arguing over rounding error. I wasn’t replacing an immense SUV with an EV, which isn’t surprising — people who have such conversations tend not to drive room-size SUVs — so I’m not making a huge difference in my personal carbon footprint. And anything I bought would have a sizable footprint for the manufacturing stage.