What it’s like for a family living with an electric car
Viva the revolution. The automotive world is moving rapidly.
Just ask diehard Holden fans who will bury the lion badge later this year due to plummeting sales.
While the future power source jury remains at a stalemate, nearly all manufacturers are hedging bets with electric offerings.
Nissan has been at the forefront of the technology, and with more mainstream rivals launching — and about to launch — more variants, the Leaf becomes a more realistic option for families.
GRANT: With leather trim and high-quality resolution touchscreen, the only real difference you notice between the Leaf and a conventional combustion engine hatch is the quirky little shifter to select drive or reverse.
KEL: The hatch feels up-market, although I would expect that for something which starts at more than $50,000.
GRANT: Yes, the early adopters of this technology certainly have to do the figures. This one is $53,200 drive-away, which is a fair leap above your standard hatch.
KEL: The biggest question everyone asks is “what’s the range?”. When fully charged it regularly says between 260 and 270km.
GRANT: That’s real-world travelling, and the range can increase or decrease depending on whether you use the climate control or the drive mode. In Eco mode, that can add 20–30km as well as the ePedal.
KEL: And the second most popular question — “how long does it take to charge?”.
GRANT: Using our standard 10-amp power point in the garage from flat to full, it can take about 24 hours. Get a fast-charger installed (about $1500–$2000) and that cuts the time to about 7.5 hours.
THE LIVING SPACE
KEL: You get a lot of the things I’d expect from a range-topping car. Like heated front seats, seven-speaker Bose sound system and the smartphone mirroring applications. Apple CarPlay is a must for me nowadays.
GRANT: Not to mention good cup-holders. They’re up to your standards?
KEL: Yes. Conveniently, the cup holders fit a normal drink bottle while still being small enough to hug my coffee. I’m easy to please.
GRANT: I’m tattooing that phrase on my wrist in preparation for our next shopping trip.
KEL: As if you would come shopping with me... but when I do shop, I can also charge the car. That’s good use of my time.
GRANT: Yes, some centres have installed chargers that can be used for free. Unfortunately the biggest centre near us only has Tesla chargers, which don’t allow for use by other vehicles.
KEL: When we did have access, plugging in was simple — just like at home, you hit the button on the key fob and the hatch above the number plate at the front pops up to reveal the plug.
GRANT: And when you lock the car, it also locks the Type 2 charger in place. That stops somone unplugging when you’re not around.
KEL: One trip to the movies saw us arrive with less than half a battery and leave full.
GRANT: You haven’t been to the servo in three months.
KEL: But I have more grey hairs. My regular trips to the city, which are just over 220km, meant I was permanently watching the range.
GRANT: Range anxiety is a worry and it does take some time to trust how far you can cover.
KEL: It would have been fine if there was more infrastructure around for charging, but there are no chargers near my workplace.
GRANT: Once there’s a greater proliferation of electric vehicles we’ll see business meet the market. Soon they’ll be everywhere, like cafes, supermarkets, playgrounds... our whole refuelling ecosystem will change.
KEL: Sounds like you’re about to get your electric guitar out and play Kumbaya.
GRANT: This is my automotive gospel. It’s coming whether people like it or not.
KEL: I do like driving the Leaf. It’s quick.
GRANT: In normal mode, it’ll leave most cars at the lights. Eco mode is more sedate, yet with the battery under the floor, the Leaf actually corners quite well.
KEL: There’s enough boot space there for a weekly shop. The primary bugbear is the Bose stereo box which sits awkwardly near the back seats on the boot floor.
GRANT: Looks like an afterthought. And when the seats are dropped, they don’t fold flat. There is a nasty step up, but that’s a trade-off due to the battery positioning.
KEL: Parking is easy with the surround view camera.
GRANT: Light steering assists in this realm, although you have to disengage the ePedal, otherwise it looks like you’re bunny-hopping like a learner in a manual.
KEL: Initially it’s weird when you hit start and there’s no engine noise.
GRANT: Only when you jump into reverse is there a beeping sound to warn pedestrians. When you hit the accelerator in drive, it comes with a futuristic whirring soundtrack.
KEL: The electric power is easy to get used to, but the range isn’t good enough for my liking.
GRANT: Agreed, I think it needs to be closer to 400km to make people more comfortable.
KEL: People aren’t driving to Cairns every weekend, and it made me really nervous when making longer trips.
GRANT: Yeah, it’s not like the RACQ has mobile batteries to get you out of trouble.
KEL: Our two growing boys had no dramas in the back.
GRANT: Nope, but loading sporting equipment was challenging with the flooring disparity.
KEL: On average we were getting about 14.6 kilowatt hours. Whatever that means.
GRANT: So according to my calculations, with our electricity at 26 cents per kW/h, that equals $3.79 per 100km. Charging using our solar, the figure is much less. Probably closer to $1 or $2.
KEL: Pretty good on the budget.
GRANT: Vehicles consuming about six litres of fuel per 100km would be costing about $8. Servicing is slightly cheaper than most cars and rego is also less than a four-cylinder.
KEL: While it changed my mind on electric cars, and I enjoyed the experience behind the wheel, I’m not sold yet. I’d like a cheaper starting point and a range of more than 400km.
GRANT: Agreed on all points. There needs to be more charging infrastructure around, but Nissan needs to bring in the ability to charge bidirectionally. The functionality is not currently available in Australia due to demand in Europe. The Leaf is currently the only vehicle on sale that has this ability, so it could be used to put energy back into your home. Charge at work or at the shops, and bring the energy home. That’s a game changer.