My New Ride

Hey, Gov. Bill “Pilot Oil” Haslam, BP, the American Enterprise Institute, Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, and the rest of you dirty energy folks! Suck on this:

My Blue Leaf


The first thing you’ll notice: no tail pipe! The second thing you’ll notice, if you drive one: no heat! I pulled the car into the garage and the hood is still cool to the touch.

I’ve had this car for, oh, about two hours now and it has a ton of features and gadgets that will take me a week to figure out. But really it’s just like any other car. There are a few things I’ll have to get used to, but little that’s unique to the Leaf, or the electric engine. Sure, there’s the no-noise thing, you know the car is “on” because a green light tells you. But anyone who drives a hybrid is used to that (my old Toyota hybrid says “READY” in big letters.) That’s because there’s no engine “rumble” like you get with an internal combustion engine to let you know the car has started.

The Leaf starts with the push of a button, and you shift into drive or reverse with a weird little toggle thingie. If you’ve ever driven a stick-shift and learned the old H gear system, the Leaf’s toggle is counter-intuitive: reverse is to the left and forward, drive is to the left and down. And I’m also going to have to get used to looking in a display screen when backing out of a parking space, not looking behind me: the display screen has much better visibility.

The car is eerily quiet, something else you’d be used to if you drove a hybrid. Except the Leaf stays quiet, whereas the hyrbid eventually has an engine rumble. As any student of physics knows, noise and exhaust are signs of inefficiency. So the fact that my car is quiet and has no tailpipe is to me a sign of progress.

The stuff that will take me forever to get used to are the satellite radio, GPS map, Carwings, cell phone bluetooth connection, etc. Except for Carwings, which is unique to the Leaf, I think all the rest of the tech stuff is pretty much standard on most new cars these days. I’m not that tech savvy so I will need to spend a couple days figuring out all the doo-dads and gadgets.

I must say, it’s awfully … blue. I’m sort of wishing we’d gone with the white. Actually, I wish there’d been a green option. I mean, it’s called a Leaf! Y’all didn’t think of making one in green? The only color options were blue, white, silver, black and red. Ah well, maybe next model.

I do feel a little bit as though I’m fiddling as the Titanic sinks (or the economy burns), buying a new car right now. Of course, I reserved my Leaf way back in May 2010. I had no control over the timing of this purchase, and boy I sure wish it had been a month ago, before the whole debt ceiling crisis threatened to take down the economy. But we needed a new car, and gas and oil changes are one less expense I have to worry about.

So, off to drive my new car.

23 Comments

Filed under electric car

23 responses to “My New Ride

  1. JGabriel

    Dammit, SB. I read at Balloon Juice that you got a new car, so I rushed over here, just to be the first to mock you for contributing to the degradation of our global environment — and you got a Leaf.

    Foiled again!

    .

  2. Oh I’m sure some Negative Nellies will be quick to post their Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation white papers proving that the Leaf is even more environmentally damaging than a Hummer, but between my 5.3 KW solar array on our roof and the green energy credits we buy from NES, I am not losing any sleep over my carbon footprint.

  3. Congratulations! I’m most jealous. I live in the “boonies” of PEI, Canada and the Leaf probably won’t be available here until 2067 (or thereabouts)!
    Enjoy the vehicle!

  4. Oh Beale. Nobody walks the walk like you. Didn’t NYT do a poll about what would be cool sounds to generate over a speaker system as the car goes around? I vote for the Star Wars sound effects for the little floating cars. Whizzing and whirring around. Little sounds that let people know you are braking, etc. Either that or maybe you could order the retro 1960s George Jetson package.

    The conservatives already have a burn for your new Leaf ready to go. They call it a “coal burning car!” Oh well. It takes all kinds.

  5. Proud Socialist

    Where’s the gun rack?

  6. PurpleGirl

    Congratulations. Have fun driving it.

  7. May you have many miles of good clean driving fun. Just one question from someone up north. Do you have any cabin heat or would I need to pull out grandpas buffalo robe?

    • Yes of course, there’s cabin heat and A/C. Using both cut into your range of course, but that’s an issue with a conventional engine too. There’s an optional solar panel to help with both heating and cooling without using the battery charge.

      • themadkansan

        …does it have any provision for a secondary power source like the generator-trailers I’ve seen proposed?

        Essentially, the things I’ve seen are like a tow-behind trailer with a rack of batteries, a small TDI or gas-turbine engine that drives an alternator, and motors that power the trailer’s wheels in order not to overload the vehicle’s main motor – a cable connects the trailer to the vehicle’s power system and the battery-bank/generator provides power to the vehicle and the trailer’s drive motors; they figured they could increase an electric vehicle’s effective range to over 700 miles on something like 3 or 4 gallons of fuel, either diesel, gasoline, or oxy/hydro, not including the vehicle’s main battery bank.

      • LOL. No, for my needs a secondary power source isn’t necessary. I mean, I can’t even imagine towing a gas powered generator, that seems rather beside the point, doesn’t it? The amount of range you’d lose by carting the extra weight around would negate any benefits, near as I can tell. I mean … that just seems superfluous.

        That said, the battery swapping stations they have in Japan are a great idea. I love the notion that you buy the car but just “rent” the battery. Maybe we’ll get there someday.

        The range issue is only a “problem” because our infrastructure isn’t up to speed yet, and that will change quickly. Right now with a range of 100 miles and my own driving habits, I can’t imagine needing such a thing. I guess our “secondary power source” is the hybrid — that’s the car we’ll use on longer trips. For my trips around town, to the grocery store, etc., that would be silly.

        Every Leaf comes with an adaptor so you can plug it into a 120-volt power source, so I suppose in an emergency you can plug it in anywhere. It takes forever to get a full charge that way and I can’t imagine it being necessary but in an emergency that would do.

        But really, this car is not for someone who drives more than 100 miles a day. And that’s a small percent of the population. I work from home. My husband works less than 10 miles from our house. We’re your typical urban dwellers. I go to the gym and the vet and the grocery and hockey games and I may have meetings around town, but I don’t need to be carting an alternate fuel source around with me.

      • themadkansan

        That’s just it – instead of needing 2 vehicles, you can do everything with one again this way.

        The trailer has drive motors built into it that run off the battery-bank and generator in the trailer, thereby putting little or no extra load on the car. The energy density we get from combustible fuels like gas and diesel is still far in advance of what we get with anything else currently available – the primary problem is loss of efficiency from waste heat. By minimizing the waste with a much smaller IC engine that only has to drive a charging alternator, and coupling that with the inherent efficiency of an electric motor (electric motors make their maximum torque at zero RPM, unlike an IC engine), it increases fuel mileage dramatically. It also means you don’t have to worry about being caught out somewhere with a dead battery bank. šŸ™‚

        Think of it as an itty-bitty version of a diesel-electric locomotive. It’s what they =should= have done, rather than all these silly-arse parallel-drive solutions they currently use in hybrids. Mitsubishi actually had a working prototype of a serial electric vehicle back in the ’90s, but for some reason the shipping container it was in caught fire and destroyed it. Go figure.

  8. bartco123

    Congrats! It’s cute and zippier than one might expect. Hope to see more on the road soon. The Prius is so overhyped.

  9. Jim

    SB – Please keep us up to date on the mileage you get per charge. I am curious to know if it does indeed get ~100 miles to the charge in the various weather conditions of Nashville.

  10. Let me add it also has a hybrid-style regenerative braking system, which recharges the battery when you step on the brakes or are coasting. This morning when I left for the gym it said I had 100 miles on my charge, but when I got to the gym it said I had 103 miles. That’s thanks to the regenerative braking.

    So far so good, I didn’t drive anywhere yesterday so I’m still at around 100 miles.

    • Jim

      Is there an option for a solar charger to be built into the roof for these? That seems like it would be a natural fit as the car has a pretty big flat roof (the car looks bigger than I imagined it would be).

      • Yes mine has the solar charger. That’s an option, it’s not standard. I *believe* the charger supplements the A/C and heat but I can’t remember. It might supplement charging for the main battery.

        The Nissan Leaf website is really detailed, if you’re really interested check it out and take the virtual tour:
        http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/index

        The car is a typical size, a little bigger than a compact. Not as big as an SUV or sedan of course, but it’s about as big as any typical car. It really is like any “normal” car. Except for being so quiet you probably wouldn’t notice anything different about it.

      • Jim

        Well I will be looking for a new car in a couple of years when my daughter starts driving. 100 miles a day could cover my driving for most days, so hopefully two years gives them enough time to work all of the bugs out and get the price down to something that is affordable.

        Please keep us posted on how things go for you.

  11. I’ll keep you posted. Obviously “affordable” is a relative thing, but they retail for around $30,000 which I think is pretty comparable for a new car. It’s not the $100G that Tesla is asking …

  12. Here’s a weird thing. I just drove a few miles for an errand. Because of the regenerative braking system, the charge was as full when I returned as when I left. That’s even better than the hybrid’s performance. I’m almost a little confused… and I was running the A/C too cuz it’s 90 gazillion degrees here.

    • themadkansan

      elektrik motrz iz effishent!!! šŸ˜€

      Brushless motors are stupidly efficient compared to IC engines – the main problem is finding something to produce electric power with the same kind of energy density you get in hydrocarbon fuels.

      Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen until we can produce high-temperature superconductors as a base technology, which looks like it will be even farther down the road than it had been, thanks to a bunch of troglodytic corporate whores and useful idiots with (R-wherethefuckever) in front of their names…

      • Efficiency is a complicated issue. Is it more efficient to burn coal at a central power plant, and transmit that power over the grid to individual home chargers? Is it more efficient to operate tens of millions of mini “power plants” in the form of individual internal combustion engines? Is it more efficient to have each home equipped with solar panels from which EV batteries are charged? Efficiency is equated with centralization but as any student of fascism knows, sometimes efficiency is overrated. There is a natural law that diversity = stability. Perhaps instead of having ONE thing for everyone we need to decentralize the whole transportation mechanism and have a variety of options for people. For some people that will mean biofuels, for others EVs …

        I dunno, it’s an interesting idea. I heard a caller on a lefty talk radio show say there’s no way we can power the nation on solar and wind because it’s not efficient and what we need is to transition the transportation sector to … wait for it … natural gas! I’m like, really? That’s more efficient than solar and wind? You sure? I fly into a city like Los Angeles and even Nashville and all I see as our aircraft makes its descent is miles and miles of empty rooftops, just begging for solar panels.

        Really it comes back to the same debate we had back in the 70s: centralized vs decentralized. If you’re a plutocrat you want centralized, if you’re a DFH you want decentralized. I think what we’re coming down to is the battle between these two ideas.

      • themadkansan

        Please note at present I’m talking straight mechanical efficiency in comparison of electric motors and IC engines, not the bigger issues of burning and starving ourselves off the face of the planet. šŸ™‚
        Mass adoption of serial-electric transportation systems could drop our overall fossil fuel usage to a tithe of what is now, making it that much easier to get off the hooch altogether. Electricity is electricity, no matter the source it comes from physics-wise. Unlike parallel-hybrid vehicles, the small IC generator engines could easily be replaced by an oxy/hydro catalytic fuel cell once they are able to produce them cheaply enough, or some other kind of high-density electric power source, which means you wouldn’t need to buy a whole new vehicle – just upgrade the power supply.
        The problem right now is that there exists a certain group of people who are profiting mightily off the status quo, do not wish for =anything= to change, and will fight tooth, nail, and bank-account to see that it does not.

        Unfortunately, this kind of thinking does me more harm than good in real life; I’ve reached the point in life where I can’t just keep my trap shut when people go spouting stupid shit, and people around here don’t like what I have to say…

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