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Monday, 14 November 2016

Life with an electric car (on test drive)

My test drive car wasn't white and was also sprinkled liberally with advertising
I have just spent 5 days with a Nissan Leaf from Wessex Garages in Cardiff. So thanks for that. My impressions?

The main issue for us was range. Could it do a variety of runs:

Back and forth to UWE in Bristol on one charge (88 miles return)
To Wiltshire to see the family (85 miles one way)
To Merthyr for work (66 miles, but uphill one way!)

Having spent time looking at different makes and models, we decided that the best bet was either the Nissan 30kW Leaf or the new long range Renault Zoe. Renault Retail in Cardiff have been rubbish with any semblance of customer care, so we borrowed the Nissan on a long test drive offer that they had.

The reported range of the Leaf is 155 miles, but in the real world this means around 100-120 miles, dependent on a range of factors. But what are those factors and how would they influence our experience?

The main issues with range are:

Driving style (heaviness of the right foot)
Type of driving (motorway, urban etc)
Location (apart from being on a road, this means whether you are heading up hills or not)

There are other more minor ones like:

Weather considerations (heater on, wipers and lights etc)
Number of passengers

So the first test was to take myself and friend to UWE. The drive there was clear and I managed to trundle along at around 65- 70 mph. Lights on and heater set at 17 degrees. The way back was, as ever, congested and slow especially for the 5 miles around Newport. However the car likes slower driving so this was fine.

On my return home I had 17% battery left (around a further 17 miles), so this test was passed with ease.

The second test was a bit more tricky. To Pewsey in Wiltshire with the whole family (4 in total) and a boot full of clothes, wellies, food for chickens, (warning triangle and first aid kit - at the wife's insistence) and three very large helium balloons for my niece's 21st birthday - these might have helped! 

I had checked the height above sea level before the journey (this is the level of detail required when one has a doubting Thomas aboard) and it was over 200m higher than the trip to Merthyr. So if it could make it to Wilts on one charge it could certainly make it to the borders to the Brecon Beacons National Park and back!

The confidence in the journey was bolstered after the trip to Bristol and its associated levels of reserves upon return. My foot was therefore a little heavy and I admit that there were times (quite by accident) that I found that we were travelling at faster than 70mph. However, what with all the hills in the way by the time we got to Chippenham (and our last chance to have a rapid top-up) we were down to 30 miles projected range. At that point I was trying to remember how far we had to go (was it 20 or 30 miles???!!!) I kept up the optimism and assured everyone that everything was fine and that we would make it.

As the miles clocked by, so did the battery storage %. By the time we were heading into the Vale of Pewsey the warning lights were on and there was a certain air of concern. However, we pulled up into the driveway with 11 miles 'still in the tank'. So we had made it. The extra height above sea level combined with some less than economical driving had caused a little minor panic, but we were there.

On the way home, we were of course heading downhill back to Cardiff, plus we were being more aware of our driving techniques, so we actually arrived back in a slightly heavier car (due to the addition of some lovely garden veg and the loss of three large helium balloons) with 21% battery life remaining.

No need to do the Merthyr run as we can now be confident in the Leaf's ability to do 99% of all the journeys that we need it for.

Charging the car would cost us around £3.50 from zero to full for around 100 miles, so a considerable saving. Also with the PV panels on the roof we may manage to get some very low cost charges in the lighter months during the day. Time will tell.

It is a completely different set of factors to think about when driving an electric car. Checking distances prior to leaving, identifying charge points etc. but nothing too difficult or out of the ordinary. The car itself was comfy, easy to drive (although odd not having gears per se), quiet and able to give a warm glow inside the driver!

My brother and mother were also very impressed as I took them out for a ride as well. Mother was impressed with the road holding and quietness, whilst my brother, of course, had to test for its renowned acceleration! 

I thought that it was worth putting this on a Eco Home blog as there are implications for housing. Where to park the car to facilitate charging, where to put the charging point, how to store some renewable energy effectively for later use, how to cut carbon emissions if there are limitation on what you can do to the fabric of the house etc. So if you are in the market for another car, I would suggest that you have a think about what you need it for and whether an electric one would suffice.

Also on another note, if you are an Ecotricity Dual Fuel customer (which we are), then you also get £40 back from them just by having an electric car, plus you get free charges from their network of charging points (there are some limitations to this re number of charges per week, but all the same!).

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