Our relatively new VW Golf suddenly sickened and was about to die. Embarrassingly it constantly blew out clouds of blue smoke from the exhaust. An engine transplant was prescribed. It was a perfect opportunity to enter the exciting new world of cars which don’t use petrol.
Back in September 2018 the 10,000th electronic vehicle (EV) was registered – up from 210 five years earlier. For some reason the government put out a press release. With 4 million vehicles on our roads, EVs make up only 0.25% of the vehicle fleet. In Norway (a big oil producer with a similar population to ours) over 10% of all vehicles are now plug-in electric – and 58% of all new vehicle sales are EV. Focused and generous government incentives have rapidly moved the population to EVs. The result is that Norway has been able to achieve its climate target for average fleet CO2 emissions for new passenger cars three years earlier than pledged.
Anyway, back to New Zealand and the Nissan Leaf which my wife Karen and I bought three months ago. First, it wasn’t cheap. Although the Leaf is the most popular EV in New Zealand (and the world, with 400,000 sold since December 2010), Nissan hasn’t sold it new here. Every Leaf has been imported from Japan. That changes this August, with the 2019 40kWh battery model available new – for a starting price of $59,990 (no government price incentives until around 2021, but probably negatively offset anyway by removal of the current road user charge incentive).
Starting our EV hunt in the used-car yards of the Hutt Valley, we found it was possible to buy a Leaf from around $11,000 upwards. The year of manufacture ranged from 2011 to 2018, with prices rising accordingly. The big thing is range. The first Leaf battery size was 24kWh. That went up to 30kWh in 2016 and is now 40kWh. Cars with the less powerful batteries have a range of around 100 to 150 km fully charged. That doesn’t seem much, but it’s a mindset. If you do most of your driving around town like Karen and I, that’s perfectly adequate. However, we had a bit of “range anxiety” and ended up spending $44,000 to buy a 2018 model with a 40kWh battery – and a range (so the display says) of up to 270 km when fully charged.
Battery SOH (“state of health”) is a big consideration. The SOH shows the current maximum charge holding capacity which determines how far the EV can travel between charges. SOH slowly declines as the car gets older so its range drops gradually throughout its life. Nissan has said around 10 years is the expected useful life of its batteries. At the moment it costs around $9,000 to get a reconditioned battery in New Zealand. EVs are in their infancy here and the dealer infrastructure is still developing.
There is a growing community of Leaf and EV owners, and a number of active Facebook groups which bring together all types ranging from the fiercely dedicated eco warriors to those who just love driving a car which doesn’t pump contaminants into the environment. There are active discussions and postings from people who have driven their EV from Auckland to Wellington or down the West Coast of the South Island. Tales of “turtling” (when you’re about to run out of charge a yellow turtle symbol appears and the car slows to a crawl) are mixed with the number of fast charges needed for a trip, the launch of a new charging station or charging station etiquette.
It’s possible to drive almost anywhere in the country – but you’ll need to charge on the way. A fast charge takes around 30 minutes. You can join the ChargeNet EV Network which now has over 130 stations around the country and is 12 times faster than charging at home. Joining up gives you a token to operate the chargers and you pay by credit card. ChargeNet normally charges 25 cents a minute and 25 cents per kWh. Their chargers are well maintained, easy to use and an app tells you if someone is using one.
Without a big clunky petrol-driven engine or gearbox to go wrong, the Leaf is consistently the most reliable car in Consumer magazine’s annual car reliability survey. We’ve found it’s great to drive with good acceleration, comfortable (heated front and back) seating, backing cameras and accessories (including a heated steering wheel) and a blind spot detector on the side mirrors. For the first month we’d keep our eyes almost constantly on the display which shows the percentage of charge left in the battery. However, you get over that and the novelty value quickly disappears.
And it’s cheap to run. We plug our car into the ordinary power point in our garage to charge overnight – normally once a week. If you have an electricity provider which gives a discount for overnight hours (we’re in the process of changing to one) you save even more by setting the hours for charging (about 10 hours to take our car up to 80% charge, which is the recommended level). We took a “proof of concept” trip from Wellington to Ohakune one weekend. A full fast charge at Feilding on the way (48 minutes – lunch – and 26kw for $18.70), overnight charge in a friend’s garage, then top-up fast charges at Mangaweka and Levin on the way back. The only time we’ve been to a petrol station in three months was to use the car wash.
So far we’ve had no problems at all. Well, not mechanically. However, the camera which detects motion and brings you to an abrupt halt if you’re going to quietly (no engine noise) run over a pedestrian suddenly stopped working. Leaf repair experts are thin on the ground and we’re still waiting for news of a camera replacement (and a possibly interesting little discussion with the dealer about the Consumer Guarantees Act).
There’s also a problem with the GPS/stereo display on the Leaf model we have. They’ve figured out how to convert it from Japanese to English for the earlier models, but not yet for our car. A Christchurch company converted the main display from Japanese to English for us (for around $500, which the dealer picked up) but for some reason we’re stuck with Japanese time and no-one has worked out how to change it.
Let’s end with an interesting little fact, courtesy of the Business Insider: In 1899 and 1900, electric vehicles outsold all other types of cars. In fact, 28% of all 4,192 cars produced in the US in 1900 were electric. The total value of electric cars sold was more than gasoline and steam powered cars combined that year. Where did we go wrong?
Checklist: Is your office environmentally conscious?
Can you tick every item in this list, which has been sourced from the Foundation for Environmental Education.
Recycling bins available for those categories handled by your local authority
Non-disposable cups, plates and cutlery used
Rechargeable batteries used in calculators, recorders and dictaphones
No dripping taps or leaky toilets
Water-saving taps installed and in use
Toilets set to use as little water to flush as possible
Supplies bought in large quantities to save transport and packing material
Organic and Fair-Trade products are preferred (food, cleaning products, etc)
Detergents containing chlorides/bleach only used where necessary in order to comply with legal hygiene requirements
Textile towels used rather than paper towels
Local shops and services chosen to buy products whenever possible
Environmentally certified paper used
Paper printed on both sides to reduce use
Publishing and printing firms chosen who use environmentally friendly products
Printing of emails and other documents limited as much as possible
Lights turned off in vacant meeting rooms and toilets
Energy-saving light bulbs used
LED technology used to light up rooms, halls, entrance areas, etc
Heating and air-conditioning control systems implemented
Computers and printers turned off at the end of the day and not left on stand-by
When buying new machines, energy-saving ones are researched and chosen
Transport by public transport, bicycle, etc encouraged
When renting cars, environmentally friendly types are strongly encouraged
Environmentally-aware hotels with an environmental policy
Accommodation for meeting participants situated close to the meeting venue in order to minimise transport
Meeting participants picked up collectively in order to minimise transport
Decorations, posters, etc reusable and/or recyclable
Communication and education
Information about the organisation’s environmental initiatives clear and visible to all staff
Signs concerning energy-saving tips, etc placed where relevant
Regular meetings about the environmental situation are held