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The 2013 Nissan Leaf

The 2013 Nissan Leaf 
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Zero Tailpipe Emissions

The all electric 2013 Nissan Leaf represents a light revision of the original, with a few cool changes that extend range and let you lock the charging port ^^ More good things have come to the Leaf just as the CEO of Nissan promised. The Leaf is now so cool that I decided to lease one, the price was right too ^^

With over 83,000 Leaf's sold as of Sept. 2013, the Leaf is the worlds best selling highway capable all-electric car in history. There are many reasons why so many people all around are now driving Nissan Leaf's.

The Leaf is an Ideal Commuter Car

With 84 miles of net average real world range, the revised 2013 Nissan Leaf has 20ft/lbs less Torque than the outgoing model, but 12mi more "official" range and greater corresponding net energy efficiency. If your daily commute is under 50 miles round trip, the Leaf is an excellent option, if you already own a long range hybrid or conventional gas powered vehicle for longer trips. Just like big trucks, the Leaf is not for everyone. The Leaf is ideal as an ultra-low emissions commuter vehicle for daily family use and commutes that are less than 50 miles. 


Somewhat heavy, and not exactly sporty, the instant 187ft/lbs of torque from the Leafs motor makes it feel snappy off the line from 0-40MPH, easily toasting gas powered cars if you step on the pedal, albeit you will not grow many digital eco-friendly tree's on the dash display setup if you drag race off from every red light change. Drag racing will also "cook" the car faster, so be mindful that people who are gentle with the Leaf will enjoy 20+ years of low maintenance low emission electric vehicle fun.

Easy to Use 

Compact but spacious for a commuting vehicle, the new Leaf has more than enough cargo and passenger utility room for grocery hunting and getting local errands done, even if you have 2 kids. The new 2013 Leaf has a much larger rear cargo space because Nissan relocated the onboard charger to give the Leaf more utility cargo room in the trunk space. The hatchback design also allows the rear seats to be folded down so that the back of the Leaf forms one huge cargo space, with room for loads and loads of stuff.

Electricity instead of Gas

Leaf reigns supreme in that it can run on very cheap, potentially sustainable, and probably highly local electricity. With the Leaf, electrical outlets are your fuel stations, and nearly everyone has these 110v outlets all around them. There are in weatherproof outlets on the outsides of most buildings too that are prime for a little bit of sneak charging.
If you drive the Leaf gently you will get about 4 miles per KwH; with 24kWh this translates to about 100 miles of range if you charge to 100% and drain the battery to near 0%.
Gasoline vehicles are rated in miles per gallon. If you give the Leaf an energy equivalent fuel economy, it gets more than 100 miles per gallon eq. 

A realistic daily range however is closer to 50mi, as keeping the battery between 30 an 80 % charged is important for the longer term health of the battery. Charging a Leaf to full and draining it to dead every cycle will cook the $9000 battery faster, just like people cook their cell phone batteries by overcharging them every night for more than 3 hours and draining them to nearly dead everyday, experiencing terrible run times and a puffed up battery after little more than 1 year of use in modern high energy smartphones.

If you drive in city traffic, you can get more than 100mi range from the Leaf if it is fully charged. Under the worst case, with freezing weather and highway speeds, with heavy stop and go traffic congestion, the range will be only around 45mi total. If you charge the leaf to 80% (Long Life Battery Mode) and discharge to 30% (Long Life Battery Mode) and operating it between suburban and urban areas with limited highway use, daily range on average is going to be close to 50 mi. This kind of range is perfect for a commuter vehicle use on shorter daily commuters. Given that the Average driver in the US covers less than 35mi per day, the Leaf has more than enough range to cover the average American's daily vehicle commuting/ range requirements.

Charging Levels and Recharge Time

The coolest part about electricity is that you can pick up some charge for the Leaf almost anywhere with an outlet and an heavy gauge extension cord. A creative person with the Leaf can use the 110v 12amp Level 1 charging cable extension cord with a 12 gauge extension cord of 25' more feet, to plug into lots of sockets that are spread around everywhere. There are literally millions of these 15amp 110 volt sockets, but even if only a small percentage of them can actually be accessed, this is still a huge number of "electric gas stations" to plug into.

The slow level 1 trickle charge pumps about 1.35 kWh per hour into the 24kWh battery, thus a full charge from empty to full on a standard electrical outlet takes about 21hours. More realistically, if you charged the Leaf to 80% and drove it until the battery was at 30%, recharging to 80% again over 110v Level 1 would only take about 10 hours, easily doable if the car is parked indoors near an outlet all night while you sleep. 

Rarely will a commuter in an Urban area need to plug into a Level 1 for 20+ hours. If a person fills the Leaf to 85% and drives 10 miles to work and 10 miles home, they will need about 5-8 hours of 110 extension cord charging to recharge the battery for the next day. If you daily commute is less than 40 miles, level 1 charging on 110 will still only take about 10 hours, plenty of time to charge if the Leaf is parked indoors near a regular electrical outlet at night while you sleep.

Remember that charging the Leaf to 100% full is hard on the battery, and running the Leaf battery to nearly empty is also abusive to the battery. The Leaf battery, like all Lithium Ion batteries, likes to be shallow cycled between 20 and 90% state of charge, or even more gently between 30 and 80%. If the Leaf Battery is kept between 30 and 80% for most of its life, it will last more than 20 years. If the Leaf battery is filled to full and drained to nearly empty on every cycle it will start to fade quickly after 8 years. The life of the Leaf battery depends entirely on how you treat the battery with charging cycles, and on the ambient temperatures of the climate you drive in. Hotter climates will cook the Leaf battery faster than cooler climates. 

When the Leaf is plugged into a 220/240v Level II Charge, it picks up charge about 3.5 times faster than it would on level 1. Correspondingly, the Leaf can be mostly filled up in under 5 hours using a Level II EV charger. Blink and Chargpoint has scattered thousands of these public chargers all over the unites states. In other countries, commercial public level II chargers are also widely accessible to EV driving consumers. The base model S Leaf only can only accept 3.6kw on the Level 2 charger, whereas the upgraded SV and SL models can accept 6.6kw. A full charge with the S base model from nearly empty to 100% takes 7 hours on level 2, where the SV and SL models can fully charge in less than 5 hours.

Level III chargers are the fastest chargers, 0-80% in 30min, but highly abusive to the Leaf Battery as the high heat and power they crank out literally cooks the battery, Nissan dealerships have this high speed Level III chargers, and there are high speed Chargers scattered across the nation at rest stops, and other commercial building. Blink level III chargers are also widely available. If you need to pick up some quick charging to run more errands, stopping at a level 3 charger for 25 min can fill the battery super quickly, but it will also harm the battery.

Level II chargers are far more common, and the type that most people will find themselves charging with on the go or at home if they own a Leaf and are home owners. Many other Leaf owners with shorter commutes can easily get by with the Level 1 extension cord charger included with the Leaf. For example 2 hours of Level 1 charging more than covers the energy requirements of my daily 7mi round trip commute in the Leaf. 

Electricity Source

Grid power is usually a mix of energy made from different sources like Nuclear, Hydro, Wind, Natural Gas, Coal Power, Solar, Geothermal, Etc. In the Northwest, Hydro power dominates the grid power mix, and being an old, reliable, large scale renewable, Leaf's charged in the Northwest mostly operate on electricity that was generated by river damns, sustainable robust energy with 0 emissions other than what was created by the construction of the Damn and the materials that went into it and those which continue to go into maintaining it.

Unlike the millions of tailpipes on private vehicles, the grid tends to have only a few thousand power plant exhaust stacks, stacks where emissions control equipment can be heavy without causing a problem. Its easier and far less costly to clean up emissions from a power plant than it is to clean up the emissions of millions of privately owned and operated vehicles.

No matter how you cut it, even if you power the Leaf with electricity from coal power, the net impact of each mile driven is lower on the environment and public health. Tail pipes are everywhere, where we live and breath and work daily, where power plant exhaust stacks are usually off in the distance somewhere away from where most people live and breath. In areas with low carbon wind, solar, geothermal, hydro and nuclear energy, charging a Leaf is extremely clean to operate. If the energy to charge the Leaf comes from clean energy sources, then operating the Leaf is an environmentally clean transportation option. The Leaf, like most other cars, is highly recyclable at the end of its functional life as well. Electricity is also a local energy, not usually imported, so using electricity to drive usually has a beneficial effect on the local economy.

From Autoblog :

The story of the Nissan Leaf is actually quite interesting. Nissan has now sold more than 25,000 Leafs in the United States since the Leaf launched in 2010. Worldwide cumulative sales of the Leaf exceed 62,000 units. The Leaf is a success, and has sold better than any other battery electric vehicle.

I would like to thank Carlos Ghosn, for it was under his leadership that Nissan invested billions of dollars into developing EV technology, production capacity, and real world electric vehicles.

The S base trim Leaf that I drive tips the scales as the lightest Leaf ever with a curb weight of 3291. Glacier white, the color of my Leaf is new for 2013, and I love the white color. Improvements in the 2013 model include a hybrid heating system that is about 30% more efficient than before. The cargo area in the truck has been improved to 30 cubic feet from 24 via the relocation of the onboard charger.

Interior improvements for the 2013 MY Leaf include a heated leather wrapped steering wheel, sun visor extensions and near sleek headrests that improve "visibility" The information display now also includes SOC (State of Charge as a % value), something I have referenced heavily in this book. While the battery "bars" are a useful visual approximation, the % readout is more precise, and I like this numerical precision. I have grown to enjoy digital speedometers more than analog dials after years of operating Astro the 2005 tech package Prius II, my other car, the one that I have given to Meg: it replaced her 1992 Ford Explorer.

The Leaf is a good car if your daily commute is less than 50mi, providing clean, smooth, quiet electromotive transportation at a reasonable cost that is very affordable compared to conventional dinosaur burning vehicles from the past. Nissan's goal is to sell 2000 Leafs per month, something they aim to do by including all of these fresh revisions in the 2013 MY editions.

Building the Nissan Leaf battery takes approximately 30 days, a process completed inside of a clean room, where temperatures are cool, and the air is free of "dangerous" contaminates like dust or water vapor. The giant battery plant in Smyrna, TN, is operating well under capacity, with only a few hundred employees, room for growth was clearly designed into the facility. This facility can produce enough Leaf batteries to support Nissan selling 16,000 Leaf's per month.

Much of this last section was adapted from Sabastian Blanco's related posting on Autoblog which can be found at the following Link. 

The Leaf Battery

In the recent past, before I even seriously considered leasing a Leaf, I had researched the battery design that Nissan used in the Leaf's energy storage system, and wrote a posting with my findings. This research was a followup to some research I was reviewing about the 201.6v NiMH 6.5AH battery that Toyota used in the second generation Prius. Go ahead and take a look at the Leaf Battery Article for more information about the 24kWh battery in the Nissan Leaf.

192 cells foil packet cells, arranged 2 parralled 2 series in 48 aluminum wall modules, each module is rated for 7.2v and 66AH. The pack total is 360v nominal at 66AH; around 290v near 0% charge and close to 400v when 100% charged.

The key take home point is that Nissan used a large surface area custom designed and manufactured by Nissan and NEC cell design with heat sink dominate passive thermal control and management based on large cell surface area that allows for a lighter, higher performance, more cost effective energy storage solution that seems to hold up better in cooler climates like the Northwest.
Heat harms lithium batteries, so cooler climates support cooler operating conditions for the Leafs battery, enhancing its performance and long term durability.

To be completely honest, I would not buy a used Nissan Leaf from another person. People do not seem to pay attention to the fact that repeatedly charging the Leaf to 100% is terrible for its batteries long term life, and more concerning, is that many of the vehicles are Leased, and the owners openly admit to me that they really do not care if they cook the battery.

It looks more and more like I might be either buying this one or leasing another brand new on in the future. As an ethical person, I will rarely charge the Leaf battery to full, except perhaps a handful of times during the year to re-calibrate it with a cycle format (full to low state to mostly full. I am aiming to keep the net average SO around 65%. In essence I am going to treat the Leaf battery carefully to maximize its net long term useful life. Even if I turn it in at the end of the lease, I will rest easier knowing I did my part to take care of the Leaf well, so that it will last as long as possible. 

 Leaf Energy Math

kWh's : Lets examine a little bit of power consumption math for the Leaf. Depending on who is driving, where the Leaf is being driven, and several other factors, a Leaf drive will get anywhere from 2.5 to 5.3 mi per kWh : for the 24kWh pack, this means a worse case range of about 60 miles and a best case range of 127 miles : per full charge. Nissan officially rates the range of the 2013 Leaf at 84mi, a 12 mi increase from the previous version, something that was made possible by reducing the Torque of the motor by 20ft/lbs from 207ft/lbs to 187ft/lbs, effectively trading off a little bit of performance for a good increase in range.

Leaf Fuel $240/yr

If a person drives a 2013 Leaf 10,000 mile and averages 4.0 mi/ kWh (gentle driving technique), then over that 10,000 miles the Leaf will consume 2,500 kWh of power or about $240 worth of power at my local grid power price of 9.6 cents per kWh. If this person charged using $1/hr Blink or Charge Point Level 2 chargers, that same power would cost about $500. The energy to operate a Leaf is clearly not free, but is very cheap in comparison to gasoline or diesel.

Compact Gas Car Fuel $1400/year

If a person operated a moderately efficient gas powered vehicle similar in size and capacity to the Leaf, 24MPG real world all around, for 10,000 miles and paid an average of $3.35 per gallon, they would end up buying 417 gallons of gas, or about $1400 worth of gasoline energy. Compare this against the Leaf's annual fuel energy cost of $240 to $720 depending on where they live in the US.

Modern SUV fuel $2000/year

Consider also someone switching from an SUV that averages only 17MPG overall in the real world. The 17MPG  SUV owner driving 10,000 miles would end up buying 588 gallons of gas, or about $2000 worth of gas at $3.35 per gallon. Add in oil changes, and other engine maintenance issues, and you see that gas powered vehicles cost a lot to operate, even with gasoline at the relatively cheap price of $3.35 per gallon.

Utility Rates Considered

Some places have much higher electricity costs than where I live in Washington State. Hawaii for example, has electricity prices above $0.29 per kWh, effectively 3x more expensive. The US average electricity price is only $0.11 per kWh, and that works out to just about $250 for 10,000mi worth of power to drive the Leaf.

Gasoline is Cheap 
Gasoline has a lot of energy per gallon, about 33kWh Gasoline Gallon Equivalent. The Leaf's 24kWh battery only holds the same amount of energy as 0.72 gallons of gasoline. The Leaf can go about 80 miles using the equivalent of 0.72 gallons of gas, and this is how Nissan rates the Leaf at 112 MPGe.

Wasteful Gas Engines

Unfortunately most gas powered cars have and engine that is inefficient, and engine which can only use about 20% of the gasoline energy to move forward. Much of the energy in gasoline is wasted as friction and heat losses in reciprocating metallic piston engines, where the metals used cannot support the temperatures needed to more efficiently extract mechanical energy from the potential chemical energy in the gasoline.

Engine Materials Science Problem

To get more useful mechanical energy to move a vehicle from gasoline, reciprocating internal combustion engines would need to operate at temperatures too high for most metals to withstand. Metals like steel and aluminum are too soft at high temperatures, even heat tolerant metals like nickel are not able to work this way, nor would high temperature stable metals be cost efficient to machine into engines. It is theorized that engineered ceramics would make a hotter more energy efficient piston engine possible, but this has not been demonstrated on a commercial scale, let alone integrated into a real world vehicle, especially not one that is mass produced for consumers to use.

The Hybrid Approach 

Fuel economy improvements in conventional vehicles that run on gas were only realized by Hybrid technology. Toyota for example blends the power from a gasoline engine through and orbital gear system called a power split device with two electric motor-generators/ controller/ inverter/ energy storage battery system. The gasoline-electric hybrid technology enabled automakers to improve the fuel economy of vehicles from around 24MPG to 40+ MPG's. VW recently started producing a hybrid called the XL1 that blends an 800cc Diesel Engine with a Plug in Hybrid system, yielding a exotic little vehicle that gets more than 200MPG.

Smaller Turbo Engines

Other automakers are using "engine displacement reduction with turbo-charging" to make popular models more fuel efficient. The eco-boost line of Engines from Ford for example are able produce the same power and more torque than older large naturally aspirate engines, while greatly improving fuel economy.

Slipping Through the Air

Aerodynamic tweaking has also become more popular lately, where the automakers design vehicles to "cut through" the air more easily, wasting less fuel to push the air around the vehicle. Slippery undersides, sleek headlamps and side mirrors, and turbulence reducing tail features, there are aero tricks up the automakers sleeves that they will increasingly endow upon their future vehicles. Nissan for example spent a lot of time tuning the Aerodynamic performance of the Leaf, achieving a CD of 0.29 in the 2010-2012 models, and reducing that to only 0.28 in the 2013 revisions :)

The Nissan Leaf on Wikipedia

The Nissan Leaf article on Wikipedia is becoming more polished as the editing continues, and if you want to read about the car, the wiki article is a great place to start.

Thinking about Fuel Economy 

Way back in 2003 I saw a first generation Toyota Prius parked on the campus of WSU in Pullman Wa; it belonged to a professor. Gasoline-Electric Hybrid, the dorky looking little car peaked my interests enough that I went back to my dorm room later that day and started reading about hybrid vehicles online. I learned about the 1899 Porsche hybrid that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche created, and started to wonder why Hybrid electric vehicles were not popular.

I started to wonder what happened to the idea of Hybrid electric vehicles, and why did it die off; 
What about a pure electric vehicle? Many questions started rushing through my head. For years I had been a petrolicious car nerd, with a passion for high performance vehicles. It was during this early time at WSU that I also started to become concerned about the environment, sustainability, energy efficiency, and fuel efficient vehicle technologies for real world vehicle that people use for commuting. 

By 2004 I was determined to become an environmental scientist in college, and after all was said and done, I left WSU with a lot of credits and finished off an Associates of Arts and Sciences degree at Bellevue Community College. During this time I became a fanatical fuel efficient vehicle enthusiast, which caused me to ultimately become the owner of a then brand new 2005 Toyota Prius with the Tech Package, Astro the Prius that I gave my wife recently. I would like to thank my generous grand father for help in buying the Prius, and my parents who helped pay my way through college :)

I went and saw this movie called "Who Killed the Electric Car" back in 2006, and this only further reinforced my passion for sustainable development and energy efficient transportation technologies.
At the University of Washington I majored with a Bachelors of Arts of Science Technology and the Environment, and then again majored with a Bachelors of Science of Environmental Science. That one Prius I saw at WSU when I was 19, caused an idea in my mind, and this idea grew into a tree of other ideas, thoughts, choices and actions.

Fast forward to 2010, some facebooking associated me with a kind guy named Ian, who works on the Windows Update group over at Microsoft in Redmond. After a little coordinating, Ian invited Meg and I to come test drive his brand new fully loaded Nissan Leaf.

It was a rainy grey overcast Saturday afternoon when we arrived at his house in Issaquah. In the open garage we saw the Leaf plugged into a Blink charger, a Blink charger that Ian got for free by signing up for this special EV program early. We talked for a bit and got into the Leaf and went for a spin, I was driving.

From the back seat Ian told me to "step on it" and for the first time Meg and I experienced the instant torque of the electric motors in the Leaf. "Wow" we were both very impressed. On interstate 90 he told me to give it the pedal, and for a moment we broke the speed limit by a good margin.

Climbing back up the steep hills leading to his home, he again encouraged me to press the pedal deeper, and the hill climbing torque was amazing. Ian is a big Guy, perhaps 6ft 4in tall and weighs about 17 Stones according to him, something like 240lbs. Meg and I weigh about 300lbs combined, so that means the Leaf was pulling over 500lbs of passengers, with torque for days, torque that pushed us in our seats even when climbing a steep residential hill. The electric motor is truly Amazing, and Nissan's Integration of electromotive technologies in the Nissan Leaf are magnificent.

I read Autoblog in short bursts, and mostly the "green" section all the time. I also frequently visit Green Car Congress's website. I learned about the 2013 revisions of the Nissan Leaf, and then recently heard about this great lease deal they have going. $2000 due at signing, and $199 per month. I drive past 2 Nissan Dealerships lots every day on my way too and from work. I kept seeing the Leaf's on my daily commute for months, and thinking about the test drive of Ian's leaf. After a few conversations and some financial math, I decided to pull the trigger, and that is how a 2013 white Nissan Leaf S ended up in my vehicle rotation/ collection/ fleet.

Why I care about Fuel Economy and Electric Vehicles

1. Air pollution reduction / the costs of treating the sicknesses caused by smog inhalation

2. Destroying our economy, the horrid economic effects of burning cash to import oil

3. Sustainability, considering the legacy we leave to future generations

4. Taking care of the environments that produce the foods we eat, the air we breath and the water we drink. 

The Real Cost of Gasoline

Foreign oil is a problem for net oil importing economies. In 2012, 3.4% of the US GDP was spend importing foreign oil, at over $120/ barrel. According to the IEA's chief economist Faith Birol, the net oil importing nations of the world had to pay $2 trillion worth of oil import bills in 2012. Foreign oil is a serious economic problem for the United States. The real costs of gas are also not reflected in the pump prices we pay. Take a look at the video available in the following link

US gas is artificially cheap: What we don't pay for at the pump

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