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To buy the Leased Leaf S or Not * Updated July 2014

Lost Image Credit : Probably Nissan Motors 

I got a spiff deal on a leased 2013 Leaf S : with $2k due at signing, and $200/mo for 24mo : lets say the residual I owe at the end of the lease is $16K. Here I am going to run the numbers to see with words and symbols how keeping the Leaf would affect our long term family budget, vs buying a 2015 VW Jetta TDI value edition which rang out in my prior calculations to roughly $3,500/ year for 20 years. 

The Lease will End

At the end of 2 years I will have spent $7K on the Leaf. If I finance the residual, I will pay $16K for another 18 years. That means my capital costs are $23K or over the 20 year operating life about $1200 per year. If I drive the Leaf 7000K miles per year (about practical given the 85mi per charge range), that means I would log in 120,000 miles over 20 years. Lets also say that when the Leaf is 15 years old, it will require a new $8500 battery. Lets also say that I keep the Leaf for 30 years total, given that I will want to exhaust the second battery before recycling the Leaf : its residual value will be minimal in 30 years so I will exclude that from even being considered.

** Update** : the replacement battery will now only cost $5500, for the upgraded 2015 Chemistry too.

30 Years of City EV trips :) ** updated math **

So taking the battery life into account, we have to move the time analysis to 30 years, which means that at 7K mi per year it will be driven about 200,000 miles. We have to add $23K to the battery replacement cost of $7k, to come up with $30K capital costs : or about $1000 per year. Adding in tires and brakes and repairs, and electricity costs for charging, we could say that I will require 5 sets of tires $3K, the electricity to drive the leaf at 4.3mi/kWh for 200K mi would about 47,000kWh or about 1600kWh per year: this works to about $400 per year in electricity costs assuming that grid power prices double over the next 30 years. So we add $30K capital costs and tires and $12k worth of power, and we are $42K. Add in another $6K in repairs, and it works out to about $48K for 30 years, or about $1600 per year. 


I am officially buying the Nissan Leaf at the end of the lease because of the super ultra low long term ownership and operating costs. This would work out to a lifetime net average cost per mile of only $0.24 cents : its almost free to own and operate as a vehicle. This so cheap compared to the Prius, its almost unreal. Until I ran these numbers I was on the fence about whether or not to keep the Leaf. Even if electricity prices tripled over the next 30 years, the Leaf would still be super extremely cheap to operate.

Range Anxiety : Its ok / I am EV geeky and willing to work around it! 

With only 85mi of range with a good new battery, the range will decrease to 55mi per charge by the end of 15 years. This is official epa range calculations with a 30% decrease in battery performance over the 15 years assuming I am careful to not harm the battery with over-charging, exposure to high heat, or storing it full. The 85mi official range is an average, but I get better than EPA energy economy numbers even when I frequently floor it from a stop light to feel the instant torque of the electric drive :) I believe I can do even better with more self control and advanced hypermiling techniques.

Towards 5.8mi/kWh or 120mi per charge 

My personal energy economy in the Leaf is currently averaging 4.6mi per kWh. Given 24kWh of onboard storage, my current maximum single charge range is actually 110 miles. I rarely ever charge it to full now, given that I have no truly free charging options, other than sans charge when I am using the Level 1 EVSE that was included with the Leaf at friends and families houses via some thicker extension cords :) So using more efficient driving techniques I believe I can average 5.0mi/ kWh or even better. That would bring my single charge range to 120 miles. If I can get to 5.8mi per kWh, my range would be 140mi per charge ^^

Honda 80lb Level 1 Range Extender 

I might build a range extender and mess up my average annual operating costs by investing in a capital intensive project that I will rarely use, but which will be priceless when it is used :) I require a 2kw Honda Generator to work with my Level 1 EVSE charging cable. I will actually get a 3kw Honda generator to give more electrical head room. 

The Honda EU3000I at 80lbs and $3K will itself almost do the trick. Slow charging sure, but its a very expensive emergency backup for when some really long heavy guage extension cords are not enough. I already have 2x 25ft 12guage grounded extensions cords to help me hook up the Level 1 charger :) and I have pulled a fair amount of gifted grid power this way already ^^ Its cheap at $0.11/kwh to give the Leaf some grid power. If it was low 20% and I charged it to %90, it would cost $1.85 worth of grid power to fill up : lol : under $2 for the energy to go 85 or more "energy efficient driving style" miles.

Other companies, like one specific French group, will produce range extenders for around $5K that LEAF owners can tow behind their LEAF's for range extended operation. The Enginer a chinese electromotive company already offers a kit to add "energy storage" to the LEAF's trunk area, for extra driving range. More options and better, cheaper battery replacements will emerge over time.

VS Honda CRZ (the fun hybrid) 

Admittedly deep down I have a warm spot in my heart an mind for the Honda CRZ, and it was on a short list of vehicles that might replace the LEAF in late 2015. To own the CRZ for 20 years it would cost $22K capital upfront, would burn through 7 sets of all season sport tires $4K, would average about 40MPG liftetime if driven "Fun" for a fuel cost of $40K, and Repairs etc of $7K, and all together that would be $73K / 20 years = $3,700 per year.

VS Chevy Volt (PHEV)

The coolest car that GM has ever built, the range extended, plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt is another on my short list of favorites. The 20 year TCO calculation for the Volt goes a little like this. $38K capital costs + 5 sets of tires $3K, electricity and gas if it achieved 80MPG average $20K in gas and $5K of electricity and $8k in repairs, all together that would be $74K / 20 years = $3700 per year

Half Priced Driving 

So there it is. The 2013 Nissan LEAF S costs about half as much to own and operate vs other exceptionally efficient hybrid and plug in hybrid vehicles that it competes against.

Truly Flexible Energy Options

The LEAF can run on grid power, which can be a mix of any energy source : nuclear, solar, hydro, wind, natural gas, super eco-clean coal, GTL and STG hydrocarbon fuels, ethanol, bio-fuels, or any other system or method of spinning magnets through coils of wire. This makes pure electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF the only truly flexible fuel vehicles. Not only does the LEAF emit 0 tail pipe emissions, it also has the ability to run on electricity generated by any means possible.

140 MPGe 
Consider that oil refining uses a lot of energy; the upstream processes embedding each gallon of gasoline and diesel with about 6kWh of grid energy. 6kWh is enough to drive the LEAF about 25mi, so when you add that to the 2013 LEAF's fuel economy equivalence rating of 115MPGe, the actual net real world energy economy is 140MPGe.

Ending Local Smog Forming Emissions

The use of electric vehicles also avoids all of the pollution where people live externalities (lung cancer, climate change, geopolitical and economic issues) associated with the smog forming emissions that exits the exhaust pipes of all conventional vehicles. This means that vehicles like the Nissan LEAF not only create a cleaner transportation solution with technology, their use also makes inroads to solving much larger harder problems associated with the ongoing use of fossil fuels in private transportation vehicles.

Tail Pipe Problem
Even clean burning vehicles like the Toyota Prius emit smog forming emissions locally, where people are living and working and commuting. The problem is the tail pipe and what comes out of it. Emissions control have gone a long way and continue to improve the cleaning of tail pipe emissions. The introduction of catalytic reduction technology enabled automakers to build ultra low emissions vehicles. Over time the iterative refinement and optimization of emissions control technologies paved the way for super ultra-low emission and advanced technology partial zero emissions vehicles. Even the Prius as an ATPZEV has a tail pipe, and cold start emissions smell bad (pollution, toxic), and I know this because I have owned and operated and smelled the exhaust pipe emissions from a 2005 Prius.

Solving Local Transportation Pollution 

The trick to solving the emissions problem is to move the tail pipe to the power plant, where huge heavy high efficiency emissions systems can scrub and clean the fumes free of all toxic components, so that only CO and CO2 are emitted. To do this, the end user vehicle has to be electric, so that it can plug in and download the power from the distant super clean power plant through the grid power that feeds all electrical outlets (billions of them) all over the world. The power plant can be upgraded for cleaner operation, and everyone's plug outlets remain the same, serving up cheap powerful grid electricity.

Reworking the Cost Per Mile #'s 

The reality is that Meg and I will likely stick to using the LEAF for short trips, errands and city transportation needs. If we use the LEAF in a way to maximize its battery life, by keeping the battery between 20 and 80 and aim to keep the average state of charge while stored at 45%, this means our average long life battery daily range (if 5.0mi/kWh) will only be about 70mi while the LEAF is newer, and about 44mi 15 years from now when the LEAF battery is old and in need of replacement (potentially, if the remaining range is insufficient for future use cases).

Lets say we really only log in 10mi per day for 15 years on the first battery (55,000mi), and 15mi per day for the sequential 15 years on the upgraded battery replacement (83,000mi) then over 30 years the LEAF will be driven 138,000 miles. (A lot of short errands and city trips with 0 tail pipe emissions) We take our $50K Total Cost of Ownership for 30 years and divide it by the estimated total range driven to arrive at a Cost Per Mile of $0.363 : still super cheap : especially given that gas powered vehicles achieve much lower fuel economy averages when they are operated as a city only short errand short trip vehicles.

Consider the available Range Carefully 

In a followup article, I explored the variable range, battery capacity fade issue, and end user behaviors that enhance battery life in more detail. Have a look

2013 Leaf Single Charge Range Explored

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