It has come as a bit of a surprise to me that the most popular post on this ‘ere site has been my original guide to owning an electric car in the UK. Mind you, when I think back to how confusing the whole thing was, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at all. It’s also a bit of a worry that the information is now years out of date. So, it seemed timely to post the results of our experiment in owning an electric car. Here’s some key points from the past four years.
The Nissan LEAF is an incredible car
Four years on and we’ve just returned our LEAF to the leasing company. We’ve covered about 27,000 miles. Not much for that length of time, but this was the use case all along. We tend to bimble around Milton Keynes most of the time, so it was perfect. The ‘Mk1’ LEAF is a great vehicle. Smooth, powerful and, as it turns out, very reliable. Not a single fault in the entire four years. Nothing. Ok, we had a problem with the cable but that was quickly replaced, the car itself has been flawless.
But it’s nothing compared to the new LEAF
Replacing our trusty red voltmeister is the brand new 2017 LEAF. Wow. Where to start? We’re still in the honeymoon period, sure, but the car is simply a joy. Minimum 150 mile range, more powerful motor, the e-pedal mode that combines acceleration and braking in a single pedal, just fantastic. We’ve got a mid-spec Acenta but the top-of-the-range car features self-parking, lane following and other Tesla-esque features. The exterior now looks more like a regular car, the big ‘nose’ being replaced by downward-sweeping lines giving our metallic black car a panther-like appearance. Inside, it’s all change again. A traditional speedo has been added and the displays upgraded. Apple CarPlay (and Android) too and finally a DAB radio. It really is a step up.
Range anxiety? Not so much. Range frustration? Plenty.
We were expecting range anxiety but instead got frustration. Anxiety is easy to avoid with some forward-planning. If you know you can get there, you’re set. However, when you realise how much time any kind of long journey is going take with recharging stops, you get frustrated, even when you’ve got access to rapid chargers. We solved the problem by using the silly amount of money we were saving to either hire an ICE car or take the train. A new minimum of 150 miles on the new car has all but negated this and big journeys no longer seem daunting.
The telematics system is a bit of a joke, but it’s getting better
Geez, Nissan, sort it out. When we first got the LEAF, the CarWings system seemed revolutionary. That is, right up to the point where we tried to use for, well, anything. The flash-based website was hopeless and was down more than it was up. One customer realised how easily hackable it was and you could simple register any car you had the VIN for. Not good. They’ve made incremental improvements over the years but the likes of BWM has completely overtaken them. We’re now of the mindset of never expecting it to work. How they can build such a great car and such poor software is a complete mystery to me.
Charging for charging has got to change
Talking of jokes, the current ecosystem for charging your car up on the move is a belly-buster. Different providers means different RFID cards (although many are moving to phone apps). Taking a journey somewhere new? Need to charge? That means you need to research the providers involved, whether they’re part of the POLAR network, and maybe apply for a card well in advance. Then, and this actually happened to me, you arrive at your charging station to find they’ve changed providers and you don’t have access.
I don’t really get the whole RFID card business in the first place. You don’t need one to refuel at a petrol station. All our debit and credit cards are now contactless, why not just use them? Competition is the answer and recently the government got involved and has threatened to intervene. They will probably need to.
Easiest of all are the service stations, which are all run by Ecotricity. We became customers when we got the car as they offered up free charging. However, that has now been reduced to free ‘connection fee’ at their rapid chargers. Ecotricity’s introduction of eyebrow-raising charging fees and time limits (‘Rapidgate’) has tarnished their reputation with EV users as their groundbreaking expansion into just about every service station in the UK no longer seems as benevolent as before and looks a bit like a monopoly.
I’m still surprised how many EVs I see every single day. When we first got ours, it was a bit of a novelty, now, in Milton Keynes, you can’t move for them and it’s more unusual to not see a single EV during a trip out. It’s nothing compared to Norway, though.
But charging points are not
Where to begin? What’s the delay? Milton Keynes trail-blazed with over 100 charging points not only in the city centre but also in the suburbs. There are four rapid chargers within a 10 minute walk of my house. Other places? Virtually no expansion. Sure, it can be argued that MK’s infrastructure is overkill, after all, most people charge at home or work, but the sheer lack of chargers in places like Liverpool, Manchester, Cambridge or Oxford is just shocking. That said, Oxford are trialing on-street charging by fitting charge points in street lamps that have been converted to LED. Nice.
Servicing is hilarious
Poor mechanics. There’s so little to do. Is the suspension fine? Good. Windscreen wipers? Great. Computer says the battery is ok, off you go. Less moving parts and liquids = less trouble.
Leasing was a good idea
I figured that EV technology is moving at such a rapid pace that after four years my LEAF may not be so desirable, so I decided to lease. Turned out to be a good move, as right on schedule came the new LEAF and the Tesla Model 3 (well, that one wasn’t quite on schedule). I expect the same pattern to continue, so I’ve leased again.
Getting an untethered home charger was also a good idea
You can still get a free home charger but when they ask you if you want tethered (cable permanently connected) or untethered, say untethered. The LEAF has changed from the older Type 1 connector to the commonplace Type 2, so my original home charger would have required replacing. As it was, I just had to get a new cable.
I’m never buying a petrol car again
And unless you do a lot of commuting, neither should you. EV cars are a revelation and once you’re spent a bit of time in one, a standard ICE eurobox seems clumsy and old-fashioned (ha, clutches, how quaint). I’m personally not keen on hybrids but they have come a long way and are a great solution to range issues. The market is gearing up to be flooded by new EVs, so don’t rule anything out until you’ve tried one. Places like the EV Experience Centre in Milton Keynes will take you for a test drive and even lend you a car for a couple of days to try it for yourself.
Again, the new Nissan LEAF is just wonderful
Really. Nissan have done such a great job. I’m smitten.