It Ain’t Easy Being Green – Our Journey to Get an All-Electric Car

For those of you who know me, you know that my husband Maki and I are gadget afficionados, we’re early adopters and we’re doing our best to live a green lifestyle at home and at work. So we were thrilled when Maki finally took delivery of his all-electric Nissan Leaf last November. But let me tell you, getting this car and getting the charging station installed was a journey that showed us it ain’t easy being green (as Kermit the frog would say).

First of all, Maki was on the Nissan Leaf waiting list for 18 months. 18 months! We kept getting these teaser e-mails and brochures about how the car was coming, but then there would be one delay after another. When Passport Nissan finally started taking orders, Maki was the first in line. Thank goodness we weren’t in a hurry to get a new car.

Actually buying the car once it became available was a snap. But then again, buying a car these days is pretty easy. You go in, you get financing through the manufacturer, you sign a bunch of paperwork and you’re done.

This is a photo of Maki during the assessment, which took place in August. The installation finally happened in November.

Getting the charging station installed so that we can charge the car overnight (using a regular AC outlet would take over 24 hours) turned out to be quite challenging. Nissan gave us a list of contractors, but then they all dropped out of the program. We finally got a company to come out and do the assessment and give us a quote, but they didn’t actually have any installers/contractors available in our area for a month. When we finally got a contractor, the company took forever to file the permit and then they missed their appointment (just never showed up, never even called).  When the contractor finally bothered to come out, actually installing the charging station was a snap because all they did was hook up the equipment to our already-installed 240 volt circuit and mount it on the wall.

Okay, so now we have the car. It’s pretty, it’s quiet and we feel super hip and green. But first generation products come with a price.  The Leaf’s range is less than 100 miles on a full charge. A few days before Thanksgiving, after driving our son around town for some errands in the afternoon, Maki headed out to Dulles airport to pick up my brother. According to the gauge, he had enough charge to get there and back. But he didn’t count on the gauge not being super accurate because range is affected by driving conditions, e.g., going fast on the highway lowers your range. So Maki is at Dulles and he realizes he can’t make it home. Remember all those TV ads about charging stations up and down the East Coast? Those charging stations don’t exist. Period. End of story. I called the dealer, I googled, I made calls. No charging stations. Maki even left a message with a woman who has a home charging station to see if she would help out. No answer.  I finally found a My Organic Market in Herndon that has 2 free charging stations. They’re not quick charge stations, but they’re charging stations nevertheless. So Maki, my brother and his girlfriend shopped at MOM and went to dinner. After an hour and a half, the Leaf had enough charge to get home. Phew. I guess we’re keeping my Honda Civic Hybrid for a while.

Do we expect to save a lot of money by driving the Leaf? Eh, not really. Our commute to work is short and we can’t exactly go on long road trips with this car. Do we think we’re saving the planet? Eh, not really. We know it took a lot of energy to make the car, especially the gigantic battery. But we do think that if we keep the car long enough, it will be a net gain for the environment because the Leaf does not pollute. We also know that companies rely on early adopters like us to lead the way, share our experiences with others, and pave the way for greener cars.

So far, we LOVE our Nissan Leaf.  If you’re in the DC area and you’re dying to get a ride or learn more, contact me or Maki at work. Maki is always happy to talk about his new car. :-)

4 thoughts on “It Ain’t Easy Being Green – Our Journey to Get an All-Electric Car

  1. Joanna,
    I can relate. I drove the Leaf last April when Nissan had a weekend “road show” at National Harbor and was very impressed. Nissan did not open their waiting list until August, and soon after I signed up, I had a offer to buy from Brown’s Nissan–the Leaf was a little pricier than I had expected. I scrambled to get someone out to do an assessment for a charging station, but it turned out to be super expensive (> $3,000) and I couldn’t be sure it would be approved by my HOA since I didn’t have a garage and the cord would lay across a public sidewalk when the car was being charged.

    Given the potential hassle and cost, I decided to spend about half the money to buy a new Prius and not have to worry about whether I could make it home on a charge. I like the idea of a Leaf and I think it is a really cool car. However, it turned out not to be the right for me at this time. I’ve since noted lots of activity around getting more infrastructure in place. I live near the MOM’s in Herndon and was pleased to see they installed charging stations in front of their store. I’m impressed (and a little envious) that you and Maki have taken the plunge. The technology and the infrastructure will get only better in the future. Congratulations!

  2. It shows that the infrastructure for supporting a non-gas powered vehicle is not really there. One of the prices you pay for being an early adopter, I suppose.

    Riding in the Leaf, and watching Maki drive in “golf-cart” mode was interesting. The way the dash UI would show you real-time performance, and how speed, acceleration, inclines, etc, all affect the range of the car. It seemed that these new systems really give you a much better view of what is going on, and how you can make adjustments to improve performance. And it was even quieter than a Prius!

    Props to Maki and JP for being on the bleeding edge!

  3. Hi Dave and Alex. Thanks for your comments. You know us, the early adopters! Maki is thoroughly enjoying his Leaf and I’m having fun driving it as well. I agree with Alex that the much-advertised infrastructure to support non-gas powered cars is nowhere near where it probably should be. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  4. As Alex Pineda said, the price you pay for being an early adopter is not have the infrastructure ready for supporting a electric car. They looks really great to drive and I’ve saw a documentary about them. The fact that they do not make (almost) any noise make me envious of whoever drive one of these.

    But the paradigm is even worse to people who do not live in the US (I don’t). Althought Nissan sells the Leaf in countries outside north america, the infrastructure makes it impossible to drive a full electric car. I was hoping that the batteries would handle enough to drive home-work everyday, but I guess I’ll have to get a hybrid then!

    You really saved me from making the worse decision of my life. Thanks!

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