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Life in the Fast Lane: Electric Vehicle Observations

Recently I had the opportunity to use a Nissan Leaf for several full days, a much more interesting exercise than a simple test drive. As someone working in the sustainability area, as a co-chair of the California Clean Cars campaign and as a likely car buyer in 2012 (my current vehicle has over 230,000 miles on it) I am very interested in the electric vehicle (EV) market.

Nissan’s Leaf™ is among the handful of low emission cars that are presently authorized to carry a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker, entitling a single occupant to use the carpool lanes during rush hours – a very nice side benefit to EV ownership that helped speed my commute this week.

My general impression of EV driving is very favorable. This particular model is roomy, it has all the bells and whistles (bluetooth, navigation, backup camera, etc.) and most importantly, it really drives well. Acceleration, handling and power are all indistinguishable from a gas powered vehicle. The only issue I’ve had this week is the one that continues to slow down growth in the EV market, namely range anxiety and ease of recharging.

I have been charging the vehicle at home and at work using conventional 120v outlets and while the process is simple and easy, it certainly takes a while, e.g. 11 hours to get a full charge last night. When I left my home the range indicator read “100 miles”, but 35 miles of highway driving depleted that amount to 42. In other words, at 60+ miles per hour, a 35 mile trip used up 58 miles of driving range. Keep in mind, I tried to use the EV just like I use my current one, driving as fast as usual as opposed to crawling along in the slow lane just to conserve the charge. With the indicator staring at you the entire time, you also start thinking about all of the devices that consume electricity in the car, such as the lights, the radio, and the seat warmers and so on. Since I want a fully functional vehicle, the notion of driving around in a dark, cold vehicle is not a selling point.

My conclusions: I love just about everything in the EV experience other than the limitations on range. If the car had a 200-mile range, I would be placing an order tomorrow. Until batteries are improved, however, fast charging 240v stations are essential and the buyers for whom EVs work perfectly may be limited. By the way, Applied Materials is among the companies working to address some of the battery issues. It will also be exciting to see a whole slew of new EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) in 2012.

An environmental attorney by background, Bruce Klafter manages the core Environmental, Health and Safety programs for Applied Materials and drives Applied’s sustainability programs, including carbon reduction and product efficiency goals.

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3 thoughts on “Life in the Fast Lane: Electric Vehicle Observations

  1. We’ve had a Leaf for six months now and, despite the limitations you point out, we love it as a commuter car. We typically drive 25-miles roundtrip (unfortunately most of it freeway) between work and home each day, so range anxiety is not an issue for the most part because our commute is short enought that we have plenty of electrons left over for errands, etc. Where range anxiety becomes an issue for us is because we like driving the car so much — it’s roomy enough for a 6’4″ driver and still works for my 5’2″ wife and it gets up and moves better than most gas-powered cars we’ve owned — that we find ourselves wanting to drive it for longer distances out of town, but can’t due to the lack of charging facilities. We’re hopeful that will change with time. It helps that my office building garage now has charging stations (complimentary even) and that we have 240v home charging, but there isn’t much outside our metro area. Nevertheless, six months down the road we’re glad we made the decision and would do it all over again.

  2. One of the critical parts few seem to get about being more sustainable and green is that we have been lazy PIGS for a number of decades. It’s our lifestyle that is the problem. Let me see, for the first 50 years of driving cars, they were dark and cold. But it got us where we needed to get to, grocery store, hockey rink, vacations. Your quote “Since I want a fully functional vehicle (defined as gets you from A to B safely and reliably) the notion of driving around in a dark, cold vehicle is not a selling point” you simply carrying on the status quo of lifestyle that is inappropriate. We shouldn’t have to drive 35 miles to work! We shouldn’t drive for FUN! This my friend is what got us where we are today. We keep hearing about finding enough energy to meet our needs. BS…our needs do not include big screen TVs, hot tubs, SUVs, frequent flyer miles and a warm car well lit so I can see my $200 shoes while I drive! This is the energy we WANT. Let’s try and get it right. Change is much greater than simply changing a car. If that is all it is about, then you have missed everything and you are simply a greenwasher!

  3. Iain,
    Let me see if I can follow your logic – and apply an infinte regression. Cars cannot have light and heat, cars cannot drive for commuting, cars cannot be driven for fun, 200 dollar shoes are bad (since the $200 figure is arbitrary, we can assume you mean all shoes are bad). So, that means we go barefoot and ride horses. But, horses leave BS on the ground, (where we walk in our bare feet) and create GHG. So, no horses, either. If shoes are bad, clothes must be bad. So, we walk and go naked. I think that’s what the cave men did. And, they cut down trees for firewood. So, no humans at all on the planet. In fact, that is the stated goal of many radical environmentalists. Are you one of those?

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