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Nissan Leaf driving range should be considered 60 miles to allow a margin for safety

A Golabki* Too Far

Len Beck's electric car trip to Philadelphia underscores the need for more public fast chargers.

By Len Beck

I recently drove me Leaf from Newark, Delaware to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to make a test drive to the Polish food shops located north of the city. My family and I have made this trip with the gas-powered car several times (my wife grew up in Poland) and I knew the round trip distance was about 100 miles; too far for my Leaf’s all electric driving range, so a recharge along the way was necessary.

Flying J’s Gas Station and Truck Stop in nearby Carney’s Point, New Jersey (across the Delaware River) recently installed a Blink Level 3 charger. I visited the location a few weeks prior to try this level of recharging for the first time in the nearly two years that I have owned the Leaf. After a speedy recharge for $5, I was convinced we could make the trip to Philadelphia now without gasoline.

My plan this day was to drive the 50 miles to the Polish shops starting at about 8:30 a.m., stay for about a half hour to buy the various food items, then cross the river and drive south to Flying J, about 15 miles, and obtain a fast recharge and drive home. This total trip would take about 3 hours. I was so confident in the timing that I had arranged to move furniture with my brother at noon.

I usually use MapQuest for all my distant Leaf trips, but I was confident in the distances so I did not take the time to verify miles between stops. BAD IDEA! Here is how the day went.

I left my home starting this adventure at 8:38 a.m. with a driving range of 89 Economy miles. Using the cruise control, I averaged about 65 MPH on the Delaware highways and about 60 MPH in Pennsylvania. I arrived at the Polish shops at 9:33 a.m. with 16 miles of range remaining. This portion of the trip was 49.5 miles.

After shopping, I headed for New Jersey, being mindful of the limited miles remaining and keeping at or below the posted speed limits. I drove about 8 miles and the on-board computer voice announced I had 9 miles of range left and I should find a nearby recharge location and it made some suggestions. After a few more miles driven, I decided to exit the highway and program in the Flying J address. I was shocked to learn it was still 27 miles away from the fast recharger location!

Fortunately, the station locating system advised that a recharge station was only about 15 miles away (back in Philadelphia). I had no choice but to attempt to reach it. I had visited this recharge location in the past and knew it was a Level 2 recharger. From past tests of the limit of the Leaf’s driving range, I knew there were several miles of range once I hit the -0- miles left point, so, with about 6 miles of range reflected on the dash remaining I headed north and west back toward Philadelphia.

As I approached the bridge on route 76 to cross the Delaware River, the computer announced that the car would be driving in reduced power mode. I had driven about 5 miles beyond the -0- range point by then, leaving about 5 miles to the destination. A pull off lane to the right was marked with a sign advising the area was for use in vehicle inspections. I could not see beyond the ramp, but hoped there would be a building and a place to plug in with my portable 120 volt charger that I had packed in the trunk.

Unfortunately, the lane was only a short section of roadway that reconnected to the highway, so I stopped to consider options. I was sure I did not want to drive across the bridge at 30 MPH and did not want to completely stop for lack of power on the bridge. I put the Leaf in park at about 11:00 a.m.. I also called home and my wife called my brother to cancel the moving plans for the day.

A sign with a phone number ‘for assistance’ was visible, so I called. A Port Authority Deputy employee, with a voice of authority assisted me in arranging a flatbed tow truck to take me and my dead Leaf the last 5 miles to the recharge station. Two and a half hours later, and $125 in towing fees on my VISA card, my Leaf was unloaded from the truck and rolled into the parking space next to the Level 2 charger at U GO Liberty Gas Station and Car Wash on East Tasker Avenue. Here I began a 3 hour recharge. My odometer read 72.5 miles driven so far this day.

Fortunately, a movie theater was located only 2 blocks away and a Home Depot was across the street, so I enjoyed a Christmas-theme movie (Best Man Holiday – excellent!) and then did some shopping that I had planned to do at a Home Depot near my home later in the afternoon anyway.

At 3:30 p.m., I unplugged to check the status of my recharge. My Leaf reported only 44 miles range. Disappointing! I could not drive the 45 miles home yet. (Highway driving range is not the same as city driving range.) As I reflected on my options, I decided I could plug in again and charge for another 1.5 hours, or make the 35 mile drive to the fast recharger in New Jersey; and then be home in 1.5 hours. I went with option 2 and headed toward New Jersey for a second time.

Again I took it slow and managed to arrive at the Flying J with -0- miles remaining and an odometer reading of 108.5 miles. I plugged in at about 4:45 p.m. and was recharged in 25 minutes. I should explain that this fast recharge does not recharge to 100%. It stopped when it calculated the Leaf was 80% recharged. The Leaf reported 71 miles range, so I drove home at regular highway speeds and was home a little past 5:30 p.m.; a 9 hour, not so ‘excellent adventure’. In total I drove 128.8 miles that day, a record for most miles in a day for me in the Leaf.

I returned to MapQuest a few days later and learned the second leg of the trip, between Philadelphia and Carney’s Point was in fact 35 miles, not 15 as I had estimated. In evaluating the options based on this new information, I decided I could not make the trip without a Level 3 recharger located within 5 miles of center city. As the reader can understand from this story, the Level 2 rechargers do not supply a viable option for recharging during trips of this nature. Yes, they are great to have in parking garages or at the mall where one might be parked for hours.

My lesson learned from this experience: travel beyond local driving (under 60 miles round trip) is not really an option for 100% electric car drivers (excluding Tesla owners) until many Level 3 fast rechargers are available. Without them, we will continue to see a slow adoption rate since people want to be unlimited in their travel options when driving clean transportation.

(Len Beck is the author of “V2G-101”, a text about electric cars and Vehicle-to-Grid technology.)

* Golabki is a Polish cabbage roll.

Times Article Viewed: 2696
Published: 03-Dec-2013

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