Nissan Says Long-Range EV UnnecessaryBy Scott Doggett October 21, 2011
An electric vehicle with a range of 200 to 300 miles between charges? Totally unnecessary for the vast majority of American motorists, says Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America. In a phone interview with AutoObserver last week, Perry said exhaustive data gleaned from the U.S. Department of Energy's EV Project and from the 7,500 Nissan Leaf EV (above) hatchbacks now on U.S. roads makes it abundantly clear that "there's no market need" for an EV that gets hundreds of miles between charges.
The data shows that the typical Leaf driver averages 37 miles a day in the car, and that the typical trip length (distance between power on and power off) is seven miles, Perry said. The findings are consistent with studies of conventional-vehicle driving patterns that found that 72 percent of American drivers travel less than 40 miles a day, and 95 percent drive less than 100 miles a day. Asked whether Leaf drivers were self-limiting because they know the car wont deliver more than 100 miles of travel between charges, Perry said only that the companys data and ongoing interviews with select owners dont show that to be the case.
The 37-mile daily travel distance means Leaf owners on average use only half the juice in their battery packs each day. The federal Environmental Protection Agencys fuel economy testing determined that the Leaf delivers 73 miles of driving range between charges. Nissan's own tests using the LA-4 cycle, a laboratory test that simulates city driving conditions, determined the vehicle's per-charge range to be 100 miles. Because so much electricity remains in the Leafs 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack at the end of a typical day, the amount of time needed to fully recharge the pack is only two or three hours using a 240-volt charger, Perry said.
Perry noted early concerns that Leaf owners might prepare to leave for work in the morning only to find their vehicles still charging have proven unfounded. Furthermore, the data shows that some drivers go two or three days without plugging in, Perry said. "It's a behavior of getting comfortable with your driving pattern and the capability of the Leaf. Initially, people do a lot of topping off, but after a week to 10 days that topping-off behavior starts to wane as they get more comfortable, and then they quickly fall into a pattern of, 'If I don't need to charge, I won't charge.' "
Nissan is able to download the driving and charging behavior of Leaf owners as long as they give the Japanese automaker permission to do so, and all but a handful have, Perry said. Additionally, Leaf owners have provided Nissan with an enormous volume of anecdotes and other kinds of information about their vehicles via blogs and email, he said. Beyond that, Perry said, "we have a 1,500-size owner panel that we constantly ping for information and research questions and feedback. And then we have a deeper-dive panel of about 14 that we spend just observing. They allow us into their homes to watch how they use the vehicle -- that level of detail." In his words, the data is "very solid."
Perry's remarks came as Tesla Motors prepares to launch the Model S, an all-electric sports sedan that will carry a base price of $57,400. That sticker price is due in large part to the high cost of the car's 160-mile-range battery pack. The range of the Model S can grow to 230 miles for an additional $10,000 and to 300 miles for a $20,000 premium for additional battery packs. While the Leaf and the Model S are enormously different vehicles in regard to performance, luxury, capability, etc., if what Perry says is true the beefier optional battery packs Tesla will offer would be overkill for the majority of American motorists. Tesla declined our repeated requests for an interview regarding this article.
Fear of running out of electricity while driving an EV seems to stem from motorists not really appreciating the amount of driving they do, Perry said. "People equate time in cars to miles. Any of us who spend rush-hour traffic sitting in gridlock may feel like we've been on a 60-mile trip, but we may only have traveled six miles. Our rear end might feel like we've traveled 60 miles, but physically we've only traveled six," he said. Despite all of the miles American Leaf drivers have put on their vehicles since the cars went on sale 10 months ago, there have been less than a dozen reported instances of Leafs running out of juice, Perry said.
No Secondary Vehicle
One unanticipated finding the data has revealed is that in a household where one gas-powered vehicle and one electric vehicle exist, the gas-burner often becomes the secondary vehicle. In fact, Perry said, "If there's multiple cars in the household, the Leaf is the primary-use car People only thought this [Leaf] would get occasional short-haul use. What people are finding is that with the 37 to 40 miles of driving they are doing in a typical day, the Leaf is more than capable of doing it with ease. We joke that we've been a source of marital discord, because the husband and wife are fighting over who gets to drive the Leaf. It's gone beyond anecdotal. I think we have statistical information now."
Also somewhat surprising to Nissan is the 90 percent of charging Leaf owners are doing at home, Perry said. The automaker had expected that 70-80 percent of the charging would be conducted at the owner's residence, and the remainder at work or using public chargers. The percentages will likely change as the number of public chargers grows, he said. As for the percentage of charging done using a 240-volt charger versus a standard 120-volt outlet, thus far it accounts for 80-85 percent of the charging, he added. That's not surprising, given the fact that substantially more time is required to charge an EV using a 120-volt outlet compared to a 240-volt outlet.