11 September 2011

Another EV arrives in North Carolina

This last week, Nissan dealers in my area started receiving demonstrator models of the Leaf EV.  My wife and I took test drive this morning, and we both had favorable impressions of the Leaf.

Of course, you probably cannot get a Leaf until next year unless you ordered some time ago.  Heck, it is not easy to get a Think City EV at the moment either, unless you live in Indiana.  (I am not sure what is going on with Think since they came out of bankruptcy, but I will be patient and post about that later.)

While the Leaf is more of a "conventional" car than the Think, I am not sure that is an unqualified advantage.  And while the Leaf is nicely appointed inside, it is not what my wife nor I would call cute.  I would not expect to get asked about it were I to drive one, the way I constantly get asked about the Think City EV.  Some would call the Think insufferably cute, although it is a matter of taste.  I have even given rides to car dealers when I was dropping of the old gas car for service and my wife picked me up in the Think.  Usually the customer gets a test drive, but the Think is so iconic that sometimes the car salesman ask for a ride in the customer's car!  The Nissan dealer was all over my Think this morning, though we did not have time to give him a ride.  Of course I charged the Think at the Nissan dealer while test driving the Leaf.

As a 4 seat car, the Leaf has good leg room in the rear.  The trunk space is reasonable but nothing near the cavernous space in the back of the 2 seat Think.  The Leaf is a bit more powerful than the Think and a bit quieter.  Range and charging time are very similar.  (The Leaf that our dealer had was not equipped with the fast charge port, and he was of the opinion that a fast charge station was not going to be installed at his dealership.)  Obviously the Leaf is much larger than the Think.  That cuts both ways.  If you have kids at home, the Think is probably not for you.  If you don't have kids at home, the fantastic maneuverability and visibility of the Think EV is addictive.
No wasted space under the hood of a Think City EV

After spending some time looking under the hood of the Leaf (sorry, I forgot to take pictures) I had the renewed impression that the Leaf platform was not designed exclusively as an EV, there is plenty of wasted space under the hood.  It could be much shorter, giving better visibility particularly around tight urban corners.  There are routes we take in town only when we are in the Think EV, because in our gas car (with a hood as long as the Leaf's hood) it is just too hard to see around some corners without getting your front dangerously out into traffic.  And Think did this without sacrificing crash safety.  The strength of the metal cage protecting the passenger compartment was one of the primary reasons that Ford purchased Think back in the late 1990s.  (As we all know, after the California Air Resources Board dropped its EV mandate in the early 2000's, GM crushed their EV1s and Ford sold Think.)

I am reminded of the electronics of the last century, which tended to be treated as furniture.  Big stereos and TVs with big wooden cabinets were the norm for decades.  Today, the norms are much smaller, flat screens take up much less space even when the viewing area is much larger.  This is similar in a way to how the Think EV is small on the outside but big on the inside, since it was never compromised to also be able to package a combustion engine.  And even though we tend to have large flat screen TVs these days, we more and more tend to watch tiny screens that can fit in our pockets, or maybe a small laptop screen.  The most common cars in the mega cities of the future may well follow this same trend towards smaller, more efficient packaging that still leaves plenty of interior room due to the flexibility of electric only drive power.

But the two biggest reasons why I still prefer the Think over the Leaf are the Think's plastic body panels and very accurate battery gauge.  After 15 years in a Saturn with plastic body panels that still look great, I have no desire to go back to a tin can car that looks great the day you drive it off the lot, and then starts to look ratty after a few years unless you pamper it.  (I pamper my wife, I beat on my cars.  And both look great.)  The very first time I saw a Chevy Volt was about 6 weeks ago, and it already had a huge dent in it.  My Think does not dent easily at all.

But the battery gauge is the worst part of the Leaf.  Sure, it looks snazzy, but it only has 12 bars.  The Think has a very accurate needle gauge with about 1% resolution.  After putting 24,000 miles on my Mini E in one year, I was the king of arriving home at 0% on the battery gauge.  You cannot do that and remain sanguine when your battery gauge has only 9% resolution.  There are hacks posted on the forums showing how to build a more accurate battery gauge which plugs into the Leaf's diagnostic port.  I am sure that detracts from the nicely appointed interior of the Leaf.  Maybe Nissan will fix the battery gauge next year.

In the meantime, I am very happy to see more EVs arriving on the market in North Carolina.  The Leaf will obviously have wider appeal in the short term than the Think, but I remain extremely happy after buying a Think.  And, buying a Think put me in an EV about a year sooner than I could have if I had waited for a Leaf.

In this little neighborhood, we have my Think City EV and a Tesla owner who lives a few miles away, the Smart dealer in the next town over has offered the Smart Electric Drive for many months now (not sure how many takers there have been) and now the Leaf is in town (at least for test drives.)  Very soon the Chevy Volt will be arriving, perhaps this month.  What is that, five production EVs in the area soon?  I can't wait to see more choices.  The Mitsubishi iMiEV and the Ford Focus EV are hopefully coming next year.

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