Monday, February 21, 2011

LEAF Delivery Delays Continue, What Other EVs Are Out There?

As I, and many others wait for our LEAFs, I thought I'd write about what else is going on in the EV world these days.

LEAF Delivery Delays
Much has been written about this issue.  About five LEAFs were delivered world-wide in December a few more in January, and another few in February. About 100 have been delivered in the US so far.  I was given a delivery month of March, which was bumped to April a few days later.  The common understanding is that much of the delay in US deliveries was due to Nissan changing their plans and delivering LEAFs only in Japan to allow customers to use an expiring tax incentive.

About three weeks ago, to their great relief, many of the LEAF reservation holders who had placed orders online (not just reservations, but actual orders) last October through December were told that they would get their cars in April.  Then, just as happened to me, these people were told that their delivery month had slipped to May!  Not surprisingly, there are now a lot of angry and disappointed customers.  A customer service basic is to under-promise and over-deliver. Nissan's executives either never learned this or they have forgotten it.  It would have been far better to have told these customers that they had a May date at first.  This would have been good news, since it would have been an improvement over their previous "Pending" status.  But to promise an April date and then change it to May after about ten days is hard to understand.  Nissan may lose some customers over this poor decision.  Their potential loss of customers would be larger if there were a good alternative to the LEAF available very soon, but aside from the Volt, there aren't any.

Alternatives to LEAF
If you're interested in an EV, but you didn't get on the interest list last Spring and you can't order a LEAF now, what are your options?

An "Orphan" LEAF (available now, if you can find one, and you're on a list)
If a customer decides not to take delivery of an ordered LEAF after it arrives at the dealer, the dealer will probably be able to sell it to another customer.  Most Nissan dealers who sell LEAF have a list of customers who want to buy one of these "orphans".  Be aware that most dealers will ask a price premium because of the high demand for these cars right now.

Chevy Volt (available now)
While I chose the LEAF over the Volt, the Volt has a lot to recommend it.  Though the gas mileage is an unimpressive 37 mpg or so when the Volt runs on gas, if your daily driving is around 40 miles, you could do most of your driving on electric power.  Since the Volt battery is comparatively small, charging can be done from a regular 110 v outlet and you wouldn't need to upgrade your home electrical system.  The Volt is heavier than the LEAF, so your mileage on electric power probably won't be as good as with the LEAF, but if the Volt's electric range works for you, this may not matter to you.  The Volt's interior is better appointed than that of the LEAF and the performance is comparable.  The Volt's extended driving range on its gasoline engine can't be ignored, and it makes the Volt a better candidate than the LEAF to be someone's only car.

GM has been delivering Volts in the roll-out states since mid-December.  Dealers have allotments of Volts and most dealers' allotments are spoken for for months into the future.  However, a dealer has been calling me saying that he has a Volt available because a customer decided not to take delivery.   I expected a large price markup, but he claims that the price is MSRP.  You will find that the story varies from Volt dealer to Volt dealer.  Some are charging a price premium.  Others are putting customers into a bidding contest to decide who gets the car.  Some may just sell the car at MSRP to the first interested customer.  The MSRP of the Volt is around $43,000 depending on option packages, which is about $8,000 more than the LEAF. Remember that the Volt currently doesn't qualify for the California $5,000 rebate, though GM is trying to qualify the 2012 Volt for that rebate.  The current Volt lease is at an attractive price, beginning at $350 per month, similar to the LEAF lease, but the lease characteristics are different, especially if you plan to buy the car after the lease period.

Smart fortwo EV (available spring 2011)
The tiny Smart fortwo, imported to the US since 2008 has now been electrified.  The 16.5 kWh battery pack is supplied by Tesla.  The motor only provides 27 horsepower, with 40 hp available for short spurts.  The claimed top speed is 62 mph and the range is quoted at 84 miles.  Doesn't sound very appealing?  Try the lease cost of $600 or $650 per month for the cabriolet convertible.  That is for a 4 year lease with $2,500 down.  Compare that with $350 per month for three years for the LEAF or the Volt, which are four and five passenger cars.  Not for me, thanks.

By the way, if you want one of these Smart two-seaters, better hurry to find a dealer.  Only 50 will be available for lease in the US to individuals.  Another 200 will go to corporate fleets.  Let me know when you plan to rush to the dealer so that I can get out of the way and avoid being trampled.

See the Smart fortwo EV story at Autotropolis

Ford Focus Electric (possibly available in late 2011)
Ford displayed the Focus Electric at the Detroit Auto Show. They announced that the first sales of the car would be in late 2011.  To my eyes, the Focus exterior is much better looking than the LEAF's. The car is an electric version of the new 2012 Focus, which is a new design.  However unlike the LEAF, the Focus is an electric modification of a gasoline car design.  This fact brings with it some compromises that the LEAF doesn't have.  While the LEAF batteries are placed low in the car, beneath the floor and rear seats for good weight distribution, the Focus batteries are placed in the storage area behind the rear seats.  This takes up most of the storage space and the weight distribution is bound to be less than optimum (see picture below).  The pricing and weight of the Focus EV are not known yet, and neither are the acceleration or handling characteristics.  I expect that once this information is known, the LEAF will turn out to have better numbers.
Batteries Placed in the Trunk of the Ford Focus Electric

The size of the Focus battery pack and the power of the motor are similar to those of the LEAF.  One key advantage of the Focus is that the onboard charger has double the power of that of the LEAF.  So the Focus EV will charge in half the time that the LEAF will.  This is useful in daily use but even more useful if you want to charge at public Level 2 charging stations.  You can spend an hour at a restaurant or shopping and add twice the power to your batteries as with the same amount of charging time with the LEAF.  This could be very useful if you are going to charge up frequently at public stations.  On the other hand, the Focus EV will NOT have a DC fast charge port available.  This is an option on the LEAF. While DC fast charge stations are almost non-existent right now, more will be installed over the next few years.  These fast chargers will charge the LEAF to 80% full charge in about 25 minutes.  It's a personal choice which of these charging characteristics is important.

See Focus EV story at PluginCars

Coda Sedan (possibly available in 2011)
Coda is a small company based in California.  They are bringing to the US a Chinese-built sedan body and chassis to which they will add batteries and electric motors.  The Coda Sedan was to have begun shipping in late 2010 but production has been delayed well into 2011.  The price before incentives was listed at around $45,000, making the Coda Sedan more than $10,000 more expensive than the LEAF.  The Coda has a larger battery pack and an onboard charger that, like the the one in the Ford Focus EV, is twice as powerful as that in the LEAF, and Coda claims a maximum range of 120 miles, which may be longer than the LEAF's range, but this remains to be seen.

My impression of the Coda, and I have seen and ridden in a prototype, is that the styling is boring and old-fashioned, reminding me of a Toyota Corolla or a Mitusubishi sedan of a few years back.  The interior is no more exciting.  The price is significantly higher than that of the LEAF.  The company is a start up with no track record.  For these reasons, I personally have no interest in the Coda.

See Coda story at PluginCars

Fisker Karma (delivering first cars in mid-2011)
Fisker is another small company that is making an electric car.  The Karma is Fisker's first car, and it will begin shipping to customers in mid-2011.  This car's drivetrain is most similar to the Volt's, a plug-in hybrid or if you prefer an "extended range EV".  This is an expensive car, starting just below $100,000 and going well above that figure when optioned, which most of them will be, considering the highly styled interior options available.  This is the plug-in hybrid for the Hollywood set.

The electric range is a bit longer than the Volt's, at a maximum of 50 miles, and the turbo four cylinder engine will extend the range to about 300 miles with the ten gallon gas tank.  The car apparently performs very well, except for noise from the range extending gas engine, which Fisker expects to remedy.

See Fisker story at Autoblog

Tesla Roadster (available now)
This small, exciting electric sports car was introduced in 2008.  The Roadster body and chassis is built by Lotus Cars and shipped to California for final assembly, including batteries and motor.  The pricing of the Roadster currently begins at $109,000 and better equipped models go for more than $125,000.  The battery pack and associated systems give the Roadster a range of over 200 miles.  The Roadster is very small, has essentially no storage space and has a stiff sports car ride.  None of these factors deter the many current Roadster owners, who are loyal and enthusiastic.  Acceleration is remarkably quick.

See Tesla Roadster story at PluginCars

BMW ActiveE  (limited number of short term leases in 2011)
The BMW ActiveE is BMW's second customer test project after the MiniE.  BMW will begin leasing about 500 electrified 1-Series Coupes to customers in several markets, including the US, this year.  No monthly lease pricing has been announced.  This test model is very interesting to those of us who enjoy sports cars and who get more pleasure from driving than just having a comfortable and economical experience.  The ActiveE is based on a very good handling sports coupe and BMW certainly knows what they are doing in the area of driving dynamics.  The MiniE was and is a very fun car to drive and the specifications of the ActiveE give reason to expect good performance from this car as well.
BMW leased the MiniE test cars to customers at an expensive $850 per month for the first year.  A second year was offered at around $600.  Lease pricing for the ActiveE is anyone's guess, but I don't expect to see a figure below $800 per month.  In my opinion, this is excessive, since the LEAF and Volt can be leased for under $400 per month.  Perhaps BMW will keep the competition in mind and price these leases at a more reasonable level, but I don't expect them to.  The customers who are currently leasing the MiniEs  are very enthusiastic and they will be the first ones offered the ActiveE leases, to my knowledge.
Note that this is just a test program with short-term leases.  As with the MiniE, you will never be able to purchase the ActiveE.  These cars are also not eligible for the federal or state rebate programs.

See the BMW ActiveE story at PluginCars

Mitsubishi i (possibly available in late 2011)
Mitsubishi has been building its small i-Miev sedan for several years.  They have been sold in Japan and a version has been sold in France as a Citroen.  An enlarged version is being readied for North America.  No firm delivery dates have been established, but a date of late 2011 has been discussed.

The i-Miev, to be called the "Mitsubishi i" in the US, is a smaller, narrower car than the LEAF.  I've driven the Japanese version and it is truly fun to buzz around in.  However, the smaller size and lower power will require  pricing to be at least as low, and probably lower than that of the LEAF.  Since Nissan has set quite a low pricing bar, Mitsubishi will have a challenge to make money at the price they will need to set for the car.

See the Mitsubishi iMiev story at PluginCars

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) (available in 2012)
Toyota currently has several hundred units of the plug-in version of their successful Prius hybrid in the US for testing.  This version of the Prius has a larger lithium ion battery that can be charged from household current in a few hours.  The car will be able to go about 13 miles on electric drive.  After the batteries are drained, the car operates just like a normal Prius.  The price will be several thousand more than a comparable Prius due to the cost of the larger batteries.  If a customer's daily driving miles are very few, it is possible for the gas mileage to be quite high due to the electric-only miles.  As with other plug-in hybrids, each customer must decide if the cost will be effective for their own planned use of the car.

See Prius PHEV story at PluginCars

Tesla Model S (possibly available starting in 2012)
The Model S is Tesla's second car and their first to be built in-house rather than being largely based on another company's car.  The beautiful sedan design has attracted much attention and a number of customers have put up a $5,000 reservation deposit.  The price target for the Model S is about $58,000 before incentives.  Prototypes are being built in Tesla's California factory.  The targeted driving range will be 160 to 300 miles with various optional battery packs.

I am cautious about any car from a new company.  Tesla has shown good business sense with the Roadster, which is a satisfying and reliable car.  Toyota has recently partnered with Tesla to build a new electric version of Toyota's RAV4 SUV, which should add some depth to Tesla's resources.  But building a new car from scratch in record time when never having built a car before is a tall order.  I am watching the Model S carefully, but with some skepticism.

See the Tesla Model S story at PluginCars

Sunday, February 6, 2011

LA EV Meetup and Rally to Southern Cal Edison's CTAC

Things To Do While You Wait for Your LEAF
As my Nissan online "dashboard" remains firmly stuck on a delivery date of "Month of April, 2011", I'm looking for interesting things to do that focus on the developing electric transportation scene.  A great opportunity appeared this weekend in the form of the LA Volt CAB Meetup and Rally.  Many thanks to EVNation, a LEAF owner from for getting us involved in this great event.
(Photos are Clickable for Enlarging)
Tesla Roadster and GM Volt
GM Hydrogen Fuel Cell Development SUV
Two LEAFs Join the Volts and Other EVs at the Meetup

The Los Angeles GM Volt Customer Advisory Board is a group of influential EV enthusiasts to each of whom GM lent a new Volt for three months of use in exchange for their suggestions and publicity. To commemorate the end of their Volt stint, the group sponsored a meetup and rally for Saturday morning ( Feb 5) to which they invited Volt owners and other EV owners and anyone else interested. The start of the event was a meetup in Burbank at GM's Advanced Technology Center, and the destination of the short rally drive was Southern California Edison's Customer Technology  Application Center in Irwindale for a short tour.

As the Brits say, we "turned up" to see what it was all about.  I managed to interest Gary from the MyNissanLEAF forum to drive up with me (actually to drive me up) in his nice 2010 Prius.  One hour and some enjoyable chat later, we arrived to find ourselves part of a very friendly and happy group of EV enthusiasts indeed.  Most of the cars were Volts, but a multicolored array of at least ten Tesla Roadsters showed up, as did two or three Mini Es, two new LEAFs, about three ten-year-old Toyota RAV4s, a Chevy S-10 EV truck and a Monotracer two-wheeler (actually a gasoline version that the owner is using while he waits for the EV version).  More LEAFs and an interesting converted VW pickup with lead-acid batteries joined us after the quick freeway run to CTAC in Irwindale.

Tesla Roadsters in a Rainbow of Colors

The Electric Mini, BMW's First EV Customer Test Project
Five Varieties of Plug-In Cars in a Row

At the GM meetup site, there were several bright human stars in the world of EV enthusiasm along with the cars themselves.  Actress and now EV blogger Alexandra Paul was videoing interviews with Volt and EV owners for her blog.  Chelsea Sexton, blogger, reporter and EV activist who helped to organize the event, was there to chat, to learn and to help educate.  Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug In America and now LEAF salesman at Santa Monica Nissan, came with his new red LEAF.  And Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") was there as well.

The gathering at the GM lot was really fun and very friendly.  There was no evidence of competitiveness between the various groups of EV owners and lots of people were interested in learning about the other cars. There was a real feeling of fellowship and appreciation that we were all engaged in the same enthusiastic movement toward the future of transportation.

Actress Alexandra Paul and her Video Camera

Chelsea Sexton Chats

Gary Waits to Greet Paul Scott, Arriving in his New LEAF

Paul Scott, in Conversation as Soon as He Gets Out of His LEAF
The Fascinating Monotracer

Thousands of Volts (well... maybe twenty)

At the SC Edison CTAC Site

After the drive to the Edison CTAC site, the group was met by more EVs whose owners had chosen to go directly there.  Many of the cars were connected to the 12 Level II Charge Point EVSEs (with Level I connections as well) that are fed by Edison's 21.75 kW DC rated solar rooftop array.  The Mini Es and some other cars used some of the other 110 volt receptacles available.  Ironically, the LEAFs were given priority at the EVSEs, bumping some GM Volts because the LEAFs are battery-only.

Charging Up on Solar Power from SCE's 21.75 kW DC Solar Canopy
Film Crew (from Japan, I think) Covers Paul Scott Plugging the LEAF in to Solar Power

VW Pickup Truck EV Conversion
Mini E "Opportunity Charges" at a 110 volt outlet

Inside the Center, Edison experts led groups through the Smart Energy Experience, Edison's demonstration home for intelligent and sustainable energy technologies.  A few of the technologies on display were solar panels, solar water heating, a 500 Watt residential wind generator, a Coda electric sedan, LED interior and exterior lighting, smart energy metering with connections to home air conditioning, lighting and appliances for owner interactive energy reduction during power emergencies, sustainable materials and home automation systems. 

500 Watt Residential Wind Generator
Home Energy Use Display
Coda EV Sedan in the Demonstration Home's Garage
Coda EV Sedan and Lear Charging Dock
Dimmable LED Home Lighting Solutions
Sustainable Bamboo Flooring and Recycled Glass Counter Tops

SC Edison and their staff were very welcoming, providing a nice lunch and a comfortable, inviting customer education facility..  As we watched the Volts and other plug-in cars arrive, there was a real sense of the arrival of a wave of the future cresting and arriving at a center for the new source of transportation energy.

More coverage of the event from EVNation and Paul Scott at:   and