Life in the Fast Lane: Electric Vehicle Observations

The following post first appeared on The Applied Materials blog.
Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter

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.

About Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter is Sr. Director of EH&S at Flextronics International, where he provides leadership and strategic guidance for the company’s global operations. Prior to assuming this role, Mr. Klafter directed Applied Material’s EHS and sustainability programs and began his career as a distinguished environmental and natural resources lawyer.

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5 Comments
  1. Locus Technologies

    January 10, 2012

    The Model S is supposed to have a 400 mile range. Also Companies out there like Coulomb Technologies are trying to help with the range anxiety issues, and once the charging infrastructure becomes more accessible, those challenges for standard commuting should be a thing of the past.

    Also, what are the limitations on the carpool sticker program? I know many people who had their stickers expire.

  2. Bruce Klafter

    January 16, 2012

    The new sticker program is based around zero emissions or practically zero emissions (PZEV). The Leaf presently qualifies, but a Volt is eligible for a sticker only if it include a special emissions package. The other vehicles are mostly urban runabouts from what I could see – not sure I even would want to be on the freeway in any of them. See the entire list on the California Air Resources Board website.

  3. Los Angeles Nissan

    January 19, 2012

    Due to range limitations, the Leaf is probably best suited for individuals with shorter commutes. Once the electric grid is expanded and the infrastructure built to support a large number of users we’ll see more Ev’s.

  4. paula berger

    January 20, 2012

    I’ve been considering an Ev but I’m wondering how cold weather would affect the battery life. I live in Minnesota and wonder if the battery would drain quickly while parked in sub-zero temps.

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