So, the big EV news of the week comes from Nissan, rather than Tesla. Nissan just announced that the two higher trims of the 2016 LEAF will include a 30 kWh battery that gives the car 107 miles of range on a full charge. But how useful is that 27% boost from 84 miles to 107 miles?
Well, the answer — as always — depends on the individual. If you need a car that can go 90 miles on a charge, it’s super useful. If you need one that can go 150 miles, nope. But beyond this simplistic answer, I thought I’d dive in a little bit and see how it would help in Florida and the US Southeast.
As you probably know, I’m planning to lease an electric car soon and am considering the Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, and Tesla Model S. Actually, since writing that, I’ve shifted to the BMW i3 REx, to be precise. The thing is, I will probably only drive 20–25 miles a day most of the time, which any of these vehicles (or any electric car, for that matter) can easily handle, but I’d also like to take some trips around Florida and up to North Carolina or even Virginia. It seems like that has narrowed my choices down to the BMW i3 REx or the Model S. But maybe this 107-mile LEAF changes the story?
Sarasota to Miami
With a 107-mile Nissan LEAF, I still couldn’t cross over from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast going south toward Miami. It’s 132 miles from one CHAdeMO fast charger to the next. I could level 2 charge somewhere else on the way, but I’m not interested in hanging around Naples for a few hours. And, actually, that still wouldn’t cut it. It’s a long drive through Big Cypress and the Everglades — 126 miles from Naples to Miami. So, I’d either have to rent or borrow a car, or go a looong way through Tampa and Orlando and then down the coast.
But, yes, that’s a harder-than-typical route — going through the Everglades can even leave a gas car stranded if you don’t plan ahead. How about a trip up the East Coast?
Sarasota to Savannah
Going from Sarasota to Orlando, there are plenty of CHAdeMO fast-charging options, but I also realized that I could probably stop at a fast-charging station just once instead of twice (like in an 84-mile LEAF). I could safely go 80 miles (~1 hr and 20 minutes) to a Lakeland fast charger where I could quickly add ~75–100 miles in ~30 minutes (or maybe just ~40 miles in ~15 minutes to save time), and then go another ~40 miles (~40 minutes) to Orlando.
Once in Orlando, I’d definitely be fine resting for a bit and grabbing some food, so charging all the way to 100% shouldn’t be an issue. (Note: in a BMW i3 REx or Tesla Model S, I could drive straight from Sarasota to Orlando without stopping to charge, but I’m sure I’d stop once to charge the i3 so that I could drive on electricity almost the entire time.)
Orlando to Jacksonville is ~140 miles, so it’s again a bit outside the range of a 107-mile LEAF. But Jacksonville is actually one of the ugliest cities I’ve ever seen, so I’d avoid stopping there. A bit before Jacksonville is St Augustine, a popular tourist city I’d be happy to show my wife. From one of the several fast chargers in Orlando to the fast charger in St Augustine is 102 miles, though — that’s cutting it too close for a car rated at 107 miles. So, it seems I’d still need to make an extra stop in Daytona Beach for ~20 minutes or so before moving on to St Augustine. In my particular case, that’d be no big deal — I haven’t been to Daytona Beach, so why not check it out? I wouldn’t be in a rush (I don’t think), and after an hour of driving, the youngin’ probably wouldn’t mind walking around a little bit. But let’s be honest, this would be quite inconvenient for most people… and maybe it would even turn into a pain for me if there’s nothing worth seeing near the Nissan dealership where we’d charge. Hmm….
Moving up the coast, my next sightseeing destination would be Savannah, Georgia. That’s 176 miles. So, I’d again have to stop approximately halfway at a Nissan dealership in Brunswick, Georgia, in order to fast charge. I imagine at this point my wife is getting really tired of Nissan dealerships and wishing we were in Savannah.
Backtracking a bit, I just looked at the route for the BMW i3 REx, which would be different since the i3 uses SAE Combo fast chargers and I’d want to follow their route through Ocala to drive more on electricity than on gas. (Skipping Orlando might also be a bonus.) With the i3, I could fast charge in Temple Terrace, then again in Jacksonville (after driving on gas for ~40 miles), then get to Savannah on a mix of electricity and gas, just filling up the gas tank once on the way and then again before leaving Savannah. In a Tesla or Chevy Volt, it would be a much simpler story, but I’d probably still want to stop twice simply for human comfort reasons, so I’m not putting any strikes on the i3 REx here.
I’d want to spend the night in Savannah, so that would call it a day and any EV I had could slowly charge on level 1 and/or level 2 chargers until we left the next day.
Summary: a 107-mile LEAF would be more convenient than an 84-mile LEAF, but it would still require an extra stop between Sarasota & Orlando and another extra stop on the last leg to Savannah. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s clearly not as convenient as an i3 REx or Model S.
All Systems Go? Also important to note, though, is that listed charging stations aren’t always in service. If the limited fast chargers that I planned to use (for the LEAF or i3) were down or inaccessible for some reason, that would throw a serious kink in my plans, but especially when it comes to the LEAF.
Savannah to Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Carrboro
My next stop would be Charleston, South Carolina, where’d I’d want to spend at least a few hours, so level 2 charging would suffice. Still, I’m surprised and disappointed to see there are no DC fast chargers (neither CHAdeMO nor SAE Combo) near Charleston. Yikes! Good thing Charleston is a beautiful little city where you’d want to spend a few or several hours.
Moving on from Charleston, though, things get really bad. There are no CHAdeMO or SAE Combo fast chargers (according to PlugShare) between Charleston and Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s nearly 300 miles, which means it is by itself nearly a deal-breaker for the LEAF. On the i3’s side, it would mean relying on the REx for >200 miles, which means stopping for gas 3–4 times — not super convenient, but also not a big inconvenience in my opinion.
Ah, but it turns out PlugShare isn’t so smart — which is why I wrote “nearly a deal-breaker.” Going out of the way a little bit, we could fast charge the LEAF in Myrtle Beach, another nice place to stop — I may even thank the LEAF for taking me to another nice beach city to chill out a bit more on the trip.
Turns out, though, the LEAF still can’t conveniently make it (even if you count fast charging every hour as convenient). It’s 183 miles from Myrtle Beach to Raleigh and there are no CHAdeMO fast chargers on the way.
In the i3 REx, I could stop for gas ~4 times. Or I could take that trip to Myrtle Beach and stop for gas just ~3 times.
Chapel Hill/Carrboro to Charlottesville
That may be as far north as I’d want to drive, but more likely, I’d also want to drive up to Charlottesvill, Virginia, at some point. That is again out of the question with the LEAF and CHAdeMO fast chargers. The i3 REx could do it stopping for gas ~2 times. The Tesla Model S could theoretically do it, but with the elevation change, it could be a challenge.
As I already noted, it’s not just about the chargers being listed on PlugShare — the chargers have to be online and accessible. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and you can’t rely on that. For that reason (combined with the above), I wouldn’t consider the LEAF a decent choice for a long road trip. The BMW i3 REx could rely on gasoline if needed. The Tesla Model S has a good enough Supercharger network and a long enough range that it is about as convenient as a gasmobile, but an even better road trip car than a gasmobile since it is so smooth, quiet, and powerful. Plus, Supercharging is free!
If you are a one-car family (like we intend to be), want to go electric, and don’t want to rent/borrow a car for a trip up or down the US Southeast, that basically leaves you with a Tesla, the BMW i3 REx, the Chevy Volt, or a PHEV as your options.
However, the average household has two cars, and renting/borrowing a car is an option for many people for a long-distance trip. If you’re in that boat, the LEAF is obviously a good electric option, and the new 107-mile LEAF would make a lot of city and regional trips easier than with the 84-mile LEAF.
Again, whether the new, higher-range LEAF is “useful” depends on the individual. I’m curious to hear from others if this new option is exactly what you’ve been waiting for or if it doesn’t quite cut it.