Let’s face it; Tim Hortons is not the kind of place you would expect to find new technology. At the Park and Tilford Tims, there are always two parking spots open in front of the restaurant.  These are supposed to be for electric cars to re-charge, although I had never seen one there before. Then I saw a driver charging his vehicle and felt compelled to ask some questions. “How do you like your car?”

The response was simple. “My car is basically free,” said the owner. “I don’t pay a dime for fuel.”  I was astonished. What did this mean? As I found out, he plugged his Nissan Leaf into Tim’s electric outlet and paid nothing.  Zero.  I wasn’t quite sure if Tim’s was paying or the provincial government, but he paid nothing himself. Over the course of the 5 years for which he was re-paying his car loan, he said the savings on his fuel bill would be about $400 a month, $4,800 a year, or $25,000 over the course of the purchase. Along with the huge green rebates he had received when buying the car, essentially it cost almost nothing. In short, he said, a free car.

So I went down to the Nissan dealership at the Auto Mall and did some research. What I found was amazing. The Leaf isn’t a hybrid car, like a Prius. It’s completely electric, it has no gasoline or diesel powered engine to supplement for power. Electric vehicles (EV’s) utilize no fossil fuels, so there are no emissions whatsoever. EV’s have no mufflers, no transmission and no fuel tank systems.

A kWh for a LEAF can indeed cost you nothing. depending on where (and to some degree, when) you charge up. Many companies and places of business have installed charging equipment and allow employees and customers to use it for free as an incentive.  Remember how rare WiFi was years ago? Now it’s everywhere and it’s usually free. If you charge your Leaf while at work, it will cost you nothing.

What are the pros and cons of buying an electric vehicle? The pros are it’s cheaper to drive, there are zero carbon emissions, you can get a huge tax break ($5,000 here in BC) the moment you buy it, and there are almost no vehicle maintenance costs. You can turn on the A/C or heater from your smart phone before you get in your car. A smart charger can message your phone or email to notify when your car is charged.

Cons? A limited range of 150 kilometres per charge, so it’s not great for highways. It takes longer to charge than to fill up a tank of gas. The Leaf has a charge time from empty to full of about 6 hours. ‘Rapid’ charging usually degrades battery life (generally not enough to worry about unless that is your sole source of charging). The charging station infrastructure is still being built, so you can only charge at certain places. However, the Leaf’s optional quick-charge capability allows the battery to reach 80 percent capacity in just thirty minutes when using a public charging station.

The LEAF’s lithium ion battery pack degrades over time just like any other battery. The battery pack consists of positive electrodes of manganese instead of cobalt or nickel, making the cost of the battery cheaper than others EVs. Additionally, to save on the consumer side, Nissan believes that the right thing to do environmentally is to lease the battery pack to the EV owner. This saves the buyer about $7,000 off the sticker price, and transfers the responsibility of the battery (the performance and recycling of used batteries) to Nissan. Finally, most EV’s have a maximum speed of only 100 kph.

All in all, this makes the Leaf a fabulous car for urban commuting in big cities but if you want to drive across the country, forget it. The suggested price of the Nissan Leaf all electric car is $32,780 for the standard model, and $33, 720 for the SL model. Or, if you really love electric, you can buy a Tesla for $101,500.All of which I learned before even getting behind the wheel. Next up?  A test drive. To follow…



By Michael McCarthy


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