What It Takes to Get 100 Miles of Range in My Electric Car

By · August 25, 2011

After driving my all-electric Nissan LEAF like a madman for the past few months, I decided to see how far I could go with babying the motor and batteries to extend its range. But now, I think I’ll go back my speed-demon ways.

Average Efficiency in my Nissan LEAF

After 1,500 miles of driving my LEAF, the average efficiency is a modest 3.5 miles-per-kilowatt-hour.

I’ve owned gas-electric hybrid cars for years, so I’m used to driving with extreme caution—in order to most efficiently use the gas engine, and to get it switch over to electric mode whenever possible. That’s why it was such a relief a few months ago to start driving the Nissan LEAF, which obviously doesn’t even have a gas engine (or a tailpipe). My thinking: Given the superiority of electric motors versus internal combustion, any loss in efficiency—by driving with gusto— is relatively minor compared to the quantum leap in efficiency gained by going electric.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to just drive—speeding away from traffic lights and zooming ahead of other cars on the highway, etc. The LEAF is smooth, silent, fast, and simply a blast to drive. But after 1,400-plus miles of driving, I noticed (duh) that my efficiency wasn’t so hot at 3.5 miles-per-kilowatt-hour. More experienced EV drivers told me that 4 miles/kWh is well within reach.

Changing My Ways

So, I recently gave the LEAF a full charge, and took a (temporary) vow of automotive Puritanism to see how efficient I could be. The rules were simple: Drive below the speed limit. No jackrabbit starts. Long coasting to a stop. Keep it in Eco mode. And don’t use the air conditioning.

Lo and behold, I was able to increase the efficiency from my average of 3.5 miles/kWh to 4.7 miles/kWh (based on the dashboard efficiency display). That’s a 34% improvement in efficiency—just by chilling out behind the wheel. I hadn’t changed my daily driving route, which is about 80% city and 20% highway. I drive about 20 or 30 miles max per day, so it took a few days to run through a full charge. For the first day-and-a-half, I was at a solid 5.0 miles/kWh, but any stretch of highway driving—even at the speed limit—dropped the efficiency below that high mark.

This was not efficiency for efficiency sake. The idea was to see how this change in my driving pattern would ultimately affect range. On paper, a shift to 4.7 miles/kWh from 3.5—if you assume there’s about 22 kilowatt-hours of usable energy in the LEAF’s 24 kWh battery pack—should have pushed my range to 103.4 miles.

LEAF dashboard display for efficiency
LEAF dashboard display for efficiency

Driving like a saint, I was able to lift the efficiency of the Nissan LEAF to 4.7 miles-per-kilowatt-hour. That means, if I really wanted to, I could get a driving range of 90 to 100 miles.

For much of this experiment, the combined number of miles that I had driven—plus the vehicle computer’s estimated number of miles remaining—exceeded 100 miles. In the early going, it was as high as 110 miles. But as any LEAF owner knows, the car’s estimation of remaining miles is erratic. It’s usually generous when you first charge up—dangling a promise of triple-digit range—and then it gets very stingy toward the end, as if trying to freak you out that you’re going to run out even when there’s a decent amount of juice left.

The Results

By the end of the run, I had traveled 76.3 miles with an estimated 9 miles remaining, giving me a base number for the range of 85.3 miles. I know from multiple sources that even when the computer’s range drops to zero, there’s still about 10% state-of-charge remaining. So, I think it’s fair to say that the range for my LEAF, during my miles of cautious driving, was about 94 miles—yielding an efficiency rating of 4.27 miles/kWh. That’s pretty good, but far less than the 4.7 miles/kWh that the LEAF’s computer was telling me.

Of course, I would only drive so close to empty on rare occasions.

After my next full charge, fed up with driving like a wimp, I made up for lost time by driving really stupid: racecar acceleration, left lane on the highway, and AC blasting—just to see how low I could get the efficiency for comparison. I acted badly from a full charge to depletion. Boom: I dropped to 3.4 miles/kWh. My tally at the end was 59.1 miles traveled with an estimated 6 miles remaining for a base number of 65.3 miles. When you add in the extra 10% reserve, it brings the range to just under 72 miles—or 3.27 miles-per-kilowatt-hour—once again a bit off from the computer’s 3.4 miles/kWh reading.

LEAF dashboard display for efficiency
LEAF dashboard display for efficiency

Based on my experiment, the worst possible driving range in my Nissan LEAF would be about 70 miles.

There are a lot of experienced drivers of the LEAF and other EVs on this site, so I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say about my calculations. Bring it on. I’m just trying to learn the capabilities of my electric car.

What did I learn so far? Well, basically, what I already knew. If I drive without thinking too much, or I just want to have fun, the range in my Nissan LEAF is around 70 miles—no big deal if I know that I’m staying close to home. But if I drive carefully, I can get nearly 100 miles of range out of a LEAF on my regular routes.

For now, that works for me. I know this is only the first generation of the new wave of electric cars. Battery technology will improve and, soon enough, 100 miles of range will be the low end—no matter how I drive.

Comments

· Stephen (not verified) · 3 years ago

When driving my 2000 Honda Insight, I would keep the air conditioning off most of the time and drive very conservatively in order to get my lifetime MPG to 70. When I got my first EV, I started running the air condtioning because I no longer was using gas. Can't say my driving style changed much, but my desire to be comfortable in the Atlanta heat did.

· Tony Williams (not verified) · 3 years ago

Your miles/kWh do not add up for two reasons. One, you'll note that console data will be about 0.2 higher than the dash data. The other issue is thinking that there is 24kWh of battery energy available to use, and that's just not the case. For longest life, Nissan has the battery pack set so that it never uses about the 15% of that 24kWh. You'll find that 21kWh works a bit better. So, if you use the dash data of 4.5miles/kWh (instead of 4.7) and multiply that by 21, you'll get 94.5 miles. You estimated 94 !!!! YOU WIN !!!!

· · 3 years ago

I think that you should put your seatbelt on when taking pictures of your dash.

My Nissan Altima Hybrid never calculates the correct MPG that it displays. More often than not when I fill up and do the actual math, miles driven divided gallons required to fill up, my value is lower then the computer's value. Oh well.

· Iletric (not verified) · 3 years ago

I drive 97% freeway, around speed limit, AC off and on -- as much off as possible. I'm sitting on 3.6 m/kW for the last 6,000 miles, and it won't budge. My concern is less the mileage I get than PG&E that charges me up to 50 cents per kW, the rate I didn't know even existed. And this is all night charging, folks. So I save only about 80 bucks per month with gas around 4 bucks and my ICE at 30 mpg. But want fun it is to drive. Now that I replaced the speakers with the real ones (Infiniti 2 ohm) the car is rocking. And as far as that electric bill? DOW Powerhouse Solar shingles. Rolling out this year. I'm hoping to run my dryer, refrigeration, house AC -AND- my Leaf for free. The word everyone understands. I will be paying off that solar system in 3 years and it's a free ride from there on.

· · 3 years ago

Brad, we have found (as Toney says above) 21 kWh to be a good convenient "usable" capacity figure. With that in mind - if you get 4.8 m/kWh - you will get 100 miles of range.

Ofcourse remaining miles (guess-o-meter) doesn't say anything about how many miles are left after getting battery low. You get about 15 miles after battery low in city traffic.

You should checkout this chart to see where the Leaf community is now with range ..

http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=4295

· Joe Rajakaruna (not verified) · 3 years ago

If you want better range? I would suggest switching to a larger wheel diameter for highway driving. This will increase top speed. The drawback is that it will take more power to get going. Maybe its worth a try.

· · 3 years ago

@Toney and EVNow - As I mention in the article, I assumed 22 kWh of usable energy. It's just a guess, based on the fact that Nissan's Mark Perry personally told me last year that the LEAF uses 95 percent of its capacity. That would be 22.8 usable kWh, but I rounded down to 22. How did you come up with 21 kWh of usable energy?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

There will be some variance from pack to pack. 1kWh may even be within the acceptable variance range.

· Lad (not verified) · 3 years ago

I drive my Leaf with one rule: "Plan on no more than 70 miles at 60mph and use the climate control" On 40 mile trips I drive faster and accelerate quickly; on 100 mile trips I plan to recharge at 60-70miles; When I drive 10-20miles, I leave it in "drive," spin the tires where possible and pass with a smile.

Face it, at this point in it's development, the car is a commuter, not a cross country bus.

· · 3 years ago

@Lad - Amen. My sentiments exactly. As I wrote a month ago, it takes more than a 24 kWh pack (like the LEAF has) to produce a 100-mile EV:

http://www.plugincars.com/dispelling-myth-100-mile-electric-car-107401.html

· George Parrott (not verified) · 3 years ago

@Iletric and others,

PG&E has special E9 rates for electric cars that give one "offpeak" rates (midnight to 7 am during the week and all weekends except 5-9pm) of under 6.5 cents/kW at Tier 1 levels. The best, almost ONLY way to stay in Tier 1 to get those wonderful low rates is to have SOLAR PV on your house.

We had a 18 panel (220w/panel) system on our house before the two EVs (we have both the Leaf and the Volt). That system WIPED OUT our actual house electric use bill. Anticipating going to both EVs, I added another 7 panel system (220w/panel). Next month will be our final annualized billing period for the year and we have had both cars for 9 months of that billing year. We will have ZERO ANNUAL electric use cost for the whole house (3000 square feet in Sacramento) and charging both cars for 9 months of that billing year. I am now looking at adding two (2) more of the 220w panels as I compute that extra capacity would then allow me ZERO annual for the whole 12 month period of house AND EV charging !!!!! We are, by the way, logging about 12,000 miles per year on each car.

· · 3 years ago

@Brad "How did you come up with 21 kWh of usable energy?"

There are long threads on that in MNL - but in short, if you start from 100% and drive till turtle and then note the m/kwh and the miles driven, you can calculate the kWh used. Several people have tried this and we have got results that point to 21-22kWh.

Also, we have found that if you multipy the m/Kwh by 21, it is very close to the range people are getting - when looking at the SOC bars and how much % each bar represents.

· · 3 years ago

@EVNow - Thanks for that info and the link to the chart. Makes a lot of sense. So, this nudges down the range below 100 miles for sure, except for the most ideal conditions.

· · 3 years ago

When I first got my Leaf in April, I was trying to drive as efficiently as I could. I was getting 5.0 - 5.2m/kWh. This was lowered by short test drives by friends and co-workers and rides where I wanted to show off the car's torque. After playing these hypermiling games for a couple of months, I had a change of heart.

I started hypermiling when I was driving a car car. Gas expensive and polluting, it was worth the effort to reduce my consumption. Next I had a very short range (20 miles) EV, hypermiling was often necessary to make it where I was going. Now, however, driving my solar fueled Leaf, I see no reason not to punch it and have more fun. This has the added benefit that people behind me don't just assume that the Leaf is a slow car (rather than piloted by a slow driver).

Apparently, my crazy driving is nowhere near as lead footed as Brad's. My new faster driving is yielding 4.5m/kWh, the same value as Brad's Puritan driving :-)

· Matt J (not verified) · 3 years ago

I plan on having a Leaf in a few months. I thought that my 60 mile commute would be no problem for the Leaf, now I have some doubts. My morning drive is back roads and some Lights, average speeds around 50-55. When I go home I take the Freeway where the speed limit is 65. I am in Tampa so it is warm for the Battery and it is very Flat. Will I have to drive like a Granny? I didn't want to. What do the experts think.

· · 3 years ago

@Matt J (not verified) : "I thought that my 60 mile commute would be no problem for the Leaf, now I have some doubts."

You would have no problem - unless you drive like you stole it. AC is actually quite efficient in Leaf and doesn't cost much. 70 mph speeds and freezing temperatures might cause problems.

But you have to wonder what will happen after 5 years - may be with 80% capacity left. If I were you, I'd lease.

· · 3 years ago

@Matt J (not verified) : "I thought that my 60 mile commute would be no problem for the Leaf, now I have some doubts."

My wife has a 65 mile commute that is mostly freeway (55-65 mph in traffic) and when she returns we have enough left for low speed errands in the 10-12 mile range.

@EVNow: "But you have to wonder what will happen after 5 years - may be with 80% capacity left. If I were you, I'd lease."

My opinion is that if I were you I'd plan on the charging infrastructure to improve dramatically after 5 years making battery capacity a much less important issue. Ie., plugging in at or near work cuts your range needs in half.

· LeafinBerkeley (not verified) · 3 years ago

My commute is 100 miles round trip. It is no problem with my Leaf as I simply plug in at work! I have installed a Level 2 (220) charger at my furthest job (I am there for 2 hours) and I plug into 110 at my other job (there for 5-7 hours). I work at Waldorf schools, which seem eager to support green technology. I just estimate how much electricity I will use in a year and give them a donation (Simplifies their bookkeeping). This car drives like a dream, is super comfortable and is its own advertising. About 95% of all my driving needs are satisfied beautifully with it. I find I don't need to drive like a granny all the time. I average 4.5 M per KW and it is mostly freeway driving in D mode.

· Jim Adcock (not verified) · 3 years ago

I live on top of a pretty good hill, so I typically charge using the 80% setting on the LEAF's charging timer. I ignore the miles-to-empty display because it is meaningless in my situation -- looking instead at the bar graph display of the amount of energy left in the battery -- which goes up as I coast downhill at the start of my trip regenerating in "Eco" mode which basically works like "down shifting" to help me keep my speed down while coasting down hill. I typically drive in "zen mode" where I cool it because in an EV I'd rather spend my time and energy listening to NPR that being a "speed demon." And I find that I get 80 miles in 80% charge mode, and 100 miles in 100% charge mode. And I find that I am driving a lot more in my LEAF than I anticipated -- because it is so much FUN! And I run my household -- and my LEAF -- on 100% green electricity, which costs me a 10% premium so that I can drive, and/or forget and leave the lights on, guilt free [my house has pretty much 100% low energy LED lighting by now -- because I *hate* changing light bulbs!]. Green electricity costs me literally $2 a month extra to charge my LEAF [total LEAF charging cost per month = $20]. Big Deal -- I'm still paying *literally* 10X less per month to charge my LEAF than it cost me per month to fill up my previous gasser car! And no more gas stations! Bye Bye Exxon! Bye Bye Koch Brothers!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

My commute is 70 miles round trip over two mountains, 90% highway. I am not able to make it. The cold weather here in Maryland really zaps the battery. I would think twice about a LEAF if you live somewhere cold. The car is nice but I can not use it to commute to work.

· · 2 years ago

@Anonymous,
I agree with you. My commute is nearly 40 miles each way, also over 2 mountain passes. I assume that I have to charge at work. A 240 volt charging station helps but 120 volt would actually make it possible as well. I am able to do an 80% charge but, in colder weather (and it is no where near as cold here in CA than in MD), I do barely make it home on an 80% charge if I drive fast with heater on. I assume that my 1300 ft of total elevation gain on the way home contributes as well.

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