Drive Report from World’s Second Nissan LEAF Driver

By · January 03, 2011

Nissan LEAF in driveway

Before the holidays, I checked in with Tom Franklin, the San Diego man who in mid-December became the world’s second Nissan LEAF driver. At that point, he had been driving the car for about five days. Tom described the transition from a 2006 Toyota Prius to a 2011 Nissan LEAF as a paradigm shift. He contrasted what he called the “Rube Goldberg” design of internal combustion engine versus electric drive.

“In a gas car, you push on the accelerator and it pulls on a cable, which changes a valve to put more gas down a line which eventually gets to cylinders that create explosions that drive a drivetrain, that if it’s a CVT there’s some clutching in there, so there’s a lot of lag,” Tom said. “From the time you push the accelerator to when you go, what is it, a quarter of a second or a half-second, or a couple seconds.”

By contrast, Tom is struck by the LEAF’s rapid acceleration. “I push on the accelerator and it’s immediately delivering power to the wheels, at essentially the speed of light,” he said. “If I were to design a perfect car, it’s going to work like the Nissan LEAF. I push and I go.”

The electric car’s rapid acceleration is a major advantage, but Tom was equally amazed by the "small things" about the LEAF, such as how easily it connected with his iPhone. If he steps into his car while playing Pandora or a Podcast on his phone, the LEAF automatically pairs the device and starts playing the audio from his phone.

Car Smarts

But the communications flows in the other direction as well. “My car emails me,” Tom said. “You can set it to email when the car is charged or needs to be charged.” The car even emailed Tom when it approached his home charger. “It knew its location. It knew it was 14 feet away from the charger in the garage, and it knew it was hungry.” This feature of the car remembering where it charged would obviously be quite useful when the battery runs low away from home.

Yet, so far, Tom has had little concern about the LEAF’s range—except after the very first day of driving, when he wasn’t familiar with his home charger, and failed to juice up overnight. “I had a little bit of range anxiety for the first time—but I still had 50 miles of charge on the car,” he said. “I was able to get to and from work without any issue, but I had to think about it.”

Plenty of Range

Tom’s round-trip daily commute is 20 miles, so even on days when he commutes and take a couple of extra 10 – 15 miles jaunts to visit his clients, he still has plenty of range. “When I get up in the morning and it shows a 70 mile range, I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would get a caught.”

For Tom, it’s mostly been a matter of getting used to the routine of charging every night. “You have to be willing to accept a paradigm shift. I had to figure out the quirks of making sure it’s plugged in, and making sure it’s actually drawing from the grid.”

Getting into the habit of charging every night is a very small price to pay, according to Tom, when considering the benefits. “I’m never going to have to go to a gas station. I’m never going to have gasoline smell on my hands. That smell is a funky thing that’s hard to wash off, that tells me it’s got into my body somehow. And like a pack of cigarettes, it has health warnings all over the pumps.”

The Good Ol’ Crazy Days

The first week was a week of epiphanies for Tom: how his gas car uses three or four times the amount of energy as his electric car; how drivers of gas cars speed down the road in a small confined space with 20 gallons of highly flammable liquid on board; and just how much infrastructure is required to keep hundreds of thousands of gas stations available for refueling.

“We’re going to have to explain to our grandkids the crazy days when we had to drive cars all over town to keep them running, what a combustion engine is, and the explosions that happen multiple times per second in the engines of those gas cars.” In that light, the electric car seems so much more simple, logical and transformative. “We’re at the beginning of a revolution,” Tom said.

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