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This diary has been waiting around as a draft for a couple of weeks... and it has turned out for the better! Today is National Plug-In Day, celebrating and showcasing electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs).

To prove the point that EVs have become a viable family alternative to gas cars, we going to drive all the way to the event at Snoqualmie Falls, 35 miles each way, without charging. Using this fully-electric car:

Our 2012 Nissan Leaf, near our home in Seattle, the morning after we bought it. Isn't it beautiful?
Our beautiful new Nissan Leaf, bought August 26 in Everett, Washington.

The diary title says it's affordable. How much did it cost us, you might ask?

$5600 down.
$99/month for 24 months. (we added another $30+tax/month, to pay in advance for all half-yearly service visits over the next 2 years). We can do up to 12k miles/year without penalty (we expect to do only 5-6k/year).

After 2 years, we can either return it and walk away - we won't be bound to our Leaf, or to Nissan, in any way - or buy it outright for $21.4k.

Oh, and the cherry on top: Nissan is giving us a $1k rebate!

The four weeks we've had the Leaf have been like a dream. Driving is extremely pleasurable, doubly so knowing that each mile's CO2 emissions is 1/100th to 1/50th of the emissions from our aging gas SUV - because we live in Seattle where 90% of the electricity is renewable. And people stop us at least once a day (or stop by our home) with excited questions.

I feel like an EV ambassador, and this is my message:

If you can afford it, and if it can accommodate your driving needs, go and lease yourself an EV or PHEV now!

Furthermore, shop around and bargain hard for a deal. You might need to be patient and persistent with your local dealers - many of them have a hard time understanding the role of EVs and PHEVs in their fleet. And many are slow to learn that despite the high introductory prices of these cars, it is a buyer's market now - and it will probably remain a buyer's market for a long time.

Why am I saying that? See below the squiggle for the answer, and for more tips regarding EV/PHEV decisions...

-------------------------  MONDAY 7:30 AM PDT UPDATE: ---------------------------

Thanks for the Rescue, and for the continued interesting questions and comments. I have to say that we've almost never in our life been early tech adopters. But this one felt so right, that we just went for it - and we're not sorry!

Regarding the "buyer's market" perspective, I've had the following epiphany last night (sorry for the boldface, but I'm excited about this one):

Even if an EV/PHEV is not for you personally right now, please do lobby your local government, or any organization you know with a fleet and with urban, stop-and-go driving needs - to make their next fleet purchase a "last year's model" EV/PHEV. And to use their increased bargaining power to drive the price even further down!


An EV/PHEV Version of Moore's Law

The EV/PHEV market seems to be progressing through a version of Moore's Law - the exponential increase in computer capabilities, that in a single generation has turned computers from behemoths that only governments and corporations can afford, into inexpensive, tiny multi-tasking entertainment gadgets stuck in everyone's back pocket. A present-day smartphone probably has more capacity than a 1970's "super-computer". More crucially to our case - with computers and electronics it has become totally normal to expect that the brand-new model just out to store shelves will be sold at half the price before the year is up. Maybe even less.

The rate of EV/PHEV technological improvement will probably not be as fast as in electronics (where capacity doubles roughly every 2 years). But in most years, the improvement will be substantial enough to render last year's model obsolete - leading to amazing deals on that model as the new model rolls out. This could be the case once the 2013 Nissan Leaf, whose abilities are kept under a heavy cloak of secrecy, is finally in the market.

Even more importantly, the technology's rapid advance means more players in the market. The Ford Focus electric, available at major cities since this summer, recharges its battery twice as fast as the Leaf, which is hugely important for the more heavy-duty commuters (it is also more expensive, of course) The Coda made by a new American company, is a family sedan sold all across California (and scheduled to expand nationally next year), with an advertised range 25% longer than the Leaf's. And the 800-pound gorilla of hybrids, the Prius, is now offered with a plug-in option. The EPA rated its range as 11 miles - too short to qualify for the $7.5k rebate - but trust Toyota to increase it within a year or two and thus break the market wide open.

The dealer community seems to be the slowest learner in this game, and therefore inventory has been accumulating, and the companies themselves find themselves needing to prod dealers into better deals for customers. The Leaf in particular, has gone from 9-month waiting lists and customer hysteria upon its launch in 2011, to about 100 Leafs currently sitting on dealer lots, just here in Puget Sound!. This makes no sense. It's an amazing car, there's no shortage of environmentally conscious would-be Leaf owners here - and once the 2013 is out they'll be forced to either sell it back to Nissan (if that is possible), or to sell it below cost.

We were fortunate that one of the major Puget Sound dealerships has figured out the EV game, and offers various deals at different times to move inventory out, such as this $99/month lease. Several other dealers were willing to meet or beat that deal, and we chose one. I did not play dirty with them: just called each dealership once (there are about 7 around the Sound), told them about the advertised deal (of which they were aware, of course), and asked what they can offer. There was one other big dealership that tried to play dirty with me, though: they disputed the ad, saying that the real down payment must be at least $10k - then called me again 3 more times during the day to diss the other dealership's credibility. Long story short - as the intro says - the dissers were lying, the deal was real :)

Anyway, once most dealers catch on - and hopefully this will take no more than one more model-year cycle - the EV/PHEV market will become a win-win-win-win: one for them, one for the manufacturer, one for the buyers and - last but most important - one for Planet Earth. Those who can afford the new models will pay a premium for being first, while consumers on a budget can wait 6-12 months and get EVs and PHEVs for prices similar to, or slightly higher than, comparable gas cars.

And of course, with this type of technological turnover, the buying option that makes most sense is the lease. Besides enabling you to hedge in favor of tech improvements, the lease also indirectly awards you the $7.5 Federal tax credit right away, instead of having to file for it next year.

The leading EV (Leaf) and the leading PHEV (Volt) are both offered in leases that don't pay out the full car's cost. Rather, after 2-3 years you arrive at a decision point, when you can
1. Return the car and hop onto a newer model,
2. Buy it outright and sell it at a profit if the price is right, or
3. (and probably the less common option) Buy it outright to keep it.


Can You Make a Zero-Net-Cost Transition Now?

Assuming there is an EV/PHEV out there that meets your needs (see below), if you do the math right you might discover that leasing one now, is cost-neutral on a month-to-month basis. Here's why.

We don't drive a lot (see below, "footprint"). We do about 400 miles a month in-city. We now transferred these miles from our 2001 Santa Fe, which does <15 MPG in-city, to the Leaf. The Santa Fe's monthly in-city gas cost was $110-120. The Leaf's electricity cost per month? Maybe $10-15. So we saved $100/month - exactly the price of our lease.

Right now, the regular national lease rates for both the Leaf and the Volt, as far as I know, are about $250/month for 39 months. If you do >1000 miles/month in-city or commuting with a gas-guzzler like our Santa Fe, you will save $250 a month just on the gas by going EV/PHEV. There are smaller EVs out there (the Mitsubishi i?) that might be even cheaper and meet your needs. And if you can get rid of your old car - well, here are the few thousand dollars needed for the down payment and the charging station.

But of course, we are not in it for saving money. We are in it because it's the right thing to do - so we are willing to pay a premium to move the planet to the right direction, if we can afford it. Is buying an EV/PHEV the right thing to do?


A Little Footprint Analysis


I am great believer in the Wedge approach to mitigate global warming. I am not an expert on the details, but the principle makes perfect sense: there is no one magic bullet out there. To solve this humongous problem we have created - a combination of solutions are needed. The approach is also highly educational, because instead of waiting passively for that magic bullet to appear, and instead of feeling hopelessness and despair - everyone can take steps right here, right now, to reduce emissions. I was especially delighted to learn a month ago, right here on Daily Kos, that the ages-old practice of recycling and composting, and using that compost to replenish depleted agricultural soil - actually has a huge emission-mitigating footprint.

On a personal level, my wife and I have been very glad to learn that our natural tendency to be cheapskates and a bit old-fashioned - buy most furniture on garage sales (and now Craigslist), use electronics until it breaks and not until the next great things comes along, etc. etc. - is actually a net CO2-footprint asset. Moreover, we commute to work by transit (and have chosen to buy a house in a place where such commute would be feasible), and - something I am really proud of - have trained our two teenage boys to use buses and walking whenever safe and feasible, rather than be driven everywhere. So we drive only 7k miles a year on average, about 5-5.5k of them in-city.

By all means, if your choice is between commuting by transit/cycling (and such a commute is feasible) and commuting via EV/PHEV - then transit/cycling is IMHO the right environmental choice. Cities cannot sustainably accommodate everyone commuting into them in boxes 50 times their size every day. And as long as the majority of cars in the traffic jam are gas-powered, an EV/PHEV in that jam contributes to the overall emissions by increasing the jam.

This sermon aside, I trust your judgment on what's good for you. And you might find that buying an EV/PHEV might help convert a lengthy gas commute into a less-costly EV/PHEV park-and-ride commute into a midway transit hub.

Back to us: we finally could afford some sort of emission-mitigating purchase this summer. Just at that time, there was a big organized push to install rooftop solar panels in our part of Seattle. That might sound funny, but actually Seattle has 15% more solar radiation than south Germany - and we all know by now how far solar PVs have gone in Germany. Moreover, there are great state incentives, turning solar into an investment that pays for itself in 8-9 years in Seattle; while cars are always an expense, never an investment. So we seriously toyed with the idea, but then we realized that Seattle gets 90% of its electricity from renewables (87% hydro, 3% wind) - and that the amount of solar will not really affect the city's power-purchase deals in the foreseeable future (we got an email saying so from the city planner). So while we respect those who did put panels up on their Seattle roofs, we felt that for us it would be more of a "vanity piece" than true mitigation.

The flip, positive side of that coin is that going fully electric on our in-city miles in Seattle reduces their footprint to practically nothing. On the other hand: if you live, say, in California, then buying or leasing a solar PV system on your roof might provide the biggest CO2-mitigation bang for your personal buck.

That being said, buying an EV/PHEV is a good environmental choice regardless (although it might be second-best to rooftop solar, depending on location). This is because the energy efficiency of these vehicles is equivalent to 90-100 MPG, and as renewable electricity continues to increase the net CO2 footprint of your EV/PHEV miles will drop even further.


Is EV/PHEV Right for You? And which one?

The Leaf's advertised range is 100 miles, but the EPA pegs it at 73 miles. A "trickle" charging from a regular 15-Amp socket (using a cable that comes with the car) replenishes about 5% of the battery per hour. A "Level 2" charger does it 3 times faster - so no matter how empty your battery is at the end of the day, an overnight L2 charge will refill it completely. Be aware though, that Nissan (and probably other EV manufacturers as well) recommends charging only to 80% on a regular basis, and leaving the 100% charge for "special missions".

Speaking of "special missions", there is also the DC fast-charge option (which our car does have). It refills to 80% in half an hour. Of course, you cannot install one at home - but quite a few are popping up in cities and along highways. Fast-charge should not be the default daily charging option; it is said to degrade the battery. Rather, more appropriate for the adventurous road-trip, of during an unusually heavy driving day.

A L2 charger might cost you between zero and upwards of $2k, depending on the local incentives you get.

So...

- If you only "sub-commute", like us, you really don't need a home L2 charger and the Leaf can meet your in-city needs with simple "trickle charge" whenever you need it (we do it about 3-4 times a week).
- The same is true if you commute up to 20 miles each way, except you'll need to charge every night.
- Now, if your workplace allows you to plug in and "trickle-charge" during the day (it only costs them about 15 cents/hour), then you can commute even 30 miles each way and still not need an L2 charger.
- An L2 charger but no at-work charging should be enough for a 25-30 miles commute each way.
- If you L2 at home and trickle at work, you can do 40 miles each way, and if you can L2 at both ends - make it 50-55 miles!

All the commute calculations still allow for the occasional (say) 20-mile after-work drive.

This is for the 2012 Leaf. The Ford Focus, as I said, charges twice as fast, so it can accommodate longer commutes and evening drives, especially if you can charge at work. And the Coda has longer range to begin with. Of course, with PHEV there is no "range anxiety"... but longer commutes do have a larger CO2 footprint than with pure EVs.

We did keep our Santa Fe. It is almost worthless for resale now, and it allows us to go on road trips without renting. Its highway mileage is about 25 MPG, so not the end of the world. We expect to use up to about 80 gallons of gas per year - perhaps a footprint similar to the one we'd had with owning only a Volt. But as a family of 5 with a dog, we would never fit into the 4-seater Volt (the Leaf is a solid 5-seater).

Ok. that's my limited acquired wisdom for Plug-In Day. Wish us luck in our 70-mile adventure, and do find the event near you!

7 PM PDT UPDATE:  We're back! Ok, we did need a bit of a recharge before heading back... we used an L2 charger at Snoqualmie town for one hour, while discharging kid energy at a nice playground... As I learned from people at the event (and as our owner's guide says), EVs actually perform best at around 40mph, and at highway speeds of 55-60+ the range diminishes. Still, we planned to do something fun after the meet anyway, so the charging did not disrupt anything...

There were about 50 EVs/PHEVs there, about half of them Leafs - but a few Tesla Roadsters, and a smattering of homemade wonders. Here's a partial view:

National Plug-In Day, September 23, 2012
Our Leaf is the blue one in the background.

Thanks to the Rescue Rangers for Rescuing this diary and increasing its... well, footprint ;)

I think the majority of comments are supportive, but it seems that those who are not, are unexpectedly hostile. At this point, the comment thread suffers from a moderate case of Attack of the Purity Trolls.

So for whatever it's worth, here are my two cents.

First, it is almost exactly a year since Kos had reminded members of the self-evident rules of participating in someone else's diary.  Here's a snippet, for those whose memories are weak:

Walking into someone's diary is like walking into someone's home. You are a guest. Act accordingly. That doesn't mean you can't disagree. It just means you have to be civil and courteous and limit your arguments to substance.
I think at least a handful of commenters went far beyond "civil disagreement." In particular, if you put down 1000 words in a hostile comment and call the diarist "disingenuous", you better have your own facts straight. For example, one hostile commenter used statewide Washington numbers, with a far larger share of fossil emssions than I quoted, to fault my footprint analysis. But I live in Seattle, and so nearly all of our Leaf's electricity will come from Seattle City Light. Here's their official 2010 "fuel mix". Rather than 87% hydro and 3% wind, as I wrote above, the current mix is 92% hydro and 4% wind. Even better than what I wrote.

Now, we can argue about hydro all day. Besides the fact that no two hydros are alike, any renewable resource can be faulted: solar panels are made in China using coal emissions; wind turbines destroy open space and create noise pollution; and so forth.

As long as you mindlessly promote these talking points, you are playing into the hands of the denialists and the fossil-fuel industry. Every renewable technology needs to be improved and applied conscientiously, but fact of the matter is that any of the viable ones has a far smaller footprint than fossil, and is far safer than nukes. Don't black-and-white what is rather light shades of gray. And if you have a pet peeve against hydro, go write a diary about it - and I will not be surprised if it is black-and-white in its presentation and misleading or inaccurate in its facts. But don't go crapping poorly-researched hostility about hydro, in a diary about electric vehicles.

We can all purity-troll ourselves to death. The Leaf is not American-made (the 2013 model will be); it is not union-made (I'm pretty sure the Leaf-producing workers are treated far better than the ones building your smartphone - or for that matter, the workers who made the computer upon which you typed up that derailing comment). I showed a bias against American companies (bullshit, read the diary again), or called upon people to run and buy an EV/PHEV right now regardless of their needs (again - read the diary!). And or course, the Leaf is still nothing but a toy (even though I spelled out exactly what kind of usage habits it can and cannot support - and the "yes" side probably covers the majority of urban/suburban households) - or "only a second car" (and how many married couples in the US do have more than one car? And how often do they replace at least one of their cars?). In short, since no step is perfect, some commenters seem to think that we should do nothing except fault someone who did something and wanted to share his experiences in an enthusiastic yet nuanced manner (yes, nuanced; read the diary again).

Again, the majority of commenters seem supportive and/or civil - but there is a shrill minority that leaves a stale taste. I am not offended by any of this. Only disappointed.

To end on a more positive note: I did meet at the event the guy with whom I first discussed the $99/month Leaf lease deal. And I was pleasantly surprised to hear it is still on! I will now spell out the name of the agency - Eastside Nissan. They are "the good guys" who get it, while Campbell-Nelson just north of Seattle are "the bad guys" who claim such deals don't exist. Eastside still has 67 Leafs in its lots, waiting for would-be buyers to exchange their gas miles for electric ones. If you live elsewhere, use this deal as an axe to grind your local dealer. If you want a Volt or a Focus or whatever, you can still use this deal as an axe to grind your own dealer.

I think I know why many dealers are slow to understand the dynamics. They see the $40k price tag, and the flashy electronic interface, and their mind goes: niche luxury car, vanity consumers. Wrong and Wrong. It is a next-generation car, and its buyers are early adopters and should be viewed as partners rather than as rich suckers. And being next-generation, prices erode quickly once the new version is out. Again, be patient with your dealers, but be persistent and hammer the point home. The Leaf is a great car - 2011 World Car of the Year, for goodness sake - but it now languishes in dealer lots. The Volt is just as great - but production keeps halting and re-starting to clear inventory. Dealers need to wake up and smell the coffee, bitter as it is. Please help them, for the planet's sake if nothing else.

Thank you. Good night.

Originally posted to Climate Change SOS on Sun Sep 23, 2012 at 06:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Kosowatt, and Community Spotlight.

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