Far from electric day out
Campbell Spray's relaxing Sunday drive turned rather stressful when the Nissan Leaf battery quickly lost energy
AMID all the concern over rocketing fuel prices, it's perfectly natural that the electric car manufacturers are trying to kick-start again sales of EVs which have been disastrous up to now and even this year will be a long way from the wild projections of Nissan and Renault last year. Government initiatives involving cheap or free parking slots are also under way.
Nissan is giving a €5,000 offer on their Leaf to bring it to a manageable €25,000 for the well-equipped family hatchback, while Renault is offering periods of free battery rental (Nissan's battery is included in the purchase price), extended month-long test drives and other carrots to push its electric Fluence and the Kangoo, which has a commercial derivative.
Both offers will fail unless the infrastructure of charging points is massively improved, especially the fast charge points which can give a car 80 per cent of its range in under 30 minutes. However, as the present Kangoo and Fluence models can't use the fast charge system they are doubly handicapped.
I would love if the EV project really took off but, despite a number of proselytising pioneers, it just isn't there. I live in the inner Dublin area, have a slow charging point on my garage wall and most of my journeys are fairly predictable. I took a Leaf out on a week's test to discover the practicalities of driving one. By the end, the experience had become so stressful that I won't be repeating the process for sometime.
We are simple people in the Spray household and each Sunday before my partner goes to work we take a trip to Dublin's rural outskirts and have a long walk with Sam, the dog. To give the Leaf a good test, we decided to drive from our Phibsborough home to the Crone Wood car park near the Powerscourt waterfall in very north Wicklow. Travelling on the M50, the distance was 49km each way so we reckoned we had plenty of capacity from the 169km showing after leaving the car on an overnight charge. Oh, silly simple folk. Before we had gone three kilometres the Leaf was showing a range of 149km and after 10km when we had started on the motorway it was around 90km. Off came the air-con and almost everything else. By careful driving we had still more than 60km capacity when we came back to the car. But we were less than halfway home when warnings sounded and we were told to find the nearest charge point; unfortunately north Wicklow and south Dublin are badly served and we decided our best bet were the ones at the Red Cow Luas.
Unluckily, they were the slow ones and we reckoned we would have to wait an hour or two to have enough to make it home safely. We then found a fast-charge point at a fuel station close by, but that was out of order.
Panic was setting in, but with careful nursing we ended up outside the Nissan HQ in the Parkwest industrial estate at 4pm where a fast-charge point did the job. We got home late, annoyed and much stressed.
The next day things were little better. Again there was a full charge showing 169km but by the time I had arrived in Phoenix Park four kilometres away to walk the dog it had sunk to 149km. It was a cold day and we needed lights, demister and, for a few minutes, the air-conditioning on.
By the time dog and I arrived home, the Leaf was proclaiming a range of 112km. Eight equalled 57 in the mad world of the Leaf. The day I gave the Leaf back, Nissan's marketing guru Paul O'Sullivan was on the Pat Kenny radio show talking about how the country had a "tremendous opportunity to be a world leader" in the rollout of electric vehicles. It was a chance to eventually be able to "look back and be proud". But he did agree that it meant you have to be "more mindful of your journeys".
Maybe it is all about driving style and planning your journeys, and of course the cost is just one cent a kilometre against diesel's 10 cent, but if you can't go for a Sunday afternoon drive of 100km without fearing you will get stranded then no offer will get the punters buying.