By Sean O’Callaghan
In this Series, Sean will tell us the 8-year story of his Nissan Leaf, from the purchase till the replacement of its battery.
… Continued from part 2
We racked up the first 10,000km in less than 8 weeks – which meant that when I went to the RDS for the first ever SEAI Energy Show featuring EV’s, I was able to tell people that I’d already clocked up several thousand kilometers in my own one. Leveraging ownership as a means to inspire people into considering them more closely had always been part of the plan and this was the first real chance I’d had to put that into action. That show boasted a Tesla Roadster, Renault Twizy, an Opel Ampera (although that doesn’t really count as it’s a hybrid) and, the car that set the whole movement back about 5 years (in my estimation), the Renault Fluence ZE. What – a – crock! They’d stuck the entire battery into the boot meaning that not only could you not get so much as a set of golf clubs in there, but you had ~230kg sitting right on top of the rear axle and hardly anything up front. The ultimate insult however was the absence of any fast charging. This trifecta meant that it lived up to all of the worst assumptions of EV’s. Expensive, crap to drive, and no range. I’m still not sure I’ve forgiven them for it either. The Zoe is a fine car now but the ‘battery lease’ continues to be yet another Renault inspired load of nonsense to this day …to be fair – I do really REALLY love the Twizy though.
20,000km followed after another 8 weeks, and then 30,000km before the end of November and so on. We were well over the 50,000km mark before the car was a year old – and frankly, beyond tires, wiper blades, and warranty required dealer visits, we’d stopped even thinking about it.
The one time I did stop to think about the car a bit was in the run up to the 27th of September 2013 – the day we got married!
You regularly see old iconic cars on wedding days. I’m not sure people put much thought into the ‘why’ of that particular tradition, but I think the point is that it be something different. Something special. A spectacle for the guests and a memory for the couple. The thing was though, at this point we were already owners of one of the most intriguing vehicles on the road. Most people simply didn’t know what it was, and those who did knew very little about it. Almost nobody had been near one before; so when the time came to discuss ‘the wedding car’ it became a pretty short conversation. The Leaf was perfect. 7 years on and looking back at the photo’s I still can’t think of any car available to us at the time that I’d rather have had.
Towards the end of 2013 we had clocked up about 80,000km, but it was June of 2014 before we hit the first major landmark – 100,000km! By now we were masters of the car. Range anxiety was a thing of the past and we regularly ran right down to ‘the 3 bars’ without breaking a sweat. We knew what the car could do. What was very impressive however was that our car still had all of its “bars” – the smaller ones on the outside of the fuel gauge. These indicate the SoH (State of Health) of the battery pack and the pack warranty was predicated on us not loosing more than three of these status indicators before hitting 160,000km. We were 2 years on now and EV’s were getting to be better known about. We were seeing more on the roads and meeting more at the chargers (when we did use them). The charging infrastructure was probably at its worst about then too but that’s a whole other story. In the foru
ms and community channels there were plenty of stories about cars with bars lost well before 100,000km so the fact that we’d gotten that far without losing any was remarkable. Whether this was down to us having a freakishly good pack, the nature of our commute which meant that the discharge curve was quite uniform, or the fact that we’d simply done the mileage relatively quickly is speculation on any front, and probably a bit of all three.
My curiosity got the better of me and I finally invested in a ‘LeafSpy’. A phone app which would let me take a look inside my battery pack. Couple this with a Bluetooth OBD-II (On-Board Diagnostic) dongle and you could see everything you could ever want to know about your battery. I’d been meaning to get the dongle for quite a while and this was the perfect motivation. What it told me was that our battery was right on the edge of losing the bar – and then, 3 weeks later at 102,000km, it happened. The first bar was gone.
We’d been noticing through that previous winter that we needed to ration the heating a little in the colder weather commutes, but this confirmed the suspicion – the battery was aging. This wasn’t a surprise of course, and it wasn’t even an immediate problem, but it was a bit of a pain. We were just laying down plans for our new house build at the time and this wasn’t something we’d been needing to factor into the budget at that point.
I figured we could easily get another year’s service from the pack (if the degradation was linear) before the range would start approaching the usable limit for the commute and action would be required. It was never a question of trading the car in though. For starters it was worth near nothing on account of the mileage, but also I had made the declaration when I bought it, that Nissan would never see the car again – and I fully intended to keep my word. No, it would have to be replacement. Nissan had promised a scheme, and it had come online around this time. €5,000 would get you a new 24kWh pack with your old pack in part exchange (they were in partnership with Eaton for the X-Storage home systems and that’s where these old modules would be headed) – I wasn’t keen on the idea of giving up my pack though as I fully intended to put it to static storage use in the new house myself. By this point I had a pretty good relationship with several folks in Nissan Ireland and I began testing the water regarding getting a new pack and still keeping my old one, even going so far as being happy to trailer my car in sans-battery for refit. There was no firm answer coming back though. Refits were incredibly rare beyond warranty requirements and there was very little support for them.
October 2014 saw VW enter the EV game with the all-electric e-Golf. All the early adopters got invited along and, as a bonus they also had test drives in their XL1 hypermiler up for grabs too. I got to drive both, although there was a clear distinction in the dealer attitude towards each.
The XL1 drive was an entertainment piece, very much “Here, come drive our €100,000 academic showpiece for the heck of it (we know we’re never going to be able to sell them so we may as well get some PR instead)”. It was quite an experience. Super low slung, no rear window, no mirrors. Little screens inside the cabin to replace both. Faired in rear wheels, and skinny super-hard tyres all around at that. A promised 100km/L. Quite a statement. HORRIFIC to drive. Loud even with the engine off because they’d stripped out all the sound damping to make it lighter. Vibey as all hell, and you’d no chance of getting anywhere even close to that 100km/L mark in traffic. A great experience sure, but a complete waste of time beyond that – and the very pinnacle of what the combustion engine could achieve in terms of transport efficiency. Nope. No thanks.
Getting to drive the eGolf on the other hand required a pre-drive interview. They were still a dealership after all and this one they were actually hoping to get some sales on. So I have my chat with the salesman and convince him that I might be tempted away from my Leaf to the Golf. We go for a spin, and THIS was more enjoyable. This was a Golf. It was lower than the leaf; sporty and planted. They’d gone to town with the regen options so it promised good efficiency across a range of commuter profiles – but most of all, that punchy EV drivetrain suited it. It was a gorgeous place to be and a fantastic car to drive.
When we got back we sat down to talk about pricing and finance (I was curious). €36,000 for the base spec model. No alloys, no sat nav, no reversing cameras; basic textile interior and no trimmings. The version I’d just driven was €42,000. “…but it’s OK because VW is all about PCP and that makes everything affordable. You just pick the option that suits your use case and after 3 years we just give you a new car! (Terms and conditions may apply)”
Me: Alright then, how much is it on PCP?
SA: “blah blah up front and then blah per month up to 10000km/year”
Me: 10,000km per year… I do that in 2 months. How much is it for 50,000km a year?
SA: [blank stare] …EV’s can’t do that, what you need is the 1.6L…
Me: but I do that in my Leaf… VW can’t match the Leaf?
…and it went on for a little longer but suffice to say it would have involved outright purchase which considering the base spec eGolf was the price of a top spec Nissan Leaf, was never a runner.
To be fair, this sales assistant’s viewpoint was a common one at that time – and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that there was still a bit of it about today. It wasn’t unexpected either and I’m not sure I was ever actually interested in the eGolf. No, no this endeavor was more about teasing out how VW themselves regarded their own creation; and in short.. they didn’t. They didn’t regard it at all. The aesthetics of the engine bay told the entire tale and had me put off right from the get go – this was not a vehicle that they cared about. It was a thrown together market segment probe, a kite flying exercise and little more. There was no love for it, and I was certain there’d be even less support if anything went wrong. In my case the purchase certainly never made sense, and I was still planning to drive the Leaf into the ground which I couldn’t do if I didn’t own it, but to this day I regard that Golf as a car VW could have done an awful lot more with if they’d actually bothered to try – but that’s another conversation.
Throughout the remainder of 2014 there were a couple of other events, the BMW i8 (meh, hybrid) and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (yet another hybrid, but at least justifiable for having towing capacity) arrived on the scene, as did our first dog (Odie). The number of Leafs (and it was just Leafs) that we were meeting at chargers climbed steadily. Charger contention was becoming a thing. Nevertheless our odometer kept on climbing steadily upwards until in September 2015 we hit the next big milestone – 161,000km – or 100,000miles in old money. This one was significant because the old units still carry more gravitas with a lot of people so being able to say you’ve driven 100,000 MILES in an EV adds quite a bit of punch to the statement. The original battery was still going although we’d lost two bars now, and there was very little grace in the winter commute. Time was coming for some action but there was still no firm word from Nissan regarding battery replacement. At this stage I was ‘well read’ regarding the packs as it were, but it was time for some deeper diving…
To be continued in part 4…