Is Electric Power the future?

 The zero-emission brag of an electric car including the tested Nissan Leaf

The zero-emission brag of an electric car including the tested Nissan Leaf

The future of the automobile almost invariably has electric drive train. While many may disagree, here’s my reasoning. Electric cars allow you to take power generated from a number of sources - from renewable to traditional - and transform that into motive power. This means regional strengths can be incorporated. Coal in Tennessee, solar in California, etc. 

An electric vehicle is also much simpler to maintain than an internal combustion vehicle. There are few maintenance points in an electric vehicle. Brakes, tires, things like that. There are no exploding systems that serve to shove you along through traffic. 

Electric vehicles are also a lot of fun. An electric drive motor generates virtually 100% of it’s torque right from the get-go so you get a nice kick in the pants when accelerating from a stop if you’re not trying to extract the most mileage from a charge. Why own a high-performance car when you can’t do stupid things to show off to your friends in the passenger seat? 

However there is the most obvious negative about an electric vehicle, the limitations of carrying a heavy battery pack around that only lets you go so far before needing to spend a good amount of time with its proboscis in some wall somewhere. I actually have a solution to this. Yes, I could save the world. 

The Nissan Leaf

To see what’s up with electric cars I got to spend time with a Nissan team member in a new 2018 Nissan Leaf. As we drove around she explained some of the latest features of the car which was very pleasant to drive indeed. 

The new Leaf doesn’t look so out of place in a normal parking lot - the styling is much more mainstream than that of its predecessor. Yet even with the previous generation’s, uh, stand out styling, it still managed to be the most popular electric car in the world. 

Nissan asked their customers what they wanted and value was a top pick, so this new Leaf can’t achieve the 200 mile estimated range of competitors like the Chevy Bolt or theoretical Tesla Model 3, but more people can afford the $30,000 price tag which isn’t that far from the average he price of a car in these United States. 

Among the things I got to try was the one-pedal mode which uses the accelerator pedal for the usual function but, with regenerative braking technology, taking your foot off this pedal engages regenerative braking which slows the car down almost as if you’ve stepped on the brake pedal to the point where it ultimately will stop the car altogether. 

Regenerative braking also uses the car’s momentum to generate power which helps stretch how many miles you get to drive before setting up some quality time with General Electric. 

The particular Leaf I drove also had everything you could want in a self-driving car but some lawyer’s blessing so it would shake the wheel when you got too close to the edge of the lane and could accelerate and decelerate based on the speed of the vehicle ahead of you. 

Based on my daily 80 mile commute this Leaf would be a great choice. I could use the regenerative braking on the downhills and the follow-along speed control would be a great tool since nobody can seem to maintain a constant speed on my commute - cruise control is totally worthless where I live. Well, not if I drove a Leaf - it’s smart enough to keep its distance from my neighbors and their lifted pickups. 

Solve the World’s Problems

My drive with the informative Nissan team member was great and I learned all about the various electronic toys and assist devices in this car. It would be a fun one to have for a daily commute and all the basic car stuff - seat and ride comfort, driving position and that sort of stuff was just fine. 

However I also got to experience range anxiety as we tested the Leaf in the hills of Monterey and our talking and explaining and testing were such that we got to where the car estimated zero miles left on the charge. Oops. 

At that point the car shut down the climate control, the defroster and other non critical components just to extend the chance that you’re not going to be calling a tow truck to get to the nearest electrical outlet. 

My personal solution to this would be to suggest to car makers that they sell us the electric cars themselves but then lease us the batteries. If you made the batteries hot swappable like in your flashlight you could go to the dealer or an authorized battery swap center and have your dead batteries swapped for charged ones. 

By leasing the batteries you’d also have the latest formulation so your car would get better over time. And, the batteries would be separate from the vehicle itself so recycling toxic batteries could happen so that these cars are potentially better for the environment. 

There are lots of things to overcome with this solution but there are already challenges that existing electric cars face. I like my idea though I’m sure you’d have to take a bunch of lawyers to some back room with Guido the Enforcer to convince them that this was a good idea. I’m sure a bunch of bureaucrats would also have to be in the same beating. Er, meeting. Yeah, meeting. 

I liked the Nissan Leaf quite a bit as a very drivable, sporty and capable car. For even my long, long commute it would make a lot of sense and this newer version is even easy on the eyes. For a lot of people a car like this could make a great deal of sense and be a fun companion on a daily commute.