Case Study – Econcertive


Subject Area: Electric Vehicle

Sector: Business Services


Background

Because of the nature of the business, Econcertive involves significant mileages each year visiting client sites. Until now the vehicle of choice has always been a second-hand diesel as it offered the best all round performance for emissions, fuel economy, reliability, capital cost and running costs.

Prior to the most recent vehicle change the opportunity was taken to look at alternatives, including electric vehicles. For environmental reasons, the idea of an electric vehicle was very attractive, but it would also have to make economic and practical sense.

The latest version of the Nissan Leaf seemed to offer the most promising possibility. With a new larger (30 kWh) battery available, the range of the car is, in theory, extended to 250 km. Discussions with a very honest dealership (Thomas MacDonald of Wexford Car Centre) soon made it clear that a more realistic expectation would be 180 km.

Nevertheless, after further research the decision was made to purchase a new Nissan Leaf for the business. The purpose of this case study is to share our practical experience of running the vehicle with €coMerit members and other readers who may also be considering a move to an electric vehicle (EV).


The Car

The Leaf is a medium sized four door hatchback. The design has very clearly been well thought through and it contains some very clever safety and user features. It comes equipped with Bluetooth and a Satnav system which includes the ability to locate and guide you to EV charge points on your route or near your location.

The instrumentation includes a battery status indicator and the predicted available range based on battery status and recent driving performance. I have seen this referred to as a ‘guessometer’ which is quite an apt description. These two items are essential features when going on any length of journey.

The Leaf is surprisingly good fun to drive. The battery is low in the vehicle, giving the car a low centre of gravity, and this probably accounts for its good road-holding. When driving in ECO mode, acceleration is moderated and when braking or going downhill, energy is regenerated back to the battery. These features help to maximise the vehicle’s range.  When you take it out of ECO mode, its acceleration is very respectable. Also, being direct drive there are no pauses for gear changes.


Performance

Emissions performance on an EV is of course excellent. The livery on the car describes it as ‘zero emissions’, but that is somewhat misleading. Certainly there are zero tailpipe emissions. Instead the emissions are at the electricity power stations which power the grid. Going on the basis of average national grid performance, the Leaf produces 57% less carbon emissions than the diesel vehicle it replaced. It also completely eliminates the diesel particulate emissions which are becoming more and more recognised as a health hazard.

A further environmental bonus is the fact that the Leaf is mostly charged overnight, when the power stations are on low load, so use is being made of under-utilised capacity.

Running costs are remarkable. The fuel costs of running the predecessor diesel worked out at 10 cents per mile. The electricity costs of running the Leaf work out at 2 cents per mile. Even that figure doesn’t take account of the fact that the national eCars charging network is at present free for users (although that will doubtless change in the not too distant future).

Service intervals on the Leaf are 30,000 km, compared with the 15,000 km for the old diesel. Servicing is also much cheaper as there is no engine oil or filters to change, no clutch and no timing belts. Road tax is also considerably cheaper.

Overall the Leaf is 80% cheaper to run that the previous diesel. With an annual mileage of 24,000 miles, that yields an annual saving of around €3,000.

The burning question with any EV is, of course, range. Realistically the Leaf will run for 180 km on a full charge. That is assuming the car is running in ECO mode and at moderate speeds on the open road (typically 95 km/hr). Higher speeds and fast accelerations will reduce the range considerably.

The battery performs better in the summer months, where the range is around 200 km under the same driving style.


Support Infrastructure

The national eCars network of EV charging points is run by Electric Ireland and at present is free for registered EV users. There are presently around 1,200 charging points in Ireland. Some of these are fast chargers, which will re-charge a battery from near flat to 80% in around 30 minutes.

Journeys which exceed the EV’s range are made possible by using the eCars network. This is a regular occurrence with our Leaf. These journeys certainly require more planning than is necessary for a petrol or diesel vehicle.

Unfortunately, the eCars network has reliability issues and it is not unusual to turn up at a charging point to discover it is out of commission. There is an on-line map available which shows the status of each charging point, but this also is not completely reliable. As a result, it is necessary when planning journeys to have a fall-back plan for an alternative charging point within the remaining available range.

To be fair, it is true to say that more recently we have encountered fewer problems with the eCars network that when starting to use it in early 2016. This is partly due to being able to avoid known unreliable charging points. It is to be hoped it also reflects an improvement in overall network reliability.


Overall Conclusions

I am totally impressed with the car. It is a joy to drive and it is clear that much thought has gone into its design. The only thing I don’t like is the Satnav, which is a bit error prone and not as good as Google Maps (which I use more often than not). A very minor niggle.

The change to the EV does involve a change in driving style and requires journey planning. For a journey of any real length you need to be very mindful of battery level, distance to destination, driving speed and style. Charging stops need to be planned, and this does of course lengthen journey time. However, it doesn’t need to have a huge impact on the length of the working day. I generally use the time on charge to have a coffee, check and respond to emails, and return phone calls. This means I don’t have to do these things when I get home.

The eCars charging network can be frustrating and it needs to improve its reliability if EV’s are to reach their full potential. That said, the best measure of the car is the fact that our diesel vehicle is now very much the second car, and it rarely moves unless the Leaf is already in use.

In conclusion, the major benefits are drastically reduced emissions and running costs. The downside is the need for journey planning and longer journey times, particularly when charging stops are required.