For those who don’t know, NextGenCar.com is based out of Poquoson, Virginia; the smallest city within what is now being dubbed as Coastal Virginia (a.k.a. Hampton Roads). Here is not exactly a hot bed of electric vehicle (EV) activity though there is a very small EV manufacturer based in the area, which I’ll highlight at another time. Virginia hasn’t exactly led the “charge” on EV proliferation despite a 2010 study stating that the state was well positioned to be a leader in doing so. None-the-less, EVs are being adopted around the area. One of Poquoson’s residents, Joe Discenza, leased a Nissan Leaf this past January following a presentation I gave on the state of electric vehicles (though not because of it). He let me take it for a spin not long after he got it, which I quite enjoyed. Now that it’s been a few months, I thought I’d check in with him to see how it’s going.
Sitting outside on his back deck overlooking one of the canals that run through Poquoson, we discussed his Leaf experience to date over an antipasto salad (Joe’s of Italian descent) made with fresh lettuce from his garden and washed down with homemade lemonade. After he finished explaining to me the secret to good lemonade, I asked him what possessed him to lease a Leaf given this area’s suspect EV infrastructure. Two of Joe’s sons live in northern Virginia and both have Leafs, which they thoroughly enjoy driving so he opted to give it a try. Northern Virginia (or NoVA, for short) is much better equipped to support EVs though, so their experience is considerably different than Joe’s.
Joe is retired from the Coast Guard and now owns a small company named SmartCrane that supplies anti-sway technology for cranes around the world; so he’s no stranger to technology. He loves the Leaf and has absolutely no complaints about the car itself. He did mention that one of his sons complained about his feet getting cold during this past NoVA winter as the floorboard apparently doesn’t have sufficient insulation. Joe also mentioned that he’s still learning about the car. For instance, one of his sons pointed out to him that there is yet another mode of driving that boosts the regenerative braking capability of the car. When asked about the local Nissan dealership, Joe thought they were sufficiently knowledgeable about the car and provided good support. They did neglect an update to the car when he initially picked it up but they swiftly took care of it. There is currently a recall on the car regarding the airbag, giving Joe another chance to gage the dealership’s support. However, that’s not isolated to EVs.
After dispensing with his thoughts on the car and the dealership, I then got to the heart of the matter. What is it like to drive the car around this area as well as other parts of Virginia facing what is known in the EV industry as “range anxiety?” Joe had several stories to tell but started by emphatically pointing out that one should always keep at least a 50 foot extension cord in the car. He says that he’s getting a fairly impressive 4.1 miles/kWh with his Leaf and can travel well over 100 miles on a full charge. At home, Joe currently uses a 110 VAC outdoor outlet to charge his car overnight at off-peak rates of about 6 cents per kWh. He would invest in a 240 VAC charger (he mentioned a wall-mounted Bosch unit) but is considering downsizing next year. He keeps a rather comprehensive spreadsheet that analyzes his costs and car performance. According to his calculations, using off-peak charging, he’s getting the equivalent of 192 MPG (MPGe) at a cost of 1.8 cents per mile. He compares that to the internal combustion engine (ICE) powered Cadillac he previously drove, which got 17 MPG at a cost of 22 cents per mile. Over the course of a typical 12,000 mile year, that’s a savings of almost $2,500 in fuel cost! That’s on top of savings from not having typical maintenance costs such as periodic oil and filter changes, engine flushes, and emission checks.
Joe keeps his boat in Norfolk, which is only about a 25 mile drive from Poquoson. However, the drive can take anywhere from 40 minutes to as much as 2 hours due to the unpredictable traffic at the area’s infamous bridge-tunnel (it was mentioned in Tom Clancy’s classic, Red Storm Arising). The good news is that the Leaf uses almost no energy sitting in the sometimes standstill traffic. Under the right conditions, he can make the trip back and forth twice before needing to recharge. However, on one occasion, he needed to attend a function in Virginia Beach despite having an insufficient charge so he left on a prayer. Once the function was over at around 9:30pm, he was able to find a Nissan dealership close by where he could plug in the car. He grabbed a book and went next door to McDonald’s for about 40 minutes, which gave him enough juice to make it home. Joe also often charges at an Oldsmobile dealership in Newport News on this side of the bridge-tunnel, which is adjacent to a number of restaurants and shops. What few charging facilities there are in Coastal Virginia are almost all located at dealerships but can usually be used when dealer cars are not occupying them.
Since he has family in Fairfax and Arlington (both considered NoVA), he likes to make frequent trips there. Following the lease of his Leaf, he made the decision to sell his Cadillac on Craigslist. He has since second-guessed that decision because there are insufficient charging facilities (Level 2 or, better yet, fast-charging Level 3) between Poquoson and NoVA. For one trip, he rented a car for $85, and on another, he took the Megabus costing him $32. In the future, he’s made plans to swap vehicles with friends to make those journeys. Joe uses two iPhone apps to support his Leaf; Nissan LEAF and LEAF Link. LEAF Link allows him to locate charging facilities but it doesn’t show all available charging facilities including Tesla’s Richmond-area Supercharging facility. Recent news from Tesla holds promise that Joe may one day be able to charge his Leaf there. I turned Joe on to the PlugShare app, which has a more comprehensive listing of stations including any shared out by homeowners. Still, Virginia lags behind many other states in developing an EV charging infrastructure, so suitable stations are hard to come by until you make it to NoVA.
Is Joe disappointed in owning a Leaf in this area? Despite the struggles to find public charging facilities, his answer is absolutely not. But it does require a fair amount of planning and ingenuity to do so. His one emphatic comment is that, if states want to truly promote EV use, as many espouse to do, then they need to invest in the infrastructure. This is exactly what the recently initiated Multi-State Zero Emission Vehicle program is aimed at doing. Unfortunately, Virginia is not currently one of those states.