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Monday, January 22, 2018

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 6 - The Bud Of A New Leaf)

Our slow path to a 100% EV household.

In 2007, (part 4) I became an EV driver and an EV advocate. Later that year (part 5), we installed solar panels. This had turned me into an advocate. I joined the Electric Auto Association, Plug In America, and Solar Oregon. I blogged and wrote for Plugincars.com and All Cars Electric (now part of Green Car  Reports) and I advocated for automakers to make EVs.

In 2008, I meet several designers, engineers, and a program manager from Nissan. They were working on their new EV and they wanted to hear what EV drivers loved about there cars (or truck in my case). I would learn later that this is what would become the Nissan Leaf.

We were in a large conference room. There were several EV drivers and several people from Nissan. They had several questions for us. My first statement to them was cautionary. Remembering my disappointing Xebra test drive, I explained how they should not over-commit and under-deliver. If they said the car would go 100 miles. Then it needed to be able to go 100 miles at freeway speeds while managing the hills that are common here. Unfortunately, Nissan didn't listen to this. When the Leaf came out, it was EPA rated for 72 miles, but much of their marketing emphasized that you could get up to 100 miles.

I suggested that they have a simple way to show the current range on the navigation map. Then I could look and see if my destination is within the "you-can-make-it" zone without taking the time to type in an address. This made it into the final vehicle.

The format was a small group interview, two of the other interviewees, started arguing about regen levels. One wanted heavy regen to maximize energy recapture. The other wanted light regen to allow gliding for hypermiling and range maximization. I interrupted their argument, to point out to the Nissan folks that this was a "religious war" within the EV community. Their best option was to offer two modes; otherwise, they would immediately alienate whichever portion of the community they didn't select. This made it into the final vehicle.

I suggested that the car has its own data connection and that it included charging locations in the navigation system. It was important that the car had its own data connection so it could get over-the-air (OTA) updates because new charging stations were going to be getting installed every week. The old process of taking your car into the dealership for a map update would not work. This too made it into the final vehicle.

Today, these seem obvious, but remember this was 2008. It would be 4 years before the Tesla Model S came out and took OTA updates and other aspects to the next level.

This was a great experience. It was so cool to be able to meet with people at a company that were working on an EV program and to shares ideas with them. I had never owned a Nissan vehicle before, but I was now very curious about their plans and wanted to know what they'd do with all of this research that they were collecting from EV drivers. I'd have to wait more than a year before I learned more about Nissan's plans.