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July 25, 2017
Paul Gipe

What’s Next for Us as Our 2015 Nissan Leaf Nears the End of its Lease


We’ve chronicled our experience leasing a 2015 Nissan Leaf, a battery electric vehicle (EV), for the past three years. Now we’re nearing the end of the lease and the question is what’s next?

Our next car will be an EV. That’s certain. We’re sold on EVs. They’re fun to drive, quiet, good for the environment—and relatively inexpensive.

Here are our choices: Keep the Leaf and pay the residual owed, return the Leaf to Nissan and settle up, or return the Leaf to Nissan and lease another Nissan EV.

Option one is out. We won’t keep the 2015 Leaf and pay the residual. We like the car and it’s worked well for us. My wife, Nancy Nies, loves driving it. However, new EVs, such as the Chevy Bolt, have effectively made the Leaf obsolete. Today’s battery technology supersedes what powers the 2015 Leaf. Chevy’s Bolt essentially has three times the range as our Leaf in a car much the same size.

Further, our Leaf has lost more than 10% of its traction battery capacity in the three years we’ve driven it. We did not baby the car. We intentionally drove the car like we think most Americans would. We plugged it in when needed. Charged it up to 100% and drove it as we wanted. Despite the so-called “lizard” battery in the 2015 Leaf, the car still suffered battery degradation in the scorching heat of three Bakersfield summers.

While our Leaf is perfectly serviceable for most tasks in and around Bakersfield, the loss of capacity makes me hesitant to take it on road trips out of the California’s Central Valley. The 2-3 kWh the Leaf has lost are the 2-3 kWh that could make the difference between reaching the first DC fast-charging station over the Tejon Pass and calling a tow truck. My calculations show that we should make it with some charge to spare, but the lowered safety margin doesn’t allow for any surprises. This makes for white knuckle driving, reducing the utility of the Leaf.

My knee-jerk reaction is to give the car back to Nissan with a “Thank you very much.” However, Nissan knows they’re in an awkward sales position relative to Chevy’s Bolt. Nissan’s new, longer-range EV won’t be announced until September and won’t even be available until the first quarter of next year. To stave off mass defections to GM, Nissan is offering to extend our lease six months. On top of that they are offering the first three months for free with no obligation to pay the lease fee back if we don’t lease another Nissan.

As Nissan expects, that offer makes us reconsider dropping the car off at the end of the lease. There’s about $200 in minor damage to the car and a $400 fee to return the car. Our lease is about $200 per month, so three free months makes it a wash for us. They have our attention.

I follow both the MyNissanLeaf and MyChevyBolt forums and I’ve noted that a number of early adopters of the Nissan Leaf have already moved to Bolts. Many other former Leaf drivers have moved to Tesla.

Nissan’s new EV will have to be competitive with both the Bolt and Tesla’s new Model 3 or they will quickly be an “also ran” in the EV sweepstakes. For now, we just don’t know what Nissan’s new product will be capable of. French observers have seen the dash display of a Nissan test car at a fast-charging station. The display said the battery was fully charged with a range of 265 km or 160 miles. That would indicate a traction battery with a usable capacity of 40 kWh as has been widely rumored. (Renault, Nissan’s alliance partner, introduced a 41 kWh battery pack in its Zoe earlier this year.) That’s two-thirds the capacity of the Bolt’s 60 kWh battery pack.

40 kWh of traction battery capacity would work for most people and would probably work for us too. Range isn’t the only criteria. As important are measures to maintain the battery packs health over the three years of a lease. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, neither Chevy’s Volt (GM’s extended range EV) or Tesla’s Model S and X have had any significant battery degradation. Nissan will have to assure drivers that they’ve heard their complaints and have incorporated engineering solutions to fix this problem. If not, drivers like us will—bolt to GM. Tesla has a huge back log of orders for its Model 3. It will be years before that car is available for anyone off the street. BMW’s new i3 and VW’s new EV will be pricier than the Bolt and they’re not even on the market yet.

There are factors in Nissan’s favor. People, who have driven the Leaf, like it. I’ve driven a Bolt and we could get used to it too. It’s “peppy” as they say, and has long range. Yet only 25% of the Bolt’s value is added in Canada and the United States. Though the Bolt is assembled in Michigan, the car was designed in Korea and the battery and drive train were manufactured in Korea. Nissan builds both the battery pack and the Leaf in Smyrna, Tennessee. Granted, it’s not a union shop like GM’s assembly plant in Michigan, but Nissan employs North American’s to build the car.

So, we’re exploring our options. There are some lease deals on Bolts in California that are less than what we’re paying for the Leaf, a car with one-third the range of a Bolt. With subsidies from the state of California and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, you can lease a Bolt here for about what you would pay for a cell phone plan. That’s very tempting. You can get a current Leaf for even less as Nissan clears their lots before Leaf 2.0 is introduced.

The next six months will see major changes in the EV marketplace. I suspect that many people are like us, they’re waiting to see what develops. Quite a few will lease either a Bolt or the new Leaf. Then in three years when their leases end, they will buy a used Tesla Model 3 coming off lease.

 


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