Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Turning over a New Leaf (part 2)

Part 2: 
The New Car

Our new Leaf SV. Black and white coloring, not unlike a space shuttle.

When deciding how to replace our beloved blue 2014 Leaf, we considered several options, with the constraint that we would definitely be replacing it with another 100% electric vehicle. "No plug, no chug" is our mentality, as we are committed to plug-in vehicles from here on out for the benefit of the global environment our kids will inherit (i.e., far less induced greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle), for the benefit of improved local air quality (i.e., no smog-producing tailpipe emissions), and for the financial benefits of "free" fuel from our over-producing solar panels as well as reduced maintenance costs compared to gasoline vehicles. At some point we will be replacing our 13-year old SUV, and for that we'll want a larger vehicle that can better accommodate our soon-to-be-5-member family on long road trips. For that we'll relax the 100% electric constraint, but still try for a plug-in hybrid vehicle that would allow us to at least make our commutes 100% electric. (I'm looking hard at the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid mini-van with 30 miles all-electric range). If that van had been available today, we probably would have gone ahead and purchased that, relying on our old SUV for a while until we were ready to replace it with a smaller 100% electric commuter vehicle. But the Pacifica Hybrid is still a month or two out from being available, and meanwhile we needed a car.

As for our Leaf replacement, we knew it would be primarily my commute vehicle (~22 miles each way, 44 miles round trip per day), but that it would need to have the capability of carrying all 5 members of our family if necessary. This meant we eliminated the smaller EVs (Fiat 500e, Chevy Spark) based on size, and we eliminated a lease option since I've been averaging just over 16k miles per year on the Leaf and lease deals start to look less attractive when you have to pay for more than the typical 10k - 12k mileage allowance. Also, in the interest of reducing demand for building new cars, and the environmental impact of manufacturing new cars, my goal for this replacement car (as it was for the blue Leaf) is to keep driving the car until its wheels fall off. Hopefully it will be my son's first car when he is old enough to drive in 10 years.

At first I looked at the idea of  replacing our 2014 Leaf with another used 2014 Leaf. Edmunds and Autotrader had listings between $11,500 and $12,000 before sales tax, pushing it to ~$14,000 including sales tax, and effectively more given that we'd need to finance the car and would likely be unable to access 0% APR like we had on our Leaf when we bought it new. I wasn't clear on what the warranty status of each of these listed vehicles would be, either. So while this was a decent option in terms of cost, I wasn't sure if it was the best choice for us moving forward.

Given the major increases in EV range that are being deployed in the very near term (Chevy Bolt with 238 miles range within a couple months, likely 2017 Leaf with rumored ~160ish miles range within a couple months, Tesla Model 3 within a couple years), the idea of buying a vehicle now with the same 84 miles EPA range that was available 2.5 years ago seemed less than-ideal future-proofing. I don't want to upgrade my car every couple of years as the higher ranges become available, but I am interested in getting the best range per dollar available to me right now. I looked at used 2014 Toyota Rav4 EVs, which are listing for ~$22k before sales tax, so probably close to $24k with sales tax. But again, that's used, without a warranty, and for a vehicle that, from what I've heard, neither Toyota or Tesla are strongly motivated to continue servicing. Plus it would cost another $3.5k to have an after-market quick-charge port installed on that vehicle, and I have become convinced over the duration of my Leaf ownership that no one should own a low-range electric vehicle without the option to Quick Charge, which greatly extends the use cases of the car.

I ended up deciding to go for a new 2016 Nissan Leaf SV (one trim level higher than our totaled Leaf), for the primary reasons that a.) it would come with a 30 kWh battery, allowing for 27% more range than our previous Leaf (EPA estimated 107 miles vs. the previous 84 miles), and b.) would come with all the warranties of a new car, plus be available with 0% APR financing. Obviously, this still  involved spending more money, as the net cost to us (accounting for federal tax credit of $7500, state rebate of $2500, Nissan promotional discounts of $6000, sales tax, and gap insurance) would end up being about $20.5k. That's a good ~$5k+ more expensive than getting a used 2014 Leaf, but we decided that the benefits of having more range and a new car (warranty, 0% APR) made it a more sensible long-term purchase.

One might argue that we could have waited a couple months and gone all in for a 2017 Chevy Bolt with 238 miles of range. But that would have been an even greater cost, since the Bolt starts at $37,500, and once you add sales tax is up over $40k. I doubt there will be many dealer or Chevy incentives for this hot new vehicle right out of the gate, so you're looking at a net cost of over $30k after applying the federal tax credit and CA state rebate, which is ~$10k more expensive than what our net cost is on the 2016 Leaf. If this were going to be our only car, I could justify that premium for a Bolt. But given we are also planning on getting a Pacifica Hybrid when it comes out, and that vehicle will end up becoming our family long-hauler for road trips, I'd prefer to save the money for that.

After just a few days, the new Leaf is quite satisfying to drive. The extra range is real, and after living 2.5 years with a 84 mile car, its a bit surprising how much the extra 23ish miles of EPA range on the new Leaf relieves range anxiety. Our car came from a Goleta dealership, and it was driven the full drive to Woodland Hills without needing to stop and charge. (We've done the same trip in our old Leaf, and definitely needed a quick charge along the way.) I believe we could drive it to San Diego with only a single stop to quick-charge (a trip that would take 2-3 stops in the 24 kWh Leaf. Work-to-home commutes from Santa Monica to Woodland Hills that used to take 29% of the old battery only take 17% of the new one. The "guess-o-meter" remains as variable as ever, but it's nice to drive it from home to work without it's estimate ever dropping below 100 miles remaining. On my tuesday drives down to Long Beach, I used to have to charge the old Leaf to make sure I had enough juice to get back home. I expect I won't need to do that anymore, saving the cost of charging (50 cents/kWh), and leaving the charging space open for some other plugin driver to use.

The guess-o-meter reads 121 miles of predicted range when the car is fully charged after having driven from Santa Monica up over the mountains and down into Woodland Hills.

Guess-o-meter reads 144 miles of range when fully charged, after having driven from Woodland Hills up over the mountains and down to the sea-level Santa Monica.
Plus, stepping up to the SV trim from the low-end S trim brought some extra perks in addition to the bigger battery, including the ability to "pre-condition" the car by starting the heater or AC from my smart phone, so the car is a comfortable temperature before we get into it. Not critical in Southern CA with our mild weather, but I foresee it being a nice-to-have when taking the kiddos to school on cold winter mornings.

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