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Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt Test Drive Comparisons

By John Addison (8/3/10)

Chevrolet Volt – Test Drive of an Extended Range Electric Vehicle

My test drive of the Volt demonstrates that Chevy is ready to take orders. I settle behind the steering wheel, feel comfortable in the bucket seat, and am impressed with the display behind the wheel, and the 7-inch navigation screen. The Volt looks and feels high-tech.

In 4 laps around a mile test drive loop that included sharp turns and straightaway. While driving, I was able to try the three modes of the car with a push of the button. In Normal mode, the Volt always stayed in the quiet electric mode that gives this 4-door sedan a 40 mile electric range before engaging its 1 liter gasoline engine to provide 300 extra miles of range, depending on driving conditions.

In Sport mode the Volt accelerated faster than I would need to enter any freeway, or pass another car on a country rode. In Sport, the Volt accelerates zero to 60 in about 8 seconds; not as fast as the 4 seconds when I was in a Tesla, but faster than my Nissan LEAF test drive. The Volt had a sporty feel navigating tight corners.

My drive is with Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevrolet Volt and GE Global Electric Vehicle Development. Tony has over 100 Volts around the road across the country being put through final paces by GM engineers, and a few out being driven by everyone from President Obama, to big fleet managers, to tech journalists like me.

Chevrolet dealers are now taking orders for the Volt, starting at $350 per month, or $41,000 purchase. Thousands of orders are being made with Chevrolet dealers in launch markets for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt in California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey and the Washington D.C. area. Tony Posawatz said that he expects over 10,000 Volts to be delivered by the fall of 2011. Mr. Posawatz explained that by 2012, the Volt will also be available with a flexfuel engine that can support E85 ethanol blends, and an AT-PZEV.

Volt Test Drive and Vehicle Details

Nissan LEAF Test Drive of Pure Battery Electric Car

I shift the 2011 Nissan LEAF into its normal drive mode, touch the accelerator and start driving down the San Jose streets. The electric car is always silent. It only has an electric motor, therefore I never hear the sound of a gasoline engine.

The 5-door, 5-seat compact hatchback has plenty of room. Sitting behind me is an electric utility executive who is 6″5″. I did not need to move the driver seat forward; his legs are not pressing against my seat. If the car had 4 people his size, it would be a 4-seater, not 5. On our both of the split back seats can be lowered to carry lots of cargo, be it luggage, work equipment, or everything for your favorite sport.

Driving the car was a no brainer. The friendly joy-stick knob gives me the choices of P (park), R (reverse), N (neutral) and D (drive). Touch ECO for the electricity saving mode.

Nissan engineers have been working hard to get all the software controls ready for market. Acceleration, steering, and braking are smooth. Having driving two early prototypes, this time the LEAF felt ready for the average driver who wants the car to respond just like a conventional gasoline powered car. The car feels ready for delivery to the 17,000 who have made $99 deposits with Nissan.

The LEAF is designed for an average range of 100 miles on a full charge (LA4 drive cycle). Carlos Tavares, Executive Vice President of Nissan Motor explained that the LEAF range estimate varies widely with type of driving. When not running air conditioning or heating, 138 mile range is expected in leisurely driving with slow acceleration and slow stopping. Drive on the highway while running the AC during summer heat, and only expect 70 miles. Blast the heat during cold winter expressway driving, and only expect 60 miles per charge. Sustain 80 miles per hour uphill, and the range is even less.

I put the LEAF in ECO mode which provides about 10 percent more electrical range. Push the accelerator to the floor and I automatically leave ECO mode. To encourage electron-efficient driving, the dash board provides encouraging driving feedback. My telematics display grew lots of trees when I drove with careful acceleration and deceleration. Ford was the first with this type of display, growing leaves on cars like the Fusion Hybrid. So in a LEAF, you grow trees.
While driving, visibility was good in the front, side mirrors, and rear view. The LEAF has two large LCD displays, one behind the steering wheel, the other central on the dashboard.

LEAF Test Drive and Vehicle Details

Chevrolet Volt or Nissan LEAF

I am impressed with my recent test drives of the Chevrolet Volt and of the Nissan LEAF. The Volt can be leased for $350 per month; the LEAF for $349. If you buy, you can save over $8,000 with the LEAF which starts at $32,780; the Volt, $41,000. Buyers can benefit from a $7,500 federal tax credit, and tax credits in many states, the result of growing concerns about a nation damaged from oil spills, health problems, and energy security. Currently 95 percent of U.S. transportation is fueled by oil that is refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

I would buy the Volt if I were still in previous position at Sun Microsystems covering several states. The Volt’s 40-mile electric range would be perfect for most days, and the plug-in hybrid would allow me to travel hundreds of miles when necessary, filling-up at the nearest gas station.
Now, however, the LEAF is a great fit for my wife and me. The LEAF’s 100 mile electric range exceeds our 40 mile range need. Living in a city, we are also two blocks from transit which connects to rail, and we are two blocks from car sharing. We are planning to save the $8,000 and buy the LEAF.

Both the Volt and LEAF will meet all the needs of millions as their sole car, and millions more as a second car in 2-car households. Both are roomy compacts, seating 4 and 5 in comfort. Both have backseats that can drop for comfort. Both offer the latest in safety, navigation, smart apps, and entertainment.

The best electric car choice depends on your needs. Investigate each and look for upcoming auto shows and tours in your city.

Top 10 Electric Car Makers

By John Addison, Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker. (c) Copyright John Addison. Permission to repost up to a 200 word summary if a link is included to the original article at Clean Fleet Report.

TVA Expands Renewable Energy and Solar Charging

The smart grid charging of electric cars with renewable energy advances. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Friday (ORNL) announced that they will deploy solar-assisted charging stations for electric vehicles across the state of Tennessee as part of one of the largest electric transportation projects in U.S. history.

Speaking at an event in Knoxville introducing the Nissan LEAF (NSANY), TVA Chief Executive Officer Tom Kilgore said that the first prototype charging station using solar-generated electricity will be tested at EPRI’s Laboratories for Electric Transportation Application in Knoxville this spring, possibly near the University of Tennessee campus where many electric car enthusiasts may live in multi-unit dwellings where garage charging is not available.

Modular solar charging stations can start with the charging of four cars and expand to over 10 electric cars and may be part of future fueling stations. Both stations and Nissan LEAFs will use J1772 smart charging communication.

This regional electric vehicle initiative is being done in conjunction with ETEC, which has received $100 million matching funding from DOE to install over 12,500 electric charging stations nationwide and a smart grid infrastructure.

The solar-assisted charging stations will use the sun to generate power needed to offset the charge of the electric vehicles during peak power demand periods. While vehicles are charging, the stationary batteries and smart grid controls will provide additional localized support to mitigate any impacts on the power system.

The TVA Fact Sheet also discusses re-use of automotive lithium batteries stating, “Stationary battery storage will provide additional localized grid support to mitigate the impacts of charging multiple vehicles in one centralized location. Stationary storage will also provide future opportunities to re-use automotive batteries that are no longer ideal for vehicles. These batteries may have 60 to 70 percent life left in them and can be used to support the power grid.”

Over 5 GW Renewable Energy

The Tennessee Valley Authority is moving closer to its goal of having more than 50 percent of its power generation from renewable energy by continuing to add solar and wind energy.

A power purchase agreement (PPA) with Iberdrola Renewables (IRVSF), will deliver up to 300 megawatts from the Streator Cayuga Ridge project in Illinois, starting in mid-2010. This 300MW PPA is the largest PPA to date for Iberdrola, the world leader in wind farm assets with over 10GW of wind power and 54GW of additional RE power in its pipeline.

With the new contracts, TVA has purchased up to 1,265 megawatts, enough power to serve more than 300,000 average-size homes in the Tennessee Valley. TVA’s current renewable energy portfolio now includes 5,095 megawatts from hydro, wind, solar, and methane sources. In addition, TVA’s nuclear plants contribute 6,900 megawatts of electricity.

TVA is the nation’s largest public power provider and is completely self-financing. TVA provides power to large industries and 157 power distributors that serve approximately 9 million consumers in seven southeastern states.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences.

Clean Energy and Climate Protection Bill Accelerates Electric Vehicles and Renewable Energy

For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation regulating greenhouse gases. Due to intense lobbying by industries that would incur added cost, such as coal powered utilities, HR 2454 barely was approved by a vote of 219 to 212. New battles are ahead in the Senate for the Waxman-Markey Bill.

HR 2454 encourages more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and advanced batteries to be developed and commercialized in the United States. Should HR 2454 become law, cities will more rapidly roll-out convenient electric charging stations. If you want to buy a car with better mileage you will even get more cash for your clunker – $3,500 to $4,500 until March 31, 2010.

The bill is also a win for United States energy security. HR 2454 explicitly states, “The status of oil as a strategic commodity, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector, presents a clear and present danger to the United States…Fuel competition and consumer choice would similarly serve to end oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector.”

The bill has something for everyone. Cleantech innovators get the free luxury health spa; while fossil fuel curmudgeons, a free colonoscopy.

The Waxman-Market Bill puts a limit (“cap”) on greenhouse gas emissions. Overtime industry must pay for permits to pollution. Innovation will be rewarded because clean organizations can sell their carbon credits to help polluters meet their limits.

The market place will work with cap-and-trade. Some of the pollution permit fees will be reinvested in our future. Clean innovators will flourish and create more green jobs. To help automakers retool plants for these advanced vehicles and/or drive system components, the $25 billion of funding in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will double in HR 2454 to $50 billion.

Automakers are more likely to succeed with their electric vehicle and plug-in plans for 2010 through 2012. For example, Ford (F) will start selling electric cars, vans, and a plug-in Escape. GM will start selling the plug-in Volt and now has 80 to demonstrate; Toyota (TM) will start selling its plug-in Prius and is putting 500 into fleet demonstration; Chrysler with Fiat as a key partner will sell everything from plug-in Jeeps to minivans; Nissan is partnering with electric utilities to sell more electric vehicles than the rest of the automakers put together.

Electric utilities are asked in HR 2454 to develop infrastructure plans that can optionally include fast charging, a nice win for companies such as AeroVironment (AVAV) and Better Place. Smart charging and smart grid infrastructure plans are requested from state regulators. An intelligent network will develop so that you can plug-in anywhere, be able to remotely view your state of charge and check your billing – a nice win for firms such as Coulomb Technologies. If the bill becomes law, look for utility-local government-NGO consortiums to apply for funding to implement smart-grid solutions that include smart charging stations.

Financial incentives are envisioned for commercial and federal fleets, car sharing firms, and others who can accelerate the deployment of these electric zero-emission and ultra low emission vehicles.

From cars to electric-rail in public transportation, we are beginning to shift from running on engines that burn petroleum fuels to running on efficient electric motors. Thanks to HR 2454, that electricity will be increasingly renewable. Wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, renewable biomass, and other renewable energy produced in the United States will all be encouraged by the incentives inherent in carbon cap-and-trade.

The Waxman-Markey Bill, of course, is about much more than electric vehicles and renewable energy. It provides a major step towards greater energy security, energy efficiency, and climate solutions of which clean transportation is a component.

The close vote shows that the bill has opponents. Many question whether we even have an environmental problem. As Dan Quayle once observed, “”It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” Others are opposed to putting a cap on emissions. As George W. Bush put it, “What I am against is quotas. I am against hard quotas, quotas they basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society. So I don’t know how that fits into what everybody else is saying, their relative positions, but that’s my position.”

Environmental groups offered a mixed reaction due to the many compromises and addendums that were necessary to secure a majority vote. The Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp stated, “”The bill that emerged from the House has the fundamental structure we need to significantly reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy. It puts a strong cap on emissions and reorients our energy market to make low-carbon power the goal. It ensures that utility rates will stay affordable and a competitive playing field for U.S. companies.”

Greenpeace opposes the compromised bill, “President Obama vowed to ‘restore science to its rightful place’ in his inaugural address….The Waxman-Markey climate legislation, however, will not do what the science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. In fact, House Democrats have worked extensively with the coal industry to edit the bill, which has translated into weakened emissions targets.”

Other groups supported the bill in the hopes that it would be strengthened. Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated, “But the work is far from over. Now, the bill will move to the Senate where it needs to be strengthened, so we can reach the full potential of our clean energy future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We can achieve this by strengthening the targets for carbon pollution.”

What all nations put in the sky and the oceans affects all of us and all of our children. Given the United States long history of being the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, nations have hoped that we would reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020. They will be lucky to see 17 percent. The new bill puts us in a weak position as we pursue a global climate solution treaty that involves all nations, but it takes us out of the category of obstruction as Copenhagen meetings continue.

Yet, reality is that with all the competing interests in our nation of 300 million people, we will not go directly to the energy and climate solution that is needed. We cannot kill the good in search of the perfect. As Jane Goodall observed, “Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change.”

When we get past all industry scare tactics, we may end up spending an extra $20 per month for cleaner electricity until we finally replace those old light bulbs. We may also save $200 per month by running cleaner cars and save another $200 per month avoiding doctor and hospital bills to deal with damaged lungs. Clean Energy and Climate Protection are not expenses, they are investment in our future – a future that includes our riding on sunlight.

<!– By John Addison, Jun 29th, 2009. Learn about the future of cars and transportation in John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.–> By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.