Leaf, Volt pass real-life tests; Detroit fashion

We had the opportunity to spend time with a Nissan Leaf over Thanksgiving, but circumstances prevented a normal review.

Because we were facing a holiday drive of 125 to 140 miles and unknown traffic forecasts, we weren’t able to take the all-electric Leaf on our planned trip.

Had it been an 80-mile trip, we’d have had no problem. And therein lies the rub with the all-electric Leaf. Unlike those who drive hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt, which can run virtually forever with just gas stops, a Leaf owner has to know his or her limitations.

“You don’t need a charging station to recharge EVs but it helps if you have one at home or work, preferably both, because there is an advantage to reducing the charge time by 50 percent,’’ says Donald Bowen. He is principal at Meridian Associates of Beverly, a civil engineering firm that deals with many renewable energy projects and has a Leaf, twoVolts, and a plug-in Prius among its eight green vehicles. The company was one of the first Massachusetts customers to take delivery of a Leaf.


“The Leaf isn’t a car for everyone,’’ says Bowen, “but it works in a two-car family where one person has shorter driving requirements each day.’’

Meridian’s personnel drive the Leaf from Beverly headquarters to North Shore projects in Gloucester, Ipswich, and Newburyport and also on round trips as far as South Boston and back.

“I’ve driven it around the North Shore all day and still had 45 to 50 miles of range left,’’ says Bowen, who used to have a 220-volt charging station at home (he just moved) and another at work. In contrast, we made do with an extension cord from a 110-volt plug, which doubled charging times to 12 hours or more for a completely depleted battery.

Bowen reports that local EV (electric vehicle) owners have more charging options now. “All you need are two apps (PlugShare and Recargo) for your smart phone to find all the local charging stations,’’he says.“There actually are several hundred now in the Greater Boston area.’’

Nissan last month announced that battery (and range) capacity will be increased by 14 percent for 2013.

However, range, as Bowen and his associates have learned, is a function of driving style, temperature, speed, heater/AC use, and whether you’re on highways or local roads.


“If you’re attuned to anticipating stops and driving efficiently, you can go 100 miles and as many as 120,’’ he says. “But if you drive aggressively and do a lot of highway driving, you’re looking at more like 85 miles of range.’’

Bowen’s description of the driving experience mirrors mine: “The Leaf’s very peppy. There are no problems in traffic or on the highway. It’s a comfortable five-passenger vehicle with good visibility.’’

While Nissan was announcing extended range for the Leaf last week, Consumer Reports was reporting that, for the second straight year, the Chevrolet Volt topped its annual owner satisfaction survey, with 92 percent saying they’d buy a Volt again.

Bowen understands why.

“In the year and a half we’ve owned the Volt, it has taken us all over New England and averaged the equivalent of 240 miles per gallon without a single maintenance problem,’’ he says.

“Actually, it’s saved us in service costs. I recently took it in for an oil change at 18,000 miles—88 percent of which were in all-electric mode. They told me the oil wasn’t even halfway due for a change. Normally, we’d change it at 5,000 miles, so we’ve already saved on four oil changes.’’

Bottom line: If it fits your lifestyle and driving habits, the Leaf is a real vehicle—with a need for regular charging.

And those charges are cheaper than fillups at the local gas station.

“It costs our company about $20 a month per vehicle for electricity,’’ says Bowen, who can’t imagine returning to a non-electric vehicle because of his satisfaction with the Volt and the Leaf.


Made in Detroit, Limited Edition

Chrysler and Carhartt work wear have teamed for a limited edition “Made in Detroit’’ clothing line—although the prices are more for collectors than guys working on a loading dock. The nine offerings—each limited to 200 hand-numbered items—are 100 percent Made in America and include traditional Carhartt styles with special details such as blackedout hardware and leather brand labels. The line includes a Detroit jacket, chore jacket, active jacket, long-sleeved signature T-shirt, mechanic’s shirt, double-front work jeans, knit skull cap, women’s Detroit jacket, and women’s signature T-shirt.


Hurricane Sandy will account for at least 250,000 new-car sales as victims replace their lost vehicles. The storm also will add an estimated 100,000 “lost’’ write-off cars damaged in dealer lots…A happy note: Subaru celebrated the sale of its six millionth vehicle in the United States, a 2013 XV Crosstrek that was sold at Subaru of Georgetown,TX, on Nov. 27. “It took us 16 years to reach our first million, but we are selling them at a faster rate than ever,’’ says Thomas Doll, COO of Subaru of America. “At our current sales rate, we will hit our next million in under three years. We’re also proud that 96 percent of Subarus built in the last 10 years are still on the road today.’’… A future note: Mazda will become the only Asian automaker with a diesel option in the United States when it adds a 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel to the 2014 Mazda6 lineup in the second half of 2013. “We’ve dangled the carrot long enough,’’ Jim O’Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, said in a statement before the show…A sad note is the imminent closing of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum at the company’s Auburn Hills, MI, headquarters.

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