September 10-18 marks National Drive Electric Week, an effort to spread awareness of “all-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric cars, trucks, motorcycles, and more.” We increasingly hear about the latest “green” and “environmentally friendly” car models. (And on an editorial note, we love it! The auto industry in particular should keep going green!) Yet most folks don’t understand just how “green” those cars are or what it’s really like to drive them, so we thought we’d get a real-world account of what it’s like to drive electric. The Zebra’s own Vice President of Marketing John Federico, based in Austin, Texas, just inked a three-year lease for a Nissan Leaf, so we asked him all of our most pressing electric vehicle (EV) questions. See if you’re not seriously considering an EV by the end!
Quoted: So, this is your first electric vehicle. Why did you want one?
John Federico: My wife and I were both driving Volkswagen diesels, which we bought thinking they were clean, but of course, they aren’t. So I’ve been driving this car–a Golf–that has been massively polluting the air. Once we found out, we wanted to get rid of them. We’re a two-car family, and I needed a car for commuting, and I wanted an environmentally friendly car — an electric vehicle. Driving an EV makes me feel a little better about having driven the Volkswagen because now I’m driving one that’s emission free.
Quoted: And why did you choose a Nissan Leaf?
JF: I would say I settled on the Leaf for three reasons: I could get a great lease price, they have one of the best charging ranges, and the cost of ownership is low.
Quoted: How did you get a good deal?
JF: In general, EVs have been depreciating at a much higher rate than regular gas-powered cars. The Leaf is one that loses value more quickly because there are more of them out there. I think the sticker price is close to $40,000, which is pretty expensive for a smaller hatchback EV. And, Nissan is coming out with a totally new model next year that’s going to be a complete redesign with a longer range. So they’re having a harder and harder time selling new Leafs, and because they depreciate so quickly, you can get really good deals on them. I was able to get a lease that was really cheap — they discounted the value of the car by half.
Quoted: And what did you learn about the charging range?
JF: A lot of people are waiting for the next iteration of electric vehicles to come out next year because many of them will have longer ranges (200+ miles), but the Leaf is around 100 miles now, which is one of the longest ranges. I’m a commuter who travels 13 miles round trip per day, so I don’t have any issues with the range. Also, Austin is a very EV friendly city and there are chargers everywhere. And Nissan has a deal where if you lease or buy a car with them you get two years of free charging with multiple charging networks—places downtown, Whole Foods, really all over the place.
Austin Energy will also pay 50% of the cost of buying and installing a charger in your house. So that’s huge. And the federal government offers a 30% tax credit for the cost and installation of a charger. So we ended up paying just a fraction of the cost of buying and installing a charger in our house. I’ve had the Leaf for a few days, and so far it has cost me about $1 to charge at night when I get home. Even if I fully charged it every day, it would cost much less than filling up my old diesel car.
Quoted: Can you tell us more about the cost of ownership?
JF: The Leaf is low maintenance and has a low cost of ownership. Once you negotiate down the price, it’s really cheap to maintain an electric car: there aren’t any oil changes and there’s very little maintenance required. I have a three-year lease and all of the warranties will cover everything for that period of time, so even if there is an issue I’ll be covered. And besides the cost of the vehicle and any maintenance, I obviously factor insurance into total cost of ownership.
Quoted: What’s auto insurance like for an electric vehicle? Is it affordable?
JF: I thought insurance was going to be a lot more expensive based on the research I’ve done, and what we’ve seen with The Zebra, but it’s actually comparable to what we were paying for the Golf, so I was pleasantly surprised. But more expensive insurance wouldn’t have been a deterrent because I got such a good deal on the car and we’re going to save a lot of money on gas, so at the end of the day we’d still end up paying less than with the Golf.
Quoted: What does the Leaf look like? Did you care about other features, like the color?
JF: It’s a hatchback—I love hatchbacks. I’ve had them a lot because they’re super practical. I’m a drummer and it’s very easy to get your stuff in and out of a hatchback. And kids always require stuff. So a hatchback made sense. It’s very similar in size to the car I was driving, the Volkswagen Golf. I’m not super picky about color. My wife actually cared more than I did, and she really liked the black, so that’s what we got. And it looks good.
Quoted: So what’s it like to drive the Leaf?
JF: It’s crazy quiet because there’s no engine. Instead of hearing an engine roar, it sounds like an electric golf cart, but not as loud. I mean, it’s not like a Tesla where you’re flying, but because it doesn’t have an engine, you can actually accelerate pretty quickly. Otherwise it doesn’t drive that much differently than a gas-powered car.
There are all sorts of gauges that tell you how much battery charge is left, how many miles you have left on the charge, how economical your driving is in terms of preserving battery life. They even gamified the Leaf. They have this “eco meter” and you can build “evergreen trees” as you drive; the more economically and battery-friendly you drive, the more “trees” you can create.
Quoted: Would you go back to a gas-powered vehicle in the future, or are you on the electric-only trajectory?
JF: I wouldn’t go back to gas. In a city like Austin, an EV is the perfect commuter car, and I see no reason to switch. If my family were going to move farther outside the city, that could be a reason, but we have no plans to move. Part of the reason I was happy to install the charger at home was because at the end of this three-year lease, there are going to be a ton more EVs available and they’re going to have a longer range than the ones now, so I’ll already have the charger set up.
Quoted: You said you have two cars. Is your other car an EV?
JF: No. We’re still waiting to do the Volkswagen buy-back with both of our diesel cars, and once we do, we’ll buy a second vehicle. But that one, the family car, will definitely be a gas car or a hybrid. They’re starting to make hybrids that plug in, and when you run out of battery it switches to gas, so we think we might like that.
Quoted: What was your shopping experience like with the Leaf?
JF: Overall, it was no different than your typical car-buying and dealer experience. I’ve read and heard people talk about how sometimes car dealers don’t know how to sell electric cars, that they don’t know much about them, or they try to steer people away from them because dealers make a lot of money from maintenance, of which electric cars require very little. That wasn’t the case for me — they weren’t trying to steer me away from an EV, they were just trying to upsell me. I wound up just getting the base model because I didn’t need the bells and whistles.
But the dealers were actually very knowledgeable about the Leaf and the features and they had multiple models at the dealership for me to check out and test drive. Austin is a very electric-friendly city, so dealerships sell them often and are pretty familiar with selling them, at least with the Leaf. Nissan has produced way more electric cars than anybody else–I think the Leaf makes up half of all EVs–so that’s probably part of why the dealer knew so much about it, too.
Quoted: Did anything surprise you about the Leaf shopping experience?
JF: I was expecting the dealership to be clueless about it, so it surprised me that they knew about all the features and everything. Nissan also has a deal where you get two years of free charging — I wasn’t aware of that.
Quoted: What other environmentally conscious choices do you make in your everyday life?
JF: We recycle as much as we can. Austin is trying to introduce a composting program, so we’re excited about that. We were doing composting before we had kids, but it’s much harder to keep up with that now, with little ones. I grew up in a house where we were always told to turn off any lights in any rooms we weren’t in, so I drive my wife crazy because I’m always turning lights off. And I try to buy local as much as possible.
Quoted: Would you recommend a Leaf?
JF: Definitely. The cost of owning and maintaining an EV is much lower, and that’s the biggest perk for me. Also, not having to go to the gas station, not having to deal with service stations or with most of the other maintenance stuff that comes along with having a gas-powered car is huge. I’m not going to have to leave the Leaf at the repair shop and wonder what they’ll find wrong with the engine, and if the problems even really exist.
Quoted: Why do you think people hesitate about going electric?
JF: People have range anxiety when they talk about why they don’t want to, or don’t enjoy, driving electric cars. And you do have to plan more for your trips with electric power, that’s true. But the more I drive it, the less I worry about that. Maybe part of the reason I worry less is that I have a charger at my house. But the whole idea of range anxiety is overblown and changes once you have the car and get used to how to drive it and how to plan.
Quoted: Do you have any advice for people shopping for a Leaf?
JF: Most people lease the Leaf (and other EVs) because they’re depreciating in value so much. If you buy one new, there’s very little chance you’ll get anywhere near the amount you paid when you go to sell it.
For people who are thinking about buying or leasing an EV, there are some great deals, and some great incentives. If you lease one for a couple years you can try it out and if you don’t like it you’re done in a couple of years. Most people I talk to have been happy with their decision to go electric though, and especially when these 200-300 mile range cars come out, why would you ever go back?