Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The All Electric Nissan Leaf to Debut In Moscone Center.

53rd International Auto Show/Nissan Leaf
The new 100% electric Nissan Leaf vehicle will highlight the 53rd Annual San Francisco International Auto Show, November 20-28 2010, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.  

The auto show each year features the latest models of cars, trucks, SUVs and vans from carmakers around the world.

According to Nissan's website, the car has a range of up to 100 miles of distance on a single, fully charged battery.

And Nissan is targeting the average American commuter as its primary market, of whom 95% are said to drive less than 100 miles a day.  Prospective consumers will be able to reserve a space to test drive the Nissan Leaf at next week's auto show.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) last month approved $33 million in federal grant money to fund green projects throughout the Bay Area.  Included in that project is San Francisco's pilot plan to purchase some 25 of the Nissan Leafs, intended to be used as "neighborhood taxis" in designated areas in the City.

As mentioned earlier, the vehicle will travel up to 100 miles of distance on a fully charged battery.

However, there's a twist in the plot.

According to Nissan, the Leaf can also get as little as 62 miles depending on conditions.  Stop and go traffic, extra cargo (such as having 4-5 passengers with luggage), driving up long hills, using the heating or air conditioning (assuming that includes defrost), and using the stereo or auxiliary input jack for i-pods or GPS gadgets can all use up more juice, causing the range to fluctuate.

To reiterate, the Leaf will get an estimated 62-100 miles per full charge, (or 62-138 miles by some estimates).

The fact is, an average taxi driver consistently travels more than 100 miles per shift... sometimes significantly more.

Additionally, taxicabs may inevitably draw more energy because of their top lights, GPS systems,  CB radios, taximeters, and FM/AM stereo listening or I-pod.  Add to that the hills of San Francisco and the stop and go driving, and taxicabs may consistently fall in the low 62 mile estimate.

This raises the inevitable concern that drivers would have to refuse good, long trips to, say, Palo Alto, or Novato, or even the airport if they're running on the last leg of charge.  This is the same problem that CNGs have, except that even CNGs once they're at a fueling station, can refuel within minutes.

Drivers of all electric vehicles will have to stop at some point during their shift to recharge, and so another obvious concern is  how the vehicles will be able to recharge.

The challenge could be whether the City finds money to obtain what are called quick charge stations.  These stations are 480 Volt commercial grade stations that would charge the batteries to 80% of their capacity in about 30 minutes.  Ideally, these stations would be located someplace accessible to the public, and ideally, away from the threat of crime (especially at night).  These stations would seem a must.

If the City because of lack of funds, could not obtain these quick charge stations, the batteries would need to be charged by 240 Volt garage style chargers that Nissan is promoting to install as home stations.  This is what Nissan is mainly encouraging and pushing for its buyers to purchase, at least for now since commercial grade public stations to date, are not adequately abundant.

The 240 Volt stations are estimated to cost a homeowner about $2000.00 to install, plus tax and licensing fees, and could fully charge the batteries to 100% in about 8 hours.    This would be the second best thing - that the City provide these 240 Volt charging stations for the drivers and locate them someplace accessible to the public and away from crime.

The City's original idea was to make the Nissan Leafs "single operator" and drivers therefore should charge the taxis at home, cover all operating costs, plus a lease fee, and cover the more than $2000.00 installation costs for a home charging station.  This would most likely be unfeasible.

The City then offered to keep the Leafs as "single operator" but eliminate any lease fee and the $2000.00 installation cost.  But under this specific version of the "single operator", even without a lease fee or installation costs, the operating costs have roughly been estimated to be nearly $3000.00/month.  This also may be cumbersome.

The main reason is because the 240 Volt system could likely offer taxicabs little more than an average of 62 miles to every 8 hours worth of charging.

Considering that taxis cover approximately 15-20 miles of distance per hour, this gives about 3-4 hours of taxi driving time for every 8 hours worth of charging.  In my experience, that's just about enough time to make an average gate and gas expense, but not much more.

If the City could not attain either a 480 Volt or 240 Volt system, then a third, "trickle charge"system would have to charge the battery using a household standard 120 Volt charging installation, and would take about 20 hours to reach 100% charge, according to Nissan.  So the same ratio applies as with the 240 Volt chargers, only instead of taxis traveling for about 3-4 hours for every 8 hours worth of charging, they would travel the same number of hours for every 20 hours worth of charging.

These are the three charging options Nissan is currently making available for the Nissan Leaf.  There is no battery switch capability for these vehicles.

Nissan is targeting consumers who drive less than 100 miles per day... not more, because less than 100 miles is within the vehicles potential capacity.  Curiously, the City appears to be doing the opposite of Nissan's marketing strategy.

And, the City has not given any clear indication as to whether there are funds to provide 480 Volt quick charging stations, as commercial grade stations would seem necessary to make the City's plan work.  If the money is there, then there is hope, and the plan may work.

And it is possible, or perhaps even likely that there are 25 drivers who could make the Nissan Leafs work using the 240 Volt home charging systems, and cover all the costs themselves.  But the "all-electric taxi" is only a 3 year program for now, so the investment may not be long term.  I am skeptical that I could do it using a 240 Volt system.

To add to that, San Francisco has not publicly stated any specific plans as to how the Leafs would be utilized as "neighborhood taxis".

For example, suppose the City designated the outer avenues as the "neighborhood taxi" area.  (And there is indication that those may be the chosen areas).

If that is the case, then what if a passenger took a taxi from 46th Ave. & Fulton St. to Howard & 2nd St., how should the driver go back to re-service the designated neighborhood?

Is the driver to refuse fares in SOMA or the Wharf in order to return to the Richmond, and refuse all the other fares that could pop up along the way too?  What if after dropping off at Howard and 2nd, another passenger gets in and asks to be taken to Albany?  Should the driver have to decline the fare?

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the Leafs (and we) are being set up to be used as "peak time" vehicles; a study commissioned by the Ms. Hayashi WILL (or the heads of comptroller's boffins conducting the study will roll) show peak time medallions are needed; I am confident the study will show we need exactly the number of Leafs provided, i.e., for exactly 62 miles or exactly 3-4 hours of peak time; whatever that is construed to be by the MTA, er, I mean, the totally independent comptroller's office study....


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