This post is actually a comment we left in response to an article that appeared on seattlepi.com. The article references a family running their LEAF out of electricity on the way home from the Seattle airport at night. I’ve linked to the short article above if you wish to read it first.
New technology is not always easily understood, even by those that think that they may understand it. People driving gasoline engine vehicles don’t generally use their “distance to empty” computer (if they have one) to determine their range. They normally use their gas gauge. On the LEAF the “distance to empty” (large XX miles display) unfortunately is as prominent as the “available charge” gauge (12 bars equivalent to a digital gas gauge). And since the “distance to empty” is a number, people tend to take that as accurate. The problem is, whether gas or electric, this is based on past driving, not future driving.
Based on the above example, when leaving the airport, the LEAF had at least four passengers (kids – plural) plus luggage for at least one person. This was likely not the load condition for the driving that occurred previous to this. One adult (150 pounds plus) and luggage (30 pounds plus – likely light on both counts) adds significant weight. If previous mileage was with only one person in the car, the “distance to empty” is not going to be anywhere near accurate. But even if the kids were in the car on every trip, there is still a significant difference in load. What electric vehicle (EV) drivers (others (once they become available) as well as LEAF) need to become accustomed to is the fact that load impacts driving range, as does speed, temperature, topography and driving style. In this case, driving at night was likely colder than driving during the day, in addition to everything else. LEAF drivers need to focus on how many bars show on the “available charge” gauge, and plan on being home before they all get used up. Most people don’t drive their gas car until it’s on fumes. How do you know how far you can go on one bar (there are 12)? Observe your day-to-day driving. Too much work? Perhaps an electric car isn’t right for you just yet.
Wait… I hear you saying. I thought the LEAF was a real car? It is, but even “real cars” have limitations. If you overload an F-150, you will stress the frame and suspension, and it may fail prematurely. If you drive a Ferrari around an offramp faster than physics allow, it will crash. And if you drive a gasoline engine vehicle until you run out of gas it will strand you on the side of the road. I wonder how many people that happened to on the same day as this that didn’t make it to MSNBC or seattlepi.com.