We think not
Nissan’s belief that an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure must be in place before EVs are sold in scale is, we think, an incorrect assumption.
Let’s take a look at some current realities. The generation one Nissan LEAF has a real world range for most drivers of 60 miles to 90 miles per 100% charge. Yes, we are aware of some drivers going further, and there are likely some that haven’t even achieved these moderate distances. But the fact of the matter is this – for those consumers that have no desire to change their driving habits (which is likely a significant percentage of the population), they will not likely see anywhere near the Nissan rated 100 mile range. But the question then becomes – do you really need to drive further?
The lower end of our real world range stated above is 60 miles. Do the math. 60 miles times five days per week times 52 weeks per year equals 15,600 miles per year. Increase the daily range to 90 miles and you get 23,400 miles per year. This does not account for weekend driving which can vary dramatically from household to household. While some long distance commuters drive more than this in car-crazy Southern California (and in some other areas of the country as well), we would hazard a guess that there are significantly more that never reach these annual mileage numbers. In fact, we have government research numbers that say that most drivers never even come close to achieving the upper end of the LEAF range on an annual basis. Given that, why would anyone need to charge anywhere other than at home?
The Nissan LEAF has a 3.3 kilowatt hour on-board charger. When attached to a 240 volt electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) station, said LEAF will gain roughly ten miles for every hour plugged in. We simply do not see most people waiting an hour to add ten miles to their driving range. Unless they absolutely had to.
Yes, yes… we know. “What about opportunity charging?” Opportunity charging is exactly what it sounds like – taking advantage of the opportunity to charge whenever it presents itself. While currently much opportunity charging remains free, when organized commercial charge networks start becoming more prevalent and making their presence known, the cost needed to pay back the investment in the infrastructure will overwhelm the advantage of opportunity charging for many individuals. We have heard of some stations charging up to several dollars per hour to plug in to a Level 2, 240 volt charging dock. We don’t know of many that would use the facilities at that rate if charging at home is available for fractions of a dollar per hour.
If anyone is going to pay those rates, we would think the only worthwhile reason for doing so would be to add a significant charge back to the battery – such as that offered by the DC quick charger pictured at the top of this article. Even then, this would likely be the exception rather than the rule. In five months of ownership of our own LEAF, we have only once charged anywhere other than our garage. And when we did charge at a friends house that is also a LEAF owner it was more because we could rather than because we needed to.
In our view, LEAF owners will overwhelmingly charge their cars at home or at work where the car is parked for hours on end. While we do see cars plugged into free charging stations now, we are curious to see how many of these charge stations will be used once a payment structure is implemented at these same locations. Our guess is that we will see their use taper off significantly.