Electric cars are finally rolling out onto the market. It’s all well and good for the environment, but many potential buyers have unanswered questions. We went to the experts for answers. The edited interviews are below.
Ian Forsyth, EV Project Manager, Nissan Canada
Does the Nissan Leaf come with a car charger?
The vehicle has a charger built into it, so from that point of view, all you need is electricity. The electricity is supplied through what we call an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment), which is just an interface [installed in your garage] between the vehicle and the grid. So you do have to have that piece of equipment in order to run the charger.
Does that work differently from other EV manufacturers?
No, every manufacturer will have an EVSE of some sort that is the interface.
How long does it take to charge the Leaf, using 120V or 240V?
With 120V, it takes about 17 hours from a depleted battery state, and with 240V, it takes about 7 hours from the same depleted battery state. The level-two charger (240V supply) is what we recommend as the best charging dock.
So how is using an EVSE different from being able to plug the car directly into a wall outlet?
Well it’s not different. The only difference is that there’s a piece of equipment that exists to indicate that the battery is accepting the charge.
Does the EVSE come with the Leaf?
No, that needs to be purchased separately. I mean it’s possible that the consumer may have one already because the plug is an SAE standard, so all plug-in hybrids or plug-in electric vehicles will use this same plug.
Is that the same plug that one might find with an RV trailer?
No it’s very different. The J1772 Standard is a very unique plug.
How much does it cost to install the EVSE in a home?
Roughly $2,000 – $2,500. The equipment itself is around $1,000 and then it depends on exactly what it takes in a home—if it’s a normal, modern house with an up-to-date electrical panel, it could be $1,000 to $1,500 to install it.
Now because there aren’t a lot of EVSE options available to the public at this time, are EV owners limited to charging their cars at home?
That’s partly true. We’re working with our partners to encourage them to encourage others to install charging spots… But at the moment there are almost no electric cars on the market, so it’s kind of “chicken and egg.”
Does powering an EV really reduce the carbon footprint over using gasoline?
In most of our provinces, electrical supply is extremely green… because most of it comes from hydro generation, so it generates no GHG (greenhouse gas) in production. Some people say, “Well, you’ll just change where you’ll be generating GHG from [elsewhere, as in coal-powered electricity plants],” but that’s not the case in Canada.
Is it harmful to the battery if you leave it plugged in even after it’s fully charged?
This battery is designed for a lot of cycle use, so it doesn’t really bother it if it’s plugged in. The power flow gets shut off and it doesn’t really matter… It’s kind of designed around the idea that it will be plugged in a lot.
What about break-in periods? Gas vehicles have break-in periods where you have to be nicer to the engine for a while, but are EVs like that?
Most modern break-in periods are pretty limited—it’s more a matter of “just don’t drive at a steady speed for 500 km.” That’s pretty minimal. But with an electric vehicle there is no break-in period.
Is it true that Nissan offers gasoline cars for people who want to go on longer road trips?
In the United States, there is a program around that. I think in the U.S. it’s part of an upgraded roadside assistance program that you can get. We’re considering that for Canada but we haven’t made a decision.
What about in the event of a crash? A gas vehicle might leak fluids everywhere, but what about an EV?
The vehicle has been of course thoroughly tested to meet all of the crash regulations, so there is little danger. The battery is in the middle of the vehicle, so it’s in the safest location. And the materials in it are quite inert. It would take an extremely violent crash to cause the battery case to rupture. I’m talking extremely violent.
How many years will an EV battery last?
We estimate somewhere between five and ten years for a useable life in a vehicle, and that has to do with the capacity to take a charge… We warrant the battery for eight years.
What about people who don’t park their EV in a garage? Are there any safety risks or corrosion issues that might arise from parking it outside?
No, everything is sealed. This is not an experimental car, this is a real car, so it has to meet all of the standards that we have for any other car… From our point of view, in terms of where does the vehicle make the most sense—it makes the most sense if you own a garage, so that you can install the power line to run the EVSE. If you park on the street, then it’s not going to work very well and we don’t recommend it. But that gets into infrastructure that the municipalities are doing to support this kind of technology… We’re recommending that in the beginning (of the EV movement), people have a garage to make charging easier.
In addition to using no gasoline, how else does the Leaf help the environment?
The vehicle itself is highly recyclable, including the battery. And the battery can be reused as well, even after its life in the vehicle. It can be used for storage for solar or wind power.
Jason Easton, Corporate Communications Manager, GM Canada
Does the Volt get hooked up to an EVSE?
It can. One of the nice advantages of the Volt is that its charge time on 120 volts, or a regular wall outlet, is about 10 hours, so you can easily do it overnight or at work during the day. But we do recommend that people install an EVSE in their homes, because an EVSE will reduce the charge time from ten hours to four.
Does a customer need to buy an EVSE separately?
Yes, it is offered for sale separately. The vehicle comes with a 120V charge cord, and the EVSE equipment will be offered through a turnkey process similar to what we have in the U.S. We haven’t finalized it here, but in the U.S. the price of the equipment is $495, plus installation. If you do a survey of the EVSE from other automaker OEMs or even independent OEMs, our EVSE comes in at a very competitive price.
We’ve done our absolute best to try to make the electric vehicle experience accessible to as many people as possible. We designed our own charging system, optimized for the Volt to bring it in as an affordable a cost as we could.
The whole idea of the Volt is that it is electric powered, but it also runs with the generator. Why did GM decide to go that route instead of making an all-out EV?
Well we’ve already done a battery electric vehicle in the ‘90s. One of the key things we learned from EV 1 was the large role that range anxiety plays in the lives of the drivers who were using battery electric vehicles. And near the end of the EV 1 mandate we were actually, in some cases, towing a generator behind our electric vehicles in case they ran out of electricity. Learning from that lesson, what we did with the Chevrolet Volt… was to package that generator [the 1.4L gasoline engine] into the vehicle. This gives people the ability to use all of their electric range without any anxiety.
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but does gasoline have a shelf life?
It does, and what you’ll find with the Chevrolet Volt is that it’s engineered for almost every scenario, including ensuring that the gasoline in the tank does not go stale. It actually has a special, pressurized fuel storage system… As well, if you’ve gone a month without using gasoline, the vehicle will let the driver know that the engine needs to cycle. The driver can say yes or no, and if they say no, a day later it will come up with a second warning, saying “we need to cycle for a couple minutes,” and at that point it will just flip the engine on and cycle for a couple minutes.
How long do you expect the Volt batteries to last?
Well we’ve designed it for the life of the vehicle and we’re trying to provide consumers with confidence by offering an eight-year/160,000 km warrantee.
Are there any safety concerns with people installing EVSEs in their garage?
We definitely recommend and offer a process through which a certified electrician will install it in one’s garage. Assuming that that happens and all of the necessary inspections take place, I wouldn’t expect any type of safety concerns.