One of the downsides to buying an electric car is that most, excluding the Chevrolet Volt, have a range limited by the amount of energy the batteries can store. Unlike internal combustion vehicles, refueling an EV isn’t a five or ten minute task, so EVs are best used in situations where the maximum range won’t be reached. The actual range of an EV, however, isn’t easy to determine.
Since announcing the Leaf to the general public, Nissan has stood by their claim of 100 miles per charge. New tests by the automaker show that 100 miles is likely a high average range, depending upon environmental conditions and driving style. Nissan’s testing yielded a maximum range of 138 miles, at a constant speed of 38 miles per hour and an ambient temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, driving in stop and go traffic at 6 miles per hour, with an ambient temperature of 86 degrees and the A/C on max, yielded a range of just 47 miles. Hot weather testing at a steady 55 miles per hour yielded significantly better results; their engineers were able to reach 70 miles on a 95 degree day, which is counter to what I’d expect from an electric vehicle.
Running the heater has a similar effect to running the A/C. On a 14 degree day, at an average speed of 15 miles per hour, Nissan obtained a range of 62 miles. So what does all this mean? If you’re buying a Leaf for a 100 mile daily commute, you’d best dress warm in the winter and get used to sweating in the summer. For those Leaf buyers who once owned air cooled Volkswagen Beetles, this won’t be a new experience.