Driving My Leaf Is Like Flying
As I've driven around in my Nissan Leaf during these first few months of ownership, I find myself comparing the car to other experiences. It seemed like an informative series of posts, to explain those comparisons running through my head. Up first is this idea…
...that driving my Leaf is a lot like flying.
For you pilots out there, I expect you'll get my drift pretty quickly.. resource management. For those of you who are not pilots, I hope this blog post will still be informative. And if you've found this article while considering an electric vehicle, hopefully it will give you some idea of how the process can change the way you think about driving.
So to start I could mention the wonderful feeling you get driving the Leaf. At times it almost feels like you're gliding, and of course that could be compared with flying. But that's not what I'm talking about.
As a pilot, it's up to you to manage all aspect of your flight and that starts well before you even arrive at the airport with something called preflight planning. You begin to think about things like; how far am I going?, what will the weather conditions be?, what route should I take?, how much fuel will I need?, how much cargo can I bring? etc. In the air, like with electric cars, there aren't a lot of places to get additional fuel, so you can't afford to run out at the wrong time. In a plane that can mean an emergency landing. In an electric car that can mean sitting by the side of the road until a tow truck arrives.
So like flying, driving an electric car involves a lot of pre-drive planning or answering a lot of questions.
How many miles will I need to drive until I can charge again? What is the estimated range of my car assuming a normal drive and a normal weather day? Now, what are the conditions for the driving I plan to do? (More uphill means more energy used. The same with a lot of head wind.) How hot or cold is it out? (Or how much air conditioning or heating will I need to do, thus using more energy for something other than moving the wheels over the ground.) How much highway driving will I be doing etc?
Now many of these considerations begin to become second nature as you live with your EV, but they are now part of the equation as you distance yourself from the readily available gas you're used to. So you may not dwell on them everyday, but you will think about them a bit as you plan.
Nissan has something in their Carwings program that allows you to plan a trip and estimate energy consumption based on the route. It will tell you the amount of energy other drivers have used the make the same trip taking into account terrain and distance. So far I have found this planner to be fairly accurate and a helpful tool. (By the way, it also will let you send the route to the car for the GPS to use on the trip.)
Weather is a huge part of flying and to a lesser extent driving an electric vehicle. Heavy winds can have some effect on energy efficiency as can rain and snow not to mention the environmental adjustments you need to make in the cabin which burn power. So just like flying 100 miles into a headwind, you have to account for weather a bit when planning an EV trip.
Finally a good pilot doesn't go into the air if he or she feels there is a risk that the flight cannot end safely due to any number of factors. Similarly, several times, our family has considered taking the Leaf on a trip which would take it near the edge of its comfortable range. Not a safety issue, but more about the completion of the trip without ending up at the side of the road. However, once we ran the numbers we decided to use our other car which has an internal combustion engine. Discretion is the better part of valor, and that is true when managing the factors of driving electric.
Now certainly a lot of range issues will go away as over time more high speed chargers are installed along our common long distance routes. But for now, this is our reality. Careful consideration of the distance planned and the energy it will take to make it on that route and on that day.
It's a lot like flying for sure and in its own way, the Leaf flies. Just at zero feet AGL.