Nissan begins dealing with the Leaf's ‘range anxiety'

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
There's been a lot of talk about electric vehicles and that dreaded term, “range anxiety.”

Specifically, how far will an electric vehicle travel on a charge? Some would-be buyers are concerned about getting stranded when the batteries run out of juice, maybe at night, maybe in the middle of nowhere. Nearly all automakers are developing battery-powered vehicles for sale this decade.

To ease customers' worries, Nissan created what I would call a Rules of the Road primer that discusses the Leaf's range. The Leaf is Nissan's first mass-produced, electric vehicle. Winter driving, summer driving, high speeds, low speeds, several scenarios are described at the www.nissanusa.com Web site.

The intent is to prevent unpleasant surprises after a Leaf purchase. Sales of the Leaf begin later this year. This is a helpful site for understanding electric vehicle technology even if you are not in the market to buy a Leaf.

Nissan says the Leaf's range may vary from 62 to 138 miles. Why? It depends on several factors:

•Climate control. The more extreme the temperature is outside -- real hot, real cold -- the more energy that is used to heat or cool the cabin.

•Speed. Higher speeds require much more energy to overcome air resistance. Slow down.

•Driving style. Smooth acceleration and deceleration extend range; aggressive acceleration and deceleration decrease range. The same rules apply for a gasoline engine.

•Cargo and topography. Heavy cargo reduces range. I guess that also means four people vs. one in the passenger compartment. Driving up a steep hill reduces range, too.

Nissan also describes several trips to show how range varies. Nissan says these are estimates:

•Ideal driving conditions (according to Nissan): Flat surface; constant 38 mph; outside temperature 68 degrees; climate control off; 138-mile range. I wonder where that road is?

•Suburban driving, nice day (that's Nissan's description), running errands: Average speed 24 mph; outside temperature 72 degrees; climate control off; 105-mile range.

•Highway driving, summer: Average speed 55 mph; outside temperature 95 degrees; climate control on; 70-mile range.

•Crosstown commute, hot day, driving from a rural area into the city: Average speed 49 mph; outside temperature 110 degrees; climate control on; 68-mile range.

•Winter, urban stop-and-go, traffic jam: Average speed 15 mph; outside temperature 14 degrees; climate control on; 62-mile range. Nothing mentioned about snow, though.

Will this primer resolve the issue of range anxiety?

If so, stick all of this info on a Post-it note and attach it to the Leaf's steering wheel.