Field Guide: Driving Electric
So you want an electric car? Here’s what to expect on Oahu.
With electric-vehicle charging stations popping up in garages and shopping malls all over the Islands—more than 200 chargers at 80 locations statewide—Hawaii now leads the nation in EV plug-in sites per capita. So what’s it like to drive an electric car? Is it actually practical? We borrowed a Leaf from New City Nissan (Thanks, guys!) and put it to a weeklong road test to find out.
Driving the Leaf was a pleasure that required forethought, saved us money and introduced us to range anxiety. Our 72-mile daily commute from the North Shore to downtown and back pushed against the Leaf’s range limit, though we never—thankfully—ran out of battery. Once we made the round-trip drive on a single charge, but not without fretting about getting stuck somewhere between Wahiawa and Haleiwa, and having to wait for a tow while all the gasoline-powered cars zoomed by.
|00MPH||+The Leaf is no wimp. It holds its own in traffic, accelerating as smoothly as a jet gathering speed for takeoff.||–When in “eco mode,” used to extend battery life, the Leaf’s as zippy as a golf cart lugging plus-size golfers uphill.|
|FUEL||+The growing network of 240-volt charging stations now includes 42 locations on Oahu, with more to come by the end of summer. There are lots of options.||–Some of these stations are in parking garages that cost $10 or more to get into.|
|SOCIAL||+New friends. Everyone who saw us plugging in the Leaf, it seemed, had questions.||–Parking takes longer when it includes socializing.|
|ECONOMY||+Driving past gas stations thinking, “Man, look how high gas prices are—ha, ha!”||–Range anxiety—the gnawing fear of running out of battery before getting back to a charger.|
Most days we plugged in whenever we parked, which made parking an exercise in planning, and required some alterations to our daily schedule.
+Use of HOV and zipper lanes.
+Free parking at state and municipal garages.
+Free parking in metered stalls.
+A $7,500 federal tax credit for purchasing a vehicle.
+A $4,500 state rebate for the vehicle and a $500 rebate for a home charging station.
+Free charges at all Better Place charging stations through 2012.
Typical EV car drivers install 240-volt charging stations at home. We used a trickle charger at home, which plugs the car into the same 120-volt wall outlet as a lamp or a laptop. It took about 7.5 hours to top off a half-drained battery, adding about $4.48 to our electric bill and 40 miles to the car’s range. Traveling 40 miles in the gas-guzzler we usually drive would have cost nearly twice as much at the time (when regular was at $4.49 a gallon). In our case, at least in terms of fuel costs, Leaf clearly beat minivan.