Field Guide: Driving Electric

So you want an electric car? Here’s what to expect on Oahu.

photos: david croxford, thinkstock

2012 Nissan Leaf MSRP: $36,050 Highway fuel economy: 92 mpg

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.

The Perks

+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.