Doing their part: “like floating on a cloud”

Gregory Habel is an information security analyst in the school’s Information Security Office; part of Information Services. Greg works at the South Street campus in Shrewsbury and lives in Hopedale. Since January, he’s been commuting to work in his new Nissan LEAF, a fully-electric vehicle. Growing Green asked Greg about his new car.

Q: Why did you buy the car?
A: I guess I’ve always been an early-adopter of technology. Primarily though, my wife and I try to be aware of the environmental impact of what we do, and we liked the idea of having a car that has zero emissions. We went to a special Nissan test-drive event they had in Boston, tried the car, and really liked it.

Q: What’s it like to drive?
A: For the most part it feels like any other front-wheel drive car I’ve driven. It’s a very smooth comfortable ride. The two biggest differences are the noise and the torque off the line. 

 LEAFcollage

The car is extremely quiet. My sister-in-law says riding in the car is like floating on a cloud. In fact, they’ve built in a sound system to make some noise as a safety feature to warn pedestrians. It’s a subtle whistle-like sound, so people around will hear it. As for the torque, the car has a single gear transmission and delivers 100-percent torque right off the line. It’s got a lot of pick-up. So that push-back feeling you get when you accelerate comes right away, you don’t have to wait for it to ramp up like a gas powered car.

Q: How far can you drive on a charge?
A: The advertised range is 100 miles per charge, but that depends on the weather conditions and how you drive. You have to remember that everything in the car uses electricity. So when you need the heat on in the winter, or you use the air conditioner in the summer, that uses battery power and reduces the range. Over this winter, I would say the range has been about 70 miles per charge.

Q: Has 70 miles been enough?
A: It’s been fine for me. In fact, most people drive 40 miles or less a day. My commute to work is 16 miles each way, so that’s fine. I plug in at home, and it charges overnight.

Q: How long does it take to charge?
A: It depends. I can charge off regular house current, 110 volts, or I have a cord for 220 outlets, like you use for an electric dryer. Also, I don’t let the batteries run down to almost zero; I usually am topping off the batteries with a charge. So it can be 9 hours on regular 110 house current, or 3 hours using my 220 volt home charging station.

Q: How long are the batteries expected to last?
A: The warranty on the batteries is eight years or 100,000 miles, and what it says is that after that time or mileage, the batteries will still have at least 80 percent of their capacity. So it’s not like they stop working at that time. As for replacement costs of the batteries, that is always changing and expected to come down considerably over the next ten years.

Q: How much does it cost to operate?
A: For 700 miles it cost me $29 in electricity for charging. So that’s about a quarter of what I would have paid for gasoline these days.

Q: Are there any drawbacks to having a plug-in electric vehicle?
A: It’s a very comfortable car. The only caution I have for people is that this is really suited to be a secondary vehicle, used for commuting or short errands around town. This isn’t really appropriate to be your only vehicle, because of the range and the charging-station infrastructure that’s available. But that is changing too. Charging stations are starting to pop-up in a lot of places. Several restaurant chains have installed them in their parking lots. There’s a place in Auburn we like to go to— we drive in, plug in, and charge for free while we’re eating.

Q: Are you happy with the car?
A: I’m very happy with it. It’s a great car to drive. It’s got some very cool gadgets, and I’m a gadget guy, so I really enjoy it. And one thing I’ve noticed, I’ve stopped paying attention to gas prices. Used to be, I always knew what gas cost, and I think like most people, I would look at all the station’s signs when driving to see how high the price was going. Now, I don’t think about it nearly as much, and that’s nice.

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