Turning on a new Leaf
Driving an electric vehicle has brought out Pat Shellard’s inner drag racer. Because there’s nothing that puts a bigger grin on his face than pressing his Nissan Leaf’s accelerator and beating a young kid in a souped up Acura from a standing start after a red light.
“The look of disbelief on his face when he pulled alongside was pretty special,” says Shellard, an investment advisor at Vancity.
That instant acceleration was one of the unexpected surprises when Shellard got his Leaf last October, the fourth one delivered in British Columbia. With one gear and only three moving parts compared to a gas engine’s typical 500 components, plus no lag waiting for sparks to combust the fuel, the sedate maroon hatchback is more like a Ferrari red racer off the mark. Merging onto the highway, the Leaf blends into the flow of traffic in a heartbeat. It charges up the Holdom hill from Broadway with nary a stutter.
Not that Shellard envisions himself as some sort of eco Michael Schumacher. He is a family man after all. Which was his main motivation for getting his name on the waiting list shortly after the Leaf was unveiled and then enduring a year-long delay in delivery after the plant in Japan where they’re built was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami last March.
“I want my sons to respect the environment,” says Shellard of his decision to take the next step from his previous vehicle, a hybrid. “They’re always telling their friends about it, how their car doesn’t have a gas tank.”
That detail also happens to make Shellard smile every time he passes a filling station as gas prices inflate beyond $1.44 a litre.
Shellard figures he saves about 80 per cent of that, factoring in the modest boost in his monthly hydro bill to charge his car. He does that every night, plugging into a specially adapted 220 volt receptacle. It takes five to seven hours to bring the Leaf’s batteries, which reside beneath the driver’s seat, up to a full charge. That charge will allow him to travel 100-160 kilometres, enough to get to and from work in North Vancouver from his North Burnaby home, plus run errands around town.
He’s also saving money on maintenance. The first three service visits consist of nothing more than rotating the tires. The fourth adds a brake check. And with so few moving components, Shellard expects it’s unlikely to get much more complicated than that for a while.
Still, those savings are unlikely to make up the premium price commanded by electric vehicles over similarly sized gas cars. A $5,000 discount from the Clean Energy Vehicles for BC incentive program, that offers price breaks for purchasers of qualifying new battery electric, fuel cell, plug-in hybrid electric and compressed natural gas vehicles until March 31, 2013, helped close some of the gap.
But Shellard says driving an electric car is about so much more than putting money in his pocket. An indicator on the Leaf’s digital dashboard display shows how many trees he’s saved by not contributing to global warming. A solar panel on the roof powers many of the electrical components. Even the seats are made from recycled plastic bottles, further reducing the car’s carbon footprint.
And he loves showing off his car to anyone curious about electric vehicles. Since getting it he’s taken 80 people on test drives. He says he’s lost count of the number of people who’ve waved at him or given him the thumbs up.
“It’s fun to drive,” says Shellard. “It’s fun to show off. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
Especially when he can leave sports cars in his dust.