How We Became An All-Plug-In Electric Car Household

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Why we switched to a two-car plug-in household.

Why we switched to a two-car plug-in household.

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Since November 2006, our family has always owned at least one plug-in car and one powered by gasoline.

For almost two years, our fleet has been a Nissan Leaf electric hatchback, and a used 2008 Toyota Prius. 

After two years and nearly 42,000 miles of driving the Leaf, however, our once high-tech Prius had begun to feel like little more than a gas-guzzler.

It also became the subject of a good-natured daily fight over who would would have to drive it, versus who would get to enjoy the comfort and performance of the all-electric Leaf.

With a few high repair bills looming on the horizon for our little gas-guzzler, we did the only logical thing we could: We traded it in for a Chevrolet Volt.

But if we hate buying gasoline and love electric cars so much, why go for the range-extended Volt over a pure battery electric car? I’ll explain. 

Daily driving

For the most part, my personal transportation needs are fairly simple: I need a car that can handle daily errands.

Those include taking the children to after-school clubs, visiting friends, and doing the weekly shopping.

Because I work from home, I drive less than 15 miles in an average day--something our Nissan Leaf handles perfectly. 

2011 Nissan LEAF

2011 Nissan LEAF

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the remaining 20 percent of the time, I’m attending press launches, visiting friends out of town, or teaching the occasional music class in a local school.

The Leaf handles most--if not all--of these duties, but occasionally, I need to venture beyond the 74 miles or so the Leaf can muster on a full charge. 

Thanks to a growing network of CHAdeMO quick-charging stations in the UK, it’s now possible to drive hundreds of miles a day in the Leaf. But while the network is rapidly growing, driving the Leaf long-distance requires extra planning and extra time.

When I’m working on a tight schedule and have to be back home in time to pick up the kids at school, taking the Leaf isn’t always an option. 

My wife, a contracting software engineer, commutes daily from our home to ... well, wherever she happens to be working at the time.

For the past seven months, that’s been a company based 40 miles from home--though her commute in the past few years has been as short as 20 miles and as long as 100 each day.

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Comments (46)
  1. The Volt is a conundrum - it has significantly better all-electric range than the Prius Plugin, but significantly worse gas mileage when you go beyond that.

    An alternative would be to buy another Leaf (or Spark, etc.) and then rent a Prius (or other appropriate vehicle) for longer trips.

    I'm preaching to the choir, of course - but maybe someone is listening...


  2. Neil -- We did consider that option. In fact, our local LEAF dealer offered us a fairly good deal on a used LEAF. However, the Volt deal was both financially better, and avoided the whole having to go and hire a car. (For us, that was a big challenge based on our family life)

  3. You did great!!

  4. I would have done the same. good job!

  5. Where I live and with my usage, the Volt has been a spectacular vehicle less than 80 gallons for 19,000 miles. Our leased Leaf is the second vehicle that does the local commuting. Being a two electric vehicle family has been terrific. Totally satisfied with the Volt and its extended range. It mileage is not an issue because you use it so infrequently in a city the size of Portland, OR.

  6. Neil, in the event you make a long trip (600 miles) the Volt will likely only cost about $10 more to drive than the Prius Plug In. I've owned both and made long trips in both. Unless you commute over 70 miles a day (one way) with a single charge, the Volt is more efficient or close enough to make a negligible difference. I agree with the author. The EV driving experience of the Prius Plug in pretty poor.

  7. There are more comments in this thread
  8. Congratulations on deciding on the Volt. We also have both the Volt and the Leaf. We use the Volt for trips outside the Leaf's range (like driving from Tampa to Orlando). Both have been excellent cars for us.

  9. Nikki, didn't you have a Renault Twizy? What happened to it, the last time I've heard of it from you was that it was spending quite some time in garage or dealer.

  10. Brian,

    You've got a good memory. The Twizy was also sold, because of its unreliability. The Volt and Leaf are now our only two cars!

  11. We are in a similar situation. Our Prius is sitting more and more frequently...not driven for 3+ days in a row. It uses too much gas! Our Leaf is so addicting to drive. When it is time to replace my Prius, I think we will become a 2 Leaf household. If we take a longer driving trip, I will just rent a car.

  12. Very cool, but I'm more than a little jealous :)

  13. John, any thoughts about what you're thinking for the future for an EV or PHEV? Or am I jumping the gun a little for you?

  14. My household in Seattle has done the same. We own a 2013 Volt and lease a 2012 Leaf, and we deploy them differently each day to minimize gas use while also maximizing the 12,000 annual miles allowed on the Leaf lease.

    On "short" commute days, my partner drives 30 mi to work each way to Auburn. For that, he can take the Leaf, and by leaving it in a wall plug (no Level 2 at his work) all day, he has plenty of range to get home.

    On some days, he has to make a 3rd stop in to Tacoma, another 15 miles down the road. For that, he needs the extended range of the Volt. He leaves fully charged and plugs in where possible (again, just Level 1 available). Typically, these are 85-90 mile days, with all but maybe 10 miles on electric.

  15. We also take the Volt on trips. We've tried the I-5 electric highway with the DC Fast chargers, but they're not close enough (especially north of Seattle) for comfort, and they're down a distressing amount of the time, so we don't really trust taking the Leaf out of town that much.

    We've reduced our gas use by 90% compared to our prior cars (a Volvo S40 and an Acura TL). And our electric is cheap. Our "eGallon" cost is $0.84, so it totally pencils out, too.

  16. I bought a Volt because of its versatility and could not be happier. I am 85% electric and 249 mpg average over 14 months. I can still go on longer trips yet maintain great efficiency. I then leased a Leaf for a second car and the combination is terrific. The Leaf is mostly driven by my wife as a commuter car and has been delightful as a second vehicle. This month we will drive 99% electric between the vehicles and probably no more that $65.00 of electrical power and about $.50 on gas. That's right about 50 cents for the one day I needed to use the Volt generator to get home. I can get free charging by planning and opportunity charging at home. I would not own a Leaf as a primary vehicle as it is too limited but as a 2nd car great.

  17. I am glad to hear about this. This proves that most household can have at least 1 plugins.

    This always shows why Volt is an important product to bridge the technology. Volt doesn't require "planning". Mose household has busy lives. Sometimes the unexpected happens and the extra range of the Volt makes a big difference.

    Of course, a 200 miles BEV will make up for many of the trips that Volt is designed for. But there are NO sub $45k 200 miles BEV yet.

    As far as those people who are concerned with Volt's extended MPG, it is way overblown.

    Volt is rated 40mpg in hwy driving. That is usually where you need the extended range. With EV hold, you can easily save the EV miles for city drving and 40mpg for the hwy.

  18. I get the same mileage. 40 mpg freeway and 35 mpg city. I'm quite pleased.

  19. Yes, now why stop there: I'd expect any household with access to charging to eventually want all its vehicles to be plug-ins.

    Next, with most households having more than one vehicle, and (hopefully) not requiring all of them for longer trips like family vacations, for all but the longest commutes, one of them could easily be a full EV.

    All current EVs start each day with 80+ miles (62 for the i-MiEV). That covers a LOT of weekday routine + crazy unanticipated errands already.
    Charging at work or destination, and/or quick-charging if the vehicle allows it (great feature to have) would push this to 150 electric miles.

    That's available today, and at ~200$/mo it's a no-brainer (for the Fiat 500e you must find the right dealer though).

  20. "The Volt is a conundrum - it has significantly better all-electric range than the Prius Plugin, but significantly worse gas mileage when you go beyond that."

    I strongly disagree with that statement.

    Volt has 38 miles EV range that is more than 3x the EV range of Prius Plugin. Yet, its 40mpg highway miles is only 10 less than the 50mpg of Prius which is only only 20% less than the Prius Plugin (NOT significant). Not to mention the fact that Volt drives way better than the Prius. If you really care about the 35mpg city miles vs. 51 for the Prius, then you can easily avoid it with EV hold mode to minimize that.

    Not to mention that the difference between 40mpg and 50mpg over 6,000 miles (half of your yearly driving) is only 30 gallons.

  21. Congrats on really making an impact on climate, while at the same time being able to transport the kids and make the occasional long distance commute. I'm still a little stunned that you have saved thousands of dollars on fuel...(I'm guessing you mean more than two thousand.) ....but then sounds like you are paying close to the real cost of fuel upfront, while we in the US pay indirectly move costs elsewhere.

  22. Well Ben, even in the US, it adds up quickly:

    20'000 miles (Nikki's yearly driving) at 27 MPG (about current US avg) would burn about 740 gallons or 2.4 to 3k$/year.

    Same distance with a Leaf: 5~6 MW*h. With solar,

  23. [shoot, that lower-than character again... Sorry, let's do this again]

    20'000 miles (Nikki's yearly driving) at 27 MPG (about current US avg) would burn about 740 gallons or 2.4 to 3k$/year.

    Same distance with a Leaf: 5~6 MW*h. With solar, less than 400$/y.

    Just like that, even at today's US gas prices which are less than half of UK's, for a single but heavily-used vehicle, we're looking at 2 grands saved every year already.
    And yes, tons of CO2 and other junk too.

    Regarding plug-in vehicles' impact on climate (and more on costs), nothing like the UCS report on the topic:

  24. @Nikki,

    Just curious that you mentioned that you would have considered a C-Max Energi if it was available when you bought your Volt. Would you have done the same thing on an Outlander PHEV with 4WD? Isn't a crossover with 4WD, more space and decent EV range also just as appealing to a family buyer as the Volt?

    I am just curious. B/c if the outlander is available by next year, I might have to take a serious look at it if the price is right.

  25. Particularly if you need/want 4 wheel drive!

  26. This article reminds me of a certain South Park episode...

  27. Oh Nikki, I'm living vicariously through your EV adventures.
    Now forgive me, but I have to go to work in my 100% gas powered "economical" Suzuki which will need filling before the weekend at a cost of €60. :(

  28. Once you go electric, you ain't going back! :-)

  29. Definitely. We LOVED our Prius when we first got it. We HATE it now, even though it's now a PHEV (but a weak one where the engine comes on if you drive with traffic). In fact we don't drive it anymore; our son is leasing it from us.

    My wife and I both went electric in 2009, a few months after trying our first EV. Gas cars feel broken now. EVs are so much nicer! It seems most EV skeptics miss that point (because they haven't driven one).

  30. As a recent Volt owner, I applaud your decision over the plug in Prius. The Volt is just a great car to drive, tons of power, good handling and well equipped. Good on ya!

  31. And it's great to hear that you're enjoying your Volt as much as you had hoped, Mittar!

  32. Nikki,
    Welcome to the Volt+Leaf family car club! We were the second such household in the US back in February of 2011, and though we still "own" the 2011 Leaf, our garage is now hosting that original crystal red Volt and the multicoat red Tesla Model S rather than the Leaf. The Volt "cures" one version of "range anxiety and the Model S (85kw battery) addresses another!

  33. After being ICE'd out of a charging space and having a few other stations blocked by other EVs yesterday I just wanted to say I think you made the right choice with the Volt as your long-range commuter. Even living in California which is supposedly big on EV's, I find it difficult to find reliable charging when away from home or work. This would put a serious cramp in my style if I had a BEV as my only vehicle.

  34. Now if GM (or someone else) would only build a plug-in hybrid with some rear seat room they'd really be on to something – a vehicle with decent range and decent passenger room would offer the best of both worlds. Otherwise, I'll stick with my "conventional" Prius for now.

  35. You mean like a Volt MPV concept or a Voltec powered Equinox?

  36. You mean rear seat room like my Ford Fusion Energi? I'm 6'3 and I love having my daughter chauffeur me around as I sit in back. It may be the most comfortable car interior that I've ever had. Maybe because I love and usually owned German cars which have been on the spartan side.

  37. @Del: I presume your Fusion Energi does not have the sunroof, then? When our 5'11" edit sat in the rear seat of a Fusion with the sunroof, the headroom was adequate in a recess over the seats. But when he leaned forward, his forehead touched the headliner where it dropped down a couple of inches to accommodate the "tray" that holds the retracting roof panel.

  38. Some things to consider:

    1. Most Hybrids/Plug-ins currently use nickle-based battery technology. Requiring environmentally injurious open-pit mining China (the bastion of environmental stewardship!); finally, assembly in Japan...add in all the diesel-powered can these vehicles be helping the environment?
    2. 60-70% of electricity produced in the US is produced by Coal-powered plants! Really good for the environment, huh?
    3. What is gonna happen to all those batteries in 10 years when they are worn out? Landfill? Great, right?

    Congrats on saving gas...but please don't try to say you are saving the environment.

  39. @Greg: (1) Most hybrids still use nickel-metal-hydride batteries, but no plug-ins do. And hybrids are moving toward lithium-ion batteries because they will be produced in much higher volume and they're about twice as energy-dense. By the end of the decade, I doubt there'll be many (if any at all) hybrids still using NiMH over Li-ion.

    (2) As we cover often, the carbon emissions per mile driven on plug-in power have been analyzed for each state's grid. Even in the *worst* most coal-heavy state, a plug-in is equal in carbon emissions to be BEST (non-hybrid) gasoline car--and much better in cleaner-grid states like CA.

    (first of two ... continued)

  40. @Greg: (second of two ... continuing)

    (3) Used battery packs will be recycled, just as 12-Volt batteries are now (they're the most recycled consumer good on earth). EVERY hybrid & plug-in maker already has recycling programs in place; the contents of the packs are far too valuable to junk.

    All three points have been covered on Green Car Reports--and other outlets too. I encourage you to use our "Search" box to do a bit of research.

    Here are a couple of links to get you going:

  41. And adding to this:

    My house is powered by renewable energy from my local green energy provider in U.K. (Yes, I'm in England.)

    While the electrons themselves may come from a mix of sources, my local utility company promises that for every kilowatt-hour of electricity I consume, it will buy an equivalent amount of renewable energy from local wind and solar farms. :)

    So we really are lowering emissions!

  42. Seriously, Greg, ever heard of research? Or did you stop paying attention back in about 2005 or so? Wrong on every single point, of course. Is your purpose to prove you know absolutely nothing about the industry because that's what you've proved?

    1) Completely unaware of battery chemistry for PHEVs (plug-ins).

    2) Completely clueless about the growth of non-coal usage for power plants. Again, did you stop paying attention years ago? Again?

    3) Completely clueless yet again about the fact that EV/PHEV batteries are already reused and much of them can be recycled, in addition.

    I won't claim to be saving the environment but please don't claim to know anything at all about EVs. You not only know nothing, what you thought you knew is wrong.

  43. It sounds like you made a good choice - and by the time the Volt is due for replacement charging infrastructure should be much more commonplace, so a second battery-electric car will be much more viable.

    I wonder, though, if the Volt is using petrol so rarely, wouldn't the fuel go stale? My Subaru was off the road for a few months and after that the trip to get it repaired used two or three times the fuel it should have. All because the fuel had sat in the tank for so long. The volt would still have far better fuel economy, but not as good as it could have.

  44. Volt's computer keep a track of it. It will go into "maintainence" mode to tell you about burning it off...

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