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.

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

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.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Fuel Economy

2013 Chevrolet Volt Fuel Economy

Range anxiety

With gasoline in the UK now over $8.50 a gallon, the thought of using the Prius as a daily commuter filled us both with dread, especially for shorter-distance trips where it was least efficient. 

To save money and cut tailpipe emissions, my wife has been driving the Leaf to her current client site, covering more than 80 miles a day thanks to a top-off charge at work from a household outlet. 

Inspired by seeing an electric car in the office parking lot, her client even installed four public charging stations for visitor use. But her next client may not be so generous.

We worried that a 100-percent battery electric fleet could be a dangerous move, especially if the next client was outside of the range of our Leaf.

Add to that an elderly relative on the other side of the country who may need us to drop everything and head to their side--and some form of plug-in hybrid or range-extended electric car was the only sensible conclusion.

(A Tesla Model S was, sadly, out of our price range.)

Logical choice

The 2013 Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid -- a Europe-only diesel plug-in wagon -- was also out of our price range, and cars like the 2013 Ford C-Max Energi yet to launch in the U.K.

So we were left with two options: a 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, or a 2013 Chevrolet Volt (or its European cousin, the Opel/Vauxhall Ampera.)

With just 11 miles of all-electric range and marginal all-electric performance, the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid would deliver gas mileage only marginally better than our Prius.

That pointed us towards the Volt. And while the Vauxhall Ampera is far more common in Europe than the Volt, we preferred the Volt’s styling and slightly lower sticker price.

We negotiated a trade-in deal with one of the only three Volt dealers in the U.K., and we made our purchase. 

2013 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan LEAF

2013 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan LEAF

Four days later -- and even after a 150-mile drive back from the dealership -- our Volt is giving us triple-digit fuel economy thus far.

That's blended electric and gasoline operation, of course--we haven't driven it on gasoline far enough to know its mileage in range-extending mode.

With two days of commutes under her belt, my wife has managed to make the entire 80-mile round trip on just two full charges of electricity and less than one mile's worth of gasoline. 

Assuming she can continue that kind of fuel economy, we estimate we’ll need to fill up a few times a year, even including the occasional cross-country trip. 

In the past two years, our Leaf has helped us save more than 1,000 gallons of gasoline and thousands of dollars of fuel.

Thanks to a renewable energy rate from the local utility company, we also know that it has been mostly charged using wind-generated energy.

Our newest addition, which is already proving its worth, should not only improve our family’s carbon footprint, but save us even more in the long term.

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