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Electric Vehicle information for Atlanta and Georgia

Nissan Leaf information

The Nissan Leaf is by far the most popular electric car in Atlanta (and the country), because it’s the most affordable. I have not owned one, but I know a lot of people who do, and have been closely following the Leaf developments since the day that Nissan announced it in August 2009. The EV revolution that we are witnessing now is due in part to the efforts of Nissan and Tesla and the sales successes of their respective cars.

In November 2014, Nissan expanded their “No Charge To Charge” program to the Atlanta market. Anybody who gets a new Leaf also gets an “EZ-Charge” card that allows you to charge your car for free at charging stations all over town. See the “public charging in metro Atlanta” page on this website (button on left side) for more about that.

In December 2016, Nissan started discounting new Leafs by $10,000, so make sure to ask any dealer about the “Clean Cities Georgia” fleet discount.  Any Georgia resident qualifies for it.

I have the following advice for anyone considering getting buying a new Nissan Leaf.  See farther down for advice on buying a USED Leaf.

1. Get the DC Fast Charging (DCFC) option. DCFC is the technology that allows you to charge your car MUCH faster than normal; you’ll spend minutes instead of hours getting the charge you need. It’s not something you would use at home, rather at a public station around town somewhere. The Leaf’s DCFC capability is the real killer feature of this EV, and Atlanta already has dozens of these stations around the metro area.

The typical usage scenario is that you have a longer day than usual, and you find that you’re not going to make it home, because your remaining range is too low. Without DCFC, you’re looking at parking at a Level 2 station for an hour or two; with DCFC, you’ll be waiting only 10 minutes or so.

Another scenario is that one morning you’ll discover that you forgot to plug in, and the car didn’t charge overnight. Without DCFC, you’re going to be hours late for work, or have to disrupt your family’s lives by taking the gas car for the day. With DCFC, you’re only 15 minutes late for work because you had to stop at a DCFC station on your way in.

The final reason is that, with DCFC, roadtrips in the Leaf are possible! Today, certainly, people are buying EVs for commuting and driving around town, and not so much for roadtrips because the charging time is so long. But with DCFC, it becomes possible to drive hundreds of miles per day. For example, Chattanooga has been reachable from Atlanta since summer 2013, when the Leaf-compatible DCFC station was installed in Dalton, halfway up I-75. With a 20-minute stop in Dalton, you can now make it up to Chattanooga (and the rest of eastern Tennessee) in a Leaf that is equipped with DCFC. We have found that new EV owners tend to fall in love with their new car (torque! fancy sound system! heated seats!) and they quickly find that they want to drive it as much as they can.

Please, trust me, you will likely regret not getting the DCFC option. If the dealer is offering you a Leaf without DCFC, then make sure to knock them down on price.  There’s a reason that car is still sitting on their lot, passed over by everyone else.

The cheapest, stripped down “S” trim of the Leaf does not have the DCFC option, nor does the “SV” trim. The loaded “SL” trim does have it. If you are considering a specific S-trim Leaf or SV-trim Leaf that a dealer has in stock, look closely at the equipped-options list to see if it has DCFC. The option can only be installed by the factory — you can’t buy a Leaf without DCFC and then add it later.

Be careful to not confuse the 6.6 kW Level 2 AC charging feature with the DC Fast Charging feature — those are two different things. Different automakers use “fast” or “quick” or “rapid” interchangeably, and it can be unclear whether they are referring to AC or DC charging, so it’s best to refer to “DC Fast Charging” when asking if a particular car has the capability. By the way, the S-trim Leaf comes with the slower 3.3 kW AC charging, but if you get the DCFC option on that car, they bundle it with the 6.6 kW Level 2 AC charging upgrade. This 6.6 kW Level 2 AC charging upgrade gives you a faster charge when plugging into a Level 2 station (at home, retail locations, etc.)

2. Get the navigation system. You may think you don’t need navigation, but in electric cars you find that you use nav a lot more. This is because you are always keeping an eye on how much range you have and how far you still have to go for that day — it’s not really a concern, just something you keep an eye on. Without the nav system, you are essentially guessing at how many more miles you have to drive, and you’d be surprised how badly we are at estimating distances — we tend to think in terms of time, not distance. With the nav system, it’ll calculate the distance for you and you’ll know for sure that you will make it home, or you’ll know that you do need to plan to stop somewhere to charge. And if you heeded my #1 advice above, it’ll only take you a few minutes at a DCFC station to get that charge you need to make it home!

Some owners have been using the navigation on their smartphones instead. Fair enough, but I think for most people, that’s a cumbersome solution.

3. Get the “CarWings” option. This allows you to monitor and control the car remotely, via smartphone or web browser. For example, when you are around town and have left your car charging at a public station, you can use this feature to confirm that it really is charging (for peace of mind), or even have it alert you if someone unplugs it. Possibly the best feature is the ability to prestart climate control — minutes before you get into your car, you can send a remote command from your smartphone telling the car to heat/cool the cabin, so that when you get in, it’s already comfortable.

Items #2 and #3 are included in the “SV” and “SL” trims of the Nissan Leaf, and all three are included in the SL.

So, while a stripped S-trim Nissan Leaf is indeed the cheapest EV you can get, why hamstring yourself for 2-3 years with a car that’s not at its full potential? For only $50-$100 per month more, you could have a great car. Get an SV-trim Leaf with the DCFC packaged added, or spoil yourself a little and get a fully loaded SL-trim Leaf.

Instead of buying new, consider a USED Leaf for a crazy good deal.

Older Leaf resale values have plummeted, but not because the cars have any problems, rather because new cars are coming out that go much further and for the same price.  Paying $6000 for a car that’s only a few years old sounds pretty sweet, right?  However to get the best deal, you will need to know some details about the different model years.

Note that you do NOT get any tax credits for buying a used EV.

1.  The 2011-2012 model year Leafs have a first-generation battery that weakens faster over time and so the car may only go 50-60 miles.  But if you can get by on that, absolutely look at a used Leaf from those years.  That’s where you’re going to get the impossibly cheap cars.

2.  In 2013, Nissan started building Leafs for the US market in their Tennessee plant, and they brought some important improvements to the car. In particular, the battery technology improved starting in 2013. If you can spend a little more, look for model year 2013 or newer, and built in USA (VIN starts with “1”, not “J”).

3. Ask the seller to tell you how many “bars” are indicated on the right edge of battery gauge.  This indicates battery health, with 12 max (10 white + 2 red).  Another method is to hook an OBD2 module to the car and use the “LeafSpy” app up to read the battery health parameters directly, but that’s a much more advanced process that I won’t detail here.

4.  Ask if the car has the DCFC option, aka “quick charge”.  If it has a Chademo receptacle in the front (next to the J1772 receptacle) then it has the DCFC option.  See the explanation at the top of this page for why you want that.  Alternatively, a car lacking this option should be steeply discounted.

5.  Some of the older or cheaper Leafs have a 3.3 kW charger (Level 2) instead of the more standard 6.6 kW charger.  The latter is obviously better, providing for faster charge times on Level 2 stations, which can be useful on weekends for example.  (See the home charging page here for more on that.)

6.  Later model Leafs offered the option of the more efficient “heat pump” heater, which gives you slightly more range if you are in a cold climate, but in Georgia it’s not much of a savings.

7.  As discussed at the top of this page, built-in navigation is much simpler to monitor while driving than a phone.  But a fringe benefit of getting in-car navigation is that the backup camera is better.

8.  In model year 2013, Nissan started offering a premium package for the Leaf that included 4-camera “surround view” and Bose sound.

FYI, the basic Leaf comes with heated front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. That is a market-beating feature of the Leaf — most EVs do not even offer a heated steering wheel, much less make it a standard feature, and not even the Tesla Model S offered heated rear seats at first. Your kids will love the Leaf!