Interview: Nissan Leaf Ambassador describes EV experience
The Nissan Journey to Zero Emissions programme is now in full swing, with the second batch of ambassadors now halfway through their six-week stint living life with the all-electric Nissan Leaf. Still open for applications, the Nissan Journey to Zero Emissions is an initiative by local distributor Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd to cultivate awareness on the benefits and limitations to electric vehicle motoring, widely seen as a future urban mobility solution.
In exchange for the opportunity to be among the first Malaysians to experience day-to-day living with electric vehicles, the selected Leaf Ambassadors are asked to help out in ETCM’s cause by spreading awareness on the pros and cons of electric vehicle motoring. Far from trying to paint a rosy picture, the objective of ETCM’s exercise is for the public to be fully aware of all aspects, good or bad, relating to electric vehicle motoring.
We spoke to one of the four ambassadors from the second batch, 47-year-old Mr Suresh Thiru of Jobstreet.com. In the interests of a full disclosure, Jobstreet.com is in actual fact the parent company of Autoworld.com.my, although we wish to further clarify that Autoworld.com.my personnel has thus far had no part in Suresh’s experience with the Leaf. Amusingly, despite working in the same office, this interview was carried out over the phone during his drive to work due to our conflicting schedules.
Suresh’s typical day starts with him sending his son off to school, a ten-minute drive from home, before making his way to office at Wisma Jobstreet in Medan Tuanku, Kuala Lumpur. Off-site meetings for him takes place once or twice a week, and after work, he usually heads straight home or out for a game of soccer or yoga. As such, Suresh’s driving pattern follows a that of a typical office person commuting in congested urban traffic doing between 60 and 100km per day.
Read on, as Suresh shares his thoughts with us.
What did you know about electric cars before participating in this programme, and what made you decide to apply to be an ambassador?
ST: Like many boys, I’ve always been interested in cars, and I’m interested in how cars are made, and why certain models are more popular than others. So, I’ve been following the convergence of what are environmental needs to reduce greenhouse gases and also advancements of the car industry. These sort requirements are driving auto makers to provide either hybrids or plug-in hybrids, which are essentially cars with both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine, though plug-in hybrids are not yet available in Malaysia.
The electric car, ultimately, will be the car of choice for people who are environmentally conscious or even societies that put a premium on the environment. I’ve been interested in these trends, and when I saw the Leaf on the road, I applied. You can get electric cars in both Europe as well as North America, and electric buses have been on the road for a while.
For the benefit of our readers and prospective ambassadors hoping to apply into the programme, can you share with us your experience going through the selection process?
ST: Submitting of the form is done online and is pretty straight forward; that’s not the problem. I think the trick is to recognize that besides having you drive the car around one might expect that Nissan would like you to promote the car,. There’s a section in the form where you can write comments, and here you can share some ideas on how you would like to promote the car. I think this will improve your chances on being selected.
Now halfway through your stint as a Nissan Leaf Ambassador, how has the car’s presence in your household affected the lifestyle of yourself and your family? Is the car a perfect fit for you?
ST: If you look at the electric car, I think it is the perfect fit for a family that is looking for a second car. The key limitation to the car is that it has got a distance limitation. On a single charge it can travel about 140km. That’s something you’ll need to deal with. You’ll need to plan your daily trips and you need to plan your travels. So, you can’t jump in the car and drive to Malacca, for example. You’ll be stranded somewhere along the way.
But a regular day’s traveling for me will fit under 100km, so there’s no problem. Then what you need to do is that you need to charge the car every time you get home. So, the routine for me every night when I get home is to just go and plug in the charger when I park my car. I just have to take 30 seconds to plug it in.
What do you see are the benefits of electric vehicle motoring?
ST: If you look at the electric car, I see three benefits. The first benefit would essentially be it is friendly to the environment. It’s not quite zero emissions, because obviously you need to generate electricity to charge the battery. If you have hydroelectric plants, then you’re getting electricity with zero emissions, but hydroelectric plants also have their own problems as the dams displace people and animals from their natural habitats
If you don’t have hydro dams then you essentially have to burn gas, or you have to burn petrol, or you have to burn coal. So they all create a certain amount of pollution. Nevertheless, it is typically one third or one quarter of the amount pollution that you’ll create for the same amount of power in your car. Burning fossil fuel in a power plant is far more efficient than burning petrol in your car. The key point is to be environmentally friendly.
Secondly, owning an all-electric car is about three times cheaper per kilometre than a regular petrol car, because electricity is much cheaper than petrol. This saves you money every month.
And the third reason why driving an electric car is cool because the drive is extremely quiet. You sit in the car, you cannot hear anything. So, that gives you a drive comfort that is significantly better compared to what you have in a normal car with an internal combustion engine. Also, because it doesn’t have any gears, the electric engine has got significant pick-up. You can essentially go from zero to 90 (kph) without having to go through any gear change.
Nowadays, you can get solar panels installed in your house. If you get a solar panel installed in your house and plug it to charge your car, then essentially you can have zero emissions – zero carbon footprint. That’s something else you can add on to your home and then significantly change your lifestyle in terms of how much carbon pollution you produce every day.
What aspects of the electric car experience would you most like to see improved?
ST: Obviously a significant downside of driving an electric car is distance, what people call range anxiety, you can be driving around and then suddenly you realize, “Oops, I’m running out of battery. How do I get home?”
I think in the near future that problem will be somewhat reduced, because there will be a proliferation of charging stations. You can probably have charging stations in your office or you can go to a public charging station and then pay a fee and use it, perhaps by credit card swipe. Alternatively, you could potentially have charging stations at say, cafes or restaurants, just like how some establishments provide free wi-fi to attract customers today.
The other thing I that would like to see improved in the car is that sometimes when you drive by pedestrians or motorcyclists, you get the feeling they can’t hear the car. The car is extremely quiet. It has a noise emitting device that sorts of mimic the sound a car, allowing it to be heard from a distance, but I think it needs to be quite a bit more effective. Sometimes when I drive, I notice that people don’t seem to notice the presence of a moving vehicle nearby.
There is a lot of technology and a lot of investments being put into electric cars today. I would expect the engines and the batteries to keep improving. So, those are the things that car manufacturers will have to do. On the other hand, the community will need to figure out how to make available really low cost charging stations. The trick here is not to build a very expensive new and stand-alone infrastructure, but to leverage existing infrastructure to provide these charging stations. The charger at my house cost less than RM400 to install.
What would you say is your greatest take back from this experience? Did the programme significantly improve your understanding on the pros and cons of electric vehicle motoring?
ST: You can read about electric cars on the web, but driving and owning one gives you a completely different experience. People have range anxiety, and initially you will be concerned.
So, if you haven’t driven the car, you probably wouldn’t consider buying it. But once you’ve driven the car, when you’ve sort of overcome that range anxiety, you’ll figure out how to plan around that, and it no longer becomes a problem. It wouldn’t be a limiting factor for you to own the car. Again, my view is that the electric car is a very viable second car for families.
Pictures: Suresh & Kon