Dragonfly Does Seattle – a trip powered by electrons
(Article written by Peter Levey from Vancouver, B.C.)
Turning 60 is an interesting and eventful experience!
My wife might throw me a surprise party with thirty of my best friends. She did! She might arrange a wonderful cruise of the Eastern Caribbean region for a glorious week-long escape in March 2014. She did! She might book a double-boat scuba dive at the Grand Turk island wall drop-off. She did!
Vancouver-Seattle Round Trip
In preparation for our flight out from Seattle’s SEATAC airport in mid March 2014, we decided to test a round trip from Vancouver to Seattle, in a single day. Our aptly named electric vehicle, Dragonfly, is the famous Nissan LEAF!
The cold winter months brings a marked range reduction due both to the battery being less efficient in very cold temperatures, the use of heating and defogging.
I researched each and every Quick Charger (DCQC) that is situated along the route, so I wouldn’t have to detour too much to obtain a charge. My intention was to use ONLY these chargers because they bring the LEAF’s batteries up to 80% in 20-30 minutes.
Given a distance of around 275 km – each way – and an average time of around 3 hrs 30 minutes drive time, this still did not include the time needed for several charging stops at various strategic points. I used the PlugShare app – which is a pretty inclusive summation of the various chargers one would encounter on the way down. In the accompanying illustration you can see the DCQC are represented by orange icons. I selected quick chargers that were not too far apart, which I could be certain of reaching with ease. That meant that I probably charged on more occasions than I needed to – but it was a safer strategy that offered more certainty of our timeous arrival at the airport.
Hit The Road
My wife and I set out with a real sense of adventure at 9am on that Friday morning. It was raining, it was cold, and the car fogged up quite frequently. This was not starting too well. On the other hand, it was a good real-world test of how the LEAF would perform in worst-case situations. I felt like one of the early pioneers. So many of our plans were subject to random chance: the chance that a charging station might be out of order or there might be a lineup of cars waiting to use it; the chance that we might use the battery faster in heavier rain / steeper hills, and then struggle to get to the next stop.
Our first charge-stop would be at the Surrey Museum, in the Vancouver region. We plugged right in. Before we knew it, the Greenlots Network app beeped at me with a “Charging Complete” message on my iPhone. From there it was a mere 10 minutes to the Truck border crossing.
In Washington State We Are
It was probably the first time that the US Customs official had heard such a seemingly strange answer to his question: “What’s your reason for entering the United States?” “Well, this is a dry-run to test the process of going down to the airport and returning the same day using only the quick chargers on, or close to, the I5 route.” He did a double-take, looked more closely at the vehicle, and said: “Isn’t that a bit of a risk??” Well, of course we preached the “gospel” of the virtues of driving an EV and he was happy to wave us through with a “Good luck, guys”, and no further questions.
Our next stop would be in Bellingham’s Sehome Village Mall. I have been there on several occasions, but it does tend to be quite a high-usage station. This time was no exception. An Ocean Blue LEAF occupied the Quick Charger bay, so I tucked in alongside, and plugged into the L2, while waiting for the DCQC to become available.
I walked out to the car a few times so I wouldn’t miss the time when the Quick Charger became available, and while I was standing by the car on one of these brief excursions, I had a weird encounter with the owner of a Tesla. Leaving her husband in the driver’s seat, she walked up to me, and informed me that she wanted to use the Quick Charger for a while. I politely indicated to her that there was already a car in the process of charging and the owner was not back yet, and that I was using the L2 until the DCQC became available. She was welcome to my L2 charger in a few minutes once the other owner returned, and I moved to the fast charger. Oh, no, she told me. “I need to use the quick charger now! I’m down to just 5km and my daughters are shopping in a nearby mall so I need to go pick them up!”
There are so many ironies here, I don’t know where to start. The obvious one is that her Tesla has an enormously larger range than any of us “LEAFers,” that for her to be in that position (5km left, – and she was a “local”) was just poor planning, or at best, casual neglect! The second, was that somehow her need (in her mind) trumped the needs of the two people in the line ahead of her. The fact that she could probably have called her daughters’ cell phones and told them to relax and visit Starbucks while she charged, seemed lost on her. When she saw that her demands were not going to be met, she jumped back into the Tesla and off they drove! Hmmm! If you are going to buy an all-electric car, proper planning and timeous charging is probably the pivotal requirement to staying mobile.
Off to the next stops : Burlington’s OUTLET SHOPPES, with an AeroVironmental (AV) network DCQC. Then we pushed on through to town of Edmonds – visiting the first of the Nissan Dealership network of Fast Chargers. In the States, Nissan dealers who sell the LEAF are committing to installing Fast chargers and making them available to LEAF owners at no charge. We chose the Campbell-Nelson Nissan dealer. What a wonderful, welcoming attitude they displayed! The staff were very welcoming, and super polite. Kudos to them! A big surprise to me was the large number of LEAFs – I counted at least FIFTEEN – on the car lot.
We are now headed towards Edmond, and the BURIEN Car Pros Nissan pretty close to the airport. We got a wonderful reception: a warm waiting room, with the Olympics on TV (Go Canada). Hot coffee. Friendly staff. An invitation that any time we were passing we should stop! Canadian Nissan dealerships: you have a lot to learn. Go down south and learn something about positive customer relations from your US cousins!
Let’s Go Back Home
Already FIVE O’CLOCK! Where had the day gone?? Of course, we had got ourselves caught in the normal freeway traffic jam alongside of the city of Seattle, which slowed us down a lot. So, we decided we needed to put a little more urgency into the return journey. The trip back was an exact reversal – visiting each of the same locations we had used on the way down – except that we left out the Bellingham stop as we were making such good progress at the end. Naturally, we had to check on the closing times of the Nissan dealerships, but we were well within those constraints.
Let’s shortcut all the way through to our return through the border, and back to our very first charging station – the Surrey Museum Greenlots charger.
It was 11:30 at night. Cold, still rainy, and we were of course fairly tired after a very long journey. Arriving at the Surrey museum should have been a sure thing. Should have been a quick charge before heading home on the last 48km, but it wasn’t to be! The charger was dead. Non-responsive! I used the app. I tapped the screen on the charger. I did everything I knew how. But a dead charger is a dead charger. By ten to midnight, I got hold of the Greenlots helpline, and requested that they do something – anything – to get the charger online so we could just get home. We were now down to 10km, having decided we could skip the Bellingham Sehome Village stop as we had done so well in conserving our electrons. That would have been just fine, had the Surrey Museum charger been in normal working order.
“I’m very sorry, sir. Let me try to get it back online. I’ll call you right back”
That sounded promising – only we didn’t get the return call (somehow my cell number had not “showed up” and they had been unable to return the call). No problem. I called them back – only to hear this discouraging message: “I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience sir, but I tried to bring it back online but couldn’t. Then I called the folks in LA, and they tried – but couldn’t! I’m afraid there simply are no staff that can be called out this late, so you’ll have to take a taxi home and leave your LEAF in the parking lot. Our sincere apologies.”
As apologies go, it was a good apology. It was sincere. It was well-meaining. But it helped us not a bit! I racked my brains for a few minutes and then remembered: what was that the dealer had told us when we purchased the LEAF? Free roadside assistance from Nissan to give us peace of mind with our purchase. If we were ever in an out-of-power event, there was a number to call! And that wondrous number was right there in our service manual in the glove compartment.
Roadside assistance was polite, caring, sympathetic. She assured me we were within the 50km limit for the free tow. She assured me the tow truck would be there within 45 minutes. He arrived in fact within 30! He had a flatbed towtruck, he lowered the back, and Dragonfly drove proudly up the ramp, and was strapped down safely for the trip home. Our driver – an independent contractor who is hired by BCAA for these occasions – was entertaining, polite, wonderfully helpful, and I cannot say enough about the amazing service he provided.
Getting back to North Vancouver, he took me (at my request) into the parking lot of a local shopping mall, where I drove the car down the ramp, and we were able to make our own way home – a short 1.5km hop away. No sense in waking all the neighbours at 1:30am with a noisy tow truck. After all, Dragonfly was still drivable with over 10km of range available to us. And, she has her pride you know!
So, after all that, are we still going to use the LEAF in March to get us to SEATAC airport for our much anticipated cruise? YOU BET we are. We’ve done the hard work. We’ve investigated the most optimal route. It’ll be a pleasure to do it all over again, and this time, we only have to travel one direction on one day which will make it much easier and less pressured. And, despite that unfortunate incident at the Surrey Museum, it STILL felt like a great adventure. The life of a pioneer is never boring, and we both regard the decision to purchase a LEAF over 18 months ago as the best decision we ever made. About anything!