Every year in June, driving their little Nissan EVs, four intrepid Catalan pioneers converge on the jagged mountains of Montserrat.
This is the story of Jaume Josa, one of the first four Nissan Leaf owners in Spain.
“Jein.” It’s a German word meaning both “yes and no.” And it’s the answer Jaume Josa gives me when I ask if he drives an electric car because of environmental reasons.
With a PhD in chemistry and a career that spans 35 years and two continents (he speaks English, Catalan, Spanish, French and fluent German – hence “jein”), Jaume explains that he has a “passion for a new way of doing things” and was drawn initially to the purchase of a Toyota Prius due to the “perfect synergy of fuel and electricity.”
But it was the electric aspect of the Prius – the silent, brisk propulsion when in electric mode – that drove his desire to try all-electric driving.
And so began his odyssey.
Like many potential EV buyers, a pricey $70,000+ Tesla wasn’t on his shopping list. So in 2011 – the first model year of Nissan’s new “moderately” priced EV – Jaume reserved one of the initial four Nissan Leafs to be imported into Spain – Catalonia to be precise.
Nissan made the inaugural purchasers feel like royalty. They received special commemorative keys two months in advance of a celebration that would be held in their honor, hosted by Nissan at the Hilton Hotel in Barcelona. The Nissan Iberia CEO would be there. Photos would be taken. Congratulations given. And soon thereafter, a certificate commemorating their pioneering spirit would arrive via email.
Little did Jaume expect that “pioneer” would prove to be a very appropriate title.
The New European Driving Cycle [NEDC] or: how European fuel economy numbers are assured to create disappointment.
NEDC fueled Jaume’s expectations by listing a 175 km (108.4 mile) driving range for the Leaf. In the USA, the EPA was rating it more conservatively, at 117 km (72.7 miles). Guess which one is the least inaccurate? (My 2012 Leaf might possibly on its best day ever, under the most extremely favorable driving conditions, go 70 miles before needing to recharge.) While Jaume understood that 175 km was likely not accurate, it would be hard for him to imagine that it would actually prove “to be so short in range” – more like 115 km.
And that’s when you have ideal driving conditions.
Which brings us to the next phase of Jaume’s odyssey: the commute to his workplace – the Leitat Technological Center in Terrassa – about 90 km one way. Even with only a 115 km range, one would expect to be able to drive to work, recharge, and return home with few watt-hours to spare.
Unless your battery has lost some of its capacity. And the weather changes.
Do an internet search for “Nissan Leaf battery class action” and you’ll discover how some American Leaf owners reacted to the “so short in range” reality of the Leaf. They sued. And won. Although their US lawsuit focused on battery degradation caused by HIGH temperatures, the other end of the thermometer also impacts a 2011 Leaf’s driving range. Especially a Leaf with a battery that has lost 2 bars of capacity – as had the battery in Jaume’s vehicle (full capacity is rated at 12 bars – a loss of 2 is just under 17% of its capacity).
“When it’s in the 40’s (fahrenheit) the battery does not behave in the same way. The chemical reaction is not rendering at the same efficiency.” Of course, this is something a PhD in chemistry might be able to apprehend. Especially when he’s driving in an intentionally unheated car wearing gloves and a warm coat and STILL can’t make it to work. (This tale of driving bundled up and watching the battery indicator drop rapidly is told by other Leaf drivers, 2011 owners especially.) On very cold winter days he “could not use the Leaf.” After negotiations with the Nissan dealer, he was provided with a replacement gas-powered car for those days.
“Being a pioneer has its nice, and not so nice moments.”
One would assume that after all of this trouble Jaume got rid of the Leaf and never looked back, and that would be the end of our story. But a true pioneer thrives at the leading, bleeding edge of early adoption and so the story continues.
Jaume leased a new Nissan Leaf with an NEDC rating of 250 km – knowing it would be more like 172 (this time he didn’t buy, in anticipation of getting a Tesla Model 3). You see, electric driving gets under your skin. One of the reasons he has signed up for a Tesla model 3 is its anticipated actual (or better) 356+ km range.
“Charging infrastructure is practically non-existent” outside of cities in Spain according to Jaume. “You cannot go to the snow. You cannot go to the mountains. You cannot go with an EV (Nissan Leaf), it will not make it.” The range of a Model 3 will help offset that issue. He points to the Tesla Supercharger network in Germany as being an example of a well-functioning infrastructure. Longer range + charging infrastructure takes the anxiety out of driving electric.
While he describes his early experience with his Leaf as “a catastrophe” he explains without hesitation he “would do it again.”
“You have to want to do it. You need the courage and will.”
Perhaps that’s why the four intrepid pioneers continue to make their annual trek to the (nearby!) saw-toothed beauty of the Montserrat range. Piloting their little electrified Nissans to the reunion of kindred souls, no doubt these EV early adopters have conquered range anxiety and the horror of hearing the dulcet, imploring voice emerge from the dashboard stating “low battery warning.”
Of course, once Jaume gets his new Tesla Model 3, he’ll be making the drive without breaking a sweat.
Jaume Josa is Group Leader Tribology & Metal Process at the Leitat Technological Center in Terrassa (Barcelona). He is also a team member of Climate Change Expert Group (GECCC), has owned an environmental innovation consultancy, and does drive an EV because of his love of the environment, in addition to his love of technology and adventure.
A video of the first Montserrat Reunion, courtesy of EV pioneer Ernest Perez Fernandez:
Range anxiety, American style.
Research, coordination, interview and photography by Robin Willis.