Background Research & Deciding to Buy an Electric Vehicle

I started a new job in late 2013. The new job, a fantastic career opportunity, was in Chilliwack. I lived in Vancouver, and my partner had a great job in downtown Vancouver.

Prior to starting the new job, I cycle commuted to my job in Richmond from Vancouver (and loved every minute of it) and before that, cycled to UBC. I had never owned a car in my life (though I have driven plenty, I will admit).

It’s a long story, but we ended up staying in Vancouver (we are in East Vancouver though, about 2 minutes from the highway) because that’s what made the most sense for us as a pair. To illustrate that I’m not completely crazy, the commute time from Vancouver to Chilliwack is about 55-60 minutes (and it’s 100 km). It’s certainly a long commute, but time-wise, isn’t totally outrageous.

To facilitate this commute though, I needed to get a car. My first car. As my line of work is in Environmental Health, with a focus on air quality and climate change, I was keenly aware of the impact of gas/diesel vehicles, and didn’t want to be using that option, especially as my commute was so long. I then began to research electric vehicles. In the early days, I was able to use my boyfriend’s vehicle (an ICE, or internal combustion engine vehicle), but it was only intended to be a temporary measure. In addition to not wanting to pollute during my commute, I didn’t want to spend $5000-6000/year in gas, oil changes and maintenance (that is literally the cost of driving the amount that I now do).

I researched available models of electric vehicles for months, with a focus on which one(s) could reliably travel 100 km on the highway on a single charge (luckily, there were charging stations in place already at my new workplace, which was fantastic). I knew there were charging stations along the way, but didn’t want to have to rely on stopping every day, as my commute was long enough already.

After much investigation, at the time, I concluded that the Nissan LEAF was probably the car for me. It had the right mix of range, availability, and price. I was open to anything though, and still would be: the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Focus EV, and Smart ED were other options I considered, and can be great options, depending on one’s needs. I also looked into the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, also good options to have out there (I concluded that with my commute distance though, I’d be running on gas a lot of the time. For other people though, they offer the best of both worlds). At the time I was looking, the Kia Soul EV and BMW i3 weren’t available. A Tesla model S would’ve been great, but definitely out of my price range.

Initially, I was looking for a used 2011 LEAF, to minimize the price for myself (I’m in my 20s and only finished school and started working a few years ago). However, I wanted to be sure that such a car could make the distance, reliably with a comfortable safety margin to account for sub-optimal conditions. I wanted to test drive one for a whole trial day – drive from my home to work, charge it at work during the day (luckily my workplace has electric vehicle charging stations, thanks to the Province of BC’s Community Charging Infrastructure Fund), and drive home to do a real-life test run.

I wasn’t able to borrow a car from a dealership to try this for a whole day (maybe it has changed now). Instead, I did some searching and discovered that Modo, one of the carsharing programs in Vancouver had some LEAFs. I joined Modo for the explicit reason of trying a LEAF for a day, and went for a big test ride.

It didn’t go as planned. As I was doing that first drive, in the spring of 2014, going through Abbotsford, I looked at the range indicator (which I have since learned EV drivers refer to as the GOM, or guess-o-meter) and realized I had fewer kilometers left in range than I had to drive. I didn’t know if I was going to make it, and pulled in to the Abbotsford Sumas Tim Hortons, which has a free Level 2 charging station (thank you!). I stayed there for about half an hour, and then made it to the office, with the very low battery warning flashing.

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The Modo 2011 LEAF that I tried. Thank you Modo for having EVs in your fleet!

I realized that I had more research to do. I joined VEVA (Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association) and went to one of their meetings, asking the people there what I should do. I learned that I should look at a 2013 or newer LEAF, as it had an improved battery with slightly longer range, and as a newer car, would also have less battery degradation. (I’ve since learned that EV batteries, like a cell phone battery, will degrade a little bit over time. Anecdotal evidence I’ve heard is that in the moderate climate of the Pacific Northwest, an EV battery might degrade about 4%/year. For many people, a 2011 LEAF will work just fine to get around the city, but I needed all the range I could get for my 100 km highway commute).

In June 2014, our workplace was fortunate to get a test drive of a 2014 LEAF for one week (as well as a 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV). I tried the 2014 LEAF out on my commute, and was delighted to arrive at work with 57km left on the GOM (unsure now what the battery % was, probably around 33%). I realized for sure that I needed to get a newer LEAF, and the search for one was on.

After a lot of searching and thinking, I paid for a new 2015 LEAF in October 2014, and took possession of it on December 11, 2014. It was a LONG process of research, trials, searching, and other hoop jumping to get the vehicle. I hope by sharing my experience, I can make it easier for others to get into their own electric vehicle!

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Dec. 11, 2014 – I took possession of my first car. It was a rainy day!

4 thoughts on “Background Research & Deciding to Buy an Electric Vehicle”

  1. Yes, it’s American. I’ve been debating how much to write up on the purchasing and importation process (but will add something). There were no incentives in BC at the time I was looking/buying and the dollar was better. I will say this though: there were quite a few hoops to jump through to import!

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m wondering, were you able to adjust the display to metric? And how does the map work in Canada – i.e. does it show the charging stations here in BC as well as in the US?

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    1. Yes, I was easily able to change the dash display to metric.

      As for maps and navigation – that is not a feature that is part of the S trim anyway (or not on the S trim in 2015 at least). I would imagine the displays on US models with maps and navigation would still show BC charging stations, but don’t know for sure.

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