What is an Electric Vehicle (EV) and who makes them? An EV is any vehicle powered by electricity typically derived from plug in power. There are an increasing number of manufacturers including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, and Volkswagen. Of these, Nissan’s Leaf is the most common EV in the US and in Juneau.  The Chevy Bolt is a viable competitor to the Leaf and gets about twice the range. Although, they are not yet available in Juneau, Mendenhall Auto will provide service for Bolts. A plug-in hybrid is an EV with a gas engine that either powers a generator and/or directly drives the wheels. The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid available in Juneau.

How much do EVs cost? EV’s are typically more expensive than gas powered cars when purchased new, beginning at $29,000 (Ford Focus Electric, Hyundai Ioniq, and Nissan Leaf),  and ranging upwards of $80,000 for Tesla’s Model X. The high cost is offset in part by a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchase of a new EV.

Used Nissan Leafs offer considerable savings, which are offered for median prices of around $10,000, ranging from about $7000 to $14000 (down south) depending on age, model, and condition. This is one of the primary reasons that Nissan Leafs have become common in Juneau.

To buy or lease? The vast majority of new Leafs in the lower 48 are leased, becoming available as used vehicles at the end of 2 or 3 year lease periods; hence, the availability of used Leafs for the Juneau market. Leasing a new EV is an option worth exploring. Lessees do not have the battery concerns (degradation with age) that EV owners have. But then there are two ferry/barge trips adding to the cost.

Where do you get an EV? There are currently no car dealerships carrying new EVs in Juneau; however, Mendenhall Auto sells the Chevy Volt, a plug-in EV.

The nearest Nissan dealerships are in Fairbanks, Whitehorse, and in Washington State (the Anchorage dealership does not currently sell EVs). Most people go down to Washington, to Bellingham Nissan or Campbell Nissan which has branches in Edmonds and Everett. The Washington dealers are very familiar with the procedure for putting a Leaf on the ferry or shipping it up on the Barge with Alaska Marine Lines. The cost of barging an EV from Seattle to Juneau is nearly $1400. A ferry ride for an EV from Bellingham to Juneau runs $1062 in the summer plus $50 if the car is unaccompanied by a driver. The cost can be rolled into your financing. AML and the Ferry report that they have 1-2 new EVs coming into town each week, so they are used to the process on this end as well.

If you want to buy local, Juneau resident Erik Emert imports used Nissan Leafs which you can find listed on Craigslist. He checks all the cars for battery health and other critical systems before bringing them to Juneau. 

What is the most important thing to look for? Battery Health (google the Leaf Spy app) and heater type (you want the heat pump).

“Do you like it?” As an EV owner, that is the most common question I get on the street and my answer is always an emphatic “Yes! We love it!” It works great for our family. But you always need to look at your own circumstances to make sure it will be a good fit.

How far can I go on a single charge? This distance is known as the “range” and is largely dependent on battery capacity (size). The average EVs, including the Nissan Leaf, have a range of about 75 to 100 miles. The longest range EVs include Tesla models, which get 200 to over 300 miles per charge, and the Chevy Bolt, which gets around 230 miles. (Range is lower in cold weather and the older style heaters draw a lot of power).

Most EVs  have a quick charger that will refill your battery in 20 minutes, but quick chargers do stress the battery more so if you buy a used EV that has a quick charger, be sure to check the battery health. Also, it’s important to note that there are currently no quick chargers in Juneau.

How long does it take to charge an EV? A full charge from empty for a Leaf takes about 4 hours with level 2 (240v) charging, and twice as long with level 1 (120v household current) charging. The usual case for home charging (level 2) overnight after average use (e.g., with 40 to 50 miles left in the battery) is about 2 hours. All of this depends on the amperage capacity of the charger in the car, battery size, and voltage supply.

What do I need to charge at home? The vehicle will come with a charging cable. The simplest option is to plug it into 120 power. That is the kind of power you get from a regular outlet. This is the slowest option but it works great if you are charging overnight.

The second option is to connect to 240 volt power (known as level 2 charging), which will charge the car twice as fast as 120 volt power. Charging with 240 volts at home requires an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment) and the kind of outlet a dryer uses with breaker protected wiring. EVSEs consist of a box of electronics, a cable with the plug that fits into the car’s receptacle, and a 240 volt power cord. EVSE’s can be purchased complete for around $500 to $600. Costs of installing the 240 volt wall plug and wiring will vary. AEL&P has a new program of renting EVSEs made by “JuiceBox” at a cost of $11.28/month that are compatible with most EVs, including Nissan , Chevrolet, and Tesla models. These units come with a meter that tracks the electricity used, including electricity used at night (10pm – 5am) for ½ the standard electric rate.

The fastest option is a quick charger (level 3) that can charge the average battery to 80% in as little as 20 minutes. These are very expensive to install and there are none in Juneau at this time.

Where are the charging stations in Juneau? There are a number of level 2 (240v) public (free) charging stations in Juneau: downtown library parking garage, Alaska State Library parking garage, the Rock Dump, AEL&P parking lot in Lemon Creek, Mendenhall library parking lot, Chatham Electric, Kootznoowoo Plaza (across from McDonsald’s), UAS parking lot, Eaglecrest, Treadwell Ice Arena, and Eagle Beach State Park.

How much does it cost to charge an EV? Roughly $3 for charging an empty Leaf battery. That estimate is based on $0.12 per kWh, a 24 to 30 kw battery, and 3.5 to 4 hours to charge. That can be cut in half if charging overnight and getting the special $0.06 per kWh rate from AEL&P. Realistically, batteries will not be run to empty, but only requiring half as much charge. And, charging is free at Juneau’s public charging stations.

What is the actual cost of owning an EV? The per mile cost of driving an EV in Juneau is about 2 to 4 cents/mile for the electricity, as compared about 7 to 20 cents per mile for gas powered cars (assuming 6 to 12 cents per kWh and about $3.30/gal for gas). Other recurring costs for EVs are primarily brakes, tires, and windshield wiper blades.

Are EVs dependable? Yes. Plug-in cars are the most dependable vehicles on the market. They will last as long as or longer than gasoline automobiles, with less regular maintenance required.  They require no oil changes, tune-ups, or new spark plugs. Brake life is extended on EVs since the motor is used to slow the car, recapturing the kinetic energy and storing it back in the battery. Electric motors will also outlast the body of the vehicle.

How do EVs do in the snow? The battery is quite heavy so EVs actually do well in the snow. In fact, there is always a line at the Eagelcrest charger in the winter. We do recommend getting snow tires. The standard-issue tires that come with the Nissan Leaf are not good for driving in the snow.

What about Safety? EVs have to pass the same vehicle safety code requirements as gasoline powered cars and all EVs on the market get top marks for safety. The battery makes them hard to roll over (they had to use a forklift to do the rollover test on the Leaf). There’s no carbon monoxide in your garage. You’re not sitting on 40 gallons of highly explosive gasoline. The few known battery fires involving Tesla EVs have raised concern about EV battery fires; however, the rates of fires in gas-powered cars and EVs are extremely low due to safety engineering. There are no records of a Nissan Leaf catching on fire.

How do EVs do in the snow? The battery is quite heavy so EVs actually do well in the snow. In fact, the Eaglecrest charger is in high demand by Leaf owners on winter weekends. We do recommend getting snow tires. The standard-issue tires that come with the Nissan Leaf are not good for driving in the snow.

How long do the batteries last? At least 5 to 8 years. 2016 and 2017 Leafs with 30 kWh batteries are warrantied to not lose more than 30% capacity in 8 years or 100,000 miles; 24 kWh batteries are warrantied against that loss for 5 years/60,000 miles.

Where do old batteries end up? The expected route is to be used for electrical storage. Nissan and Tesla have programs for this.

Things to consider: How much range do you need? Do you have a place to charge it? Do you need a lot of hauling capacity, in terms of volume or pulling power? 

Specific Things to consider when buying a Nissan Leaf. Given that the Nissan Leaf is a currently popular purchase for Juneau residents, here are some specific considerations:

  • There are three models: S, SV, and SL. Model S is the base model and lacks some of the features listed next depending on the year. Model S Leafs can be identified by having steel wheels with plastic hub caps to simulate alloy wheels. Model SV is midrange and Model SL is top of the line with leather seats and a photovoltaic solar panel on the top of the rear hatch.
  • Battery health: the lithium-ion batteries now used in EVs degrade with use and it is important to check the remaining capacity in used EVs. A rough estimate of the remaining capacity is shown on the right side of the Leaf dash display. You’ll have to look this up to see how it works, but the basic idea is that there is a vertical stack of 12 bars for new batteries. Nissan warranties the batteries to not lose more than three bars over the warranty period (8 years or 100,000 miles). A more informative option is to use a smartphone app (Leaf Spy) and a special plug to get a very detailed look at the state of the battery, among other things.
  • Battery capacity: The standard Leaf battery has been 24 kWh (EPA rated range of 84 miles) until Nissan enlarged the battery to 30 kWh (EPA rated range = 107 miles) for all models in 2017. Only models SV and SL had the larger battery in 2016, except for later in the model year when model S cars were also upgraded. Leafs with the larger battery also comes with Nissan’s quick charging system.
  • Charger capacity: Leafs have an onboard charger rated at 3.3kw or 6.6kw. The larger capacity (on models with quick charge) charges twice as fast with 240v charging systems and is standard on SV and SL models, optional on the S. Fast charging (440v DC charging) is also available (standard on SL, optional on S and SV, depending on year).
  • Heater type. This is important because it can dramatically affect your range in the winter and lead to mold issues. The standard heater in S models uses resistance heating, which draws considerable power (e.g., range drops about 10 to 15% depending on the temperature). A heat pump type heater is standard on SV and SL models since 2013, and these are more energy efficient, also working as air conditioners when needed.
  • For more details of this sort, check out the Seattle Leaf Owners page