Lovin' Their Leafs

February 28, 2020

February’s sustainability focus is on using innovative technology to address sustainability challenges.
Did you know that Connecticut offers up to $5,000 of incentives to buy or lease an electric vehicle? Learn more about how you can plug in and make a difference. 
We recently chatted with Stephanie Gosteli, Associate Director of the Learning Center, and Brenda Naegel, Associate Director of Staff Engagement & Recognition, about their experience with converting to an electric vehicle. Here’s what they had to say:
What made you decide to buy an electric car?
Stephanie: I was feeling pretty desolate about the lack of action on climate change that seems to be going on in our world and decided that I needed to think about the ways I could do something, even if it were in a small way. So, my husband and I added more solar panels to our house, and I started looking at car options. I found out that there were some great incentives to buy an electric car, including from our electric company. 
Brenda: I worry deeply about environmental issues, and while I’ve done a lot to change my habits over the years in hopes of being part of the solution, the hardest thing has been trying to find a way to commute with less impact on the environment. My first attempt was to take the train, which didn’t appeal to me. Eventually, I leased two Nissan Altima hybrids, which were great cars. Four years ago, when I went to trade in an older one for a new one, I discovered that they were no longer available in Connecticut and reluctantly returned to driving a gas-powered car. When that car’s lease expired, I learned that I had a new option to consider—a Leaf, which is Nissan’s current EV offering. I test drove the car and was very impressed with its range, technology, and comfortable ride. And, it turned out that the economics of purchasing the vehicle rather than leasing it made a lot more sense given the current incentives, so I ultimately opted to buy the car.
What is it like to drive a plug-in vehicle?
Stephanie: So, this is the best part: Driving an electric car is so much fun! I can’t explain the engineering behind it, but my Leaf is fast and super agile! I plug it in every other night in the winter and about every three days in the summer. I have an outlet in my garage, and the car charges overnight. My car seats four people comfortably and is a hatchback, thus perfect for most things I do on a day-to-day basis.
Brenda: Agreed! The car has a lot of power and handles well. I was also amazed to discover that the cruise control feature invokes a “self-driving” mode that controls the distance between you and the car ahead of you and senses the lines on the road to either side of you—very cool and very helpful!
We hear a lot about “range anxiety” associated with EVs. Have you encountered this or any other challenges given your new commuter lifestyle?
Stephanie: The range for my car does vary depending on how cold it is, in the winter a full charge usually gets me about 100 miles, while in the summer it’s more like 140. My driving is mostly local and to and from work, so with this range, I can complete 95% of my driving needs. We do have a regular car for any long-distance driving we do, but only using it for longer trips means that we don’t use much regular fuel! 
Brenda: I have a 50-mile round trip commute on weekdays and, like Stephanie, find that the car meets most of my needs. While the EV can typically make two round trips to New Haven before it needs charging, I prefer to charge my car when I get home every night. As Stephanie mentioned, the range can be less on a very cold day and turning on seat warmers, the heated steering wheel (can’t live without that!), and the heater require extra power, so wintertime requires more vigilance about charging. Recently, on a day in the single digits, I was on my way to work when I realized that I had forgotten to charge up the night before. I needed to find a place to charge before I got home because I was going to come up a little short. I was initially anxious about this, but with the car’s built-in technology, I easily located charging stations at Yale as well as others nearby, so all was well in the end.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be considering making the switch from a gas-powered vehicle to an electric one?
Stephanie: Do a test drive. I think you will love the driving experience! Then think realistically about your daily driving habits. For most of us, our commutes aren’t more than an electric car can comfortably handle. Having a convenient place to charge is important, so if you have a garage, installing a 220 outlet (the same as your dryer uses) can be done by an electrician, isn’t too expensive, and will make life much easier. Also, look into any available rebates. There is still a federal tax credit for most Electric cars, Tesla is down to half, and that expires at the end of June 2020, but I believe the full $7,500 benefit is available for all other manufacturers. Check out the CT DEPP site to see the cars that are currently eligible for additional CT incentives, but make sure to understand how you access them and what the time limits are. I believe some have filing deadlines that require the dealer to file paperwork within ten days of purchase! So, read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line! 
Brenda: If it’s on your mind to make the switch to an EV, don’t hesitate! Talk to people who are driving EVs and test drive different makes and models. Also, if you do purchase an EV, think about upgrading a standard electric outlet to 220V so that you can top off your battery more quickly. Also, consider adding solar panels to your home if possible to help offset the additional need for electricity to charge the car.
Do you have a climate-action story? We would love to hear them! Contact jaimee.dagostino@yale.edu.