Shaking like a Leaf: the EV road trip from hell?

This blog post is the first in a series about my road trip around South/East Australia in an electric vehicle. Read other posts using the same tag.

Not many people know that I had acquired a Nissan Leaf as a second-hand Japanese import into Australia during COVID. It’s a battery electric vehicle, that until 2020 was the most popular consumer electric car in the world, and I decided to make it my first car after years of solely using public transport in various cities and needing a little bit more flexibility.

A white Nissan Leaf, parallel parked on a street
The Leaf on the day I took ownership of it in 2022.

Why a Leaf? Because it is a well-understood EV, with its pros and cons, and it had plenty of physical tactile buttons rather than touchscreens or nested menus for common controls. Also, it was gonna be my first car and I’m not made of money, so I’d rather start off with something cheaper and simpler to get the hang of things first.

Anyway, I’d had the car for a year and it had served me well as a city car, travelling around Brisbane and the Gold Coast. I still regularly take public transport though, and don’t take the car out much as a result – I think I only clocked up around 2500km or so in that first year.

Nearing the end of 2023, I decided that I would take time off from my day job and a bunch of other things. What to do? Why not a road trip! I’ve been to some of the main cities around Australia, but not really experienced much else, and I thought it would be a nice thing to see more of the country with my newfound vehicular freedom.

I ran some initial checks to see where I could find chargers using the handy Plugshare website, and thought about a trip from Brisbane to Adelaide. It would go down the east coast to Sydney, inland to Adelaide, sorta around the coast to Melbourne and Canberra, then inland again back home. I had never been to South Australia, and it would also cover a broad enough area with plenty of places along the way to visit.

I even made a map outlining roughly where I’d go: (ignore the letters – they don’t mean much)

Now, a road trip around large parts of Australia is not uncommon – plenty of people do this and it’s not normally a big deal. You even hear about people doing circuits around Australia in Teslas just for the heck of it.

But you see, I have a car that:

  • rolled off the line in 20171,
  • only works off of electricity,
  • carries a 40kWh battery with around 200-240km usable range when in Eco mode2,
  • has a non-actively-cooled battery system,
  • comes with 6.6kW single-phase AC charging3, and
  • has a CHAdeMO DC charging port.

Some of the above might not mean much if you’re not familiar with electric vehicles, but in other words I have an EV that:

  • has about half the range that you’d normally find in comparable EVs now,
  • has a battery that can overheat when using/charging it for periods of time,
  • charges at half to a third of the rate of other EVs here (when “slow charging” from an AC electricity supply,) and
  • has a “fast charging” plug for use with DC charging that basically is of a dying breed and isn’t available everywhere.4

Most of the issues above don’t really exist in newer EVs today; it’s as if I’m driving the worst possible EV that’s still available on the market!5 They’re not something that affects driving when you’re only doing local trips or a regular commute. A road trip however… But I’m not one to turn down a challenge. It was decided. Three weeks. The Leaf with me, myself and I.

Was I nervous? A bit. Excited? Sure was.

So here it is: a series on how I travelled solo across southern and eastern Australia, covering 6400km, through the summer Christmas 2023/New Year 2024 period, in what possibly could be the worst EV you could do a road trip in.

There’ll be ups and downs, some hair raising situations, and a lot of luck. I hope you’ll have as much fun reading this series as I did doing this trip.6

Continues in Part I.

  1. I was surprised to find a model ZE1 from 2017, but this was indeed one of the earliest ZE1s that came out. I was unsure if I would be bitten by the charging issues that affected early ZE1s, but it probably had its firmware updated when it was still in Japan as I didn’t experience any issues related to that specifically. ↩︎
  2. I also normally drive my car in Eco mode by default – I actually find the acceleration in normal mode way too strong. It’s funny at first when you hit the accelerator and you’re not moving because the tyres can’t catch up – though you won’t find me doing burnouts any time soon. ↩︎
  3. Before I got the car, I didn’t know that Japanese ZE1 Leafs with the 40kWh battery usually came with 3.3kW AC chargers as standard, so this could have been worse! I had no intention of specifically choosing a higher spec, but I lucked out this time… ↩︎
  4. There’s been an adapter in development recently to allow use of the main popular standard (CCS2) with CHAdeMO cars… This video came out just after I posted this blog and it’s looking positive! ↩︎
  5. You can get basically the same specced Nissan Leaf today. With all of the same deficiencies. There is an extended range one with a larger battery, but apart from the longer range, it’s still the same car. Here’s hoping for something better in the 2024 refresh. ↩︎
  6. I originally didn’t even plan to post anything online about my road trip – it was something I wanted to do as a personal thing as part of my quasi-sabbatical. But upon hearing my plans, some people encouraged me to share my story as I went. I settled for doing an old fashioned blog post instead, mainly because I don’t do Instagram or whatever people are into nowadays, and I needed a lot of rest on the trip as I was doing this solo, rather than trying to cram in write ups along the way. ↩︎