New Volta station at Kamehameha Shopping Center

June 1st, 2012
By

Kam1

Photo courtesy Volta
First Insurance is sponsoring a Volta vTower outside Longs Drugs at Kamehameha Shopping Center, providing EV drivers with two hours of free charge time (worth about 15 to 20 extra miles) to power up their vehicles.

Electric vehicle rivers have a new place to charge up for free with the opening of a new EV charging station today outside of Long’s at Kamehameha Shopping center, 1620 N. School St. The new service is being made available through a partnership between Volta Industries and First Insurance.

This station was already on the Plugshare.com map when I was test-driving the Mitsubishi i-MiEV a couple of weeks ago, so I guess I was lucky I didn't go looking for it or depend on it then. I had considered going there on a Saturday just in case I needed extra power to get me to the Waimalu dealership on Sunday, but found I didn't need it after all after "filling up" at the HMSA building on Keeaumoku Street.

First Insurance is also providing Pearlridge drivers free electricity through its sponsorship of a Pearlridge Downtown EV charging station.

These stations are part of the Volta Hawaii network, a community-sponsored, free-to-use EV charging network.

In a press release statement, Scott Mercer, Volta co-founder and CEO, said: “As more EV drivers hit the road, the primary concern seems to be running out of electricity. We’re glad our system addresses this challenge to helping Hawaii embrace electric vehicles.”

In the same release, Allen Uyeda, President and CEO of First Insurance, said: “By supporting the expansion of Volta’s charging network, we hope more Hawaii drivers will see the exciting clean energy changes taking place and be encouraged to make their next car an EV.”

Both stations offer free charging for up to two hours during the respective location hours. Kamehameha Shopping Center from 7 a.m. to  p.m. and Pearlridge Downtown from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  There are now seven free EV charging stations in the Volta network, and emerging technologies firm expects to have several dozen EV charging stations in up to 30 locations on Oahu by year’s end.

They need to get busy at Ala Moana Center. I'd say 10 stations would be great, to start.

For more information about Volta, visit www.voltacharging.com or call (888) 264-2208.

Last word, for now

May 22nd, 2012
By

I had a few questions about the alternative fuel spaces at T.J. Maxx. They are such primo spaces that it would be tempting for anyone to park there. I wasn't sure, when I visited, whether all the cars parked there were actual alternative-fuel cars.

While one truck read "Flex Fuel" (designed to run on gasoline or any blend of up to 85 percent ethanol (E85), other cars had no such designation or special plates. And one was a beater.

I inquired about possible addition of EV chargers to the stalls and policing of the stalls, and Bobbie Lau got back to me.

Heres the official word: "Ward Centers is finalizing discussions with a company to install Electric Vehicle charging stations at the new Ward Village Shops parking garage.

"Sustainability is of utmost importance to Ward Centers and we want to provide our customers with the convenience of these charging stations.

"With the recent opening of T.J.Maxx there has been an increased amount of traffic and demand for parking stalls at this new garage. We are looking at creative ways to monitor these stalls to ensure customers with alternative fuel vehicles are able to utilize these stalls."

That's all for now.

Fun while it lasted

May 21st, 2012
By

The Volt back at its home base at the GM facility in Honolulu

The Volt back at its home base at the GM facility in Honolulu

I said goodbye to my Chevy Volt this morning with a new appreciation for the potential role electric vehicles can play in the state’s push for energy independence.

You can’t put solar panels or wind turbines on an EV, but you can take the electricity those renewable energy sources produce and use it to charge the car’s battery. That takes oil out of the equation entirely.

I realize that most of the electricity flowing into my Volt’s battery during my weeklong test drive came from one of HECO’s oil-fired plants on Oahu. However,  a small but growing share of the power flowing through HECO’s grid is coming from renewable sources: the H-Power plant, the Kahuku wind farm, the Campbell Industrial Park biodiesel plant, and rooftop PV. And the amount of renewable electricity provided by HECO will only increase over time.

It’s also worth noting because electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines. That means the energy value in a gallon of oil used to generate electricity will get you much farther in an EV than a gallon of gas will get you in a conventional car.

When I returned the car to GM the odometer read 386 miles. That total included my daily roundtrip commute of about 30 miles a day between East Honolulu and Kakaako, a trip over the Pali to a flag football game in Kailua, a run out to Murakami Stadium for the UH’s final home baseball game, and numerous trips to the grocery store.

The Volt’s 45-mile range on a single charge was good sufficient for most of the trips. Fortunately, the Volt has an extended-range feature whereby a gas engine kicks in to provide electricity for the car when the battery runs out. That happened to me three times during the week. I estimate I traveled about 70 miles on gas. The gas backup is a nice feature, and helps ease the “range anxiety” that some drivers of plug-in only cars talk about.

I think EVs have a future in Hawaii, especially given the limited driving distances on most islands. It’s a pleasure driving past a gas station, knowing you’re not at the mercy of the oil companies. Finding  available public charging stations can be challenging at times, so for those who can charge their vehicles at home it’s a major plus. For those with PV panels on their roofs generating their own electricity it’s even better.

We may be a small state out in the middle of the Pacific, but EVs are another example of how Hawaii can be a leader in renewable energy technology.

A nice ride while it lasted

May 20th, 2012
By

mback
Nadine Kam photos

Back where I started, at Cutter Ford/Mitsubishi, 98-015 Kamehameha Highway, past Best Buy if Ewa bound.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and I had to give up the i-MiEV today. In spite of the initial stresses, I did have fun driving the car.

The ideal driver would likely be a homeowner who lives close to work, who has a fairly predictable schedule.

Because I have a varied schedule and may make reservations and RSVPs weeks in advance, it was problematic when events stacked up on this particular week. All told, I had to cancel plans to attend three fashion events because I didn't have enough of a charge to get me to those places, back home and back to a charging station the next morning.

Every night, I had to plan my day around charging and even though I live a mere two miles from work, I was recharging five out of seven days. If I actually owned the car, I would have to buy an umbrella for all the time I spent hoofing it under the hot, burning sun to and from charging stations.

Even so, I'm the type of person who loves a challenge, and it became almost like a game. The best part, of course, was that parking was free all week in the city's metered stalls, and so was the electricity after I got the hang of things.

And, of course, I took one gas vehicle off the road for the week—my own—adding zero emission for the health of the planet. That made me feel good about this little road test.

After returning the car, I got a ride back to town with one of the Ford techs, Eric, who said he's had three Accords stolen from him. I suggested he get the i-MiEV. I don't think thieves would know what to do with the car, making them theft-proof, for now anyway.

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If you want more information on the i-MiEV, train your QR scanner here.

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This is one of the promises of the electric car.

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I've never driven a Ford, but while I was waiting for a ride back home checked out the Fiesta, which is said to get 40 miles per gallon. I guess this buglike shape is starting to grow on me.

You don't have to go to Haleiwa for shrimp

May 20th, 2012
By

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Nadine Kam photos

I charged up my battery at the HMSA/CPB parking lot on Keeaumoku (enter on Sheridan) while enjoying a lunch of spicy shrimp at Andy's Kahuku Shrimp on Saturday. It wasn't Haleiwa, but you have to be flexible and have a sense of humor when you drive an electric car.

Before I got behind the wheel of the i-MiEV, I thought it would be fun to take the car on a whirl to Haleiwa and Kahuku for lunch at the shrimp truck while my sister is visiting from New York.

Alas, this was not to be. The MiEV, I learned, might get me there, but it wouldn't get me back to town. People kept telling me there is a charging station at the Polynesian Cultural Center and Turtle Bay Resort, but those would do me no good unless those were my destinations. I would have needed a charging station in Haleiwa, and I just know that
they could build 20 there, and more than 20 drivers would have the same idea, so there's no guarantee you'll get a charge for the trip back.

On Friday I was wondering how the heck I would keep my car charged over the weekend. It's one thing to spend eight hours at work and allow the car to charge, but the place where I park at home is far from my house, so plugging in was not possible.

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Easy access on the ground floor of the HMSA building.

Well, rather than eating shrimp on the North Shore, we decided to head to Koreamoku for shrimp plates at Andy's Kahuku Shrimp, and, as luck would have it, there's a Better Place charge spot for two cars in the HMSA garage across the street from the restaurant! What's more, the exit gate was up, so parking was free on a Saturday.

In fact, save for my sudden inability to parallel park this week, parking was a joy all week. After my initial $12 outlay after a botched charging mission in a city garage, I never had to fumble for coins the whole week. Park in a primo spot on Seaside Avenue in Waikiki all Saturday? No problemo. While others diligently fed their meters, as a driver of an EV car, I simply got out and trotted away. La-di-da!

This year is a promotional period for Better Place, which is offering free charging at its 130 stations around the island, limited to four hours per car per day. You're given a swipe card to power on, so yes, they can ID your car.

mcharge
A Nissan Leaf was powering up behind me when I returned from a two-hour lunch. It was enough to bring my charge up to a full 68 miles. Whoo-hoo! I was able to use the air-conditioning again, and make it back to the Waimalu dealership on Sunday.

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On the Leaf, zero emission makes any hassle and sacrifice worthwhile.

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After lunch, I headed to Waikiki for "research" and saw another i-MiEV parked across the street. Note the red flash on the meter because metered parking is free to EV drivers.

Try renting one if you want to give it a whirl!

May 19th, 2012
By

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If you want to test whether an EV is in your near future, you might consider renting one for a few days.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the company that loaned us my Nissan Leaf for the week, was the first rental company in the state to offer electric vehicles and charging stations to the public.

They passed on some pretty neat facts so I thought I’d share some as we start to wind up our week with the Leaf, a car I’ve come to enjoy and will truly miss when I return it tomorrow.

The first Leafs were introduced locally at Enterprise’s Honolulu airport location and today the company has a fleet of 30 on Oahu, said Chris Sbarbaro, vice president of sales, marketing and external affairs for Enterprise in Hawaii.

Electronic vehicles will begin appearing on Maui later this month (along with charging stations, as they have here on Oahu) and then on Kauai later this summer, Sbarbaro said.

Back on Oahu, Enterprise has EVs in Kailua, Kaneohe, Waipahu, Disney Aulani Resort (through Alamo), Turtle Bay, Waikiki and downtown, as well as the airport.

“Our goal is to continue to expand our network to reduce the concerns of the ‘charging anxiety’ that people have felt at times,” Sbarbaro said.

“Due to the limited driving distances, we see Hawaii as a great fit for the EVs in many ways,” he said, reiterating a thought my colleague Alan Yonan has heard from others.

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The Leafs are pretty popular at the airport location, according to branch manager Daniel Gatewood and assistant branch manager Matthew DeMille, who gave me an informative 15-minute overview of the EV including the ways to charge it.

On Monday when I picked up the car, more than half of the Leafs were rented, they said, while others had just been returned and were being charged, or waiting to be charged.

In the beginning, a good portion of EV rental customers were Hawaii state employees who flew for a day or two on business, Sbarbaro said. He believes one reason is state employees get to charge their EVs at state office parking lots.

“As we’ve expanded and added more Enterprise charging stations, we now are renting them to customers who take their car into the shop and want to try them for a day, or customers who take them over the weekend,” Sbarbaro said.

Gatewood also recommended the EVs for folks flying in for the day to attend a sporting event at the Stan Sheriff Center or Rainbow Stadium. Not only are there six (free) BetterPlace charging stations in the “F” section of the parking structure near the Stanley (I checked them out myself yesterday), but the parking fee is waived for all EVs.

Rental pricing can vary based on demand, Sbarbaro said, but they typically will cost 20-25 percent more than standards because they come with the GPS navigation system, he said. They also have a higher sticker price than other standard vehicles their size, by about 25 percent.

On the flip side of that, though, consider you don’t have to pay any gas and can take advantage of charging stations at Enterprise locations, the BetterPlace (at various shopping centers and other public lots) and elsewhere.

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So what happens when one of their renters runs out of juice while driving around the island?

The same that happens when a car renter runs out of gasoline in a gas-powered car – they call for a tow truck.

“Fortunately, this has only happened a couple of times, mainly in the North Shore area,” Sbarbaro said. “When it did, (the renters) called us directly or our Roadside Assistance hotline and we’ll send someone out to tow the car.”

Sbarbaro said he’s hoping such incidents are minimized now that there are charging stations at the Turtle Bay Resort, where there’s also an Enterprise location.

Enterprise employees tell customers to plan to get 80-90 miles of range on a Leaf rather than the 110-plus miles the manufacturer boasts. Customers are also warned that the range indicator will go up and down based on whether they are driving freeways, hills, accelerating and decelerating. (See the previous blog titled “The Estimator.”)

“In the future, as more shopping malls, hotels and restaurants install these charging stations, the anxiety and worry about where people have to go will be reduced,” Sbarbaro said.

If you ask me, that’s a good incentive for shopping mall managers to install as many electric charging stations as they can as soon as possible in their parking lots. Everything else being equal, I’d bet EV owners go shopping, have a coffee or see a movie where they can also juice up.

Can't fool this bird

May 19th, 2012
By

carbird
Nadine Kam photos

My sun conure is already accustomed to seeing me drive the i-MiEV.

My sun conure T. Rex Bean used to be fun and playful, but in her middle age, she's adopted the role of flock protector. She never relaxes any more, always heading straight for high ground—a rocky perch in our yard that was once a water fountain—where she can keep watch.

Some birds, like geese, make good watch animals because they're territorial. But it's also in their interest to keep their friends and family alive. Having grown up at Paradise Park, my bird is very familiar with cats and what they do to other birds, so she's always on alert and ready to sound a warning when one is on the prowl up to 200 feet away. She also gives two short bursts of sound as the all-clear signal when the cat is gone. She has no similar dog warning, but she's also afraid of rabbits. She knows they're not cats, but isn't sure whether they're friends or foes.

As a keen observer of our household life, I wondered how long it would take her to recognize the i-MiEV I've been test-driving for a week. She figured it out in two days.

She's always sitting outside in the yard waiting for me when I get home, and I can hear her extremely loud welcome a hundred feet before hitting the turn down the road to my house. My husband tells me the sound of my BMW Z4 engine is distinctive, and that's how she knows its me. She doesn't yell for anyone else, although about a dozen cars share the same entry lane.

To me, the i-MiEV is silent. So silent that the car feels dead when its stopped at a light and the radio and A/C are off. There's supposedly a light whirr to warn pedestrians you're there, but it's no comparison to the rumble of gas-engine cars that already sound archaic when I pass by them in parking lots. And those guys with the loud, revving engines? They sound like absolute dinosaurs.

So I sneak up on my bird from a back road, from which she can't see the car coming. But somehow, she hears it and knows it's my car and starts her welcome squawking about 50 feet before the car comes into view. I guess it's a combination of the silence with the crunching of the gravelly asphalt in front of our house.

Today I was late coming home to the birds because of some charging issues. Rather than take the easy route of seeking out stations I know, I've been checking out various ones posted on Plugshare.com.

out of order
I was out of luck at the Hokua Building.

I was elated last night when, in planning my drive, I found there's a charging station in the Hokua Building on Ala Moana Boulevard, across the street from my first appointment, interviewing Joe Randazzo of J Salon. Alas, when I got there, I found the station was out of order. I exited the garage so I wouldn't have to pay the parking fee, only to find the salon parking lot full, one stall filled by a small moped. I wanted to pick that thing up and move it.

Instead, I remembered that the new T.J. Maxx has dedicated parking spots for alternative fuel cars. There are six available on the ground floor (one is on the opposite side of the Ewa elevator), and there was one open stall next to the requisite handicap stalls. I think it's great they have these stalls set aside, to encourage alt fuel use.

Some guy even gave me a stink eye when I parked in that primo spot close to the entrance elevator, but the dealership car is clearly marked electric, even though it doesn't yet have its EV-indicating license plates.

I wasn't sure whether all the cars parked there were legit. At least one truck had a Flex Fuel designation, but the others had no indicators.

I'm still following up on this, to find out whether or not charging stations will be installed at any of the stalls, and whether there will be any policing of the stalls.

I next headed to the Keola Lai condominium, where there are two charging stations, taken up by two Chevy Volts. Once again, I called Alan Yonan, and sure enough, one was his. He was just about done and walked over from our office so I could plug in. It was a success, but I don't know how much charge time I would be getting if Gordon Pang were also charging in town instead of charging up at his home. There's a lot of competition for the four working stations near us.

I also opted not to go out for the second night in a row because I need to conserve the charge for the weekend drive back to the Aiea dealership. While at work I can let the car sit and recharge for four hours. I'm not sure if that will be possible tomorrow, unless I want to hang out at Bishop Museum or Kam Shopping Center that long.

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Preferred parking for alternative fuel vehicles at T.J. Maxx, Ward Village.

EV driving a feel-good experience

May 17th, 2012
By

note
Nadine Kam photos

A car owner left his number on my windshield while my car was plugged in at a charging station, so he could come out to charge his car.

I think I'm getting the hang of this, so starting to relax a little more when I'm driving thei-MiEV. First order of business today was to reset the bass on the radio to "0" from the thumpa-thumpa of +4 (Dan Cooke what where you thinking?)

Then, of course, to get recharged. Today was also picture-taking day for our grand finale writeups in Sunday's paper, so photographer Bruce Asato had me drive to the Kakaako Waterfront Park area, where there is a recharger in the parking lot across from the Children's Discovery Museum.

Hallelujah, there was no other car there, so I plugged in and we hoofed it back to the office in what must have been the first hot day of the coming summer season. Ironically, I thought driving the EV this week would save me the disruptive task of going out to feed the parking meter every day. Instead, it's taking more time to find an open charging station and much more walking back and forth, though as I'm getting to know the stations around me, I'm starting to get acclimated to the task. I just need to wear a big hat or carry an umbrella for sun protection.

2charge
I returned to the Children's Discovery Museum parking area to pick up my car, shown being charged, with a Chevy Volt awaiting its turn.

I left the car in the lot at 11 a.m., and when I returned at 2 p.m., there was a note on my car from a Volt owner asking me to call him when I was done so he could plug in. That's what I had wanted to do last night in Kailua, when another driver  had beaten me to the Whole Foods Market charging station. It's one of the only ways of knowing when the spot has been freed up, although Alan Yonan told me that you could also call in to Better Place to find out whether their charging stations are open.

The three hours brought me up to a whopping 57 miles. At that, I felt I could breathe easy, knowing I'd be sticking close to town for the rest of the day. The car is zippy and fun to drive, and in heavy traffic with the battery recharging, I feel like I'm doing some good for the planet. While in traffic on Nimitz, I even had time to consider the cost issues of driving an EV car, which at this point is not much different from driving a gas car.

My Chinese parents didn't raise me to be no financial fool. Considering the secondhand BMW I drive now cost me $11,000 cash a year ago, I would not have dreamed of paying $20,000-plus for a new car, even if it is an EV.  Even so, I find myself thinking more along the lines of the big picture than personal cost.

Naturally, I don't like to spend more than I have to on anything, but driving an EV is a feel-good thing that will benefit everyone in the long run. I think the first people who should convert are SUV-loving parents who claim to want what's best for their kids. There could be no better gift than bequeathing them a healthy planet. As small as the i-MiEV looks, it would comfortably seat a family of five ... and your little dog, too!

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Ideal conditions for EV driving. Being stuck in traffic helps preserve battery life.

Volt scores points for fun

May 17th, 2012
By

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With all the talk about finding charge spots and cost per kilowatt hour I’ve neglected to mention that the Volt is a fun car to drive.

In the “sport” driving mode the car is pretty quick off the line.  Edmunds.com says it will go from zero to 60 in about 9 seconds.  Motor Trend reports the Volt's quarter mile time is 16.9 seconds at 84.3 mph. That’s on par with my six-speed manual transmission Nissan Versa, but the Volt seems to have more punch at the low end, and the overall acceleration is a lot smoother. I had no trouble merging with freeway traffic entering the eastbound HI at the Ward on ramp. Of course flooring the Volt's accelerator burns precious electrons and significantly cuts into its range in battery mode.

The overall ride of the Volt is a lot smoother than the Versa, and there is a lot less sway while cornering. The bucket seats are nice and snug, and there is plenty of headroom for my 6-foot plus frame.

volt three-quarter rear view DH

On an aesthetic level, I like the look of the the Volt. It has clean lines and doesn’t scream “EV” like some of the other offerings in the market. I guess that’s why I hadn’t previously noticed many Volts on the road -- they kind of blend in. Now that I know what they look like I’m seeing a lot more of them.

I’m really enjoying not going to the gas station every two weeks or so and filling up my 11.5-gallon tank of my Versa at a cost of between $45 and $50 depending on the price of gas. Granted, most of the electricity generated out on Oahu  comes from oil, but I prefer to think the current flowing into my Volt is coming from the Kahuku wind farm, or one of the thousands of PV panels scattered around the island.

Then there is the collegial  spirit of Volt owners. When I returned to the charging station at the Kakaako “Piano” lot yesterday to check on my Volt there was another Volt parked next to mine. Under the  winshield wiper blade was a hand written note with a cell phone number. It belonged to a guy named Bob, who worked nearby and was a regular user of the charging station. I let Bob know I was done charging and he walked over from his office and hooked the plug up to his Volt. Turns out there are several Volt owners who share the charger and phone each other to let them know when it is available for use. Pretty cool arrangement.

Where do I put the key?

May 17th, 2012
By

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After three full days of driving around an all-electric Nissan Leaf, my biggest fear is not running out of juice, but where to put the keys in a car that has no ignition.

I’ll get back to that later. Let’s talk about the most important part for most drivers. The drive and handling on the Leaf are superb. The ride is extremely smooth and quiet. If you leave the radio and air conditioning off and roll down the windows, you may be able to hear a light hum that turns up ever so slightly when you accelerate.

A colleague of mine described the ride in his electric car as feeling like “floating” and that works for the Leaf as well.

One of the toughest things to get used to is the lack of any gears and, as a result, any noticeable gear shifting. There’s no jerky motion like you get with a standard or automatic transmission vehicle.

The Leaf takes curves and turns nice and tight, much better than my nine-year-old Camry. You definitely feel in control in this car and it responds very well to sudden moves.

Acceleration is a major concern for me whenever I drive any car and again, the Leaf performs very well – in regular drive mode. When entering the H-1 Freeway westbound from the Punchbowl onramp, you can pick up from 20 mph to 45-50 with very little effort – in regular drive mode.

There was also smooth pickup when you hit Red Hill after transitioning from H-1 eastbound onto Moanalua Freeway. I left other vehicles in the dust as the Leaf very easily reached a cruising speed of 50 mph up the hill.

Dan Gatewood, Airport branch rental manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said however that he always drives the Leaf in “economy” drive mode to save juice and range. (See yesterday’s blog on “The Estimator.”) But there is a significant difference in the car’s performance.

Throwing the Leaf into economy mode made it noticeably sluggish. It took several seconds to get to the speeds I wanted.

That was OK when driving on surface streets and once I reached cruising speed on a no-grade strip of the freeway.

The Leaf allows you to shift (or toggle, if you want to use the video game vernacular) from economy to regular mode while the car is moving to give you that extra burst when you need it. That was extremely helpful but it does take some time to get used to it.

The interior of the Leaf is extremely roomy and not at all boxy. There’s also decent space in the back seats. The hatchback is … a hatchback trunk. The charger cord requires some space.

The instrument panel is intuitive and user friendly, although a little intimidating at first because there are so many things to take in like a GPS and rear view camera, that latter of which is extremely awesome and should be standard in all vehicles.

But you quickly learn most of the important parts like lights, windshield wipers and even a hand brake are basically the same as with a gas-powered car.

The car looks great and rides a lot bigger than it looks. My only knock on its appearance is that a good part of rear-view window is obscured by the headrests.

Now, back to the key issue.

The car starts without a key. Press the brake and click the computer-style “on” button and you’re ready to drive. But there is a remote control smart key that’s needed to lock and unlock the Leaf’s door that also includes an alarm/panic button. That’s pretty much been the standard with most cars I’ve driven over the last few decades.

What’s different with the Leaf is there’s no traditional key to stick into an ignition. With my Camry, I tie the smart key and ignition key on the same chain and I don’t have to worry about where to put the smart key while I’m driving.

For the first two days driving the Leaf, I usually threw the smart key on the passenger seat. A few times I put it in the slot on the car door where the door handle is.

In both cases, that means remembering to grab the darn thing and taking it with me when I leave the car.

Of course the obvious answer is to just stuff the smart key in my pants pocket. But being a big guy, it’s not that easy to shove something in my pocket when I’m already sitting down in a car. So I’ve been trying to program myself to do that immediately after I unlock the doors and before I get in the car.

The learning continues.