First Quick Charge–Wow That Was Fast

By Paul Gipe

We’d have to agree with JP White in Nashville after his first quick charge: Awesome.

It was a case of “opportunity charging,” but it was something we’d been meaning to do for some time. After all, it was the reason we paid for the “quick charge” option on our Leaf back in October of last year.

We had to take our ICE (2008 Prius) into the shop for a lengthy repair of its “combination meter” or instrument panel to us mere mortals. This is not something you want to go on the blink when you’re in the middle of Death Valley, which is exactly where we were when it decided to fail.

It’s a very odd problem. You can still drive the car, but you don’t know your speed or the amount of fuel in the tank. You can’t open the rear deck . . . and you can’t turn the car off. That’s scary. It’s an intermittent problem and you can “reboot” the combination meter by holding the power button down for several seconds. Still, it’s a safety hazard and it needed replacement.

We’d just driven the Leaf nearly 60 miles on another trip up into the wildflower-covered foothills near here. We had the charge and the time so we caravanned over to the Toyota dealer.

Once the Prius was dropped off we regrouped and began to head back home when both of us thought that now would be an opportune time to check out Nissan’s DC quick charger.

No need to drive all the way across town just to test the process. We were already in “gasoline alley,” Bakersfield’s automall. Nissan was just across the street from Toyota so we pulled in parked at the Nissan branded DC quick charge station.

I stepped inside to ask for permission. It’s not necessary, but I felt it was a courtesy to do so. You never know. I could run into trouble and need their help. We didn’t buy our car from them and I felt it was wise to keep relations cordial. I needn’t have worried, they were easy going about it and one salesman even came out to help when he saw us standing by the charger.

First thing you notice is that the DC quick charge (DCQC) connector and cable is massive. It’s like a giant snake with a very big metal head.

I’d read the manual like a good boy should so I knew that the connector worked similarly to the standard L2 charge cable (J1772), but not entirely. You plug the connector into the special DC port on the left side of the Leaf’s charge port. That’s straightforward. But unlike the J1772 connector, there’s a lever on the underside of the DCQC connector. You pull the lever up and that locks the connector in place. You’re still not done yet. There’s still one more step. I looked at the schematics and they indicated to push the connector in further. That seemed strange but when I pushed on the connector again a plastic collar slid over the lever locking the lever in place.

Now we’re ready to charge.

There are only two choices: start and stop. No card, RFID, or fob to start charging on this unit. Plug in. Press “Start”.

Then we looked at the monitor on the kiosk. Nancy noticed the same thing that White had noted in Tennessee: the screen was nearly illegible in bright sun. She and White agree that the screen needs a hood like at ATMs.

Nevertheless, the screen said the kiosk was “communicating” with the car.

Then the kiosk told us it was charging 100 amps at 398 volts. That’s 40 kW for the mathematically challenged. Wow. It was pouring the juice into the Leaf.

At our home charge station, we charge at slightly more than 6 kW. A full charge at 6 kW takes about three hours. Technically it takes 3.5 hours, but much of the last hour of charging is taken up with equalizing the cells.

Now we could understand why quick charge stations are so important. They eliminate one of the big drawbacks of intercity travel—the long wait to recharge.

We went from 30% to 80% state of charge in 15 minutes and the last three minutes were at a much reduced charge rate. Most of the charging was done in ten minutes.

So we hit the stop button and began to unplug the connector from the car. This was a cumbersome three step process that I was unfamiliar with. You must first slide that locking sleeve back to release the locking lever. I fumbled around until the locking lever was free and then I pushed down on the lever to unlock the connector. Then you can press the release button on top of the connector and finally pull the connector out.

White notes on his blog that Nissan was experimenting with a much lighter and simpler connector for its DCQC stations at its headquarters in Tennessee. This would be a big help in making the DCQC stations more user friendly and more easily accommodate those with less upper-body strength. Still, it works and is doable by most anyone once you get the hang of it.

The quick charge did raise battery temperature one bar, but this was expected and was nothing out of the ordinary.

We replaced the connector in its holster and drove off to look for more wildflowers—now that we had nearly a full charge there was no need to head back to the house.