Friday, June 3, 2011

Nissan Leaf - a Real Electric Car

The Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric car to be a completely finished, normal, mass market vehicle. Dramatically styled outside, extremely pleasant to drive and ride in, and complete with all the accoutrements you require--satellite radio, USB, climate control, power acccessories, navigation--it's a dream come true.

Range is a consideration with a pure electric car, but the Leaf actually fit my needs pretty well. I have a 44-mile round trip commute, and it took me on it, gas free, with about one third of the full charge remaining when I rolled into my driveway. I used a 110-volt trickle charger--which is slow--but if I owned the car, my 220-volt home charger would do the job in 5 hours, not 16.

The motoring experience is serene. The car makes a cute little chime song when you push its "On" button. The icon of a Leaf with a two-headed arrow under it appears and you're ready to go. Push the car into Drive and take off.

If you put the car into the Drive position a second time, it takes the ECO setting. Then, it will generate more electricity with regenerative braking and accelerate a bit more leisurely--but you'll get a greater range.

A tree icon on the information-packed instrument panel lets you "earn" trees from your good driving behavior. If the old way of interacting with cars was through shifting, accelerating, and zero-to-sixty times, the new way is to see how far you can go on a charge--which means careful driving, not wild performance.

There's an iPhone app that lets you stay aware of the charge of your car remotely. I consulted it from work when the car was at home. It also tells you where the closest charging station is--and that list will include your house as soon as you've used it once.

The tan, organically shaped cabin coddles you, and with the silence of the ride, the audio system entertains completely.

The price is about $33,000, but numerous rebates and offers apply, so you may be able to grab a Leaf for the mid $20,000s. But, consider this. I earned 4.3 miles per kilowatt hour (KWh). That means that the 44-mile commute cost me, at my rates, about $1.40 in electricity. A Prius would burn just under a gallon of gas--which goes for $4.25 these days. A "regular" car, at 22 miles per gallon, would cost $8.50. So there's a definite savings there.

For now, you'll want to have another car available for long distance travel. I expect that charging times and battery life will improve significantly over the next few years until it'll mean a half-hour lunchtime charge at the Denny's halfway to LA and you'll be on your way. Meanwhile, the Leaf makes pure electric motoring not only possible, but enjoyable too.

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