So there we are today, looking over a blue 2011 Nissan Leaf, all 100% electric and high techy, wondering if we should go ahead and buy the car after putting down a $500 deposit on it upon learning from Russ Goodyear at Corvallis' Jack Scoville Nissan that a Leaf could be ours much sooner than expected, owing, I believe, to someone cancelling an order for this car.
Russ is ready to show us its technological marvels, and let us take our first test drive, but first Laurel needed to closely inspect the car's dog friendliness. How comfortably and safely would Serena, our eleven year old, 65 pound, Lab/Shepherd mix, ride in a Leaf?
Nissan engineers probably didn't factor this concern into their design process. But my wife expressed worries about the cavernous "hole" in the rear luggage area. Yes, the rear seats could be folded flat. Our dog, though, wouldn't fit on them. Apparently she'd have to curl up in the hole, which didn't look too appealing to us.
Russ, astute salesman that he is, recognized that a $35,000 sale (before $7,500 federal and $1,500 state tax credits) of perhaps the most futuristic car made today might hinge on how well a dog could fit in it. So he fetched the Leaf cargo box accessory and installed it while we looked over the car.
This produced a nice flat area behind the rear seats. However, the hatchback opening is high compared to our 2007 Prius, and even with the Prius we have to help our aging dog into the car.
Laurel preferred the idea of having Serena get in through a rear door and travel on the folded rear seats. Now, though, a new problem surfaced: the gap between the front of the seats and the back of the front seats. Our beloved family pet could slip a leg or two into the opening with possibly injurious results.
Russ thought that a "sling" was available for the Leaf similar to a device we have in our Prius. It covers up the gap between the folded rear seats and the front seats, producing a continuous dog-friendly surface in the rear compartment. We're going to look into this.
Once our dog concerns had been addressed, Laurel got in the driver's seat and I crawled in the back. Russ told us about Leaf features from the passenger seat as Laurel cruised around.
We were curious about how the car sounded, having read that some people are bothered by the whine of the electric motor. (A low speed sound alert system can be shut off with a button push, but the motor obviously can't.)
My hearing isn't as good as Laurel's is, especially when it comes to high frequency sounds. Laurel and the comparatively youthful Russ could clearly hear the sound of the motor, especially as the car accelerated. To me, the Leaf had a barely noticeable "distant jet plane" sound at times which wasn't at all bothersome.
I also got to drive the Leaf. Quite a bit actually, because Laurel wanted to concentrate on motor noises while I cruised up and down some Corvallis hills as Russ offered driving directions. The interior is appealing.
I like how the Leaf handles. The heavy battery in the mid-section of the car helps make it feel stable in turns. The car has a "zippy" feel, even though the 0-60 time must be mediocre. Press on the "gas" (rather, accelerator pedal) and the Leaf zooms forward with surprising quickness.
We experimented with the Leaf's Eco mode. This seemed to add about eight miles to the car's predicted range when it was turned on. Acceleration is mushier, though still acceptable to Laurel and me.
Surprisingly, the car's display showed a range of 85 miles when we left the dealership, and it had barely changed by the time we returned in half an hour or so. My "range anxiety" diminished quite a bit after I saw how clearly the Leaf's electronic displays let you know about what's going on with the battery.
Here's one thing we learned from our test drive: Leaf owners are hugely enthusiastic. When we walked into the dealership, a couple of guys who owned Leafs were chatting with each other while one of their cars got a 240 volt Level 2 charge (which takes quite a bit of time).
Walking up to them, I said that we had a deposit on the blue Leaf and were trying to decide whether to purchase it. One of the men, who looked to be in his 70's, loudly proclaimed, "If you leave without buying that car, you're making a big mistake!"
I liked their contagious enthusiasm about all things Leaf'ish. I soon got the sense that Leaf owners become part of an electric car "cult," and I'm using that term in its most positive sense.
Namely, a pioneering group who are happy to be blazing new gasoline-free trails, even when this involves some difficulties.
For example, apparently there is only one Level 3 fast charging station in Oregon (30 minutes for an 80% battery charge), so one of the guys who lives on the Oregon coast was spending several hours at the Nissan dealership as his Leaf got enough juice for the trip home via a Level 2 charger.
Level 3 charging stations soon will be built along Oregon's I-5 corridor and elsewhere, though. The electric car revolution has just begun. I like the idea of being part of the first wave of pioneers. Hey, cults can be fun!
Next week we'll come to grips with our Nissan Leaf buying decision, maybe after Cherry City Electric comes out and confirms that our garage is suitable for a free Level 2 charging station, which would make buying a Leaf several thousand dollars less expensive.
A plug in hybrid like the Volt make so much more sense to me than the Leaf. No range limitations with the back up gas motor. And soon there will be many more plug in hybrids to choose from.
Posted by: Nw | September 04, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Power density. That is the name of the game, pure and simple. How much energy can be stored in the smallest possible physical space?
There is not too much room for improvement when it comes to batteries capable of fulfilling the power demands of a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds and capable of hauling human beings at highway speeds. Any improvements will be incremental, and developmental costs will increase logarithmically. And, you still have to burn fossil fuel to produce electricity; not to mention the fuel burned in producing the batteries.
For short trips in the spring or autumn, when there is no need for climate control, headlights, or wipers, and you have the luxury of long charging times, then an all-electric vehicle could be a pleasant novelty, albeit a relatively expensive one.
Posted by: Willie R | September 06, 2011 at 05:41 AM