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Automotive Review: Leaf may recharge future of driving

Mark Vidal
Editorial Director

It won’t be readily seen in the streets until next year, but approximately 81,000 U.S. hopefuls have already pre-registered for a chance to have first priority in placing their historic orders this August.

Indeed the advent of the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric vehicle, is stirring a silent commotion in the automotive world, a world where Priuses have barely crossed over. So what is it about this new oddly-styled vehicle that has people itching to get their keys into when the first few become available in December?

For starters it might be the absence of a gas tank.

What’s really cool

Unlike the hybrid vehicles on the road today, which can run solely on electricity only at low speeds for a limited duration of time, the Leaf is slated to go a full 100 miles on a single charge, which Nissan says will cost less than $3 based on U.S. average of $0.11 per kilowatt hour.

That means you could drive from La Verne to San Marcos releasing zero emissions for less than $3 and still have some miles left to spare.

What is especially nice is that when pressing the brake, the car will generate energy and send it to the battery, thus prolonging the battery life through a process known as regenerative breaking.

Once it is time to recharge the lithium-ion battery you plug it into a 110V, 220V or a 480V charging unit and wait either 4 to 8 hours using a 220V unit or 30 minutes using a 480V charging unit.

This is the coolest part of all: after it is finished charging it can send a message to your phone telling you it is ready to roll.

Other intriguing aspects about the Leaf are the fact that it is partly made from recycled material, has a top speed of up to 90 mph and will be manufactured in the U.S.

What’s less than cool

Do not get me wrong, the Leaf is definitely driving in the right direction in terms of energy efficient means of transportation, but it still faces several potholes down the road.

The five-seater is relatively affordable at around $25,280 after a $7,500 federal tax credit. You pay no gas, just the energy used to charge it.

You just need to buy the charging dock and pay for installation which will run you well over $2,000 altogether.

Nissan says the charging doc is eligible for up to 50 percent federal tax credit but it is not clear to me what eligible means.

Another issue is the impracticality of having to charge the vehicle. If you live in an apartment, you can’t exactly have someone come over and install a charging doc in your parking space. In this case Nissan says to start talking to your apartment complex about charging stations.

It might also be difficult to drive anywhere farther than a 100 miles away because you will have to look-up charging stations within your route, if there are any, and wait half an hour for a charge of up to 80 percent before resuming your trip.

Also unattractive is the fact that the battery life will decrease like any other battery and eventually cut into the 100 miles it used travel on a single charge before it needs to be replaced in about five years.

No word yet on how much a new lithium-ion battery will cost.

Getting back to issue of cost, since it is an electric vehicle, a normal mechanic down the street probably will not understand what is under the hood in the event of a mechanical breakdown and will require a pricey visit over to a qualified Nissan-only expert.

Are you cool enough for it?

Even though there are some setbacks in the Leaf, people are showing interest in owning what can be considered the first of its kind.

If you have money, a place to install a charging doc and the flexibility to allow for charging time per every 100 miles, the Leaf will suit you well.

The Toyota Prius came out 13 years ago and today gas-powered vehicles still dominate the highway.

If I were to invest in an electric vehicle, I would wait a while and let others be the guinea pigs to see how it measures up to hybrids and energy-efficient gas powered vehicles.

Mark Vidal can be reached at mark.vidal@laverne.edu.

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