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Sierra Daily

Nov 21, 2011

Hating on the Leaf

Nissan-leaf_1Just last night my friends Carlos and Cynthia were going on (and on and on and on) about their brand new Nissan Leaf: its roominess, styling, handling, spiffy acceleration, and penny-per-mile cost of fuel. So imagine my surprise this morning when I tuned in to NPR's Morning Edition and heard that the car was a big failure. Detroit correspondent Sonari Glinton reported about how electric cars are supposed to help lower automakers' average fuel consumption to 55 by 2025, but

The problem is, people aren't buying, whether all-electric or plug-in hybrid. General Motors is struggling to sell 10,000 Chevy Volts this year, and Nissan sold just over 8,000 Leafs. For context, about 13 million cars are expected to be sold in the U.S. in 2011.

I'll leave the Volt to my colleague Reed McManus, but Nissan points out that its numbers for this year compare favorably to the 3,000 Priuses Toyota sold in 1997, the car's first year on the market. (2010 Prius sales: 139,000) And it's not as though Leafs are gathering dust in showrooms: My friends were on a waiting list for a year before they were able to collect theirs.

Glinton goes on to complain that the advertised 100-mile range per charge of the Leaf is dependent on driving habits, speed, and use of heat and AC--something that Nissan readily admits. In a particularly low blow, he says that "it can take up to 16 hours depending on the type of outlet used." Yeah, or as little as 30 minutes--depending on the type of outlet used. And then there's the dreaded "range anxiety": "That feeling in your stomach starts to set, like, 'Oh, no. What if I can't make it?' " To Glinton, this was what was going to kill the electric car all over again: "Once people actually find out about the cars, they like them even less."

So what about that anxiety? Carlos admitted to experiencing it once: He'd had to leave for a doctor's appointment without fully charging the car, and didn't know if he had enough juice to get back. He pulled into a San Francisco parking garage and asked the attendant if there was anywhere he could plug in. "Sure, right over there!" the guy said. Thanks to foresighted planning, San Francisco is installing 80 free electric vehicle charging stations around town by 2012. Happily the city didn't get the memo from NPR that the technology was already a failure.

--Paul Rauber

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