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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Finally an Affordable Electric Car

Air Date: Week of

The Nissan Leaf has a small cargo space, but rear seats fold down separately for, allowing room for 3 people plus larger packages.

Nissan has just come out with a 100% electric car that they call the Leaf. LOE’s Western Editor Ingrid Lobet took it out for a spin and tells host Bruce Gellerman about the test drive.


GELLERMAN: A London Times reporter recently set a world efficiency record, driving a standard VW Passat from Kent, England to the South of France and back – 1530 miles - on just 20 and a half gallons of gas. That’s 75 miles per gallon.

But Nissan’s new car, the Leaf, gets five times better mileage with no gas at all. LEAF has become a bacronym- Leading, Environmentally, Friendly, Affordable, family car - and Living on Earth’s forward-looking Western Bureau Chief Ingrid Lobet took it for a spin. Ingrid, how was it?

LOBET: It wasn’t really that different from driving other cars in its class, maybe a Nissan Centra, Toyota Corrolla, Honda Civic… except that handling was maybe a little bit better. Really responsive—nothing sloppy in the handling of this car at all. And the other thing is, of course since it’s electric, you have really strong pick up, because you’ve got the full torque of the motor as soon as you touch the accelerator. And, also I was impressed with how tightly it took the curves.

GELLERMAN: And quiet, I guess, right?

LOBET: Silent. Yeah, electric cars are quiet.

GELLERMAN: Is it big, is it small, is it comfortable?

LOBET: It’s comfortable. I have to tell you it really reminds you of driving another car that would be in the same size class, like a compact car. So, you don’t have a feeling of luxury, but you don’t really feel cramped. You definitely can put five people in this car and they say you can put three car seats across the back- if you had the need for three car seats at one time, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs.)

LOBET: You can also fold those rear seats down and you can fold them down in two different units. So you could have, let’s say, a second passenger in the back, but put a larger piece of luggage in the back by folding down the other half of the back seat- so it’s got that kind of flexibility that a lot of the compact cars already have.

The Nissan Leaf is priced at $32,500. Subtract from that a federal $7,500 tax credit. Some states also have rebates. In California, the rebate is an additional $5,000, bringing the price down to close to $20,0000. The car is currently sold out on the west coast.

GELLERMAN: How far can you go?

LOBET: About 100 miles. But this will depend somewhat on the weather. Because, if you need to turn on the heat, or the AC, if you have to run that very much, then you’re going to get less. You’re going to get maybe only 65 miles to the charge. But if you have mild weather, you don’t need to run the AC or the heat, and you’re going maybe 40 miles per hour most of the time, you might get more, like 135 miles to the charge.

GELLERMAN: Now, we should say that this is not a hybrid, there’s no two motors- there’s one motor and it’s an electric motor.

LOBET: This is a fully electric, battery only car: no gasoline.

GELLERMAN: But what if I take it for a drive and I run out of juice- what do I do? Where do I go?

LOBET: Well, see, this is clearly the limitation of an electric car, and it’s why the nay-sayers say it will really never be much of a market for an electric car because you can’t take this on a long drive if you have a long commute to work each day, this is not the car for you. And, it’s also not the car you’re going to want to take on the long trip to Grandma’s house either, because you’re going to have to recharge after 100 miles.

GELLERMAN: So, Ingrid, how long does it take to juice this car up? To charge it up?

LOBET: If you buy one of these cars, I think you’re probably going to want to go to the extra expense of hiring an electrician to bring the same voltage into your charging space- your driveway or your garage- that you have for your dryer or your electric stove. The regular outlet voltage, 110, is probably going to take too long, so charging it at 240 volts it’s going to take about five hours, or overnight.

The Nissan Leaf has a small cargo space, but rear seats fold down separately for, allowing room for 3 people plus larger packages.

GELLERMAN: At what price? What’s the cost?

LOBET: 32,500 dollars. Subtract from that the federal tax credit of 7,500 dollars, that brings the price down to 25,000 dollars, and a number of states have their own rebates, California gives you a 5,000 dollar rebate, that brings the price down to 20,000 dollars plus tax.

GELLERMAN: Whoa! That’s really incredible!

LOBET: It’s an affordable electric car.

GELLERMAN: So, what was the reception towards this when you took it out for a test drive? People were kind of bending their necks to take a look?

LOBET: Yeah, the place was jammed, and besides that, you can’t even sign up for one of these things. The first 20,000 vehicles that they had available are already spoken for, so you can’t even put money down right now. So, this is really a pleasant surprise for Nissan, and I have to say it vindicates the electric vehicle enthusiasts, who’ve said for years, that despite the limited range, there is a demand for a fully electric vehicle.

GELLERMAN: Well Ingrid, happy motoring.

LOBET: Thanks a lot Bruce. It’s been a pleasure!

GELLERMAN: Ingrid Lobet is L-O-E’s Western Bureau chief.



Nissan Leaf


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