Thursday, February 4, 2010

turning over a new LEAF

Since I sell Nissans for a living, I was delighted to see that Nissan Corporation will start selling an all-electric vehicle called the LEAF by the end of 2010 in selected markets. Motor Trend published an article about the LEAF in September of 2009, but it’s gotten some press lately in other areas as well.

The LEAF is actually a VERY cool vehicle, and the information found on Nissan’s website provides a LOT of additional information about the vehicle.

When it’s released to the public, the LEAF won’t be the only all electric vehicle on the market. The Tesla Roadster is already available, but its six figure price tag will be out of reach for most people. In spite of its price tag, it's a VERY popular vehicle in the San Francisco area. Since its release, the company has sold 150 vehicles (at $109,000 a pop) in the Bay Area.

The much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt is scheduled to be released in November of 2010. Although initial pricing estimates were in the range of “slightly over $20,000”, the latest estimate of the MSRP is around $40,000, considerably higher than the $25,000 MSRP of the LEAF.

I've lost count of how many companies had "plug in" hybrids at the Chicago Auto Show, but they ranged from a very inexpensive Fiat 500 all the way up to a stunning vehicle called the Fisker Karma.

Strangely enough, the most viable competition for the LEAF will be from a nameplate that’s been in existence since 1920 - the Detroit Electric.

The original Detroit Electric was produced from 1907 until 1939. The cars were advertised as reliably getting 80 miles (130 km) between battery recharging, although in one test a Detroit Electric ran 211.3 miles (340.1 km) on a single charge. Top speed was only about 20 miles per hour (32 km/h), but this was considered adequate for driving within city or town limits at the time.

The brand was revived in 2008 by a company based in Hong Kong, but the actual production of the vehicle will be in Malaysia

Apart from the fact that the NEW Detroit Electric will virtually eliminate the need for foreign oil, another advantage of the vehicle is that it will also eliminate ALL pollution, an ironic piece of information in view of the fact that 60% of the adult males in Malaysia are smokers.

Although Malaysia is not one of the eighteen countries where Nissan produces vehicles, the company DOES have production facilities in nearby Indonesia. What I find especially interesting is that Nissan plans to start building the LEAF in Guangzhou, China in 2011, a place that I'm especially fond of because I lived there for a year as an English teacher. North American production will be in Smyrna, Tennessee, and will be facilitated by a $1.4 billion loan from the Department of Energy that will allow modification of the existing production plant.

To give you some idea of how serious the government is about electric cars, we the people were also involved in a loan of $529 million to a tiny company called Fisker Automotive in September of 2009.

A vehicle called the Fisker Karma is the ONLY model made by the company.In my opinion, it was the most beautiful car on display at this year's Chicago Auto Show.

In an effort to stimulate interest in the LEAF, Nissan conducted a Zero Emission Tour last fall. The Zero Emission Tour of the LEAF started in Los Angeles on November 13, and finished on Valentine's Day in New York City.

If you have any sense of history, you may remember that General Motors leased a vehicle called the EV1 in the early 1990's.

If you believe the conspiracy theorists, the car was killed by (1) a lack of consumer enthusiasm, (2) limited battery range (3) the oil companies (4) car companies (5) the United States Government (6) the California Air Resources Bureau and (7) the hydrogen fuel cell.

Although there may be a grain of truth in all of the above, the reason that the EV-1 failed is simply because it wasn't the best product, and it also wasn't the best time to release an all electric vehicle.

In 2010, the auto companies, the utilities, and the government are finally working in concert to get electric vehicle produced. Carlos Ghosn, chairman of both Renault and Nissan, has predicted that 10% of America's auto fleet will be electric by 2020. To be perfectly honest, I think that he is being conservative in his estimates.

This time around, things should be different.

The government, the utilities, and car companies are starting to work together. One example of this new outlook is the fact that San Francisco will soon be the first city in the country that will require new construction to be wired for car chargers, and other cities are sure to follow.

The California Public Utilities Commission, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, has brought together utilities, automakers and charging station companies in an urgent effort to write the new rules of the road.

Of the 4 electric vehicles that will be in production within the next year, the LEAF is likely to be the one that will have the broadest acceptance in the marketplace.

If you'd like to motor into the future without using a drop of gasoline, stop by your nearest Nissan dealer.

Your reservation is waiting.

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