A lucky few made it down to the Westfarms Mall in Farmington last weekend to test drive the Nissan Leaf. I would have been there, but I've driven the darned thing five or six times already, in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and, of course, Connecticut. It's a great car, though not for everybody.
What about you? First off, you have to be able to able to afford it. For 2012, Nissan is raising the price for this all-electric car (with 100 miles of range). With some new standard technology, most prominently a cold weather package, the car will not cost $35,200 (the SV trim) or $37,250 (the SL). Nearly everybody is ordering the upscale package, in part because it includes the fast-charging capacity everybody wants. And keep in mind you're also going to need to spend an average of $2,200 for a 240-volt home charger.
For 2012, fast-charging (half an hour to 80 percent charge at 480 volts) is standard in the SL. This reflects Nissan's growing confidence that there will be a public fast-charging network. Right now, there's probably fewer than a dozen fast chargers, and they're mostly in Texas where New Jersey-based NRG Energy is putting them in as part of a novel utility-based charging experiment. One obstacle is that the U.S. is still arguing if it wants to adopt a Japanese fast-charging protocol or incorporate its own into the existing 240-volt system.
The cold weather thing is important to us here in Connecticut. I had the Leaf down in Fairfield last winter, and the 100-mile range shrank down to 65 miles or so because I used the heater so much during the run of freezing weather we had. The cold package includes a battery warmer (really useful), four heated seats, and even a heated steering wheel. The idea is that we'll use the seat and wheel heaters and not crank the battery-draining electric heater so much.
More than 4,400 Americans have gotten their Leafs so far, but none here so far. I know a bunch of people chafing over not getting their cars. Nissan pledges that all its early-market customers will get their cars by the end of the summer, but that doesn't include servicing reservations in the Northeast yet. They're working on it, and orders will reportedly be processed starting later this year. There are existing reservations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
Leaf owners have covered several million miles, and according to Nissan's Mark Perry report that they travel an average of 60 miles a day, and plug in their half-full batteries at the end of the day.
There will soon be Connecticut Leafs, and they definitely make sense for many people. If you're very green, able to afford it, and travel less than 100 miles a day (that's like, 90 percent of us), then it's worth considering. Leafs make great commuting cars, especially if your business is among the enlightened few to install EV charging.
I keep getting announcements about businesses plugging in. An office building and the municipal railroad station in Westport (the latter with solar). A New Haven parking garage. The Hartford insurance company in Hartford, Simsbury and Windsor. It's happening, honest, and the Leaf is headed our way.