Attempting to Test Drive the Nissan Leaf

Reader Contribution by Jeff Chaney
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Is the Nissan Leaf as green as it sounds? Or is it just a smokescreen, similar to the Chevy Volt? Since our local Nissan dealer had one in the showroom, we decided to test this highly touted car, and see for ourselves if the buzz was warranted.

On paper, and in reality, the Volt concept displays one major flaw. Having lived off-grid for over nine years, I know a little about the subject of which I speak. The design defect with the Volt is the fact that one energy source is converted to another to drive the car most of the time. After the approximate 35 mile initial range on batteries, a gasoline engine engages to recharge the battery pack. Above the 35 miles on a continuous longer trip, the gas engine charges the battery and electricity drives the vehicle. Any engineer will tell you that this extra conversion step introduces losses in efficiency. A strictly electric car is inherently more efficient.

Enter the Leaf. This car sounds great on paper, if it will perform as advertised. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to find the answer to that question. Not being engineers, we will attempt to find an answer, and explain it so that regular folks can understand.

Update: We contacted our local Nissan dealer August 19, 2011, to inquire about a Leaf test drive. Their response was that no one had test driven the Leaf since it had been there. We could drive it, but only in the parking lot. The salesman I bought a truck from in 2005 revealed that if he went along, we could probably get away with a spin around the “block.” My response was that this was unacceptable. I wanted to drive this vehicle for at least 30 miles, which should be about 30 percent of it’s advertised range. I wanted to “test” this vehicle, and a spin around the parking lot would tell me very little. I was informed that my 30 mile test drive would be impossible.

The dealer next expressed concerns about my release of proprietary information through photos. I agreed to allow them to screen the article photos because I did not want to disseminate any info of this type. They also had reservations about my giving the vehicle negative publicity. I informed them that my goal was to promote the vehicle. I discussed with them my opinions about the Chevy Volt and Leaf, with the Leaf being the better vehicle, hands down.

They admitted that Nissan was not aggressively marketing the car mainly because charging facilities on every street corner do not exist.

My salesman said that he would discuss the entire situation with his superiors and get back to me. I left my contact information with them and continued on my way.

Update: On October 12, 2011 I contacted another Nissan dealer located about 30 miles away, to discuss this same exercise. I was told that a test drive should not be a problem, that the general manager would need to be consulted about the situation. As of October 18, 2011, there has been no response. I will further update as events warrant.

On October 15, 2011 in Knoxville, Tn., an electric vehicle event was held and a Leaf was present. Could it be test driven? I do not have the answer because I was unable to attend. I would have to doubt it.

Update: As of October 18, 2011, I have had no response from the Nissan dealer. I have decided to tell this story, just in case you decide to try to test drive this vehicle, in the hopes that you will not be surprised. I wanted this to be an explanation of the facts, but apparently they are few in number!

These are the conclusions I have drawn from this experience.

Considering the length of test drive allowed, combined with the negative publicity concerns, logic dictates only two explanations for this behavior.

The first scenario, that the car is a ruse and will not perform as claimed, appears very unlikely. Tesla Motor Co. and Ampmobile Conversions, among others, have proven that this technology is highly successful.

The second explanation appears much more likely. The entire electric vehicle concept is too great of a threat. To whom? The oil companies, and countries that supply them. Untold quadrillions of dollars are at stake. The automakers, and unions that supply them. Oil company payoffs to quash the technology, and countless jobs, not to mention profits from lower paying foreign jobs, are at risk. The Government, which has the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money, will do anything to protect gas tax revenue, or any revenue for that matter. The power providers, because they would love to supply the needed electricity, but do not have the capability because of antiquated infrastructure.

The bottom line is that successful electric vehicle technology is a threat to a lot of people’s way of life. Politicians often speak of change, but fail to mention how difficult true change really is. If, as a society, we do not find a substitute for oil, we are finished.

I hear people question the cost and life of batteries. This expense seems negligible compared to the cost of engine oil, spark plugs, filters, and fuel. Assuming the average annual mileage (15,000), 25 mpg. (which is liberal), and $3.50 per gallon gas price, the fuel cost alone is $2,100! What percentage of the population drives more than the average? Also, at $5.00 a gallon, fuel cost rises to $3,000 a year! That does not include maintenance and repairs. $3,000 a year equates to a new $30,000 car every ten years! This math looks simple, even without a Ph.D. As oil reserves dwindle, the cost goes astronomical!

The cost of electricity is also questioned. I agree. In my opinion, the only successful E.V. strategy includes a garage or carport roof solar charging apparatus at home, and a carport roof installation at work if one toils the day shift. The inflationary hedge of solar power is not in question.

I have one final thought. Hybrid (gas and electric propulsion) vehicles today boast 50 mpg. The Geo Metro from several years ago easily achieved that number using a three cylinder gasoline engine. On a mini vacation a couple of years ago, our 1998 Escort with a 2 litre engine and the a/c on achieved 40 mpg! Technology has advanced so much since then, and these are the best mpg numbers to be had of a hybrid? Using new or old math, one plus one still equals two, so the hybrid equation just does not add up!

If you are waiting for a perfect solution, may you have unlimited patience. A perfect solution seldom exists. A better solution usually does. If one lives off grid, a small wind generator is a nice supplement to solar, but fails miserably as the sole solution. Electric cars are not the total answer, but an excellent supplement. Another one is to recycle any and everything, when possible.

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