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Waiting for the Nissan Leaf

Ellen behind the wheel of a Nissan LeafFor quite some time now, my household has been looking forward to acquiring a Nissan Leaf — the first mass-market plug-in electric car. On Saturday we finally had our first chance to see, touch, and drive one, when Nissan brought 14 cars to World’s Fair Park in Knoxville.

This car is an exciting opportunity for our area — a chance to be a leader in changes that should reduce our national addiction to foreign oil, as well as our emissions of greenhouse gases. Tennessee is one of the first states where the Leaf is being sold, and in a couple of years Nissan will start making this car in Smyrna, Tennessee. The process of becoming early adopters of this new technology has been frustratingly slow. It’s been 10 months since we put in a reservation (with a $99 deposit), about 5 or 6 months since an electrician came to evaluate the cost of installing a 240v charging station in our house (cost to be subsidized for us pioneer owners!), and about 3 or 4 months since we placed our order with Oak Ridge Nissan, but delivery is still at least 3 months away. The Nissan reps who were in Knoxville on Saturday said that only about 150 cars have been delivered to U.S. customers so far.

Still, the prospects are exciting. The car is comfortable to ride in and it drives well — although I’m not sure what I think about the fact that it feels even more like driving a computer than our Toyota Prius does. We will be able to use a computer or smartphone to send it messages — for example, to schedule it to recharge during the hours of the night when electricity demand is at its lowest, and even to turn on the car’s heater in the morning a few minutes before leaving for work (while it’s still plugged in). It remains to be seen how the advertised 100-mile driving range will compare with our experience, but we know that’s more than enough for most of our daily needs — and in the early months the car will be sending its performance data to Department of Energy-funded researchers to help provide an information base to benefit future electric car owners.

It’s exciting for me to know that our region will be one of the first to have public car-recharging stations throughout the area (including stations at ORNL, where we work, and at our local Nissan dealership). Given Oak Ridgers’ commitment to leadership in energy technology, I look forward to our Leaf seeing plenty others of its kind around town.

Update on March 20, 2011: Our wait will be longer as a result of the recent earthquake near Sendai, Japan. Nissan sent e-mail saying “As a consequence of the earthquake and tsunami, a delay in the scheduled delivery date of your Nissan LEAF™ is unavoidable.” They still can’t say how long the additional delay will be.

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