The Nissan Leaf

If I had an extra 30k sitting around, I’d be tempted to order a Nissan Leaf. I’d be tempted to do other things with it as well, but the Leaf would at least make the list of things I’d consider. It’s a truly cool thing.

In the real world, I won’t be buying one any time soon. Though I’m charmed by what the Leaf represents, it wouldn’t work for me. It’s an all electric plug-in with a range of 100 miles or so before it needs recharging. I can just imagine myself calling in to work to say I can’t make it because I forgot to charge my car. Or remembering after I’d decided to run errands after work that I don’t have enough charge left to get home. Or trying to drive to my parents’ house with the knowledge that getting behind one tractor on a country road could mean I’d run out of charge before I arrived.

I live thirty miles from my office. I would have to limit myself to going straight to work and straight home in order to drive a car with only a 100 mile range.

But then the Leaf wasn’t designed for me. It isn’t a commuter car. It’s a city car. If I actually worked in Hattiesburg where I live and planned to use the car only for driving around in town, it would make all kinds of good sense. It would make even more sense in a larger city with greater pollution problems and a greater sense of urgency on cleaning up the air quality. Though the Leaf doesn’t use gasoline, they have given it a mph equivalent rating 350. That’s pretty dang efficient. And no fumes either.

The concept of the plug-in car isn’t new, but what is exciting about the Leaf is that it is the first of its kind expected to be mass marketed to general consumers. You can buy one for the price of a regular car. By the time you factor in your clean energy tax break, you have a real deal. That’s a long way from the Tesla that only the rich can afford at price tags sometimes exceeding 100k.

I live in Mississippi. I don’t expect to see a lot of these on the road immediately after their release later this year. I once joked to a friend that Hattiesburg people would drive to Jackson for a taco without thinking twice, and she said, “I did that last week.” We have sprawling towns rather than compact cities here, and we like our space and don’t mind having to drive a ways if it means we get to keep our space. I myself live 30 miles from where I work for no particular good reason.

Mississippians also aren’t going to be the first to jump on any eco-bandwagons. The Toyota Prius was slow to take off here, but there are more and more on the roads now.

Mississippi aside, I’ll be interested to see how the car does in the general market. Nissan evidently believes the time of the electric plug-in has arrived. And the release of an affordable all-electric in the midst of dealing with the Gulf oil spill probably will mean more people are paying attention to alternative choices.

Still, I don’t think the Leaf is the car of the future. I think it is the car of transitioning to the future. It will be fine for city driving but not for commuters. It won’t replace the kind of cars that can go 350 miles before refueling. Not yet.

But this car is a sign that we’re moving toward electric vehicles as a far more viable choice than they ever have been before. If that helps us move closer to transforming our society away from an oil economy, I’ll all for it. Yay, Nissan.

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