The Science of Sustainability

Life With The Leaf: Lessons From An Early Adopter

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email
Test driving the Nissan Leaf

Test driving the Nissn Leaf. Photo: Josh Cassidy

I never thought I would buy an electric car. But here I am, two months after purchase, zipping around in Nissan’s all-electric Leaf with not too many regrets. Sure, there have been some rude awakenings, wild mileage swings, the painful details of the federal tax credit, waiting for special diamond lane stickers and a disappointingly slow roll out of charging stations around the Bay Area. Over the next several months, I'll post regular updates on my experiences and invite other owners and would-be green car drivers to chime in. Here is my quick story to get us started.

My Story

Back in 2010, as I got ready to trade in my old, leaky Honda, I explored cleaner alternatives. As an editor and reporter on the environmental beat at KQED, I had a chance to test drive several types of upcoming green cars, clean diesel, biodiesel, plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars. After all that research and test driving, here is what I came up with: Electric cars are totally cool and green, have this very smooth drive and quick acceleration but still too expensive with no information on resale value or any real charging infrastructure. Like many people, I had range anxiety before I even knew what the actual range would be. There were also alternatives. Why not wait for the Plug-In Prius or the upcoming all-electric Ford Focus or go clean diesel or even biodiesel which would allow me to carry my fuel with me?

Clean Car Sticker

I have been commuting from my house in Oakland to San Francisco for 12 years. It takes an hour whether I drive or ride BART. The Bay Bridge is the bane of my existence. For years I have coveted those clean air stickers that allow drivers to go solo in the carpool lane. Since all solo hybrid drivers were kicked out of the diamond lane last year, all-electric, compressed natural gas and hydrogen fuel cell cars are the only ones under state law that qualify right now for a clean vehicle white sticker. Super clean plug-in-hybrids will qualify for a clean vehicle sticker starting this year.

Negotiating for the Nissan Leaf

Negotiating for the Nissan Leaf. Photo: Nancy Warren

I first made an online reservation with Nissan back in September of 2010. I filled out the specs that I thought I would like and put down a refundable $99 reservation fee. Finally, by last April my name had reached the top of the Nissan Leaf waiting list and I decided to place an order. Since I didn't have to pay until I picked up the car, I could still back out. More months went by as I tried to make a decision. I had never bought a new car before. Even with state and federal incentives, an electric car is a lot of money. By September I had two friends happily driving Leafs. The price and release date for the new plug-in Prius was not set and I had doubts about the price of clean diesel staying affordable. I also had doubts about hydrogen-powered cars. I am still waiting for the much touted, “Hydrogen Highway.” I couldn't afford the extended drive Chevy Volt or the high priced Tesla Roadster. And unlike the Volt, or the VW clean Diesel Golf or even used hybrids, the Leaf was the only one in that group, other than other electric cars, that would garner a carpool sticker. I jumped.

Can I Make It Home From the Dealer?

In October, I was notified that my shiny black Leaf had arrived at my chosen dealer.
A friend had recommended North Bay Nissan in Petaluma because they seemed the most informed on the Leaf and offered a small discount off the final price. My first consideration was whether I could make it back to my home in the Oakland hills. The car was fully charged to 105 miles. It turned out that real-world driving got me home with 19 miles to spare. But first, I spent three hours learning how to drive the car, charge the car, service the car — the ins and outs of the Car Wings telematics system, not to mention filling out endless paperwork.

Charging the Nissan Leaf

My first time charging the Nissan Leaf. Photo: Nancy Warren

When all is said and done my Leaf cost $36,989.76. This included closing costs, delivery, taxes, my discount and a $700 Nissan rebate for a high-speed charging port. I received the rebate less than one month after buying the car. In just over two months I got my $2,500 rebate from the state. Now at $33,500, I expected another $7,500 back from the federal government to bring my grand total down to $26,000. I was in for a surprise.

Stay tuned next week for my first big shock, the details about the federal tax credit and also how I chose my home charger.

See other posts from this series.

Explore: , , ,

Category: Environment

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

About the Author ()

Andrea is KQED's Senior Science Editor . Andrea was born in Los Angeles and discovered radio news through listening to her college radio station. With a curious mind and a love for telling stories, she set off for Tampa where she landed her first job as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. After three years reporting in an unbearably humid climate and a brief stint as a miscast opera reporter, Andrea returned to L.A. to work for public radio, then for television news and finally as a reporter for CBS radio. Andrea has been at KQED for over twelve years, working first as a producer for Forum, and then as the senior producer for The California Report. She is now KQED's Senior Science and Environment Editor and narrates the QUEST television program. Andrea says she feels lucky to cover emerging science and environmental trends in a place where geek is chic.
  • Martin Winlow

    A useful insight to the real world of actually getting your hands an a production EV. It would be interesting to hear the same from others about Tesla and Peugeot/Mitsubishi/Citroen – Ford, Smart and BMW when they become available.

    As for hydrogen, it really is just a total white elephant, for so many reasons that I just can't see it ever becoming more than just a niche system. Using it as ICE fuel it is barely more efficient then petrol/diesel, it is expensive, it is currently almost entirely derived from natural gas (and yes you can electrolyze water to get it but then it becomes hopelessly inefficient compared to the EV), the infrastructure is non-existent and would cost billions to instal (compared to, relatively, very little for EVs), fuel cells are still horribly expensive and inefficient, etc, etc.

    It is such a shame (scandal, really) that so much money has been spent on the Hydrogen fuel cell as a replacement for the ICE. If that time, money and talent had been spent on battery R & D instead, we would have all been driving around in crazy-cheap 300 mile range EVs 10 years ago. But that's capitalism for you.

    Nice pins, BTW!

  • Jenna

    Thanks for this glimpse into the brave new world of driving an electric vehicle. I will look forward to following your adventure as it unfolds!

  • Andrea

    Thanks for the comments. I was headed for a bike ride out in Sonoma after picking up my Leaf so dressed in bike gear! Anyway, we are going to expand the blog a bit to include news on future cars/clean cars and insights from other drivers…that's a great idea.

  • Mike

    Good article, thanks. Very helpful and informative. Nice legs, too.