- January 21, 2011
By EZRA DYER JAN. 21, 2011 BOSTON
IN 2004, I went to Shanghai for the Michelin Challenge Bibendum, a sustainable mobility conference where car companies and inventors talk shop and display their visions for a post-fossil-fuel automotive future.
That year, there were fuel cell cars, biofuel cars and one bizarre Chinese Volkswagen Santana that somehow ran on hydrogen peroxide. But nobody had an electric car worth thinking about. The batteries were always the dead end. I left China without having driven an electric car.
Fast-forward six years, and I’m strapping a Christmas tree to the roof of a Nissan Leaf and toting it home. The Leaf isn’t some ultra-expensive beta test like the Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell car, or the late General Motors EV1.
It’s an exceedingly normal four-door that just happens to sever the umbilical cord that tethers our cars to a region of political instability, the Middle East. Even if net emissions were the same as a gas car’s — and they’re not — I’d rather send my money to a coal miner in West Virginia than to the sultan of Brunei or to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
The triumph of the Leaf is that it’s desirable on its own merits, regardless of what you think about carbon footprints or energy independence — no sanctimony required. It’s not some miserable little egg that loudly equates efficiency with self-
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I recently drove the Leaf for an entire weekend. I ran errands. I plugged into a Juice Bar public charger and loaded up 20 miles of range while I ate lunch. When the weather turned cold, I turned on the heater while the car was plugged in, so it would be ready to go when I decided to leave.
At the end of the weekend, I’d driven 65 miles — and, for the first time in my life, without burning a drop of gasoline or diesel in the process. It was easy.
Sure, the Leaf won’t work for everyone. Maybe it will be a second car for a lot of households. But I’d wager this: If you owned a Leaf and a Ford Excursion, and you used the Excursion only for trips beyond the range of the Leaf, you’d still burn less fuel than someone who drove a Prius every day. Someone please test this theory, because I still have a soft spot for V-8 dreadnoughts.
One final observation: I refuse to use the General Motors-approved term for drivers’ concern over the battery status — let’s call it "charge worry" — but I never feared that the Leaf would not get me home. If anything, the Leaf taught me that I don’t really drive as far as I thought I did.
After my first busy day of running around, I’d covered only 40 miles. Granted, I live in an urban area. But even where I grew up, in the boonies of Maine, the nearest town was 10 miles away. A Leaf would work for daily drivers, too. The Chevy Volt might provide psychological solace with its backup gasoline- powered engine, but those who can get over the mental hump will probably find that a Leaf serves their needs just fine.