Turning over a new ‘Leaf’

Mark Larsen and his Nissan 'Leaf,' Ivins, Utah, June 2012 | Photo courtesy of Mark Larsen, image adjustment by Brett Barrett, St. George News

FEATURE – Growing up a child of the 1970s, my idea of what the future should look like was shaped in great part by Saturday morning cartoons. Technology has done its best to deliver on the future I expected, but … here I am still angry that we don’t have a flying car.

When the editor of St. George News asked me to visit with Ivins resident Mark Larsen and give a “guys-perspective” of the first Nissan “Leaf” (electric car) to be delivered in Utah, I was not that enthusiastic. I do not consider myself to be politically correct in any way shape or form. I revel in making fun of the extreme environmentalists (whom I lovingly refer to as “dirt-munching-tree-huggin’-druids”). But, I agreed to meet Mr. Larsen for an interview and a test drive and went with a pre-determined idea of what I would think of this “car.” Honestly, I expected a glorified golf cart.

The story of how Larsen came to be the first recipient of the Leaf in Utah is as interesting as is his research and preparation before making the purchase. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Larsen decided that he wanted to own an electric car. In 2010, he signed up to buy the Leaf and began the waiting game. This story is best told in Larsen’s own words which we recommend you visit on his website. Let me tell you about the car.

My introduction to the Leaf started in Larsen’s garage.

First Nissan Leaf to be delivered to Utah plugged into the wall in Mark Larsen’s garage, Ivins, Utah July 2012 | Photo courtesy of Mark Larsen, St. George News

The Leaf was plugged into the wall parked behind a nice BMW (covered and unused). The plug is a 240-volt socket that Larsen had installed in his house at the time it was being built  – (he was very determined to own this car).

Larsen explained the charging process, how he charges the vehicle at night. When he comes home for the evening he will plug the vehicle in; he has it set on a timer to start charging at midnight when the demand on the energy grid is at a low. The car will be charged to 80 percent by morning.

Using the 240-volt plug, the leaf will charge about 15 miles per hour.

The 240-volt plug in charger on Nissan Leaf, Ivins, Utah July 2012 | Photo courtesy of Mark Larsen, St. George News

If you want a full charge it takes about 6-7 hours. The Leaf will go about 100 miles on a full charge. It comes with a trickle charger that can charge the vehicle from a conventional 110-volt outlet at a rate of about 5 miles per hour.  The lithium-ion battery is recommended to charge to 80 percent on a regular basis to get maximum battery life.

I must admit that I was impressed with the overall look of the vehicle. It looked like a nice 4-door hatchback. Further inspection revealed no tailpipe, no exhaust system at all and no oil pan underneath the car. I had to ask to see under the hood.

Engine of Ivins resident Mark Larsen’s Nissan Leaf, the first to be delivered to Utah. Mark Larsen’s garage, Ivins, Utah July 2012 | Photo courtesy of Mark Larsen, St. George News

OK … so the engine was bigger than expected. There was a small conventional battery under there to run the accessories that make a car a car (windshield wipers, radio etc.). My inner gear-head was dying to see how this thing runs.

The Leaf uses a smart key technology that will let you open the door and start the car with the key still inside your pocket. The “ignition” is a power switch like you would find on a computer or MP3 player, complete with the universally recognizable power symbol. A press of the button lit up the dash console.

Nissan Leaf dashboard console, Mark Larsen’s vehicle, Ivins, Utah, June 2012 | Photo by and courtesy of Mark Larsen

The array of information that is displayed to the driver is impressive. It shows that the engine is indeed on (there was no sound), how much energy is being used, and how far the vehicle could travel was displayed on a map on the GPS unit along with any known recharge stations. The display shows how your miles will be affected by using the air conditioning. It will also show you how much energy you put back into the battery by putting on the brakes (regenerative braking system).

All this was impressive but I still had a couple of important things to discover. The first being: How does it run?

Larsen let me slip in behind the wheel. The seats, which I thought were leather, were extremely comfortable to sit in (they have independent heaters as does the steering wheel). Larsen said, “they are actually made of (believe it or not) recycled plastic water bottles. Nissan wanted to make the vehicle as ‘recyclable’ as possible. Waste not, want not.”

The air conditioning was cranked, mirrors adjusted and seat belt fastened; time to step on the “gas.” But of course, there is no gas.

The first thing you notice is the power off the line. You step on the gas and the car moves instantly forward with power. The Leaf can go from 0 to 60 mph in nine seconds. As you let off of the accelerator you put more energy back into the battery. It was fun to watch the miles available change with braking and deceleration. I took the Leaf on the highway and put my foot into it and felt the power that was there. I took the Leaf through neighborhoods and it was so smooth and quiet I had to pay attention to make sure I was not speeding.

The ride was the smoothest ride I have ever had in a car. There was no rattling or shaking. There was no noise. The performance was amazing. It made the ride home in my 2003 gas engine a letdown.

There was just one last burning question … the price?

I asked Larsen how much he paid for it. I was expecting an exorbitant amount. I about fell over when he told me that it starts at $27,700! My mind jumped to the $7,500 tax credit currently available and suddenly the Leaf looked extremely appealing. Larsen said the $27,700 is after the tax credit, nonetheless – not a bad price. I found out that you can lease the Leaf for $ 289/month.

I must admit that my opinion of the electric car has changed. I do not see myself attending any drum circles to save the spotted-wound-fin-tortoise any time soon but I definitely would drive … scratch that … I would own an electric car.

Larsen and I both agreed on one thing that converting to electric cars could do for this country. It would help us stop sending billions of dollars to overseas regimes whose prime goal is to kill as many of us as they can; but that is another story best left to St. George News columnist Bryan Hyde.

Now if the Leaf could only come equipped with the Jetson’s car sound it would be perfect.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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4 Comments

  • Dave July 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    You should have asked him two more questions…
    1. How often does the Main Lithium-ion battery last before needing to be replaced?
    2. How much does the Lithium-ion battery cost?

    As of 2010 (according to Nissan) a new battery pack was $18,000, might as well buy a new car for that much. Also according to Nissan, they recommend replacing portions of the batter pack every 5 years or 60,000 miles.

    I’m not against going green, but the cost of maintaining a gas powered vehicle is far cheaper than going electric, even with the $7,500 tax credit (which is just a credit, not a refund, and that is a totally different conversation)

    • Mark D Larsen July 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm

      Hi, Dave: Good questions! I’m happy to answer them for you. And I appreciate St. George News running this story. It’s one that should be told!

      1. The warranty on the battery pack is for 100,000 miles or 8 years, whichever comes first. Nissan predicts that, when the warranty expires, the pack should still have 70% to 80% of its original capacity. That’s more than enough to drive around St. George for many more years after that.

      2. The cost of li-ion battery packs keep falling, and will drop even further with increased production for the mass market. Tesla claims that the price will soon drop below $200/kWh ( http://aol.it/Nd95Px ). IMHO, that’s probably a bit too optimistic, but at even $300/kWh, replacing a Leaf’s entire 24 kWh pack would cost $7,200. If I were to drive my gas Subaru Outback 100,000 miles instead, at $4/gallon, it would cost me at least $25,000 in gasoline. Compare that to the $7,200 above, plus approximately $1,700 the electricity would cost (although I don’t pay anything because I have solar), and the Leaf looks pretty good!

      I think you’re very mistaken about the differences in cost, especially when we take into account the expense of maintenance. An EV doesn’t have oil, filters, spark plugs, muffler, transmission, belts, etc. And EVs are much cleaner, even when charged from dirty coal-fired electric plants (which, by the way, also power oil refineries). See: http://bit.ly/JoOfhu

      I couldn’t be more thrilled with my Leaf. It is by far the most advanced, practical, quietest vehicle I have ever owned, And truly *FUN* to drive, let me tell you!

  • Paul Scott July 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Responding to Dave’s comment… (I sell the LEAF for a Los Angeles Nissan dealer).

    Nissan’s warrantee for the battery pack is 8 years/100,000 miles. The warrantee allows for up to 20% degradation in 5 years.

    There is no price for a replacement pack since the cars are all pretty new still and everything is under warrantee. However, the battery pack is made of 48 modules with 2 cells in each. If a particular cell or module goes bad, you can replace that without having to replace the whole pack.

    We won;t get pricing for the battery pack till we are close to the end of the warrantee period. It is expected that the cost of a full pack at that time could be as low as $4K-$6K. That might sound like a lot, but considering that you will have a practically brand new car that will last another 8-10 years, it’s a bargain.

    The cost of maintaining an EV is vastly cheaper than a gas burner. There are few moving parts, and the experience of long time EV drivers (I am one of these people) is that a well made production EV is not going to need any maintenance to speak of. My Toyota RAV4 EV, for instance, needed only a couple of new shocks after 8 years and 91,000 miles. Even then it was still running like brand new, and Toyota hadn’t seen the car since its three year warrantee ended. The current driver reports that it’s still going strong in year ten of its existence.

    Driving an EV is good for our country. 100% of the energy is locally generated, there is no pollution as long as renewable energy is used, the cars are quiet, and we’ve never fought a war over electricity.

  • Brian Keez July 7, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    After 10 months and 22,000 miles, the Nissan LEAF has been flawless and always gets me home.
    Welcome to the club Mark!

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