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EVs Meet the Real World

Five Nissan Leaf users share their driving experiences. Is reality matching expectations?

November 2011, by - Also by this author

This article was developed from a two-part blog. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

In this first comprehensive look at the real-world electric vehicle experience, we asked five users of the Nissan Leaf — currently the most widely available pure electric car — to share their stories on the buying process, charging challenges, operating costs and driving experience. We also asked them whether “range anxiety” is an ongoing factor or a relic of the pre-EV era.

Jim Ruby of the University of California, San Diego charges one of the school’s five Nissan Leafs, acquired as part of the university’s “Tailpipe Endgame” sustainability initiative.
Jim Ruby of the University of California, San Diego charges one of the school’s five Nissan Leafs, acquired as part of the university’s “Tailpipe Endgame” sustainability initiative.

Frustrations in Ordering
For many, the ordering process was fraught with delays and hiccups due in part to a new reservation process.

After the reservation system went live on April 20, 2010, potential buyers plunked down $99 to get in line. On Aug. 31 buyers were able to start placing orders and track the process online via their personal “dashboard.” Four- to seven-month waits for delivery were common.

Overseas, Japan’s Leaf buyers took advantage of a rebate, diverting orders to production there. The rebate was set to expire in March 2011, but it was extended, further hampering American allocation. ... Then the tsunami hit.

Things went from bad to worse for some buyers. A computer programming mix-up from order to delivery resulted in some cars being delivered out of order. “For some, the ordering process was a nightmare and spoiled it for a lot of people,” says George Whiteside, an acupuncturist and massage therapist in Seattle. He was able to circumvent the process by purchasing an “orphan,” that is, a Leaf that was ordered and produced but ultimately not acquired by the original requester.

Whiteside says some orphans were marked up $5,000 to $7,000 above MSRP for the luxury of shortening the acquisition process, though Whiteside says he found a dealer who “sold it not too much over MSRP.”

Regarding price, buyers chose a dealer and sent a “request for quotation,” which they then accept or reject. When a quote is accepted, the manufacturing order is placed and Nissan assigns a delivery date.

Tom Tweed of La Jolla, Calif., reached out to a local dealer before the RFQ process and had sewn up a price on his own. As a retiree, Tweed was able to shop price between two local dealers and ended up with $1,000 off MSRP. That’s a good deal for an in-demand vehicle, but Tweed says he saw discounts as high as $1,500 to $1,800.

Kirk Gebb, who works for the facilities department for the school district in Eugene, Ore., paid less than $33,000 out the door. He says his buying experience “was no worse than anyone else’s,” though like the others, he “would’ve liked to have the car in October instead of April.”

At the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), facilities management fleet manager Jim Ruby and assistant director Dave Weil acquired five Leafs as part of the university’s “Tailpipe Endgame” sustainability initiative. Ruby wrote a “letter of intent” to Nissan and got the university on a wait list. He solicited bids from three dealers and picked the dealer who offered the lowest price.

UCSD’s Leafs are on 36-month leases. Nissan sweetened the deal by passing along the federal $7,500 tax credit which the university, a state entity, couldn’t get. UCSD leases vehicles internally to its departments and, with the price break, could do it at the same rate as a Toyota Prius. All other interviewees were able to take advantage of the $7,500 federal tax credit directly, along with various forms of state credits and rebates.

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