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editors-blog-entry3After months of hype and talk electric car fans will be able to put their money where their mouth is and plop down a $99 refundable deposit for an all-electric Nissan LEAF on Tuesday, April 20 (first, though, you’ll have to register here to ensure you’ll get a special e-mail invitation from Nissan).

In the U.S., the first LEAFs are scheduled to roll off assembly lines in December of this year, with the West Coast scheduled to receive most of the early LEAFs.

The cost: $32,780 before a federal tax credit, $25,280 after a $7,500 federal tax credit (state tax credits and other incentives are available in states such as California, Colorado and New Jersey and a handful of additional states).

So, am I going to take a $99 leap at a LEAF?

I can’t decide. So, I’ll do what I always do when I can’t decide: I’ll weigh the various pros and cons. Here goes.

Reasons to leap — right now — at a LEAF:

  • The price is right (with a $7,500 federal tax credit and what could be something approaching a $6,000 Colorado state tax credit, is it ever!)
  • We’re going to need a new car within the next three years; in our garage right now: a 1992 Accura Integra (145,000 miles) & a 1994 Toyota Camry (265,000 miles).
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  • We will save money — a lot of money — solar-charging a LEAF as compared to buying a new gas-powered sedan like a Honda Accord, our most likely alternative gas-car purchase.
  • I have a big itch to be among the first of what I believe will be a big wave of solar-charged drivers (there are perhaps a couple hundred solar-charged drivers in the U.S. right now, most driving around in late 1990s and early 2000s Toyota RAV4 EVs).
  • I want to be able to lead by example. And we need both a solar system and an EV for us to do that — plus, don’t you think the editor of SolarChargedDriving.Com ought to be a solar-charged driver sooner, rather than later? 😉
  • We’ll lose money. I’m naturally a rather anxious person, and I’m especially anxious about this: If we don’t jump on a LEAF, or another EV, before federal and state tax incentives are gone (200,000 production EVs from each automaker are eligible for the federal tax credit, meaning that several million total EVs will be sold before the tax credit expires for all production EVs), we will, in my view, very definitely lose out, possibly in a big way. That’s because I foresee a substantial lag time between: a) the time the tax credits are gone; b) the time that the actual, tax-credit-less cost for EVs and PHEVs comes down to what it was with the tax credits. Personally, I think we’re talking about at least a three-to-five-year lag. Bascially, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars in lost savings if we wait and buy an EV after the tax incentives have disappeared. This is a crucial issue. Surprisingly, it’s also one I have not yet seen discussed elsewhere. Therefore, I plan to look at it in depth in a future, separate article.
  • The environment. Solar-charging — which means essentially air-pollution-free driving — is the right thing to do environmentally, so why wait? The longer we wait, the more pollution we spew into the air.

leaf-side-viewReasons to wait:

  • We don’t have the money –– and therefore, at least on the surface, it would seem to make more financial sense to run our 1992 Acura Integra and 1994 Toyota Camry to the very end, rather than borrow $27,000 to get a LEAF (remember, the tax credit comes later — you still have to pull $33,000 out of somewhere to get that LEAF).
  • We don’t have the money2 – and we should use our money for other things (for instance, paying down my wife’s student loans).
  • Other EVs are on their way. For instance, the CODA Sedan EV, which I really like precisely because it does not have that space agey (bulbous) LEAF look. I also like CODA’s more cutting-edge marketing approach. But the CODA will reportedly be $35,000 after the tax credit. That’s too pricey for us. For the same reason, the Tesla S is out of the question. Mitsubishi has indicated it will try to match the price of the LEAF for the iMiEV. BYD, the Warren Buffet-backed Chinese automaker, is coming to the U.S. market with an EV that might come close to the LEAF’s price, the e6. And Ford will have a Focus EV out in 2011, which I’m hoping will be priced similarly to the LEAF. (Please see our EV/PHEV Guide for more on the CODA, iMiEV, BYD e6, Tesla S, Ford Focus EV and additional EVs/PHEVs)
  • No test drive. I’ve never driven a LEAF, much less seen one with my own eyes. So, I have no idea how it actually drives — and I don’t know how cramped it’ll be for our four-person family (of course, we get everyone into an Acura Integra!). Normally, I would never consider buying a brand new car I’ve never test driven. But if you want to be among the first of a new wave of solar-charged drivers you gotta be willing to take some chances.
  • The LEAF has no track record. It’s therefore better to wait a few years and let others do the on-the-road testing, let Nissan fine tune it, and get a better LEAF in four or five years. Only trouble is — POOF — the tax credits will disappear and the LEAF will cost us up to $13,000 more to buy later than it will cost to buy now (Yes, I keep coming back to the tax credit being gone).
  • The LEAF’s design. To be honest, I don’t like the exterior design of the LEAF. Well, I like part of it. The LEAF looks very nice from behind, it looks decent to OK directly from the front. However, in my view, it is borderline ugly from the side. It’s just too bulbous for me. I know, that’s great for aerodynamics. And, yes, I know, the LEAF says, ‘I’m a car of the future, look at me!’ — which is what a lot of people who buy cutting-edge technology want. Yes, I do want people to know I’m driving a truly emissions free car and that I’m doing it on sunshine. But, please, let me take care of getting eyeballs to me and my car myself — I’m hoping to ad-wrap our first EV and use it as a rolling advertisement for solar-charged, air pollution-free driving — don’t get people staring at me with “a-bit-too-out-there” design.

At this point, I’m leaning toward putting down the refundable $99 and buying myself more time to think. Of course, I gotta run it by the wife before I do 😉

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I would love to hear what you’re thinking on the LEAF and your thoughts in terms of the early vs. late(r) EV purchase question and those evaporating tax credits (remember how fast cash-for-clunkers was gone?). We’ve got a great comments program, so, please, offer us your thoughts at the end of this column.

Again, my biggest fear — and it’s truly a giganctic one — is that if we wait until we have the money for an EV, meaning if we wait four or five years, we will lose a lot of money. That’s because we’ll find ourselves in that lag time between when the federal and state tax credits dry up and when the actual prices of EVs come close to the $25,280 cost for the post federal tax credit LEAF one can get right now. With a Colorado state tax credit of up to $6,000, we, ourselves, could be looking at a $19,000 post-tax cost for a LEAF if we purchased it within the next two years (of course, it’s higher than that when you add in interest for a car loan).

Bascially, we’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars in lost savings if we wait and buy an EV after the tax incentives have disappeared.

My instincts are telling me that if we don’t get a LEAF, we had better get on top of another EV (and hope another one is priced as low as the LEAF) within the next two years. Otherwise, we — and you, too, if you’re thinking EV sometime within the next two to five years — are very likely going to lose out on tens of thousands of dollars in savings.

That’s not a happy prospect to me. Nor, I suspect, to you either.

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