About to take a leap of faith on a Nissan LEAF

lleditors-blog-entry3Would you buy a brand new car you hadn’t had a chance to directly compare to similar cars and having given it just one, two-mile test drive?

That’s what we most likely are about to do, and it’s almost certainly what a majority of the thousands of people who’ve bought or leased a Nissan LEAF have done.

That’s the advantage Nissan gets for being the first to market with an affordable production EV – LEAF leapers leaping onto the only pure electric car available because they want to be among the first to own such a car.

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I’m not saying the LEAF isn’t a good car. Nor am I suggesting that there aren’t many people out there for whom the LEAF is the perfect car, the electric car they would buy again and again, even if there were several other affordable pure electric cars one could actively compare to the LEAF.

But zooming in on a single car model from the start and plopping down a huge chunk of cash on it isn’t the way I normally buy a car. Nor is it, I’m guessing, the way most people buy a car.

The normal car buying process
Here’s what my normal car-buying process would look like – if only we were actually in a normal car-buying situation, which, of course, we aren’t:

  • Do extensive background research on car models appropriate for a four-person family that wants a fuel-efficient, comparatively environmentally friendly, safe, reliable and long-lasting auto;
  • Narrow down the above research by concentrating on appropriate models made by car companies I trust most – Honda and Toyota would be at the top of the list thanks to our long-term good experiences with both brands;
  • Test drive three or four different models/trims;
  • Decide on one of the models – and leverage all possible means (Internet research, price quotes/value assessments, shopping at different dealers, direct negotiation, etc.) to get the best deal possible;

I’m guessing this is a pretty normal car-buying process for many folks, at least for those, who, like me, are not impulse car buyers and who are focused on getting a quality auto for the best possible price.

But, of course, our car buying process isn’t normal this time around.

Why not?

rrEarly adopters
Because I, like a large percentage of early LEAF buyers, really want to be one of the first to own a pure electric car. More importantly, I want to be among the first in Colorado to be running a pure electric car 100 percent on electricity generated by a home solar system. (Our 5.59 kW system has over-produced by 7,000 kWh since being installed in June of 2010. We’ve banked those 7,000 kWh for use for a future EV, though, in fact, we probably won’t actually begin to tap our banked kWh until we get a second EV).

My eagerness to be among the first will almost certainly mean we end up with a LEAF. That noted, I’m not sure, if we had the opportunity to directly compare the LEAF to, ideally, at least three other pure electric EVs, we would end up buying a LEAF.

After a very short test drive at the Colorado stop of the Nissan Drive Electric Tour this past weekend, I can say that I like many things about the LEAF – it’s got plenty of space, it seems to be well made, and it’s got good pick-up from 0 to 40 mph.

I’m pretty damn eager to be driving a solar-charged EV – eager enough, most likely, to ditch my normal car buying process and take a leap of faith on a LEAF.

However, there are several things I don’t like so much. Among them, visibility out of the car is not that good, especially in the back, I don’t like the dash set up, the suspension is softer than I would like, and, finally, while I agree the LEAF looks better in person than in pictures, I still haven’t warmed up to its exterior design.

What if we wait?
We could wait for more pure EVs to arrive in Colorado. Doing so would allow us to do some comparison shopping. However, it’s unclear exactly when additional EVs might be on the market and available for test drives here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

Ford has said spring 2012, although I’m inclined not to believe them, as, in my view, they’ve already pulled a fast one on consumers in all but two of the 20 supposed Focus Electric rollout markets. And Mitsubishi has said it won’t have its iMiEV in Colorado until November 2012.

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Basically, I’m thinking we’re looking at at least another year in Colorado before we might be able to do some direct comparison between a LEAF, a Focus Electric and an iMiEV. This assumes Nissan, Ford and Mitsubishi designate test drive vehicles to dealers. Additionally, there’s always the chance that neither the Focus Electric or iMiEV can completely satisfy me either – for instance, I’m guessing I’m out of luck in terms of my desire for a sporty suspension that offers handling similar to our 1992 Acura Integra.

Meanwhile, Nissan looks like it will almost certainly be able to get a LEAF in our driveway by March of 2012.

Yes, that’s nearly two years after we put down a $99 reservation for a LEAF, but it’s still apparently at least several months before any other major automaker will have pure EVs on Colorado dealer lots. And I’m pretty damn eager to be driving a solar-charged EV – eager enough, most likely, to ditch my normal car buying process and take a leap of faith on a LEAF.


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