Olivier Chalouhi doesn’t consider himself a die-hard environmentalist, but this Silicon Valley engineer and father of two was the first person in North America to purchase Nissan’s new electric car, the LEAF.
So why did he purchase the all-electric hatchback? Chalouhi was drawn to the car’s cutting-edge technology — the “cool factor,” he calls it – and the LEAF’s battery range worked with his commute.
But Chalouhi says he is aware of environmental issues and they did factor into his ultimate decision to buy the LEAF.
“Even if you’re not a die-hard eco-person, you know you’re still burning gas when you’re commuting, and that’s most of the driving I do,” he says.
Chalouhi chose the Nissan LEAF over its competitor, the Chevy Volt, for the LEAF’s price and technology. Though both offset by a $7,500 federal tax credit, the LEAF is the cheaper of the two electric vehicles at $33,720, while the Volt starts at $41,000.
Chalouhi also preferred the LEAF’s all-electric engine that produces zero emissions. The Volt, on the other hand, is a plug-in electric car, meaning that once the battery runs out of power, the Volt switches over to a gas-electric hybrid engine like the Prius or Honda Civic hybrid.
“I liked the idea of a pure electric car,” he says.
Becoming the First LEAF Owner
Chalouhi became the first Nissan LEAF owner in North America through a combination of persistence and luck. When he learned that Nissan’s website would take online orders for the LEAF on August 1, Chalouhi, thinking like an engineer, thought the company might turn on the servers at midnight.
He tried to log in to the website several times after midnight; eventually he was able to get in, ordering the car and choosing a dealership. After making his order and logging out, he tried to log in one last time, but the website was down again. Chalouhi figures he managed to log in when the company was testing the site for a few minutes before its official launch.
The site formally opened at 10:30 a.m. on August 1. While other electric vehicle enthusiasts were ordering their cars, Chalouhi was already reviewing and accepting a quote from a local car dealership.
After ordering the car in August, Chalouhi waited four months to pick up his shiny black LEAF in December. He now drives the car daily on his commute – 40 miles roundtrip – to his job at a tech startup.
No Range Anxiety Here
Nissan says the LEAF’s battery range is 62-138 miles, depending on driving conditions. Chalouhi finds his range depends on his speed – just as speed affects gas mileage in a hybrid or conventional car. When he cruises at 55 mph, the battery can last 100 miles, but when he speeds up to 65 mph, the range drops to 80 miles.
A note on the console alerts the driver as to how many miles are left on the battery, Chalouhi says, and it takes a few weeks to learn to plan your trips and modify your driving habits accordingly.
Though he usually uses the LEAF as a commute car, he has started using it for local day trips with his family on the weekends. Recently, the family drove from their home in Mountain View, near San Jose, 50 miles up to Sausalito, a city across the Bay from San Francisco.
On the way home, he used the PlugShare app on his smartphone to find a public charging station in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, where the family walked around for an hour while the car charged.
Could the LEAF have made the 50-mile trek back to Mountain View without the extra charge? Yes, Chalouhi says, but he would have had to drive slower.
Chalouhi usually charges his LEAF on his home charger, which, like other electric vehicle drivers, he had to purchase and install when he bought the car. The home charging unit and installation typically cost $1,000 -$3000, depending on your home’s electrical system, and qualifies for another federal tax credit.
Chalouhi initially spent $850 for the charger and its installation, but when his family recently moved to a condo complex, he had to spend $3,000 on the install.
Why the higher cost for the second installation? It was tricky for the electrician to set up the unit in the complex’s carport to make sure Chalouhi – and not the homeowner’s association – was charged for its use.
With his electricity rates at 12 cents an hour, Chalouhi has spent about $85 to fuel the car in the last two months. He says it takes about four hours to charge the car’s battery at the end of each day.
“Best Car I’ve Ever Had”
Now that he has driven the car for six months, he has nothing but positive things to say about the driving experience. In fact, he says it’s the best car he has ever had.
The car accelerates much more quickly than conventional cars, he says; at about 40 mph, it slows down to accelerate like a typical gas-powered car. He finds he can easily rev the car up to 80 mph on the highway and says you might find yourself driving the car too fast because it’s quieter than a gas car.
“It’s great going up hills. I leave most gas cars behind,” he says.
Chalouhi also loves the LEAF’s cool, “techie” features: connecting his phone and iPod to the car’s Bluetooth and sending directions directly from Google Maps to the car’s console. He finds that his family of four – with the fifth on the way – fits comfortably in the LEAF. During recent trips to IKEA when the family moved, he discovered the car also has plenty of space for lugging larger items like small pieces of furniture.
Chalouhi’s complaints about the LEAF are minor and focus on the car’s design and materials. Occasionally the car’s console will reflect the sun into his eyes, but he can re-position the screen to a different angle.
He – and other LEAF owners with whom he interacts on Nissan’s online LEAF forum – notices he often gets an electrical shock when he gets out of the car – more so than in other cars. LEAF drivers speculate this phenomenon is a result of the seat upholstery, which is partially made from recycled plastic bottles.
His advice to people considering the LEAF for their next car purchase? He highly recommends the LEAF if its battery range works with their driving habits, he says.
“I couldn’t go back to a gas car now,” he says.