2011 Nissan Leaf Long-Term Road Test

2011 Nissan Leaf SL: Flip? Flop!

July 13, 2011

Leaf at Rest.jpg

When it comes to environmental-reporting cred, it's hard to beat my friend Marla Cone. She's the editor of Environmental Health News and a two-time winner of the Scripps Howard Meeman Award for environmental reporting. She was senior environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times and at one time covered the California Air Resources Board, which in 1990 adopted the world's toughest automobile-emissions standards. In 1992, she wrote a fascinating article for the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at GM's development of the Impact, the predecessor to the doomed EV1.

Marla and I are auto-twins: We each have a 2001 Acura TL, same options, same color. We both love the car, and love not having car payments.

When I had our Leaf for the first time last night, I asked Marla if she'd take a drive with me and share her impressions of the car. I figured if anyone was going to flip for the Leaf, it would be Marla.

She liked its looks, its interior space, its amenities and its quiet. She said nubbin of a shifter was "a little weird" (I think so, too). We tallied up her daily driving miles and decided the car's range would work for her. We ran the numbers and decided that at $28,000 (after federal tax credit), the price could be right.

But to my surprise, she wasn't flipping.

For some very good reasons, the Leaf is a flop for her -- for now. Marla explained why she wouldn't seriously consider an electric car at this point, even knowing the environmental benefits:

"First is probably my reluctance to try technology that hasn't been around long," she said in an e-mail today. "I wasn't exactly speedy in buying a cell phone, laptop, iPod, iPhone. I still don't have an iPad. I'm the type to make sure it works and let companies work out the bugs and hear people's opinions on something before I make the leap with an important item like a car.

"Second is comfort factor with the brand I have used now for 10 years. Cars are something I don't understand well, so the comfort factor is important for me, maybe even trumping environmental factors."

Researcher that she is, Marla used the EPA's comparo tool and ran the numbers for the 2011 Acura TL versus the 2001 that we each own. The 2001 Acura TL puts out 11.74 pounds of smog-forming emissions per year. The 2011 Acura TL puts out 4.13 pounds -- an argument for an Acura-to-Acura swap if ever I saw one. She threw in the 2011 Toyota Prius to have a hybrid comparison in the mix. It emits .99 pounds.

The Leaf has zero pounds of emissions, of course. But Marla already has decided that early EV adoption is not for her. She's a couple years away from a new-car purchase, and maybe she'll have more evidence to apply to her decision by then. But I can see what she's weighing right now, and it makes a lot of sense to me. There are considerations for the environment, but there are also the considerations of a real-world driver who isn't convinced that the technology that's on the road right now meets her needs.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @2,896 miles

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