Friday, October 8, 2010

Turning Over the new Leaf

This article in today's NYT talks about the heavy subsidies associated with purchasing Nissan's Leaf, the new all-electric, plug-in car. It's great to see this thing roll out and it seems appropriate that purchasers receive subsidies given the positive externalities it generates (such as less air and presumably sound pollution in the immediate area and less dependence on foreign sources of energy). The car's sticker price is apparently $32,780 and the car looks to be a compact or sub-compact, so making that cost comparable to other cars in the vehicle's size class is a job that takes some doing. I'm not sure whether that cost includes the vehicle's charger, which itself is subsidized to the tune of $2000 for those who weren't lucky enough to be in the group of 5700 that got theirs for free.

As great as it is to see this first step forward in terms of bringing electric cars to the rest of us, there are clearly some kinks to work out in addition to the likely $35000+ price tag. First and foremost for me is the 100 miles it can travel on one charge. While that will make the car a fine vehicle for a daily commute, many car owners won't be able to make do with just this one vehicle in their garages. Some places are installing charging stations along the highway, but getting a charge built up apparently takes about 8 hours, so unless you want to spend your day at a way station, I can't see that getting the job done.**(See below) Second is the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of the power sources that will actually be moving the car, which in today's society turn out to be mostly coal. It's nice that the power will mostly be domestic, since we can a) regulate it better to keep it cleaner, and b) avoid subsidizing regimes we would rather not support, but until we have more projects like the newly approved Cape Wind facility up and operating, we're just trading one source of pollution for another.

I have lots of questions! I wonder- how does it drive? A friend with a Prius claims that the car has poor acceleration: does this electric number do better? How much noise does it make? (Did they attach some kind of a noisemaker to it so people will notice it coming?) And more importantly, how long until the price comes down? I was shopping for a car in 2000 when the Prius was first due out, and there was an "early buyer's premium" of $5000 extra the car cost at that time. I wonder if the $33K + charger includes something like that, or if they're already pricing it as low as possible. Overall, though, I'm interested and a little excited. Something to watch!

Update, 10/11/10: Apparently the vehicle can recharge its batteries via... gasoline! While this is making some uncomfortable, it definitely makes the car more useful.

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