The San Francisco Bay Area is well known for its love of alternative transportation, so it’s no big surprise that the City by the bay was the site of the delivery of the world’s first mass-market, globally distributed and relatively affordable 100% electric car–the Nissan Leaf. What might be a surprise, however, is that Nissan didn’t choose the first Leaf owner for that reason; in fact Nissan didn’t choose the first owner at all, he just happened to be the fastest orderer on the planet when the online process opened up back in August.
While not knowing who the very first owner would be ahead of time may seem like a risky strategy on Nissan’s part, it’s not as if Nissan has been a stranger to taking risks recently. With billions of dollars invested in the aggressive development of a vast electric car strategy over the past four years, the car company best known for both high performance sports cars and familiar trucks, SUVs, minivans and sedans has gone and done something that much of the automotive world is deriding as foolish.
But if you ask Olivier Chalouhi, a self-professed normal guy from Redwood City, California–and the planet’s first Nissan Leaf owner–there’s nothing foolish about it. “There’s too much attention on me,” said Chalouhi in an interview with Autotrader.com during the delivery ceremony at North Bay Nissan in Petaluma, California. “I don’t think Nissan is stupid when they say they are making history today. The spotlight should really be on the car and Nissan. I mean, I put down a $99 deposit and they’ve invested billions in electric cars.”
Echoing Chalouhi’s sentiments, Marc Geller, an electric vehicle advocate and founding member of Plug In America who was also in attendance said, “This is a very big day. This is basically the first time a car company is selling mass market electric cars–and they are selling them without special conditions.”
Even so, questions still remain about how successful electric cars will be in the marketplace, with many pointing to the lack of public places to charge them, limited range and the expense of the technology as the major stumbling blocks. But Nissan has tried to quell those concerns by engaging in intricate coordination with national and local governments and businesses worldwide to deploy charging stations as well as constantly reminding people that the Leaf certainly isn’t a car for everyone. Though that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful.
As Nissan likes to point out, if you drive less than 100 miles a day and have more than one car in your garage, the Leaf might just be the ticket to fuel freedom and lower environmental impact you’re looking for.
Chalouhi seems to be the poster boy for this mantra. “I’ll be mostly driving 20 miles a day and the Leaf has 100 miles of range so I’ll almost always be charging at home,” he said. “There are maybe three times in a year where I might need to drive a little bit further and I can either rent a car or my wife has another car–I don’t see range as an issue.”
Nissan took 20,000 reservations globally and then shut down the reservation process. So given the Leaf’s limited availability and initial high demand, the potential for price gouging is certainly there. But North Bay Nissan in Petaluma, California, was active in the handful of online communities that have sprung up in support of early Nissan Leaf adopters and promised Chalouhi a fair shake with a final price below MSRP. “I’m proud to be a Nissan Dealer today,” said Greg Dexter, Owner of North Bay Nissan, in an interview with Autotrader.com “I’ve been a Nissan Dealer for 34 years and I’m very proud of Nissan’s vision. Hybrids are great, but the future is electric.”
Regardless of how well the Leaf and any of the dozens of other electric car models coming from virtually all manufacturers in the next five years sell, one thing is clear: the delivery of the world’s first electric car from a car company that wasn’t forced to do so by government mandates represents a turning point in the automotive world. Whether the average consumer is ready for it remains to be seen.