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Consumers in Texas Test Drive the Nissan Leaf Electric Car

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author photo by Autotrader January 2011

You've seen the pitch and you may have even signed up for an automaker's consumer ride-and-drive. You know the drill: Sign up, show up, do a lap (or two) on a large, asphalt surface, and go home. Refreshments are generally offered, and a souvenir may be given, but the driving force behind the driving course is to acquaint new car prospects with new car product in what the manufacturers describe as a 'neutral' or 'non-threatening' environment. In short, it's not a car dealership.

The EV folks at Nissan have two motivations in demonstrating the new Leaf at a handful of venues on the West Coast, in Texas and in the Southeast. First, of course, is the attractiveness – and efficiency – of the neutral setting. In Dallas/Fort Worth, Nissan has some sixteen outlets within roughly ninety minutes of D/FW Airport. To do a promotion at each and every dealership would be prohibitive in both time and monies, whereas one stop – in this example at the headquarters of Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation near D/FW – is both timely and economical. It's the same ethos that drives – not so coincidentally – the Leaf itself.

After registration (be sure to bring your drivers license – a passport or military I.D. won't get you behind the wheel), you'll join approximately twenty others in a product overview. And while most walk-arounds of this sort focus on the complete vehicle, Nissan's product specialist begins at what the EV industry might call 'ground zero,' the battery pack itself. Though it's not as visually compelling as your supercharged twin-cam four, the Leaf's battery pack is worth pondering, especially when considering its 100-mile range.

Of course, with the battery is the prerequisite recharging ritual. The development of infrastructure is ongoing, but charging stations at retail facilities, public facilities and office complexes is a given, whether the motivation is driven by the market, tax incentives or simple altruism. That, in combination with owner/user installation of home-based systems, will provide a 'capacity circle' of one hundred-plus miles. And as the presenter emphasizes repeatedly, a 100-mile day would be well beyond the typical needs for most drivers.

A look at the Nissan Leaf in repose suggests an almost elegant design – and if one regards attention to detail as 'elegant' than the descriptive truly applies. A vehicle without a noisy (i.e., conventional) drive train creates its own design challenges, especially in the area of air management. Nissan's design staff went to extraordinary lengths to minimize or eliminate air currents that would be disruptive to the interior cabin, and a short drive will let the Leaf attendees determine the success of those exhaustive measures.

After the comprehensive presentation the actual drive is almost anticlimactic – or would be if the technology weren't so unfamiliar. The transmission selector is console mounted and almost computer-like in appearance. Thankfully, the balance of the gauges and controls are more straightforward and intuitive. And the drive itself is like little you've experienced before, and more than meets – or exceeds – initial expectations.

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Used 2011 Nissan Leaf SL
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Consumers in Texas Test Drive the Nissan Leaf Electric Car - Autotrader