It was a typical fall day in San Francisco, the fog wafting in and out through the Golden Gate Bridge. I took the opportunity to attend a company sponsored rally of Nissan Leaf drivers on the Marina Green.
These were the fanatics, the diehards, the truly devoted. These were people who were willing to bet big bucks on an untested, unproven new technology. These were the faithful who put up $5,000 years in advance on the chance that Nissan might actually be able to produce the car someday. In the Bay, there are at least a couple million of us. That’s why so much new, groundbreaking technology originates here.
I am considered of the eminence gris of this community, as I have been covering Nissan as a company for 40 years, and am friends with the current peripatetic Brazilian CEO, Carlos Ghosn. I was involved in the early design process of the Leaf, took delivery of one of the first American models, and have run up the most miles.
I strolled among the revelers, speaking to other owners and comparing notes. For the right-brained English teacher types who don’t know the difference between an amp, a volt, or a kilowatt, I answered some basic engineering questions. To admire their creativity, check out the pictures of their personalized license plate numbers, which I posted below.
One guy was there selling an aftermarket Leaf range extender he designed himself, which he claimed boosted the single charge travel distance from 80 miles to 150. The price was $4,000. You always see this sort of thing at Bay area events, people promoting something they built in their dorm room that is revolutionary. Other electric car drivers showed up, including those behind the wheels of BMW’s, Tesla’s, iMiev’s, and Fisker’s. Nissan provided all comers with a 440-volt fast charge for free.
Not only did I buy a car with a zero running cost. I also joined a social community. Someone has developed an iPhone app which lists all the people in your immediate area who will let you hook up to their home for a free charge. As a result, I have never seen one of these dead on the side of the road. But I have passed them doing 45 on the freeway, which means they are just about to run out of juice, and are employing desperate range extending tactics.
Leaf drivers are admired for their idealism, environmental consciousness, and grit by local residents. I never go anywhere without getting a thumbs up. When I first drove mine home, I told my neighbor with the solar roof panels, “I’ve out greened you.” He grimaced. The state also treats us as royalty. Electric car owners are entitled to a coveted silver bumper sticker that allows them to drive in high occupancy vehicle lanes with a single driver 24/7. Only drivers of 100% battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell, and compressed natural gas powered cars are entitled to such a privilege. Prius drivers, eat your heart out.