Taxpayer-Subsidized Nissan Leaf Fails Real-Life Test

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Nissan Leaf photoOn Monday NLPC’s Mark Modica smartly called into question Consumer Reports’ sudden change in opinion about the electric hybrid Chevy Volt from a vehicle that they once believed “doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” to one the publication recommends. The next day, however, CR delivered an online review of the major all-electric vehicle on the U.S. market – the Nissan Leaf – and while not intended to be scathing, the account given by reviewer Liza Barth makes the car sound so unappealing, she should have panned it outright.

I wish I could reproduce her entire account here without a charge of plagiarism, to detail exactly what a turkey the Leaf is, so make sure you follow the link to Barth’s assessment. And while giving somewhat a nod of approval in a late September review based upon CR’s very controlled facility testing, Barth’s real-life experience told the true story.

Her test of the vehicle was over the course of a long weekend, beginning on a Thursday evening. On her Friday morning commute from her New Jersey home to CR’s Yonkers headquarters – which she said normally includes a 33-mile ride that incorporates the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River – she already suffered a case of range anxiety. “So,” Barth wrote, “I opted to travel fewer miles and pay the $12 toll over the George Washington Bridge and another $2.25 over the Henry Hudson Bridge.” Ouch.

Barth contended that she and her kids enjoyed the Leaf and had fun driving it, but apparently only so long as she traveled no farther than the corner store (or an equivalent distance). Then she and her husband planned an evening dinner date, so she plugged the Leaf in “during the afternoon for five hours” (isn’t that an entire afternoon?), which she said only raised the range from 25 miles to 75 miles. “I wasn’t confident we would make it there and back to our dinner location, which was 60 miles round trip,” Barth recounted. So the Leaf could not transport them for the evening.

When she awoke Monday morning, Barth said the Leaf had a charge that would take her 70 miles – plenty, she thought, for her 33-mile commute – but just in case she kept the heater off despite an outside temperature of only 39 degrees. Then her range anxiety got ridiculous:

I decided to head out on my regular long commute, with the cheaper toll, but saw the Leaf quickly run though the charge and drop to 39 miles about halfway through my trip and I was freezing. I was very happy to see stopped traffic on the New York State Thruway (that’s a first) as that calmed my range anxiety and I saw the estimated range actually increase by six miles. The last two miles of my trip, I put on the heat with 24 miles left, but it did little to warm my already numb fingers and toes. I made it to the office with 17 miles to spare.

Barth summarized that a “luxury” like heat (and air conditioning, of course) should only be used for short trips. She also noted that the Leaf is not conducive for fast highway driving because that also quickly reduces its battery charge. “It seems Leaf ownership is best if you are not in a hurry or live in a climate where the temperature remains moderate, so you can avoid using the climate control for heat or air conditioning,” she wrote. 

Why did Nissan even equip the Leaf with heat and air conditioning? After all, if they are only useful for short trips, doesn’t it take five-to-ten miles to get car heaters and A/C to the point where they’re effective anyway?

Barth’s is a typical commute and represents the normal use of the average American’s car – not the controlled circumstances that spit out phony estimated ranges of 100 miles on a charge. But even findings at CR’s test track (see video below), there was little to attract buyers to the Leaf. The magazine tried to put a happy face on the shortcomings – for example, that the vehicle costs less than $30,000 after the federal tax rebate is supposed to make the EV more desirable. But what vehicle is worth such an expense when it travels minimal distances and is only comfortable in temperate circumstances?

CR’s cheerful video spokesman also noted the handy navigation system that finds nearby charging stations for the driver. “Unfortunately, you might find that many of those stations are outside of your driving range,” he said – uh-oh, frowny-face. 

After CR’s guy explained the Leaf’s awkward passenger access to the back seat, he painted a happy face on it by noting it can accommodate three people – after you shoehorn them in. And while the car ran quietly at lower speeds, at “around 45-to-50 miles per hour, there’s this high-pitched whine, and to some of us, we found it really, really annoying.” 

Finally he addressed the range issue, and said under CR’s testing, the longest distance they were able to travel was 75 miles, and with air conditioning or heater running, only 65 miles. “That severely limits the usefulness of this car,” he said.

Despite those deep flaws and shortcomings, CR could’t bring itself to outright ridicule the Leaf. This is the vehicle taxpayers are backing with a $1.4 billion loan to Nissan North America, to retrofit a Tennessee plant for the mass production of the Japanese company’s EV. Likewise, the Department of Energy (yes, Rick Perry, we should abolish that too) – besides the billions in public money it pours into battery storage research and subsidizing “renewable” energy companies for failed wind and solar technologies – has dumped millions of dollars into the rollout of chargers for the EVs. That “investment” looks even more wasteful as the automakers are split on the technology that should be used in the future for the EV chargers.

Worse, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn is on the record saying his business model is built upon perpetual government funding to production of EVs. “It does not matter if, for example, Portugal stops the incentives, as long as other countries like the United States continue to support,” Ghosn told Reuters. “If countries like France, Japan and the UK support and then China, that is about to start to support, that's fine.”

And Nissan North America’s director of planning and strategy Mark Perry is indifferent to surveys that show consumers want more range out of EVs before they are willing to buy, saying “there’s no market need” for it.

There is also no market need for an EV with an annoying high-pitched whine, recharging stations mostly out of the car’s reach, and minimal passenger room, but that hasn’t stopped Nissan from making it, nor has it stopped the government from forcing taxpayers to finance its mass production. Maybe CR is holding back its harshness because it’s thinking of all the Green jobs that are being created.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center.

Related:

Plug-In Car Industry Goes Up in Smoke (Rush Limbaugh)