Electric cars spark Utahns' interest

Published: Tuesday, June 15 2010 9:59 p.m. MDT

The all-electric Nissan Leaf will run for 100 miles on an eight-hour battery charge. The cars will sell for about $30,000.

Nissan.com

BOUNTIFUL — At least 200 Utahns are hoping to get a charge out of driving a 100 percent electric car.

The Nissan Leaf could be on Utah roads this time next year, and local dealerships already are taking reservations for the car on their websites.

About 200 Utah motorists have paid $99 to reserve the four-door hatchbacks, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries that have enough juice to go 100 miles before needing a recharge.

Nationally, the waiting list has 14,000 people, said Nissan spokesman Tim Gallagher.

Randy Aldridge, executive manager at Christopher Nissan, said the Leaf is expected to be available at the Bountiful dealership in May 2011.

The dealership has to be retrofitted, Aldridge said,

"We've got to retrofit our dealership" for the service department to repair the cars and install charging stations from which drivers can buy power, Aldridge said.

Among prospective Leaf purchasers is Rob Mukai of Park City, whose round-trip commute to work in Salt Lake City is 45 miles.

"I've been kind of looking for an all-electric vehicle for a long time now," Mukai said. "At first, the only ones that were available were the Tesla Roadster, which is way out of my league."

The Tesla Roadster costs about $100,000. The Leaf will cost about $32,780, but the federal government will give purchasers a $7,500 tax credit, Aldridge said.

Mukai said he wants an electric car to save money on gas.

"I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint as well," he said. "We've got three cars in the house. It just gets a little crazy with a couple of teenagers when you're filling up your tank every week. It starts to become very appealing to plug it in overnight and pay 4 cents a mile versus 25 cents a mile."

However, 58 percent of the energy demand supplied by PacifiCorp in the region of Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and California in 2009 came from coal, a nonrenewable resource. That means driving the Leaf will not be carbon-neutral.

That's not a surprise to Mukai.

"I understand that," he said. "But the other end of that, it's interesting to me we've got a giant wind farm in Milford (in Beaver County), and almost none of that is going to Utah."

Mukai is optimistic that solar and wind power eventually will make more electricity, which would make the Leaf more environmentally friendly in the future.

Jason Long, who is promoting the Leaf at Ken Garff Nissan Downtown, said almost all of the interested purchasers have been men.

"It's a pretty interesting demographic who's looking at it," Long said. "Early adopters, well-to-do. We are finding these people are extremely gung-ho about the environment. And they're trend-setters."

Alex Hopkins, a Christoper Nissan sales consultant who is his dealership's expert on the Leaf, said he believes 100 percent electric vehicles are the wave of the future.

Chevrolet is preparing for production of the Volt, which is also 100 percent electric. Local Chevy dealers expect to begin taking names for a waiting list as soon as November.

Electric vehicles are not new. Some of the first automobiles driven in Utah were electric. In California in the mid-1990s, GM manufactured the EV1; Ford made the Think; Honda had the EV Plus; and Toyota made the Rav4 EV. They were later taken off the market as leases expired — automakers said there was a lack of demand — and became the subject of the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

However, dealers believe the Leaf, which is available for purchase and lease, is here to stay.

"By 2015, 10 percent of the market will be driving electric cars," Hopkins said.

For now, the Leaf will be a vehicle only for commuters, since there aren't enough electric stations across the United States for a road trip. Eventually, there will be electric charging stations everywhere, Hopkins said. And the outlets will improve beyond the standard 110-volt house outlet, which charges the Leaf in eight hours, he said.

A Nissan contractor will install power outlets in houses with a 220-volt outlet, and the Leaf will charge in less than four hours. In the works is a 480-volt outlet that will charge the car in 28 minutes.

Hopkins put himself on the waiting list for the Leaf.

"It's not just no gas," he said. "It's no oil. No spark plugs. No transmission. None of that. It's breaks and tires."

e-mail: lhancock@desnews.com

TWITTER: laurahancock

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