Taking the Nissan Leaf for a spin
Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Alamo, and National, are actively breaking ground for the new Nissan Leaf EV. As part of the company’s ongoing philosophy of being at the forefront of new transportation and alternative fuel technologies, Enterprise now has 500 Nissan Leaf EV’s available for rent nationally, with 30 of those in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to take one of those 30 for a test drive through the streets of San Francisco last week with Enterprise’s Director of Sales, Eric Schwartz, helping inaugurate their partnership with the Four Seasons Hotel hosting a charging station and Nissan Leaf for rent by hotel patrons (Enterprise also has the Leaf available at their Civic Center location in San Francisco).
I’ll give my impressions of the Leaf in a moment, but first let’s talk about how I found myself behind the wheel in the first place.
For several years we’ve followed Enterprise’s culture of corporate responsibility, reflected in the services they offer their customers and business partners and as part of the global community. Enterprise also actively supports and funds alternative fuel research through the Enterprise Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Plant Science Center, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a shill for anybody. When the rubber meets the road (if you’ll pardon the pun), Enterprise is a car-rental and transportation company, firmly planted in the fossil fuel world. But that’s the point. Driving new technology (enough with these puns!) requires big movers like Enterprise to “blaze the trail,” helping to build the market for first adopters and smaller players to follow. Enterprise has consistently demonstrated its commitment to push emerging technologies onto the market, build consumer confidence and help expand needed infrastructure (in the case of the EV, charging stations).
“We’re making the Leaf available here so people can try it out,” Schwartz told me as we pulled out of the Four Seasons garage on to busy Market Street, taking my opportunity to “try it out” on a warm and sunny San Francisco afternoon.
My first impression of the car is its apparent simplicity. Pushing the “on” button lights up the dashboard, but there is absolutely no engine noise (even a Prius has some engine noise). Of course, with the car at a standstill, why would there be? There’s no gas-guzzling internal combustion going on. A slight shift of a small shifter knob on the center console and the car is ready to go, but even moving down the street the only sound from the car is the smooth whir of the wheels.
Acceleration is responsive and the ride is as smooth as the gentle swish from the undercarriage. But this is San Francisco, where a real test of a car’s power and stability are the famed hills. If you’re not careful, in some cars, you just might drift backwards into the bay in the time it takes to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator while waiting for the light to change at the top of a particularly vertical hill. Not so with the Leaf I am happy to report. While I certainly wouldn’t advise any foot-pedal-dallying, the car navigated the steep inclines easily, with no lack of power or acceleration, even with the car pointed nearly skyward.
The level-two charging station installed at the Four Season can fully charge the Leaf’s battery pack in about 6 to 8 hours, providing an average 100-mile range, suited for shorter trips and commuting (the average commuter drives about 40 miles per day). The range of any vehicle depends on it’s “refueling” infrastructure, a primary limiting factor for all-electric vehicles. This will change as EV’s gain market penetration, and companies like Enterprise focus on helping the marketplace adapt to this emerging technology. In time, the effective range of EV’s will become far less limiting.
The Leaf rents for $90 per day, not exactly the “economy” rate, but as Schwartz explained, there are obviously no fuel costs, and as the EV market begins to take hold, prices will come down. All new technologies enter the market at a premium.
Now that I’ve got my “feet wet” with the Leaf, I just might rent one for a ride out to Muir Woods in Marin county, a perfect day-trip for both car and driver!