COSTA MESA – Most car buyers have anxiety before they make a purchase. Is it the best deal? A set of wheels with good resale value?
In Costa Mesa this weekend, a group of buyers and a new car dealer have a whole new set of concerns.
As they await the arrival of the Nissan Leaf, the nation's first affordable, mass-produced all-electric vehicle, buyers ponder its obsolescence. And for at least one dealer, it's the uncertainty that comes with selling and servicing a new technology.
"It's a little uneasy, but I'm excited," said Mark Ranauro, general manager of Connell Nissan, one of the first dealers in the Southland to sell the Leaf. "When you're moving in the right direction, good things happen."
The Nissan Leaf relies strictly on batteries, and unlike hybrids it has no tailpipe or emissions. It's a complete departure from the internal combustion vehicles that fill most of the Connell lot on Harbor Boulevard.
In front of the showroom are two charging stations with long cords plugged into electric engines. Besides electricity, these generate some of the uncertainty about electric vehicles: its charging infrastructure is in its early stages.
Some private companies, such as South Coast Plaza and local dealerships, have charging stations. And, drivers can charge their cars in their garages. At these places, batteries can take between eight hours and 20 hours to charge fully from empty, depending on the strength of the connection.
Also, utility companies are working to build a network of high-power charging stations in Southern California and other places that might allow a driver to charge 80% of his battery power in as little as 25 minutes.
Until they do that, some drivers will suffer from "range anxiety," or the fear of driving distances without having the ability to fill up, automotive experts say.
The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the Leaf's range at 73 miles per charge and its fuel efficiency as the equivalent of getting 99 miles to the gallon. The sticker price for the 4-door hatchback might jolt shoppers in the market for a "green" car. The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of the Leaf is $32,780, but buyers can get about $12,500 back through a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $5,000 state rebate for buying an electrical car.
For those who are comfortable and have committed to buying, the car's range is still an issue.
"I know that the next generation of cars is going to have a better range," said Garden Grove IT specialist Mike Walsh, one of the first three buyers awaiting delivery of the Leaf via the Connell dealership. But with the possibility of retrofitting his car with better batteries, "that may not be a massive problem," he said.
Walsh was awaiting the shipment of Leafs to reach Connell from the Port of Long Beach.
Walsh says he is generally an early adopter of technology, but was "burned" in the past when he bought one of the first home satellite dishes, which were massive. Soon, the signal technology changed and the dish size dropped.
"It was obsolete pretty much before I had a chance to really enjoy it," he said.
For the Leaf, Walsh has researched the technology extensively and even leads an online forum for Leaf enthusiasts. (Nissan recognized his potential to influence shoppers and flew him to Nashville for a test drive.)
Besides its high concentration of potential early-adopters like Walsh, California is one of the Leaf's launch markets because local utilities and municipalities are working to build a charging network, said Tim Gallagher, spokesman for Nissan North America.
"You're trying to match up cars with available infrastructure, both in private residences and in public places," he said. "You don't want customers to be frustrated. It's important for them to feel comfortable with charging options."