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A New Leaf Turns Over As San Diegans Test Drive Electric Car

— San Diegans are among some of the first in the country to test drive an all electric car. Anyone with a valid driver’s license can test drive Nissan’s “Leaf” car this weekend at their promotional event at Liberty Station.

Nissan's Leaf car is a compact 5-door hatchback electric car with a driving range of 100 miles in city driving.
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Above: Nissan's Leaf car is a compact 5-door hatchback electric car with a driving range of 100 miles in city driving.

Just 20,000 all- electric Nissan Leaf cars will be sold nationwide at its debut sale in December. San Diego is a launch city for the car that has no tailpipe because it uses no gasoline and puts out zero emissions.

Tim Gallagher, a Nissan representative says many of the drivers who showed up at the test drive event on Friday wanted to compare the Leaf’s performance against gas fueled cars.

“A lot of people need to validate that feels, that it accelerates, that drives, and handles like a real car. And that it has all the features of a real car, with airbags, navigation systems, and back-up cameras -- the Nissan Leaf has all that.”

Sure it does. But the real question is how it feels behind the wheel. I took a short test drive to find out.

Total silence upon ignition was the first thing I noticed about the no-gas, no emissions Leaf car. Acceleration was fast from about zero to 35 miles an hour. At higher speeds it felt like a standard 4 cylinder, with good torque and smooth handling.

Inside, it’s comfortable and roomier than it looks. My co-driver who is 6’3" said he had enough head room in the front seat.

But, like other test drivers, I had what’s called “range anxiety” or worry that this car’s fully charged battery will only take me 100 miles.

Gallagher says not to worry, because he says about 90 percent of us don’t drive more than 40 miles a day. And by the end of 2011 San Diego will have 4,000- 5,000 charging stations.

“In service stations, anywhere the public will stay for even a small amount of time, in gyms, recreation areas you’ll see a lot of these in the community over the next 12 months.”

Gallagher reassures me again, by telling me that fast charge stations, which will charge a battery up to 80 percent in 25 minutes, are being installed near freeways between San Diego and Los Angeles. Home charge stations will fully charge a battery in about eight hours, while a standard electrical outlet will take 20 hours to charge the car’s battery.

The car comes in four colors, red, blue, white and silver.

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