Only Search early presentation of Lucky: the new Nissan magazine


By Pamela Coyle
Coyle on Cars

Published Dec. 22, 2010

Amir Seif is a practical man. He is not a self-described EV enthusiast. He is, however, an engineer, and when he sees a problem he looks for a solution.

Mr. Seif took possession of his new, 2011 ocean-blue Nissan Leaf on Dec. 14, the first person in the Phoenix market to receive the all-electric hatchback. He’s one of the first five Leaf owners to receive their keys.

The delivery of the first Leaf in each market
has been the object of intense media
coverage. “I’ve photographed the president
with fewer cameras around than this,” one
local TV news photographer mused at
the Nashville press conference.

General Motors has delivered about 350 Volts to dealerships since mid-December and new owners are gleefully driving them home; Jeffrey Kaffee, a retired commercial airline pilot in New Jersey, was the first.

With a 12-mile commute, Mr. Seif wanted a car that wasn’t expensive to operate, made minimal impact on the environment and safely got him where he needed to go and back.

With four children (three of driving age), the Seif family has multiple vehicles. He had been using the family’s “worst car,” a Safari minivan, to commute – a daughter drives a Prius hybrid bought in 2000. The Leaf wasn’t even on Mr. Seif’s radar until he received a call in April from the daughter, saying she thought she had found the perfect car for his needs. A year earlier, he had signed up to buy a gasoline Smart car but decided against it, concluding 44 mpg for such a small car wasn’t enough.

“Our Prius does better than that,” Mr. Seif says.

So he looked at the specs for the Leaf and reserved one. “It was a perfect solution for my commute,” he says. “It has nothing to do with a grand gesture of any kind. It is low-cost and friendly to the environment, which is good. It gets me to where I want to go and back.”

This nonchalance is great for Nissan, but put Mr. Seif in an awkward spot at a recent event attended by EV enthusiasts. They were, frankly, bitter. OK, maybe bitter is strong, but they were miffed. Some had purchased EV1s. Some had converted their existing cars to electric. They felt their years of waiting and fighting the good fight entitled them to a better spot in line.

“I met many enthusiasts who were upset with me because they weren’t the first ones to receive the product,” he says.

  Leaf conference
Preparing to hand over the Nashville Leaf.  

For Mr. Seif, a vehicle is a practical tool, not a status symbol or an extension of his identity. “For some people, it is part of them, it tells them who they are. I’ve never been one of those,” he says. “The number of CCs didn’t matter, the color didn’t matter” (though he is pleased with his choice).

He admits the Leaf, right now, won’t get his family back and forth between Los Angeles and Phoenix, but says owning another vehicle or renting one solves that problem. “Once you get over that, I think the idea we all have that we need a tank full of gas is not real,” Mr. Seif says.

Mr. Seif is in a select group of new Leaf owners. (New Volt owners will get a separate column). Nissan North America so far has held five fanfare-filled events to deliver the first Leaf in its target markets, most recently at Action Nissan in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 21.

The process was far from random – the first Leaf in each market goes to the first to order and complete the online registration process. In Nashville, a young family drove off the lot trailed by a Nissan-hired crew documenting it all and determined to get the perfect “car-to-car” footage on Broadway, the main thoroughfare through Music City’s downtown.

“I’ve photographed the president with fewer cameras around than this,” one local television news photographer mused.

  Ashley Heeren
Ashley Heeren and her husband, Jeff, and
their two boys, Simon, 5, and Archer, 8,
are the proud owners of the first Leaf
in Tennessee. 

Jeff and Ashley Heeren now own a silver Leaf. Their two boys, Archer, 8, and Simon, 5, aren’t old enough to drive but the Heerens think it would be great if Tennessee’s first all-electric vehicle goes to Archer in eight years.

They are enthusiasts. Ashley Heeren is a policy assistant at the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. Jeff Heeren is an entrepreneur who runs Number Garage, a Voice over Internet Protocol company that “parks” phone numbers, from home. He’s also launched so folks can follow their journey, and uses The Energy Detective (TED 5000 series) in their home. He’ll use the real-time monitoring system in the Leaf, too.

The car’s 100-mile range isn’t an issue because “90 percent of the places we need to go we rarely drive farther than 35 miles,” Ms. Heeren says. “We thought it was time to put our money where our mouth is.”

She got to drive the Leaf home to West Nashville, though Mr. Heeren most likely will be the primary driver because he does most of the picking up and dropping off. She loves the car.

“The vehicle is phenomenal,” Ms. Heeren says. “It is stable, fast and very responsive. The inside is roomy; the outside belies it.”

At first, Ms. Seif was more reluctant and told her husband she did not plan to drive the Leaf. But Mr. Seif left town for a few days for business and returned to find the odometer significantly changed. In less than a week, they put 280 miles on it.

With Phoenix electricity rates, charging the car overnight will cost about $2.50. Yes, many EVs plugged into the grid all at once could gum up the works, and yes, much electricity in the U.S. still comes from fossil fuels, but Mr. Seif is thinking ahead to solve any part he may play. He’s planning to install a solar panel system on their home to charge the Leaf.

Just in time for the holidays, after months, if not years, of hype, they’re here.

The EVs are here, in modest numbers, but more important for both Nissan and General Motors, their owners are here, too. Early owners will be de facto brand ambassadors. John Duncan, a semi-retired college English professor, lives in Wilsonville, Ore., and vowed 10 years ago he would not buy another car until he could purchase an electric one. He bought a Leaf, Oregon’s first, on Dec. 15. In San Diego, Tom Franklin, his wife and three children took theirs home on Dec. 13. He’s a patent attorney who specializes in clean energy. In a Nissan video, Mr. Franklin talks about concern over reliance on non-U.S. sources of energy. As for the kids, they think that the purchase shows their dad is eco-friendly, has the latest of the latest technology and “is lucky.”

The very first non-celebrity Leaf owner was Olivier Chalouhi, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and founder of Fanhattan, a venture-backed stealth startup “in the connected TV space.” He lives in Redwood City, Calif., with his wife, Jana, and their two children. As Fanhattan’s CTO, he commuted to work on an electric bicycle before buying his Leaf.

Mr. Seif is founder of Mobility Research, which makes physical therapy equipment, and he’s the inventor of LiteGait, a partial weight-bearing gait therapy device. He’s got a degree in biomedical engineering. He’s not concerned about his new investment or his new role, though he did note that people recognize him – not necessarily the Leaf –  from his minutes of fame on Phoenix TV stations.

“Nissan has a lot more invested in this car than I do,” he says. “Nissan is in a lot more trouble if this car doesn’t work than I am.”

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