Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our LEAF Arrives!

I'm excited to report that I picked up our Blue Ocean Nissan LEAF today!

More than eighteen months after I first saw the LEAF concept car and more than eleven months after I reserved the car on Nissan's website, we finally have our new LEAF.  As focused as I have been on this goal over the past year, it seems a little unreal that our LEAF is sitting in our garage right now, connected to the charging dock and waiting for the timer to allow it to start charging tonight at midnight.

As I reported previously, I got my first hint that my delivery was coming closer on March 9, when my delivery estimate on Nissan's web site changed from "Month of April" to a more specific "Week of April 5".  As is customary, that date estimate bounced around and finally settled on "Week of April 11".  In fact, amusingly, at this moment it still reads "Week of April 11", despite the fact that we already have our car!

Then on March 23, I received an email from Nissan telling me that our car would be delivered within seven days.  I wasn't sure how accurate that estimate would be, since others had found it somewhat variable.  As it turned out, I was able to pick up our LEAF seven days after that email.

My Nissan dealer of choice was Connell Nissan of Costa Mesa, California. I took the time to get to know Mark Ranauro, Connell's general manager, last June, as I chose the dealer I wanted to work with.  I liked Mark's openness and friendly, no nonsense manner immediately.  Mark later agreed to discount the LEAF a nice amount, which sealed the deal. One thing that I liked about Connell is that they are a center for Nissan's technical engineering staff here in Southern California.  Nissan engineers are based at Connell and they can provide special expertise on short notice.

Mark and his staff did a great job today in getting our LEAF cleaned and ready for me, in handling the financial details with no pressure or overselling, and in explaining the many technical details of the very high tech LEAF.  We decided to lease the LEAF, though it is the first mass market EV that is available for direct sale to consumers.  We want to reserve our capital for other uses and we want the opportunity to watch the way that EVs perform and are received in the country before we purchase one.  I would also like to have an electric sports car someday, so a lease gives us the flexibility to make that change in a few years.  But we may love the LEAF so much that we decide to buy it at the end of the lease, and that is also a possibility.

Expert and careful Dealer Prep

Other new owners have written fascinating accounts of their well planned long drives home from their chosen dealers, who happened to be located 75 to 100 miles from their homes.  The dealers sometimes picked the customers up from their homes and drove them to the dealership to pick up their cars.  The drives home were done carefully, in ECO mode and in the slow lane to conserve energy.  Some new owners stopped for an hour or so at another Nissan dealer to recharge for a while.

My nine mile drive home wasn't nearly as interesting.  I basically drove two or three miles from the dealership to the freeway and five or six miles to Irvine and home.  No planning, no careful speed control needed.  I greatly admire the planning and intrepidness of my fellow new LEAF owners.  I just didn't need to worry about it.  That is basically how we plan to use this car, for short trips, errands and for fun.  We won't be pushing the range envelope and we won't be trying to squeeze the last mile out of the batteries.  Instead, we'll be using our free solar power to enhance the quality and fun in our lives without producing any pollution or CO2 and without suffering the financial cost increases that will come with increasing gas prices.

So how do I like the car?  I love it.

The LEAF is such a green and efficient car, it's easy to see only that aspect of it and to forget that it is really a satisfying car in many other ways.  I've actually found myself underestimating the car, even as I obsessed about its details and anticipated it with enthusiasm.  As I test drove our own LEAF and drove it home and on the local highways today, I found it quick, nimble, quiet, smooth, roomy and even sporty.  The LEAF gives a high quality impression in the feel of its switches and controls, in its many unusual technical features, in its weight and stance on the road, and in its roomy and quiet interior.  Recall that my last car was a BMW and you'll find this impression even more significant.

Tonight, our LEAF is plugged in to our Level 2 EVSE (charging dock).  The car's charging timer is set to begin charging at midnight, when our time-of-use electrical rates are lowest.  I can check my iPod LEAF app to see the current state of charge (nine of 12 bars of charge), the number of miles I can drive on the current state of charge (70 miles at this state of charge), and the estimated number of hours needed to charge it completely (two hours, 30 minutes).  If I wanted to, I could use the app to tell the car to pre-heat or pre-cool the car's interior while it is connected to power and to save battery charge.  This is all very cool stuff, and it makes owning the car even more fun.

Carol and I will drive the LEAF to exercise and to breakfast tomorrow morning and on errands later in the day.  Because we make enough solar power to drive more than 12,000 miles per year for no fuel cost, we'll replace some of the miles that we drive our hybrid Prius.  The Prius will be our long distance car and our backup to the LEAF, but the LEAF will be our primary vehicle.

We're excited to learn and adapt to the changes that our electric LEAF will bring.  This blog was conceived as a way to chronicle that journey.  After nine months of blogging about our journey to reach this point, I'm thrilled to be at the point of being able to begin to write about the electric part of the journey.

The End of the beginning of our new lives with the LEAF

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let me back up a little here. Let you take the trunk section pull down seat in the

blue '79 Caprice Station-Wagon that faces the "rear" window; but since you have let

me back-up a little here now you see bumperstickers where it was meant you'd see

windshields and I am stepping on it. You find it funny and worrisome at once, for this

is not rear-wheel drive, and my acceleration in reverse gear is galloping - over the raised

and bumpy railroad tracks and the Caprice goes airborne like some nissan major motion

heckuva hunkova ram tough truck commercial and your pants are pissed, you have stopped

breathing and your adrenals could work no better if a flaming volkswagen beetle had to be lifted

to save your own little bundle of joy, for I have not even turned my head to see the road

in front of you; I am using the rearview mirror - this is what I meant by let me back up a

little - don't worry it is a lightly travelled straight and mostly flat road lined with

a lot of nothing but the occasional telephone pole to crash into should I lose

control, I won't, I keep promising, reassuring it is almost impossible to roll one of these

Caprice Station-Wagons without a steep embankment -

I did not want to scare you though and I feel bad about the excitement upon your

bladder, how pale you've gone, so now we are coasting. You take a deep breath, and I

appreciate this as most of all it is audience that I want for this little backing up of mine.

Why don't we visit the drive-thru just like this you go first I'll let the electric window

down and would you order me a small chocolate shake along with whatever you'd like.

Do not try to escape or I will close the electric window on you, its one of the few things

General Motors was doing right in 79 and you would be wise to take my word for the

python like grip the window-crank-motor is capable of stopping you with, just like

this, go ahead get yourself some fries if you like and we'll get back to letting me back up

a little bit oh thank you it is the greatest gift a person can give you know to an unforward

looking person such as I, letting me back up a little, thank you, go ahead, buckle up and

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The LEAF Delivery Countdown Begins and Some Recent Orders are Leapfrogging Earlier Orders

The Seven Day Nissan Email
The big news today is that I got an email from Nissan saying that my LEAF will be delivered to my dealer sometime in the next seven days!

Before I get too excited, I've read on the MyNissanLeaf forum that this seven day notification really means that SOMETHING is going to happen some time in the next three to fourteen days.

After almost a year from the time I paid my $99 to reserve the right to order a LEAF, it is apparently here in the country.

Of course, the disruption in Japan due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami and the unbelievable loss of life have disrupted the production and shipping of any new Nissan cars since March 10.  Again, as I've said before, something physical like a car is insignificant compared to the tragedy and loss being suffered by so many families in Japan.  We're donating to Habitat for Humanity's efforts to help with the loss of housing there and I recommend that everyone who is able does the same.

That said, we go on with our lives. So there are a lot of future LEAF owners here in the US who are wondering whether their cars were on ships on March 9 or if they are still in production or waiting to be shipped.  Industries both in Japan and here and in other countries are suffering uncertainties and also the definite knowledge that parts supply will be disrupted.  Of course, any single missing part in a product prevents the entire assembly from being finished and shipped.

For my own situation, I called my dealer and they really don't know any more than I do, so I am closely watching my Nissan web page for any updates and waiting for a call from my dealer.

The delivery estimate on my "dashboard" on the Nissan web page has been amusing to watch.  The estimate has varied every couple of days and the range of variation has been comical, anywhere between March 30 and April 12.

If anything concrete happens related to my delivery, I'll post here.

Orders from September Through November are Being Passed Over in Favor of Later Orders
As happy as I am that there is definite movement on my own LEAF, I'm reading that there is a group of customers who reserved their cars on the first available day, April 20, 2010, and who were able to order in September through November whose cars are in limbo or definitely delayed while customers who reserved in May and later and ordered in January or February are getting specific delivery date estimates.

Something is going on within Nissan's order and shipping system that is causing some customers' cars to leapfrog ahead of those of others.  This may not sound too terrible, but we are talking about people who have been waiting for their cars for almost a year, and there are limited government rebate funds at risk.

I really hope that Nissan can listen to the concerns of these customers and resolve the issues, especially in light of the unavoidable delays in future shipments caused by the tragic events in Japan.

Edit and Update:
A customer on the MyNissanLeaf forum whose order appears to have been leapfrogged was able to talk to someone with information within Nissan today and he was satisfied with the response that Nissan is aware of what is occurring and is working to resolve the issues.  The most interesting new information that was shared was "Most of the "outlying" delivery notices that we have seen here for orders in Jan. & Feb. were the result of a communication error by a vendor processing the wrong batch of information, I was told, and they are in the process of rectifying this."

It was also revealed that the disasters in Japan are having far reaching effects on Nissan's North America's ability to use the corporate systems to obtain production and scheduling information.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Great Tragedy in Japan, A LEAF Delivery Date, Inexplicable LEAF Delivery Sequencing, an Orphan LEAF on Maui, and another Branch Meeting

Great Tragedy in Japan
As I write this, we are four days out from one of the strongest earthquakes in modern history combined with a major tsunami and a great tragedy for the people of Japan.  The event continues to unfold with multiple nuclear plants badly damaged, thousands dead and missing and the full impact of the tragedy not yet known.  Our hearts go out to the people of Japan and we know that we cannot comprehend the degree of loss and disruption the country is having to absorb.

My wife and I were vacationing on the island of Maui at the time and after seeing the first videos and hearing that Hawaii was under tsunami watch, we decided to evacuate to high ground as soon as possible.  We spent the night at an evacuation center high on a hill above Lahaina, sleeping in our car and listening anxiously to the radio as the tsunami waves approached the islands at hundreds of miles per hour.  The people of Hawaii and we were lucky that the damage was minor, but airports and roads were closed as ocean water washed debris onto several key roadways.  We were surprised and pleased that we were able to make our flights and return to Los Angeles as scheduled on Friday night.  The uncertainty, exhaustion and fear that we endured were nothing compared to what the people of Japan are experiencing, but we had a glimpse of the disruption that natural events can cause, and we are humbled.

A Delivery Date
On January 11, I reported that I was thrilled that my LEAF's delivery status of "Pending" had changed to "Month of March 2011".  I was disappointed to later be notified that the month was changed to April.

On March 9, I was again thrilled to hear from Nissan that my LEAF will be delivered during the first week of April.  I was also notified that I could sign on to my LEAF owners portal and I saw that I have a VIN number.  As is common with the LEAF delivery process, we receive frequent updates that bounce around by a few days at a time.  In the five days since March 9, I have received three date changes ranging between March 30 and April 8.  My current delivery status is "Week of April 5".  I'm very happy to have a delivery date in the next few weeks.

While the delivery of something physical like a car pales in comparison to the magnitude of the tragedy in Japan, one can't help but wonder whether the events there have impacted something that one has been focused on for so long.  Reports are that all auto factories in Japan have been closed at least temporarily to allow the workers time to be with their families and to adjust.  Some factories have sustained damage and some completed Nissan cars were damaged by tsunami waves as they waited for shipping.  There was a report today that 600 Nissan LEAF cars were aboard a ship that left Japan one day before the earthquake.  I've been told that there is a good chance that our car is either en route or is in the US already.  However, deliveries of later batches of LEAFs may be delayed significantly by the events in Japan.

Inexplicable LEAF Delivery Timing
At the start of the LEAF reservation process, Nissan's customer service phone staff said that the order of deliveries would be determined strictly by the order of reservations on April 20, 2010, or later and by geographic region.  Later, as online orders were placed, beginning on August 31, the order sequence varied considerably from the reservation sequence, but Nissan continued to say that the reservation sequence would still govern the delivery sequence.

As actual deliveries are taking place and are announced, it is clear that some customers who reserved and ordered their LEAFs later than others are being promised deliveries earlier, leapfrogging ahead of those who reserved and ordered earlier.  This has some customers understandably upset.

Members of the MyNissanLeaf forum are keeping a database of details on their orders.  Some members are being given delivery dates in April although they placed their reservations a month later than the first reservation opportunity and placed their orders just a month ago, in February.  But many other members have delivery dates in May even though they reserved their cars on the first reservation date, April 20, 2010.  It is clear that some customers who reserved later are scheduled to receive their cars much sooner.

One possible explanation is that some orders were canceled and Nissan has carefully matched these canceled cars with customers who ordered the same color and equipment later in the process and in the same region.  This makes some sense, except that it is clear that some of these orders are jumping ahead of other customers in the same region with the same equipment and color orders.  In other cases, there is just no explanation at all.

Nissan did a wonderful job in setting up an online ordering process that put the control in the hands of the customers instead of the dealers.  But Nissan has done a very poor job of communicating delivery information, including delivery sequence order and the location of cars in the shipping and delivery process.  Other manufacturers have systems that are clear and straightforward in communicating this information to waiting customers.

When dealing with a product as eagerly awaited and in such high demand and short supply as the LEAF, customers expect a fair and clearly communicated process.  When limited government rebate monies are involved, the pressure for clear information is intensified.  While delays are understandable, communication to waiting customers is key and the perception of fairness in the sequence of the delivery process is essential.  Nissan has been silent about the discrepancies in timing.  Customers who currently have delivery date estimates of "Month of April", "Month of May", or "Pending" are understandably upset to hear that others who reserved or ordered months later will receive their LEAFs sooner.

See the comments at the MyNissanLEAF forum:

An Orphan LEAF on Maui

When a LEAF is delivered to the dealer but the customer declines to take delivery, the dealer gets the LEAF for his new car inventory and is free to sell it.  We've come to call this car an "orphan".  These orphans are being closely watched to see the prices that dealers are charging for them.  While none of us wants to see price gouging from dealers, we also don't want to see customers who didn't reserve a LEAF when the reservation process first began get a LEAF at MSRP or less without waiting for the car.  It's a difficult situation.

When we were in Maui last week, I went to the only Nissan dealer on the island to see if they had any LEAFs.  I was surprised to see a blue LEAF parked near the charging dock in front of the dealership.  The window sticker showed a dealer markup of $5,000 above the sticker price!  I was a bit shocked, but when I looked at the prices of the other new cars on the lot, I saw that all of the cars were marked up between $4,000 and $7,000.  So this was most likely a case of a single dealer on the island with no competition trying to make extra profit on all of his allocation of cars.

Another LEAF Branch Gathering in Cerritos
Last Saturday morning, the Southern California LEAF Branch had another meeting in Cerritos.  The Cerritos Nissan dealer had offered the dealership for a second meeting after the successful February meeting.  Unfortunately, a miscommunication caused us to fall back on Plan B, our old reliable Hometown Buffet.

We were not daunted by the change in venue, however, and we had a great gathering.  About 16 LEAF enthusiasts attended, including several new attendees.  Mallory, Omkar, Sparky and Mike Walsh drove their LEAFs and they were joined by Adrian in the new red LEAF that he had just picked up the day before. I noticed that Adrian offered newcomer Robert a test drive in his brand new car.  Really a nice thing to do for a fellow enthusiast.

While red was the predominant color on Saturday, there is no truth to the rumor that this statistical sampling indicates that three out of five of all new LEAFs will be red.

We also had three visitors from an auto manufacturer who had asked to attend to see how a spontaneously formed customer group operates.  These gentlemen were from the same company that recently sponsored LEAF and Volt focus groups locally.

It is great to see the group growing and to see more LEAFs at each meeting.  The conversations over breakfast were lively and clearly useful to many of the members.  Above all, we had a lot of fun.