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Electric car blowing in to isles

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British Foreign Minister William Hague, left, listens to Nissan Motor Co. Senior Vice President Andy Palmer prior to entering Nissan's new electric car, the Leaf, which will be produced in Britain.
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The Nissan Leaf is the first electric vehicle to be mass-marketed in Hawaii.

Hawaii motorists are getting charged up over the impending arrival of the Nissan Leaf, the first electric vehicle to be mass-marketed in Hawaii.

Nissan dealers say about 1,000 people in Hawaii have expressed an interest in buying the car. About a quarter of those put down a $99 refundable deposit. Nationally, there are about 14,000 people on the waiting list, according to Nissan.

The company won’t say exactly how many Leafs will be allocated to Hawaii Nissan dealers, but demand will likely outweigh supply when the first shipment of cars arrives in Hawaii early next year. The sticker price on the base model is $32,780, but federal tax breaks of up to $7,500 bring the net cost down to $25,280, Nissan says on its website.

Duane Preble, a retired professor in the University of Hawaii’s art department, said he and his wife made their reservation as soon as they heard Hawaii was one of seven markets that Nissan chose to launch the Leaf.


Nissan Leaf Specs
» Driving range: 100 miles
» Maximum speed: 90 mph
» Charging time: 220-volt home charger, 8 hours; 480-volt commercial quick charger, 30 minutes
» Base Price: $32,780 ($25,270 with $7,500 federal tax break)
» Available in Hawaii: Early 2011
Source: Nissan website

Preble said his car essentially will be charged with sunlight because his electricity needs are currently provided by photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of his Manoa home.

"We got on the waiting list early. My whole feeling was to jump on this because we’re in trouble," Preble said. "I have a sense of urgency about this. I’ve got kids and grandkids, and I’m going to live a long time. So I’d really like to see us do the right thing."

Preble said he has a "net metering" arrangement with Hawaiian Electric Co. that allows him to feed electricity back into the grid when his PV panels are producing more power than is needed for his home. Although he and his wife pay HECO a nominal charge to be hooked up to the grid, his net cost for electricity is essentially zero, he said.
Hawaii joins regions in Oregon, California, Tennessee and Georgia as the initial markets for the five-door Nissan hatchbacks, which are powered by lithium-ion batteries that have enough juice to go 100 miles before needing a recharge. Nissan’s strategy for the Leaf is to introduce it in a few select places initially and add more places as capacity ramps up over the first year.

Nissan has selected California-based AeroVironment to oversee the installation of home-charging stations for the Leaf. AeroVironment, in turn, has contracted Honolulu-based photovoltaic installation company RevoluSun to handle installations of the 220-volt, 40 amp charging stations.

Because of RevoluSun’s experience in the solar power market, it will provide owners of the Leaf and other electric cars with information on how many PV panels they would need to charge the vehicle, said Charles Wang, project developer for RevoluSun.

Electric cars are a good fit in a state like Hawaii, where driving distances are limited and petroleum is such a big part of electrical generation and transportation needs, said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, a local clean energy advocacy group.

"Considering there are only about 170 electric vehicles on the road right now, this is a great response for the Leaf," Mikulina said.

"It makes a lot of sense not only because we have short distances to drive, but that we can take advantage of our clean energy — wind at night and solar during the day — to charge the EVs."

To help spur the growth of the state’s electric car market, the Legislature passed a bill last year requiring that any parking lot with at least 100 public stalls be required to set aside 1 percent of the total spaces for electric cars by Dec. 31, 2011. The requirement would increase to 2 percent when at least 5,000 electric vehicles are registered in the state.

In addition, the state is looking to award federal grants totaling $3 million to companies for the installation of EV charging stations in Hawaii.


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