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Nissan to Leaf its mark on Tucson

The Nissan Leaf is the first electric powered production vehicle in the United States and Tucson is among the very first markets where it will be available this month.

“When we were looking for where to place the Leaf in the first markets, we were looking for areas that had supportive utilities and government; an area where there were already a higher number of hybrid drivers and where the infrastructure to support the vehicles was going to go,” said Russell Vare, electric vehicle manager for Nissan, who is currently part of the Drive Electric Tour with the Leaf. “We found Tucson to have the first two items and when the EV (electirc vehicle) project grant was given to Ecotality it sealed it for us.”

Tucsonans will be able to see, feel, ride and drive a Leaf this weekend as the company’s Drive Electric Tour comes to the Fourth Avenue Winter Street Fair.

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“We are so excited to be in Arizona in December,” Vare said. “We just went through Seattle and San Francisco, it will be nice to warm up.”

There won’t be enough time for everyone to actually drive a vehicle so Nissan is asking those who want to do so to register online at, click on events and then click on Tucson on the map.

Nissan plans to make 20,000 of the 2011 model Leaf. Due to the limited production, Nissan took reservations from prospective buyers who paid a $100 refundable deposit. The company had expected it would take until the end year to fill its registration roster but all available reservations were taken by October, two months early.

“It was much quicker than we were anticipating,” Vare said. “The refundable deposit holds your place in line, so you can have the home assessment and see what the charging station installed in your home is going to cost. It gave people the chance to hold their spot while deciding if the Leaf is right for their driving habits. We know some will decide it isn’t right after this investigation, but this way they held their place.”

Although Nissan officials say they are unable give specific statistics for the number of reservations in the Tucson market, R.J. Blevins, Internet fleet manager at Thoroughbred Nissan, 5163 E. 22nd St., estimated about 1,000 Leafs should come to the market.

But it’s going to be several months before customers will find the vehicle at local dealers.

“We’ve had a lot of people trying to get an idea of the physical size of the Leaf and what it feels like,” Blevins said. “We tell them it is similar to the Versa, so they can take a look at those and see if they like them. Otherwise I imagine it will probably be six to eight months before we start seeing them in supply to the dealership.”

On the tour, Vare said people he’s spoken with are impressed with the car.

“We’re hearing a lot of positive feedback from people on this tour,” Vare said. “The one thing that is standing out above the rest is how surprised people are to find out it is a normal car on the inside. They’re surprised at how normal it is.”

The Leaf has a driving range of 100 miles on a charge to its lithium ion batteries. It could be more or less than that depending on whether the air conditioner is running, speed and topography. The car has quick acceleration and a top speed of 90 miles per hour, according to Vare.

If you ask Vare, the most innovative feature of the Leaf is technology that connects the car to a smartphone.

“You can remotely begin to heat or cool your vehicle from your cell phone,” he said. “It is just amazing, but it is the direction we are headed with technology these days.”

To support the introduction of the Leaf, a network of charging stations is being set up. It is called the EV Project.
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