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USA: Enjoying that new electric car smell: A Redwood City resident’s new Leaf

After 336 electricity-powered miles on the odometer and a week behind the wheel, Olivier Chalouhi is still basking in the glow of owning the first Nissan Leaf.

Amid a blitz of media fanfare, Chalouhi last weekend became the first person to receive the all-electric Leaf, which he is using to commute and haul around his two toddlers.

The 31-year-old Redwood City resident is an unlikely candidate for Nissan Leaf owner No. 1. He isn’t an electric car enthusiast or environmental advocate, he admitted. But Chalouhi concluded the Leaf would make a good replacement for a Honda Accord he had been leasing: He wanted a small car for his short drive to and from work.

“At that point when I realized I could be commuting without polluting, then it became a no-brainer,” said Chalouhi, who works as chief technology officer for Fanhattan, a digital media startup company in San Mateo.

Chalouhi plunked down $99 in April to reserve his Leaf and was the first person to submit an order, just after midnight on Aug. 31. Being first in line meant he got his Leaf — black with a tan interior — at a Petaluma dealership on Dec. 11.

Only five people in the U.S. so far have taken delivery of their Leafs, but there are about 20,000 on the reservation list, said Nissan spokesman Tim Gallagher. The automobile manufacturer is holding launch events in various cities, including San Diego, Phoenix and Portland. Another set of keys was handed to a Leaf owner in Seattle
on Friday.

“By the end of summer, our goal is to have everyone in their car,” Gallagher said.

After picking up his car on Dec. 11 and taking it to a press conference at San Francisco City Hall, Chalouhi said he brought the Leaf home and plugged it in — the battery was running low. He said the car’s mileage varies wildly. Chalouhi said he can get 100 miles per charge in slow city driving, but only 50 or 60 miles at 75 mph on the freeway.

“I’m not going to do road trips in this car,” he said.

Chalouhi plugs his car into a Nissan charging station an electrician installed at his home. It costs him about $1.20 for a full charge.

He expects to save $1,000 to $1,500 per year by not using gas. After tax, registration and other fees, the car cost him about $37,000, but he is eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $5,000 rebate from the state, bringing the cost to $24,500.

Chalouhi’s verdict after a week behind the wheel? The car is “fun to drive,” has a surprising amount of pick-up and is quiet. He is also a fan of the equipped Bluetooth and GPS systems. But he was thrown by the rear view mirror, which is smaller than what he is accustomed to.
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