My 2011 Nissan Solyndra


Last June, I wrote about my initial love/hate affair with Nissan’s all-electric production car. Since then, people keep asking me how I like my Leaf.

Here’s what I tell them: I am ready to turn over a new Leaf — my own.

This is not easy to admit. First, because it makes me feel like a jackass. More than a year ago, when I first read about the Leaf, I put my deposit down and eagerly waited eight months to buy the car. If America is ever to end its dependence on fossil fuel in general, and foreign oil in particular, we must develop sensible, economical alternatives. Not only that, we have to actually buy them.

According to every ad and brochure Nissan put out, the Leaf gets 100 miles per charge. With federal and state tax credits and subsidies, its $34,000 price tag approached a more affordable $22,000. Another federal subsidy would cover the estimated $2,400 cost of installation of a 220-volt charger in my home. I wouldn’t be spending a penny on gas, I’d be sticking it to the Saudis, and I’d be leading the way to a brighter future.

Well, half the way.

Because after driving this car for five months, I can tell you I have yet to get 100 miles per charge. The last three times I measured, it was 55, 58 and 58. 

My life now revolves around a near-constant calculation of how far I can drive before I’ll have to walk. The Nissan Leaf, I can report, is perfect if you don’t have enough anxiety in your life.

I told a friend of my disappointment, and his response was, to say the least, humbling.

“You mean to tell me,” he said, “a car advertisement lied?”

OK, I fell for it. Who’s to blame?

Well, Nissan. Over and over, they promoted the Leaf as getting 100 miles per charge. They still do — and Leaf owners have yet to weather their first winter, when heating will gobble up even more mileage than air-conditioning. 

At the AltCar Expo in Santa Monica a few weeks ago, I stopped by the massive Nissan Leaf display. I wanted to see if the company was sticking to its rap. As a crowd gathered round, a perky model in a tight T-shirt lifted the car’s hood. 

“It’s not even an engine,” she said, pointing inside, “but we make it look like one ’cause that’s what y’all are familiar with.”

The crowd giggled along with her.

I raised my hand. “How many miles does the Leaf get per charge?” I asked.

“A hundred,” she said.  

The audience oohed and aahed.

Five months ago, I did the same when the salesman at Santa Monica Nissan told me that. (He also assured me there are no problems installing home charging systems. I balked when the actual estimate came in close to $6,000.)

But I’m to blame, too. I bought the car. I signed the papers. I wanted it to prove a point. The life lesson: A fool and his ideology are soon parted.

I know a few Leaf owners who are happy. Keep your daily mileage requirements far, far below 100 miles, and you’ll find the Leaf zippy and well engineered. Economical? I’m not so sure — if you only drive 20 miles a day, is your gasoline bill high enough to justify the Leaf’s nonsubsidized cost?

The final straw for me came in late August. My gauge said I had 82 miles available, and I decided that was enough to drop off my son at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley. You may remember that in my first Leaf column, that was the exact trip I assumed I would never be able to make in a Leaf. Well, guess what?

Alonim is 35 miles from our home. I drove below the speed limit on the freeway, windows down so I could keep the mileage-guzzling AC off. Nevertheless, by the time I arrived at camp, I had only 31 of the original 82 miles left. That’s been my experience day in and day out — the gauge reports a best-case scenario that lures me into magical thinking. I left Alonim and drove another 10 miles to Mission Hills. Reported miles: 82. Actual miles driven: 41. Now the gauge showed me having three miles to go. 

Knowing that charging stations are as rare as monorails in L.A., I decided to pull off the freeway and drive very slowly to the closest Nissan dealership, where I could put in more juice. I called my office and told them I’d be late, as I had to charge enough to drive the next 20 miles. That would take two hours.

Needless to say, I didn’t join the electric car parade held on Main Street in Santa Monica two weeks ago. Nor did I rush out to see this week’s new documentary, “Revenge of the Electric Car,” which documents the efforts behind the Tesla, the Leaf and the Chevy Volt. I didn’t have to go see “Revenge of the Electric Car.” I’m experiencing it.

The Volt’s gas engine, by the way, kicks in after 40 miles. So what do I tell the people who stop me to ask how I like my Leaf? “Buy a Volt.”

I still believe the electric car is the future. But the raised public expectation for new technology can easily create a wicked backlash among a public already skeptical of change. Witness the recent Solyndra debacle, when the federal government pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into an over-hyped solar technology company, leaving taxpayers leery of supporting the development of the next good idea.

Nissan must be feeling some backlash now, as well. Leafs — which the company had expected to sell out — are piling up on dealer lots like, well, fallen leaves.

So, here’s my advice to any company trying to push the next new thing to save the environment: If you want to save the world, lose the hype.

To read my previous column about the Leaf, click here.

Lawsuit claims film ‘Drive’ is anti-Semitic


A Michigan woman has filed a lawsuit over the film “Drive,” charging that the trailer was misleading and that the movie is anti-Semitic.

The lawsuit filed by Sarah Deming against Film District, the studio that distributed “Drive,” and Emagine Novi, the company that operates the multiplex where she watched the movie, reads in part that “‘Drive’ was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.”

“Drive,” which stars Ryan Gosling, is the story of a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman and discovers that a contract has been put on his life after a heist gone wrong.

Deming complained in her lawsuit that there is “very little driving in the motion picture.”

Arab attacker strikes in Jerusalem; dozen injured, terrorist killed


JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Arab assailant plowed a vehicle into a crowd of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem before being shot dead.

Two soldiers were moderately injured and more than a dozen others suffered slight injuries. The driver was killed by a soldier at the scene.

The soldiers, who were on a tour of the Old City, were struck at a crowded intersection near the Jaffa Gate by an Arab from eastern Jerusalem driving a black BMW, according to reports.

The attack marked the third time in recent months that an Arab from eastern Jerusalem has used a vehicle to perpetrate an attack in Jerusalem. In the other two cases, one of which resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians, the assailants used construction vehicles.

Here’s the AP report:

JERUSALEM (AP)—A driver plowed a BMW into a group of soldiers at a busy intersection near Jerusalem’s Old City late Monday, injuring 13 of them before he was shot to death, Israeli police and the rescue service said.

Jerusalem police commander Ilan Franco said a soldier in the group killed the driver.

The driver was not immediately identified, but Franco said he was a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem who apparently acted alone. Israel TV said the car was registered to a resident of Jabel Mukaber, an Arab village inside the city limits.

It was the third incident in Jerusalem in which vehicles apparently have been used as weapons in recent months. In July, two Palestinians living in Jerusalem carried out separate attacks using heavy construction machinery that killed three people and injured several others. Both attackers were fatally shot by police and soldiers.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak released a statement demanding a speedup of procedures to allow the destruction of homes of Palestinian attackers ‘‘to contribute to deterring potential terrorists.’’ Several years ago, an Israeli Supreme Court justice ruled that destroying houses does not deter attackers and the practice was halted.

Ambulances and police units raced to the scene Monday night after the crash about 11 p.m. and quickly carried away the injured.

Police said two of the 13 injured were in serious condition while the others suffered light wounds. Doctors at the hospitals said all were conscious and were being treated.

Israel Radio said the soldiers, from the Artillery Corps, were on a tour of Jerusalem ahead of the Jewish New Year holiday next week.

An Israel Radio reporter described a large group of Jews, most of them ultra-Orthodox, chasing an Arab into the nearby Old City after the incident.

Police said the car rammed into the soldiers waiting at the intersection. Witnesses said the car ended up on the sidewalk near the intersection, which lies along the line between the Jewish and Arab sections of Jerusalem.

Since Israel captured the Arab section of the city in 1967, there are no barriers between the two sides.

Palestinians demand the Arab portion as the capital of the independent state they want to create.

Israel united the city under its rule weeks after the 1967 war, but in recent years some officials have shown a willingness to cede Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians. However, sharing the city and its holy sites remains one of the toughest issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.