PhotoRob Eshman couldn't wait to get his Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced all-electric car.  He rushed out to put down a deposit as soon as Nissan began taking orders and waited eight months to take delivery.

He was so excited he wrote about his decision to buy a Leaf in the publication he edits, the Jewish Journal.  And how does Eshman feel about his Leaf today?

"It makes me feel like a jackass," he wrote in a recent column.  The car simply doesn't live up to its promises, Eshman said.

"According to every ad and brochure Nissan put out, the Leaf gets 100 miles per charge ... [but] 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," he said.

Range anxiety

"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," Eshman wrote.

Similar complaints are popping up around the Internet, with consumers reporting their cars go into "turtle" mode prematurely, meaning the car will creep along at slow speed before finally shutting down entirely.

Part of the problem is related to the meaning of "empty."  In gas-powered cars, the fuel gauge shows "empty" when the tank still contains a few gallons of fuel, creating a reserve capacity of 20 to 30 miles.  For an all-electric car to do the same thing, it would have to show "empty" when it had used up about 79% of its charge, according to Green Car Reports.

This would mean the car showed it was "empty" after between 60 and 80 miles of driving, assuming the Leaf in question was meeting the EPA estimated range of 73 miles.

Get a Volt

Which brings us back to Rob Eshman and his 100-mile-per-charge expectations.

Nissan likes to say that the Leaf will get up to 100 miles of driving on a full charge of its lithium-ion battery. But EPA testing has put the range at only 73 miles, still more than Eshman gets on his car.

Nissan's explanation is that the car is primarily intended for urban driving, basically creeping along crowded city and suburban streets. Driving at highway speed uses more juice, and aggressive driving uses more yet.

That explanation doesn't satisfy Eshman and he doesn't think it will satisfy many other consumers either.

His advice to consumers looking for an electric car?  "Buy a Volt," he tells them.  The Chevrolet Volt has a small gas engine that kicks in when needed. 

Some, but far from all, consumers have done just that.  GM sold 1,108 Volts in October, while Nissan moved only 849 Leafs.  It was the first time the Volt managed to overtake the Leaf, but it's a little too early to declare a trend and, in fact, sales of both models are well below manufacturers' estimates.

"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," Eshman concludes ruefully. 

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