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  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Bob Grassetti closes the door to the charging port compartment on his Nissan Leaf, Wednesday afternoon. Grassetti was the first owner in Nashua of the all electric car in the state and says that charging the battery is comparable to paying about 50 cents a gallon.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Part of the draw of the Nissan Leaf is that it emits zero emissions as indicated by the words on the side panel.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    The Nissan Leaf's gear shifter is seen. The car runs so quietly that it's difficult to know whether the vehicle is running at all.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Bob Grassetti takes his Nissan Leaf, for a spin around the Hudson Industrial Park, Wednesday afternoon.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    The engine compartment is seen, though the car has no real engine and requires little maintenance. Grassetti was the first owner in Nashua of the all electric car in the state and says that charging the battery is comparable to paying about 50 cents a gallon.
Monday, March 19, 2012

City’s first Nissan Leaf owner talks pros, cons of car

NASHUA – Some people think of their cars as a big toy, others as a tool for living, others as a status symbol.

Bob Grassetti has a different comparison.

“It’s just like a cell phone,” he said. “You have to keep on top of it, keep it charged.”

Such is life as owner of one of New Hampshire’s first production electric cars, a Nissan Leaf that Grassetti has been driving since Feb. 3. Grassetti, who took a three-year lease on the car from a combination of environmental concern and early-adopter technology lust, has become an advocate for the Leaf.

“It’s awesome to drive. I love driving it,” he said, during a recent spin around the Hudson industrial park where his company, cleaning products distributor Industrial Solutions, is headquartered. “If I want to go, it goes, it really goes. The top speed is 90 – well, that’s what they told me. I haven’t tried it.”

He calculates that his operating costs are the equivalent of buying gasoline at 50 cents a gallon – not bad during these $4-a-gallon days. There’s also no oil to change, no tailpipe and muffler to rust out, no maintenance aside from refilling the windshield washing solution.

Of course, these savings doesn’t take into account big upfront costs, including a home charger that costs almost $1,000 including installation. For the time being, that cost, as well as $7,500 of the Leaf’s roughly $30,000 price tag, are covered by tax credits as part of a federal push to get more electric vehicles on the road.

Costs and cost savings aside, Grassetti admits that the car has one big problem: a maximum range of 110 miles on a full charge.

“It’s a great car, as long as you know the limits.”

Grassetti’s Leaf was the first sold through Peters Nissan in Nashua, which has now sold five, said general sales manager Dave Gerardi.

As of last week a total of 45 have been ordered, although not necessarily delivered, in New Hampshire since orders were first taken Oct. 1.

“They’re all concerned with the environment, and I think they’re all concerned with gas prices,” said Gerardi of Leaf customers. “Of course, with the 100-mile range, none of these people are doing a lot of travel.”

Actually, not many people are doing a lot of travel in any electric vehicles in the U.S.

The Leaf and the Chevy Volt, which is really a plug-in electric/gas hybrid, are the two major-player representatives of the electric-car market at the moment, but they had combined American sales of just 26,000 last year – a number too tiny for big car firms to even notice. GM has even slowed production on the Volt, which isn’t for sale in New England yet.

Some small firms are also in the electric-car market, including independent microcar firms with names like Wheego and Coda, as well as the start-up called Tesla, which makes a six-figure electric roadster that can outgun a Porsche. (Electric motors’ greatest strength is acceleration.)

But these cars’ sales are even smaller, and the technology is not without issue. Battery problems in a few Teslas have led to talk about “bricking,” as in your $100,000 car is now as mobile as a brick.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of having a million electric cars on American roads by 2015, but many experts see this as unrealistic.

The problem is twofold: Batteries aren’t good enough yet to sustain a long range, and there are too few charging stations to “refuel” mid-trip.

For all his enthusiasm, Grassetti admits to these drawbacks.

“It’s probably a little ahead of its time,” he said of his baby-blue Leaf. “It’s fine for me, for what I do, but if this was your only car, it probably wouldn’t work.

“I’ve heard that in three years, there might be a battery with a 300-mile range, and that would make all the difference,” he said.

Three hundred miles might be optimistic, but Gerardi of Peters Nissan thinks consistent range of 150 miles isn’t farfetched as the technology matures.

“I absolutely think that they’re going to be a very large part of the market. As for charging stations, in another five years, you’re going to see them at hotels, restaurants, and if gas gets up to $5 a gallon, there’ll be more interest,” he predicted.

Grassetti does his charging in his garage at night, using a charger that hooks into the 220-volt circuit, converting the AC power to battery-friendly DC. It takes about seven hours to fill up, he says: “Just plug it in before you go to bed, when you get up it’s fully charged.”

If you forget to plug it in, you’re in trouble – just as with cell phones.

There is also a ‘“quick-charging” option with a 480-volt system that plugs into a special outlet in the car’s nose. But quick-charge stations are few and far between, and even this high-power option can take about 20 minutes to fill an empty battery, and 10 minutes to recharge it roughly three-quarters of the way.

But technological drawbacks are standard for “early adopters” of technology, and Grassetti for one is willing to put up with them because, if nothing else, it’s interesting to be part of something so new.

And not just interesting for him, he says; the Leaf’s distinctive look is drawing attention.

“I was parked in front of Crosby’s Bakery the other day, and a guy knocked on the window and asked me about it,” he said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or