Republican Senator Buys Nissan LEAF: 'Patriotic Not Sending Money to People Trying to Blow Us Up'

By · March 09, 2011

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) takes delivery of his Nissan LEAF.

If there's one thing about plug-in cars that makes them great conversation pieces, it's that no matter what your concerns or political stripes there is something beneficial in them for you. From the environment, to supporting a local economy, to decreasing dependence on foreign oil, to national security, electric cars have the potential to kill many birds with one stone.

Case in point: although Washington D.C. is currently overrun with partisan bickering at risk of bringing our government to a standstill, electric cars still enjoy what seems to be broad multipartisan support. Many people wrongly assume that EVs are mostly a Democratic endeavor. While it's true that almost all Dems support EVs to some extent or another, there are many Republicans who also do—and some that are quite outspoken advocates of them.

Take Senator Lamar Alexander as an example. The Tennessee Republican has just put his money where his mouth is and bought himself a brand new Nissan LEAF. He even paid full price and didn't take advantage of state and federal incentives saying it wouldn't be proper to accept tax credits he helped to push through. Alexander is leasing the vehicle and also bucked the trend by choosing to not install a Level 2 charging station—opting to charge from a standard wall outlet instead.

Sure you could brush this off and say Alexander is simply trying to please Nissan and the Tennessee Valley Authority—two of the biggest employers and business drivers in the state of Tennessee—but then you'd be ignoring the fact that for the last two years he has been driving a converted Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. Even in the face of a changing of the guard and the rise of the Tea Party Republican contingent trying to get rid of anything viewed as government manipulation of the free market, Alexander has remained steadfast in his support for electric cars.

As part of the Democrat-Republican EV duo that also includes Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alexander has consistently supported many policies to speed the adoption of electric cars, including a piece of legislation last year that would have introduced the concept of "early deployment communities" that would receive millions of extra dollars of federal funding to speed up charging station deployment and make electric cars even more affordable. Alexander and Merkley have once again agreed to try and get the same piece of legislation passed this year.

Why is Alexander so outspoken? In his case it comes down to energy dependence and national security. "Plugging in my new LEAF will give me the patriotic pleasure of not sending money overseas to people who are trying to blow us up,” he said after taking delivery of the vehicle. "The Nissan LEAF is easy to drive, it’s cheaper to drive–and it will be made in Tennessee. If enough Americans bought electric cars and trucks, that would be the single best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil—and the best way to avoid $4-a-gallon gas."

While every LEAF sold is currently made in Japan, starting in 2012 all LEAFs and LEAF batteries sold in the U.S. will be made in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Given that Alexander is a longstanding Senator with significant influence, the fact the he's on the side of EVs lends some credence to the notion that electric car legislation will be some of the only bipartisan supported legislation to pass congress without too much of a fight this year.


· · 5 years ago

Nick, Nice piece, but if Alexander is leasing, technically he is taking advantage of the tax break, which is the primary reason the LEAF lease payments are so affordable.

A different point -- Alexander is a huge fan of nuclear (I'm not), and I'm sure that's another reason he's so high on EVs.

I'm not saying I won't take his support, just reflecting on why, most likely, he, in contrast to some other politicians on the Right, is a big EV fan.

· · 5 years ago

Christof, as I understand it, even if you lease you don't have to accept the $7,500 tax credit. It's your choice whether or not Nissan gets to take that credit. The way it was relayed to me Alexander didn't take it and he's paying something like $400 a month for a 39 month lease. Also, very true about the nuclear, but as I said there's a reason to support EVs no matter what your political stripes. In the end I'd rather have nuclear than dependance on foreign fossil fuels. Hell, I'd take coal power over foreign fuels. For me one of the biggest points is the environment, but it's so much more complicated than that, no?

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

Nick do you think this congressman had to wait like the rest of us, or do you think he was able to push himself to the front because of who he is?

· · 5 years ago

Anon, He did in fact wait just like the rest of us, he even refused to have Nissan corporate be a part of the delivery. He got his order in relatively early.

· TD (not verified) · 5 years ago

It's nice to hear a Republican saying something besides drill baby drill. It seems that consuming oil is patriotic for a lot of Republicans which I find completely baffling.

· · 5 years ago

Didn't realize that you could turn down the tax credit even when leasing. Thanks for the clarification (not that I will be turning it down, whether we lease or buy :-)

Yes, the motivations for folks to "go EV" are diverse, and it's usually a combination of two, three, or even all of the following: Environment, Technology, National Security/Get off of Foreign Oil, Individual Fueling Independence (in case of home solar producers), and Economics (it saves money).

Of course, there are some potentially pretty big tensions between environmentally driven pro-EVers and the National Security folks, as the latter might be OK with, even like to see EVs stoke coal, while the former don't want to see that at all (no way the Sierra Club, which just jumped on the EV bandwagon, wants to see EVs grow coal).

While I love the break free from oil and fueling independence angles of EV + PV, the green angle is the most important to me. In fact, EVs are a means to an end for me: I see them as a vehicle for radically changing how we fuel our transportation sector, and as a way to come very close to eliminating air pollution via the EV + renewable energy connection.

· · 5 years ago

Thank you for the article. It would be tragic to see EVs pigeonholed as cars for liberal Democrats only. Keep on getting the word out about bipartisan support!

I would have to say that my number one motivation to "go EV" is for patriotic reasons, i.e. national and economic security. However, I am also environmentally motivated and would like to do my part to better care for the amazing planet that humanity has been blessed with. Perhaps you could say that I am a conservative who tries to keep an open mind.

· · 5 years ago

Outstanding. I especially like the part about being patriotic because of the fuel... not because of the brand of car. I've been accused of being unpatriot since I own two Japanese cars - the most efficient vehicles in their respective classes. If the US had made either of these cars* (I'm talking Rav4EV and Prius) I surely would have bought them. But they didn't - so to be patriotic, I bought Japanese cars that would allow me to use significantly less foreign fuel.

*Of course we did have the patriotic GM EV1... which I leased for as long as I could and which was taken from me and crushed for my own good....

· · 5 years ago

@darelldd - Don't forget that the nationality of the brand tells you little about where the vehicle was actually manufactured. For example, being a GM car does not mean it was built entirely in the U.S. and being a Toyota does not mean it was made in Japan. Frequently a "foreign" car uses just as much, if not more, American parts and labor to make... so you're still effectively supporting domestic industry. Buying a "foreign" car just keeps the money out of the hands of the corporate bureaucrats and not necessarily the workers!

· Josh (not verified) · 5 years ago

I've enjoyed reading many your articles Nick - and really enjoyed this one. I'm generally a very conservative type from Normal, IL (I don't work at Mitsubishi, but I've been following their EV plans). personally don't see any reason to make EVs political - as a prior poster noted, there are many reasons to be interested in EVs - economics, reducing reliance on imported oil, environment, etc. I'm a supporter for all of the above, and it's frustrating that so many people assume conservatives all fight things that are good for the environment or that aren't pro-oil. I'm very pro practical,sustainable ideas - and I think many conservatives think the same way. The less we turn good ideas into partisian ideas, the more good ideas will flourish. Keep up the good work!

· · 5 years ago

Traitor :)

· George Parrott (not verified) · 5 years ago

Enjoyed the report, but I am not sure still that the good Senator really did "refuse" the Federal Tax Credit in his lease. My lease payments are a bit over $400/month, and I know I "took the credits" to get that special lease "deal." Of course some of my monthly payment is the California sales tax. But if he paid "full MSRP," then his payment/residual balance figure might be higher than mine to start with. I would almost have to see the papework to accept that he found a way to not get that credit. Maybe he did a lease with a totally outside source? I guess that might do it, but then...why lease at all?

Further, as impressive and well-intentioned as he might be on this EV support, it seems really poor thinking to not get the L2 charger with the LEAF. The charge time really is over 20 hours on 110V when the battery is drained and still around 6+ hours on the 220V system (in my home experience so far). Maybe he will never drive more than 20 miles or so a day, and maybe there is a L3 charger in the Senate Garage???? THAT might be a most interesting question to also consider...

· · 5 years ago

Great article. Nick.

@Darell - That's a great distinction: Domestic fuel trumps domestic car brand. It's a matter of priority. (Besides the fact that LEAF will be made in USA before long; that Volt is already made here; that trade with oil-producing nations is much more problematic than those with Japan...)

Is Sen. Alexander the only EV-driving Congressman?

· · 5 years ago

Brad, RE: only LEAF/EV driving Congressman, I was wondering that myself. I'm not sure how you'd be able to find this out for sure. I think we could easily find out if he's the only LEAF driving one, but I'm sure at least a few others also have converted plug-in Priuses (sorry, it's officially Prii now, I guess) or NEVs or Roadsters.

· Coastal Eddie (not verified) · 5 years ago

Very encouraging article. People should not underestimate support and enthusiasm of many conservatives for broad acceptance of electric vehicles. I, for one, have been hanging on to my two Lexus (Lexuxes? Lexii?) for the last two years waiting for a plug-in hybrid downsized SUV and sedan. If the all-electrics ever approach a range of 200 miles, I would be willing to go all electric as an alternative. I had a chance to test drive the Leaf - what a great car! I am waiting to see what Ford delivers. I was on the Volt waiting list but dropped off when the gov't bailed out the unions at the expense of the rest of us. I won't buy another GM car until all the shares are back in the hands of non-gov't investors (and assuming they can finally match the quality of Ford, Toyota or Nissan -although I have to say they did a great job with the Volt). A comment about drilling and nuclear - drilling is all about energy independence from the Middle East - not a desire to create more CO2. The best solution to our energy problems would be to take advantage of the new nuclear fuel cycles that esentially consume neartly all of the long-lived radionuclides on site, thus extracting nearly all the potential energy available, instead of just a small percentage as with the now very old reactor process. France and India are starting to use this technology. A robust nuclear electric grid and conversion of most or all cars and trucks to electricity as the energy source would be the strongest move the US could make with respect to security and a strong economy. The expanded grid would also accomodate teh distribution of solar and wind-generated electricity as well as these technologies mature. Fossil fuels would then assume the more rational (and much, much, smaller) role as primarily a chemical feedstock. So-called environmentalists that have opposed both drilling and nuclear energy generation are substantially responsible for the energy crisis we are now facing. They have essentially killed nuclear power in the US and forced energy dependence on the unstable Middle East. They are also equally culpable for unnecessary increased CO2 emissions over the last 40 years.

· John C. Briggs (not verified) · 5 years ago

Doesn't most US foreign oil come from Canada? Is he implying that he thinks Canadians are trying to blow us up? Well, after Canada, most of the rest of foreign oil comes from South America. Is that who is trying to blow us up?

What I think is nice is to spend money on domestically produced product be that oil, electrons, or cars, or anything.

· Samie (not verified) · 5 years ago

Sorry to be a downer but Tennessee senators have been cheerleaders for Nissan for as long as I can remember. Special interests rule politics not philosophical differences in ideologies. I say who cares, bipartisan support for EVs is clearly what is needed.

My main interest with EVs is the potential for more decentralized (elastic) "fuel" uses. Economic, not political.

I do have concerns about EV subsidies and how markets can best innovate without government hindering progress, like it does with ethanol (corn) or say biofuels. Nobody will address it here but we need to look at issues with federal subsidies for leasing batteries & the vehicle, how to advance battery range/reduce charge times, if it is acceptable to offer a one-size fits all tax rebate or instant rebate for all vehicles that are considered a "plug-in vehicle", & most important is how taxpayers can support EVs in a way that allows markets to innovate & offer incentives on their own.

· · 5 years ago

Drilling our way to oil independence is something of a myth. Oil is a fungible commodity and oil produced in this country is part of a world market and the world economy. Even if we were able to produce all the oil we used domestically it would still be subject to world oil prices and supply constraints. Don't believe me? Consider this scenario:

Suppose that we really did produce all of the oil we used domestically and the production price plus markup was $50 a barrel. Then Saudi Arabia undergoes a revolution and its oil fields shut down. The world oil price spikes to $150 a barrel because the Saudis (unlike Libya) really ARE a major oil producer. But we don't care because oil here is $50 a barrel and we produce all we need. Right? Wrong: if you are a US oil producer, which would you rather do: sell your oil for $50 a barrel domestically or sell it overseas for $150 a barrel?

What would really happen is that the domestic oil price would rapidly rise to near the world oil price, with the difference being the cost to transport it overseas. That's "energy independence"? Not in my view.

Yes, that scenario is an oversimplification, but the point is that we are part of a world oil market whether we like it or not. To the extent that additional domestic drilling increased the total world oil supply it could lower prices somewhat, but it just isn't realistic to suppose that "Drill, Baby Drill" in the US can increase world oil supply enough to make a significant difference in WORLD oil prices.

If we really want energy independence we need to wean ourselves off oil as a transportation fuel. We will still be affected to oil price fluctuations because our economy and that of other nations are inextricably intertwined and if overseas economies get hammered by oil price rises it will affect everyone. But we will be somewhat insulated from the worst effects.

My hope is that all the world can reduce oil use for transportation purposes so that it will become a smaller, less influential, part of the world economy and oil can be used for more useful purposes, such as in the petrochemical industry.

Someday, maybe...

· · 5 years ago

I wish I could edit my posts, I meant "affected by oil price fluctuations" or "subject to" not the meaningless "affected to".

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