World's First Nissan LEAF Owner Counters Electric Car Myths, Says Chevy Volt Wasn't a Consideration

By · December 11, 2010

The world's first Nissan LEAF owner, Olivier Chalouhi (right), gets into his brand new Nissan LEAF for the first time with Nissan's North American President, Carlos Tavares (left).

The world's first Nissan LEAF owner, Olivier Chalouhi (right), gets into his brand new Nissan LEAF for the first time with Nissan's North American President, Carlos Tavares (left).

This morning, December 11, 2010, the absolute first consumer-ready example of the world's first mass-market, globally distributed, and relatively affordable 100% electric car was delivered into the hands of its first customer at a Nissan dealership outside of San Francisco, California, and PluginCars.com was there to mark the occasion. Given the relative obscurity, misunderstanding, and, sometimes, outright hostility that electric vehicles have lived under for much of the last 100 years, there are a great many who never thought this day would come.

This first delivery marks the end of an era of punditry and tongue-wagging that the coming wave of modern electric vehicles have increasingly seen over the last three years, and the beginning of a new era where actual consumers evaluate them and share their stories. It is likely that by the end of 2011 Nissan will have made more consumer-available OEM electric cars than have been made in the last 90 years. "This is a very big day," said Marc Geller, an electric vehicle advocate and founding member of Plug In America in an interview with PluginCars.com. "This is basically the first time a car company is selling mass market electric cars—and they are selling them without special conditions."

In what Nissan representatives call a "democratic" process—one which they seem to be altogether proud of—the gentleman to whom the absolute first Nissan LEAF was delivered is not an A-List celebrity (or even a B-, C- or D-Lister). Rather he is a quite normal tech industry employee from Redwood City, California, who just by the luck of the draw, happened to be the first person to get his LEAF order in when the opportunity opened up back in August.

And so, just by the luck of the draw, there are several things about the first LEAF customer, Olivier Chalouhi, that break some of the common misconceptions electric cars have often been associated with. Saying, "I think that there's too much attention on me" and that Nissan deserves most of the credit for this day, Chalouhi showed quite a bit of modesty on a day when he was the center of attention of much of the automotive world media.


Top: Proud owner, Olivier Chalouhi, sits in his new Nissan LEAF for the first time and shows off his set of keys.
Bottom: Olivier Chalouhi and Carlos Tavares, Nissan's North American President, stand in front of the Nissan LEAF talking about the lack of an engine and what it means.

So what makes Chalouhi an interesting case for being the first customer ever? For one, he is not a homeowner. No, he doesn't live in an apartment building, but he does rent a house and has gotten permission from his landlord to install what's called a "Level 2," 240 Volt charging station. In addition, although he is installing a Level 2 charger from AeroVironment, Nissan's official contractor for the faster chargers, it was a last minute decision—and instead of having AeroVironment do the installation for more than $2,200, Chalouhi bought the charging unit for $750 and then had his own electrician install it for a total cost of around $1,300.

The reason Chalouhi waited to so long to install the Level 2 station? Originally he was planning on just charging from a standard three-prong, 110 Volt wall outlet saying, he "[doesn't] really need [a Level 2] station" because he only drives 20 miles a day on his commute and his wife has a Honda Fit in case he needs to go farther than the LEAF can provide on any given day so a standard wall outlet would provide a quick enough charge for him. At the first delivery event, Chalouhi said that he was only purchasing the Level 2 charger now because he wanted to take advantage of charging station tax credits that may expire at the end of the year and he felt it would be nice to have a bit more "convenience."

Additionally, although Chalouhi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area—one of the most electric-vehicle-open-minded-communities in the world—the region is not part of the EV Project, which will oversee the installation of 15,000 public electric vehicle chargers during the next year. So, although San Francisco will see many public charging stations installed with the help of local and state funds, it will not be even close to the level that the EV Project regions will see.

One major misconception people commonly have is that large amounts of intricate charging infrastructure are required for EVs to be successful, but in Olivier Chalouhi we see that is clearly not the case and that electric cars can be acceptable even without Level 2 stations at home and all over your town.

As for whether or not Chalouhi considered buying a Chevy Volt as well, he was quick to say it wasn't even on his radar. He specifically chose to buy a Nissan LEAF over a Chevy Volt for several reasons: one, he was put off by the fact that Chevy dealers were given the ability to charge whatever price they wanted for the Volt, raising the price of an already expensive vehicle by as much as $20,000 or more; two, he felt the Volt was "really expensive" to begin with and out of the reach of the average customer that wanted to outright own the vehicle and not lease it; and, three, the Volt is not a "pure" electric model.

In the Nissan LEAF Chalouhi found that the buying process was more customer balanced, giving the customer the right to choose what dealer he or she wanted to go to based on what price that dealer was offering. North Bay Nissan of Petaluma, California—the dealership Chalouhi settled on, has been very active in the community of early EV adopters and has promised to provide good deals at or below MSRP to the first LEAF customers in the Bay Area. "We thought this was a great product and something really special, so we didn't want to let dollars get in the way of that," said Ben Hannah, General Sales Manager at North Bay Nissan. Indeed, the strategy seems to be paying off with the incredible amount of coverage the dealership has gotten as a result of putting the customer first.

So, while today's events are in the history books, we here at PluginCars.com were happy to be a part of it all and there's lots more content coming from the day so look for it to hit the site over the next few days.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.