Leafless in Nevada

Crossing the border for a car

Chuck Swackhammer in his all-electric, zero-emission Nissan Leaf.

Chuck Swackhammer in his all-electric, zero-emission Nissan Leaf.


More information about the Nissan Leaf is at NissanUSA.com.

Chuck Swackhammer was driving his new Nissan Leaf one day when a guy on a motorcycle pulled up beside him.

“I work for Nissan. How did you get a Leaf?” he said.

Swackhammer replied, “I live in California.”

Swackhammer lives just a few hundred feet inside California, making his the closest Leaf—an all-electric, zero-emission vehicle—to Reno.

There are no Leafs in Reno yet, because Nissan didn’t think Nevada’s electric vehicle infrastructure was ready for them yet.

The Leaf is a rare thing: a mass-marketed, relatively affordable, mid-sized, all-electric, zero-emission vehicle. It has a range of 100 miles on one charge and starts like a computer, with the push of a button. There are two gears: drive and reverse. It’s relatively spacious, with room for five plus cargo space. It can go 95 miles per hour, drives smoothly, accelerates quickly, handles curves without flinching, and has air conditioning, heating, satellite navigation and a stereo. Unlike its small, bumper-car like predecessors, the Leaf is extraordinary in its normality—it just feels like a car.

“This is the first time in my life that doing the right thing actually saves me money,” says Swackhammer, adding that it requires no gas, no smog inspections, no tune-ups, and no oil changes.

Swackhammer placed his order for the Leaf last fall, and it arrived this spring. California—along with Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and Arizona—was among the initial wave of states selected to get the car first. Nissan chose these states because they were considered EV-friendly, with utilities that want to work with Nissan to make charging easier. Bob Tregilus, who along with Swackhammer is co-founder of the Electric Automobile Association of Northern Nevada, said via email that Nissan bypassed Nevada for its first—and even second—rounds of releases because the state government and NV Energy did not support incentivizing EVs. California, for instance, has a $5,000 rebate in addition to the $7,500 tax credit on EVs, all of which brought the $32,780 car down to about $20,000 for Swackhammer. There is also little EV infrastructure, like charging stations, in Nevada, though some efforts are underway to improve that now.

Corey Cunningham at Nissan of Reno said a demo of the Leaf is scheduled to be on its floor room in December or January, and pre-orders are expected to arrive in mid-January to early February.

Since getting his Leaf on April 29, Swackhammer has driven 2,700 miles in it, mostly because he can. He recalls his teenage years when people drove around just for fun, with no real thoughts about wasting gas. He’s getting that feeling back again. He pulls out a log of his trips: Between June 1-17, he drove 750 miles, using $7.46 of electricity. That’s based on the utility’s lower, off-peak rates since he charges the car at night. However, Swackhammer uses solar power at his home, so he pays nothing and emits nothing.

“I’m actually driving on sunshine,” says Swackhammer. “It’s a really good feeling.”