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Nissan Considering Free, One-Week Rental Car Loans For Leaf Owners

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On: Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 12:31PM | By: Chris Weiss

Nissan Considering Free, One-Week Rental Car Loans For Leaf Owners

Simply defined, range anxiety is the fear of being stranded by a dead battery in an electric vehicle. Just the way your cell phone can die in the middle of a conversation, the lithium-ion battery in an EV can die out in the middle of the road. But instead of just ending a call early (which could be a positive), a dead car battery will leave you without a means of getting home, and possibly in harm's way.

Range anxiety is one of the huge obstacles that purveyors of all-electric vehicles face, and is one of the key weapons for automakers that want to sell hybrids. The technology just isn't quite there to feasibly offer electric vehicles that have ranges comparable to gas models, and without a charging infrastructure to rival the gas-fueling infrastructure, range anxiety remains a prominent concern.

Nissan is considering a new way of addressing the fear by offering a free rental of a traditional, gas-engined car for up to one week a year. The idea behind this program is that it would quell owners' fears of running out of juice on extended road trips—say when jetting across the desert between LA and Vegas—while still letting them cash in on the environmental benefits of an all-electric vehicle on more controlled trips, like the daily commute.

According to the Detroit Bureau, Nissan is still considering the plan and it's not final yet. Nissan is currently looking at the program specifically for the U.K. market, but if it gives it the go-ahead would likely consider it for the U.S. as well. It's not clear if the loaner car would be offered from a Nissan dealership or through a rental car company. In July, Nissan announced a deal with Enterprise to offer Leaf rentals in eight cities around the country, so it's forseeable that they could tap into Enterprise's national rental network as an extension of this partnership.

The Nissan Leaf may have trounced the Chevy Volt in last year's bloated fuel economy pissing contest (367 mpg to 230 mpg), but when it comes to range, the Volt's hybrid powertrain leaves the Leaf hundreds of miles behind. The Volt gets 40 miles of all-electric driving before its range-extending four-cylinder kicks in and delivers an extra 300 miles. The Leaf, on the other hand, gets only 100 miles of all-electric driving and doesn't include a gas engine to extend that range. With both vehicles scheduled to hit the market later this year, the Leaf's limited range is a major vulnerability that Chevy will look to exploit.

While it's easy to calculate mileage and plan charging strategies for a short, daily commute, it's a little more difficult on longer trips, especially when driving into unfamiliar territory, as is often the case with a vacation. In this case, 100 miles of range seems frighteningly limited. Nissan's rental car loan strategy would allow drivers the extra confidence for longer trips while letting them reap the environmental and economic benefits that electric vehicles offer over hybrids. It definitely seems like a smart move that could help sway a few buyers from Volts and other hybrids to Leafs.

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