If you had stumbled onto on a sunny day in late May, you might think you'd walked into a not-too-distant future.
In the parking lot by the , three nearly identical electric cars sat next to each other. Their owners, all Highland Park residents, were nearby, eager to talk about what compelled them to buy a car that doesn't have a tailpipe.
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"We're basically early adapters of the whole thing," said. He owns one of the three Nissan Leafs that were parked by the beach. The other two belonged to Ben Wallach and Mark Feierberg.
"The whole concept of driving an electric car was very alluring," Wallach said. The co-founder of Web2Carz, an online magazine that focuses on automotive news, Wallach was drawn to the Leaf because of how new the technology is. The sentiment is shared by Mandel and Feierberg as well.
"We're pioneers on this thing," Feierberg said.
A five-passenger, five-door hatchback, the Nissan Leaf is powered by an 80kW electric motor and 24kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which allows the car to drive about 100 miles on a charge. Listed between about $33,000 and about $38,000 depending on the model, the Leaf has been referred to as the first affordable, all-electric car. It comes standard with a navigation system, six-speaker audio system and keyless entry, to name a few of its features.
"It's not a glorified golf cart," Wallach said. "It's a real car."
Though it's still a niche vehicle, the Leaf has been building a buzz since it debuted in 2010. Consumer Reports noted the car's extremely low running costs, with an average cost of 3.5 cents per mile at the national average of 11 cents per kWh. The publication lauded the car's all but silent driving and sound handling, but noted that charging the car can take as long as 16 hours.
"It's an added bonus that I can help the environment," Wallach said.
Though none of the Leaf owners have run out of charge on the road, it is something they said they stay alert about. The charge only lasts about 100 miles, but can drop to as little as 60 miles if it's cold out because using the heater drains the battery. Looking for a place to plug in your car is sure to be more difficult than finding a nearby gas station (though charging stations can be found at throughout Highland Park).
"You have to be cognizant of the fact that you can't run out of charge or you will be stuck," Wallach said.
It's for this reason that all three owners agreed that the Leaf is the best second car a person could own. Though the Leaf isn't an ideal primary car yet, it's still one they're excited about.
"Everybody is kind of curious when they see it," Mandel said. He met one of the other owners when they drove past each other and honked in surprise.
And while it's still a ways off from the flying Delorean of Back to the Future or the self-driving cars of Minority Report, the Leaf's all-electric body is futuristic enough to turn heads.
"A girl rolled down her window and asked if the car drove itself," Feierberg said.