Lee Walding customized his Nissan Leaf license plate.
CONYERS -- Lee Walding knows that his new electric car, the Leaf, is lacking somewhat in practicality.
A full charge on the Leaf's battery takes him about 80 miles, and the mid-sized vehicle costs roughly $40,000. It's not an ideal option for someone looking for an affordable car to commute to Atlanta or take on vacation.
Walding is confident that will change.
"The first cell phones were as big as my shoe and cost $1,000," said Walding.
"It's hard for the average person to justify this car because its range is limited and the cost is high, but in 10 years, when the car costs half as less and can go twice as far, it will gain popularity."
Until then, Walding and fellow Conyers resident Lee Depkin can boast they are the first two in Rockdale and Newton counties to own the Leaf, a five-door hatchback battery-powered car made by Nissan and released on the market in December 2010.
The two men reserved the vehicles over a year ago online, and finally had an opportunity to test drive one at a special event held in Atlanta in January 2011.
The test drives didn't disappoint. Walding purchased his car from the Nalley Nissan dealership in Decatur on Nov. 22 and Depkin obtained his from the Stone Mountain Nissan dealership on Nov. 30.
"It performs very well, handles well, it's roomy and comfortable, and has very responsive steering," said Depkin.
"Everybody who sees it the first thing they say is 'It's bigger than I thought,'" said Walding.
The Leaf requires the installation of a charging station at the owner's home. It takes about seven hours for the car to fully charge. The user can communicate with the vehicle via computer or smartphone to power it up while it's still plugged into the charging station.
Walding said he can commute to his job as a pharmacist at the Covington Kmart for a full week on a charge.
A self-confessed auto enthusiast who owns several gas-powered cars, Walding said he first heard about the Leaf (an acronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car) through an advertisement.
When he learned car owners get two energy tax credits, a $7,500 one from the federal government and $5,000 from the state, he decided to purchase it.
Walding estimates the cost for a full charge is about $2, equivalent to more than 100 miles to the gallon if he had a gas-powered car. While he knows he's not actually saving money on the car because of it's range and price tag, Walding views his purchase as an investment in protecting the environment.
"The car does cost me more than I'm saving, but I just like the idea of my little green contribution," said Walding.
He believes that as battery technology advances, he'll be able to keep his Leaf and simply have the battery upgraded. He's also allowed Nissan to monitor his trips through the built-in navigational system in the car for research purposes. He doesn't mind being a "guinea pig."
"They have to experiment with somebody," said Walding.
Depkin said advertisements for the Leaf didn't sway him to purchase it. Instead, a film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" sparked his interest.
The 2006 documentary explores the creation and eventual demise of the electric car, specifically General Motors' EV1. The film examines how several influences, including big oil companies, state and federal governments and auto manufacturers, led to the literal destruction of the cars.
"Without getting into politics, I think one of the major problems facing this country is our reliance on Middle Eastern oil, making us vulnerable," said Depkin.
A retired chemical engineer, Depkin said his Leaf is replacing his Mazda Miata. The Leaf is perfect for his lifestyle which involves short trips through Rockdale and Newton counties.
Depkin said hybrid vehicles, which use two technologies -- gas and battery -- didn't interest him because repairs and maintenance could be too costly. With the electric car, there are no oil changes, no filter changes, no emissions tests to take.
Depkin said this is the first time he's embraced cutting edge technology
"I'd like to see electric vehicles become a significant part of the fleet," he said.