Final Inspection

Black as Green as Blue

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The car color Henry Ford made famous is drawing little love from the crowd lining up to purchase the first batch of Nissan Leaf electric vehicles.

To simplify production and keep costs down, Nissan will follow a game plan reminiscent of the Model T, building the Leaf with a single standard interior and just five exterior colors for now.

Of the 19,000 buyers who have reserved a Leaf, going on sale in select U.S. markets in December and rolling out nationwide by the end of next year, 34% haven chosen Blue Ocean, which appears quickly to becoming the cutting-edge sedan’s signature shade.

Next popular is silver at 27%, followed by white (19%) and red (14%).

Black, which paint supplier Dupont says is the second most popular car color in the world, is dead last on the Leaf depth chart, with a 6% take rate.

Nobody knows for certain why the color isn’t drawing much interest, but Mark Perry, Nissan North America’s director-product planning and advanced technology strategy, thinks it may have to do with the bad rap black gets from environmentalists.

Because black absorbs more heat from the sun, many believe it forces air conditioning to work harder to cool a car’s interior. In an effort to save the ozone, California went so far as to propose regulations paint suppliers say would have resulted in a de facto ban on black exteriors, but later backed down after a barrage of criticism from the blogosphere.

Anything that might draw more energy from an EV’s lithium-ion battery pack and deplete the car’s driving range is a no-no for early adopters of the emerging technology. And that may be what is causing Leaf buyers to gravitate to the lighter colors.

“It’s too bad,” Perry says. “The car looks great in black.”

So will a black exterior make the Leaf’s air conditioning run harder, as suspected?

Perry says he asked Nissan engineers in Japan that exact question and was assured the car’s color has absolutely no impact on A/C load.

So, all you eco-warriors lining up to purchase a Leaf may want to take a second look. Black not only is beautiful, it may be more environmentally friendly than you think.

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David E. Zoia

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