Kamis, 07 Oktober 2010

First Buyers of Nissan Leaf Get a Trunkful of Perks



The first all-electric carfrom a major auto company, the Nissan Leaf, arrives at dealerships in December, but thousands of Americans are already learning that going electric can come with perks like no other car purchase.“It just keeps getting better and better,” said Justin McNaughton, among the 20,000 people who have reserved a Leaf. “My wife thinks it’s funny because at the end of the day, we’re just buying a car.”

Since Mr. McNaughton, a lawyer in Nashville, paid his $99 deposit, he has been bombarded with government incentives — promises of a $7,500 federal tax credit, a $2,500 cash rebate from the state of Tennessee, and a $3,000 home-charging unit courtesy of the Energy Department.

When he had questions about the Leaf, the answers came in a 40-minute telephone call from a senior manager in Nissan’s corporateplanning department.“You kind of feel like you’re one of the chosen people,” Mr. McNaughton said.

Precisely. It is all part of an unprecedented effort by federal, state and local governments to stimulate demand for cars that have zero tailpipe emissions — and Nissan’s pre-emptive bid to corner the all-electric market much the way thatToyotadominated the early hybrid market with the Prius.

The government subsidies are shaving thousands of dollars off the Leaf’s $32,780 sticker price, while other benefits are piling up, like free parking in some cities and the use of express lanes on highways usually reserved for cars with multiple passengers.In Tennessee, where a Leaf assembly plant is being built, Leaf drivers will be able to charge their vehicles free at public charging stations on 425 miles of freeways that connect Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.“

It’s almost shocking how many subsidies are available on the Leaf,” said Jeremy P. Anwyl, chief executive of the auto research Web site Edmunds.com. “We are putting a lot of money behind this technology.”

Nissan expects the typical Leaf buyer to fit a highly desirable demographic: affluent, college-educated consumers in their mid-40s who are both environmentally sensitive and willing to take a chance that electric technology will be as safe and reliable as internal combustion engines.

Better still, about 85 percent of the people who have reserved a Leaf do not currently own a Nissan, giving the brand exposure to a new audience. Interest in the car has been so great that the company has stopped taking reservations for the initial production run — the Leaf is being built in Japan, with assembly at the new plant in Tennessee beginning in 2012 — but Nissan has plansto sell as many as 500,000 electric cars worldwide by 2013.

The Obama administration has made electric vehicles a centerpiece of its drive to reduce the nation’s reliance on oil, and is pumping up subsidies with a goal of getting a million electric cars on the road by 2015. Proponents of electric cars also point totheir zero tailpipe emissions, though the electricity to charge the cars creates emissions.

So far the only electric cars available in the United States are made by small companies, likeTesla Motors, and are prohibitively expensive for most buyers (theTesla Roadsteris priced at over $100,000). Other automakers are in various stages of introducing electric vehicles to the market, and General Motorsis preparing to bring out the Chevrolet Volt, a $41,000 model that runs on electricity but is not all-electric because it has a gas engine to extend its driving range.

So for now, at least, the Leaf, which Nissan claims can travel 100 miles on a single battery charge, has the stage pretty much to itself. So Nissan is dedicating extensive resources to the introduction and is taking consumer outreach to new lengths.

The company has studied potential buyers in focus groups, on Internet dialogues and at Leaf “tour stops” at shopping malls across the country. Nissan has even hired a firm to make “home visits” to prospective buyers to make sure their garages are properly equipped for charging the vehicle and to answer other questions.“

These people are the visionaries who see the opportunity and want to be a part of it,” Trisha Jung, chief marketing manager forthe Leaf, said of the customers who had reserved a Leaf. “They will be demonstrating every day that this is a practical technology."

Mr. McNaughton, the Nashville lawyer, said he was unaware that he had even applied for a free 240-volt charging station for his home. But by filling out a questionnaire, he was selected to be one of 5,700 new Leaf owners to get the charging unit. In exchange, he agreed to let the EV Project — a $230 million national program financed by various government agencies, utilities and corporations — monitor his battery-charging habits.

A 240-volt home charging unit can give the vehicle a full charge in about eight hours, Nissan says.Ken Muir, an engineer in San Jose, Calif., had a similar surprise when he first saw the Leaf at a mall last year. After mentioning his interest to a Nissan employee, he was contacted by the head of Nissan’s West Coast communications team, who arranged for Mr. Muir to get a personal test drive.

After putting down his $99 deposit, Mr. Muir met for an hour in his home with a technician from Nissan’s supplier of charging stations. “It’s been really amazing to get this amount of personal attention from a huge car company like Nissan,” he said.He is also a bit giddy about the level of financial support he will get — the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as a $5,000 credit from the state of California, and another $2,000 federal credit toward the purchase of a charging unit.“

I’ve wanted an electric car for 10 years, but I never expected it to make this much economic sense to get one,” Mr. Muir said.The car itself will keep Nissan connected to its customers long after they drive it off the lot. A communication module installed in the Leaf’slithium-ion battery will send data to Nissan that monitors the condition of the battery and how it is being used. “It’s not a ‘Big Brother’ thing,” said Mark Perry, head of North American product planning for Nissan. If Nissan sees that a battery cell “has behaved outside the norm, we want to call you or e-mail you and say, ‘Come on in and let’s check it out.’ ”

The first Leafs go on sale in December in five states — California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee, all of which are places where the EV Project is building charging stations.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the voltage of home charging units. They are 240 volts, not 220.

Recipe Redux: The Community Cookbook


The following morning, coffee in hand in my gray cubicle on 43rd Street, I was greeted by a tidal wave of e-mail. People told meabout classics like paella (a recipe that took the former Times food editor Craig Claiborne five tries to perfect),

Le Cirque’s spaghetti primavera(a recipe so renowned that three people claim to have invented it) andforget-it meringue torte (which billows like a cloud in the oven). And for the next four years, Times readers continued to send tattered clippings, multipart e-mails and handwritten note cards detailing their favorite barbecue sauce, a treasured apple tart and showstopping Malaysian fish stew.In a memorable letter that I feature in the book, Neal O’Donnell of Corning, N.Y., recalled when The Times published Jacques P├ępin’s cold curried zucchini soup in 1975. O’Donnell wrote: “. . . during the week after the article appeared, I made that soup for a small dinner party to great acclaim. On the weekend, I was invited to another dinner, and the hostess served the very same soup. On Sunday the hosts of the Saturday party and I were invited to a large bash up on Keuka — one of our Finger Lakes and not far from the Dr. Frank winery. As our lakeside hosts ladled their chilled soup into bowls and sprinkled the top with the julienned zucchini strips, the three of us guests broke out in . . . boisterous laughter that I’m sure could have been heard across thelake and over the hill. You guessed it! ”The letters also contained readers’ passionate accounts of relationships with dishes they had been cooking for decades.

They wrote me about recipes that held together their marriages, reminded them of lost youth, gave them the cooking bug and symbolized their annual family gatherings. I began to see the Times community not as an amorphous, anonymous mass but as bands of rabid partisans. There were the seasonal-cooking fanatics, the chocoholics, the Claiborne devotees. And there were simply readers who, for decades, waited each weekend for thethwumpof The Times on their doorsteps so they could tear out the recipes and dash to the store.

These letters, and this project — which neither my publisher nor I thought would take so long to finish (it was originally due in 2006) — first led to this series of columns, which looks back at some of the most notable recipes. And then they changed the shape of my career.

My talented assistant(and now business partner), Merrill Stubbs, collated all these reader suggestions into a document 145 single-spaced pages long, comprising more than 6,000 recipes. That file sums up what, exactly, Times readers really love to eat — gazpacho, chicken, shrimp, salmon, crab cakes,meatloaf, chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, apple desserts, lemon desserts and coffeecakes — and which writers’ recipes seemed most inventive and easiest to make. I often joked that I should call the book either “Chicken and Dessert” or “Forever Bittman: The Best Recipes From the Recipe Writer We Love.” (W. W. Norton opted, alas, for the more sensible “Essential New York Times Cookbook.”)

Four of the top five most-recommended recipes were desserts; more surprisingly, four of the five were more than 20 years old:

  • 1983: Purple plum torte(265 votes).
  • 1966: David Eyre’s pancake(80 votes).
  • 1973: Teddie’s apple cake(37 votes).
  • 2002: Chocolate dump-it cake(24 votes — my mother’s recipe and a terrific one but surely a biased result as I asked for the suggestions).
  • 1973: Ed Giobbi’s lasagna (23 votes).

    For five years, Merrill and I cooked our way through that stack. It was a survey course in the food of the last two generations in America. As became clear, desserts experienced a major renaissance during the 1970s, when Times writers served ambitious cakes, extraordinarily sweet American pies and a novel concept called the French tart. We ate a lot of duck in the 1990s and none atall in recent years. We discovered faki, bobotie and baumkuchentorte, then promptly forgot about them. We learned to cookpastaand to sauce it properly, as well as how to roast vegetables, but we left a lot of great Germanic foods like goulash and spaetzle by the curb. We tried and largely failed to adopt Chinese cooking at home.

    Next, I began to investigate the century of recipes that predated living cooks. The Times’s vast 19th-century recipe archive waslargely user-generated and was published under the rubric “The Household.” Readers submitted housekeeping tips, health remediesand loads of recipes — much like an online forum. None of this material seems to have been vetted by editors, so readers were free to propagate a conviction that noses should be wiped by alternating left and right sides to prevent “deformity,” or that anxious people should eat fatty foods because fat around the nerves “smoothes them out.” “The Household” also inspired an inordinate number of antidotes for asthmatic canaries. These early recipes were dominated by a remarkably vigorous community — the equivalent of today’s “power users” — with frequent contributions from such readers as Aunt Addie, Mollie and Bob the Sea Cook. No one could outcook Aunt Addie: if you sent in a recipe for tomato soup, she’d raise you three tomato soups the following week. Mollie was hard-working and determined, if not the best recipe writer. (Measurements and techniques eluded her.) And Bob the Sea Cook was an amusing storyteller, if occasionally sexist and racist. In a recipe forlobster-and-chicken curry, for which garlic must be peeled, he wrote, “If there are any ladies on board, make them do it.

    ”Along the way, I created this column, Recipe Redux, to showcase both lost gems and reader favorites likeraspberry vinegarorcorncakes with caviar. Julia Moskin, a writer for the Dining section, gave me the idea to ask a chef to use the old recipe as a jumping-off point to create something new, as a way of capturing the evolution of recipes and recontextualizing the past. A1907 onion soup, for instance, was reimagined as a sweet and savory ricepuddingby a chef in San Francisco. Maida Heatter’ssavory popoversfrom the 1960s were tweaked to become sweet, cinnamon-scented puffs.

  • Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery


    Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana inthe online science journal PLoS One.Exactly how that combination kills bees remains uncertain, the scientists said — a subject for the next round of research. But there are solid clues: both the virus and the fungus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both do their dirty work in the bee gut, suggesting that insect nutrition is somehow compromised.

    Liaisons between the military and academia are nothing new, of course. World War II, perhaps the most profound example, ended inan atomic strike on Japan in 1945 largely on the shoulders of scientist-soldiers in the Manhattan Project. And a group of scientists led by Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana in Missoula has researched bee-related applications for the militaryin the past — developing, for example, a way to usehoneybees in detecting land mines.But researchers on both sides say that colony collapse may be the first time that the defense machinery of the post-Sept. 11Homeland Security Departmentand academia have teamed up to address a problem that both sides say they might never have solved on their own.“Together we could look at things nobody else was looking at,” said Colin Henderson, an associate professor at the University ofMontana’s College of Technology and a member of Dr. Bromenshenk’s “Bee Alert” team.

    Human nature and bee nature were interconnected in how the puzzle pieces came together. Two brothers helped foster communicationacross disciplines. A chance meeting and a saved business card proved pivotal. Even learning how to mash dead bees for analysis— a skill not taught atWest Point— became a factor.One perverse twist of colony collapse that has compounded the difficulty of solving it is that the bees do not just die — they fly off in every direction from the hive, then die alone and dispersed. That makes large numbers of bee autopsies — and yes, entomologists actually do those — problematic.Dr. Bromenshenk’s team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with theArmy’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Centernortheast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colonythe group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal.


    “It’s chicken and egg in a sense — we don’t know which came first,” Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other’s destructive power. “They’re co-factors, that’s all we can say at the moment,” he said. “They’re both present in all these collapsed colonies. ”Research at theUniversity of California, San Francisco, had already identified the fungus as part of the problem. And several RNA-based viruses had been detected as well. But the Army/Montana team, using a new software system developed by the military for analyzing proteins, uncovered a new DNA-based virus, and established a linkage to the fungus, called N. ceranae.“Our mission is to have detection capability to protect the people in the field from anything biological,” said Charles H. Wick,a microbiologist at Edgewood. Bees, Dr. Wick said, proved to be a perfect opportunity to see what the Army’s analytic software tool could do. “We brought it to bear on this bee question, which is how we field-tested it,” he said.The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain.

    The power of that idea in military or bee defense is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for.But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.The first steps were awkward, partly because the Army lab was not used to testing bees, or more specifically, to extracting bee proteins. “I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”The process eventually was refined. A mortar and pestle worked better than the desktop, and a coffee grinder worked best of all for making good bee paste.

    Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role.They said that combination attacks in nature, like the virus and fungus involved in bee deaths, are quite common, and that one answer in protecting bee colonies might be to focus on the fungus — controllable with antifungal agents — especially when the virus is detected.Still unsolved is what makes the bees fly off into the wild yonder at the point of death. One theory, Dr. Bromenshenk said, is that the viral-fungal combination disrupts memory or navigating skills and the bees simply get lost. Another possibility, he said, is a kind of insect insanity.In any event, the university’s bee operation itself proved vulnerable just last year, when nearly every bee disappeared over thecourse of the winter.