Nissan Leaf Blowing Away the Competition

The Nissan Leaf appears to be well-positioned to take a massive early share of its blossoming market. When the Leaf reaches US markets it has the potential to beat both the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Chevy Volt.
image from Nissan
by Ross Bonander

Specs:

  • Type: Dedicated electric vehicle
  • Class: 5-passenger hatchback
  • Manufacturer: Nissan Motor Co
  • Propulsion system: 107 hp (80 kW) front-mounted electric motor
  • Top Speed: 90 mph (145 km/h)
  • Vehicle range: 100 miles (160 km)
  • Fuel(s): Electric
  • Battery pack: Lithium-ion (24 kWh)
  • Time to full battery recharge: 4-8 hours at 220V
  • Price: $25,000-$30,000
  • Availability: 2010

The manufacturer says

"Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so Nissan Leaf purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience."

Overview

Hephaistos raised a bronze axe and cracked his father Zeus in the forehead, letting loose Athene upon the world, seemingly without precedent. This past August, during the opening ceremony at the new Yokohama, Japan headquarters, Nissan let loose the Leaf EV on the press. Although she is based on the Versa, the Leaf emerged, like Athene, from a carmaker that until then had almost no presence in green vehicle market.

And in the blink of an eye, they're poised to steal it.

How have they done it? The Leaf's designers purposefully made her uniquely normal–or as unique as necessary without going over the top. Nissan wants consumers to see the Leaf as an everyday real vehicle, a practical hatchback free of pretentions, and one look confirms that they achieved their goal.

That denial can only go so far. To support the vehicle and help prevent 'range anxiety', Nissan has partnered with eTec, which is using Stimulus money to install 2,500 EV charging stations in the states of California, Washington state, Tennessee, Oregon, and Arizona. Nissan will then contribute 1,000 Leaf vehicles to markets within these states so that they can make use of the stations.

What we like

The EV-IT system: Nissan's advanced intelligent transportation (IT) system equips the driver with information and choices to make concerning his driving radius, battery charge, and the closest charging stations.

Additionally, an iPhone app allows the owner to make a variety of charging decisions from a remote location. For instance, let's say it's a hot day and the interior is baking in triple digits. The driver can check the interior temperature and use the AC to cool it down before he gets there, allowing him to save battery power by cooling down the car while it's still plugged in.

What we don't yet know is whether Nissan will charge a monthly service fee for this or let the vehicle cost absorb it.

The instrument panel: The Leaf's two-tier instrument panel is a winner, giving the driver the basics at-a-glance on top, with more detailed information found below. Nissan has extended that spirit throughout the vehicle's spacious, classy interior.

The Twitter beat down: In August 2009, General Motors had the cynical audacity to claim the Chevy Volt's fuel economy to be a colossal 230 mpg. If they thought they could publish that figure without catching heat, they were wrong. The best response—if slightly immature—came the very next day from Nissan by way of Twitter: "Nissan Leaf=367 mpg, no tailpipe, and no gas required. Oh yeah, and it'll be affordable too."

The financing plans: According to Josie Garthwaite, writing for Salon.com, Nissan will initially handle financing for the Leaf. Although additional details remain scarce at this early stage, it seems as though Nissan wants control over initial financing so that it can control residual value and monthly payments; the higher it can set the former, the lower it can offer the latter.

What we don't

The audible injection:Nissan appears to be jumping on the bandwagon and looking for a way to eliminate one of the best features of an electric vehicle: its operational silence. In an effort to protect blind pedestrians, Nissan seems intent on adding an artificial sound. As a longtime pedestrian on the ruthless streets of downtown San Francisco, I appreciate car makers taking pedestrians into account, but let's be honest about this: most pedestrians aren't killed by cars, they're killed by the poor decisions of the people driving them.

Conclusions

The Nissan Leaf appears to be well-positioned to take a massive early share of its blossoming market. When the Leaf reaches US markets—even as a mere fleet vehicle—it has the potential to beat both the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Chevy Volt. But these vehicles hardly represent the full spectrum of competition facing Nissan.

In Earth2tech.com's Electric Sedan Smackdown, which pitted the Leaf against Tesla Model S and the Coda Sedan, the Leaf proved to be better funded, to have a higher expected first year sales volume, and an MSRP $15,500 cheaper than the Coda and $27,400 cheaper than the Model S. Its standard charging time is much higher than both however, and as one might expect, its battery capacity is also smaller. Still, I felt the Leaf came out ahead in the Smackdown.

And in a year when an uncertain public approaches electric vehicles for the first time, Tesla will read like "luxury", Coda like "who?", and the Volt like "hybrid?", while Nissan will sound like an old family friend.

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