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We Drive Nissan's Leaf Electric Car

On June 15, the much-anticipated Nissan LEAF 100% electric vehicle went on sale in Australia. Not co-incidentally, this was also the day it was introduced to the media - including SILICON CHIP. We had a good look at the LEAF and took it for a reasonable (if all-too-short) drive. Were we a little impressed? No way! We were very impressed!

By Ross Tester

We’re going to resist the puns like “turning over a new leaf” and so on – we’ll leave those to other media. We were more interested in the technology behind this vehicle and just how it can fit in to our readers’ lives.

According to Nissan Australia’s Managing Director, the LEAF will be slow to take off (they’re only expecting to sell “hundreds of units” in the first year, compared to thousands of their conventionally-powered models) but eventually it, or its successors, will become the mainstream motor vehicle for many, perhaps even most, urban Australians.

This forecast mirrors the LEAF experience in the US, where it has been on sale since late 2010. First month sales were just 19, with 9674 sold in 2011 and 2613 sold between January and May 2012.

We’re talking years away of course. Like any new technology, there will be the “early adopters” but convincing the average Australian driver to accept electric vehicles is not going to be an easy sell. Especially as they are significantly more expensive than petrol or Diesel-powered counterparts.

But first, we’re going to nip some anticipated criticism in the bud.

When we reviewed the Toyota Prius/Honda Insight hybrids and more importantly the Mitsubishi i-MIEV (December 2001 and February 2011 respectively) we received some rather scathing correspondence, not criticising our reviews as much as the technology itself.

There were two sides to that cricitism and by extension, we believe some readers will apply them to the LEAF as well.

Green machine?

First was the condemnation of the electric vehicle’s “green” credentials but most strident was the criticism of their range. “Who would want a vehicle which only travelled 100+ kilometres before needing recharging and even then had trouble keeping up with traffic on a freeway,” they asked.

Let’s answer that question first: Considerable research by various bodies around the world has shown that the vast majority – 80% in fact – of urban commuters drive less than 100km each day. That includes Saturdays and Sundays, when they might be running the kids to sport, going on a picnic, to church, etc.

Indeed, Nissan’s “actual use” figures from 7,500 LEAFs in use in the USA reveal the average vehicle drove 60km per day with the average trip 11km in length. (We’ll look at just how Nissan gathered those figures shortly).

Therefore, contrary to the naysayers, electric vehicles are very well suited to the vast majority of urban commuters!

Nissan’s Australia’s CEO Bill Peffer put it best: “When you come home from work, you plug in your mobile phone to charge it overnight. Nissan LEAF owners will also plug in their electric car to charge it overnight . . .”

And don’t worry about keeping up with the other traffic – with a top speed of 140km/h and great acceleration, you’d be passing most of it. Just watch out you don’t get pinged for speeding!

Then comes the next (inevitable!) somewhat derisory question: “What happens when you want to go on holidays. You’re going to need a very long extension cord, ha ha!”  

Again, this demonstrates a total lack of understanding of typical Australians’ changing holiday habits. These days, they’re much more likely to fly to their destination and if needed, hire a car, 4WD, or whatever.

You’d hardly want to cram all the kids, luggage and so on into what amounts to a small car to travel from Melbourne or Sydney to the Gold Coast, petrol or electric powered.

If you really must drive distances, then an electric car is probably not for you (at least yet!).

As far as size goes, think Mazda 3 or Toyota Corolla and add a little.

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