2013 Nissan Leaf
This electric car is not for everyone, but it’s a great car for more folks than you would think
Nissan may be the most honest car company out there today because you will actually hear them say that the 2013 Leaf may not be the right car for you. What is this, a Miracle on 34th Street Gimbles and Macy’s lovefest?
So if the Leaf isn’t for everyone, who is it for and are you one of those that should own one? This is where the fun begins because if your lifestyle and driving pattern falls within the Leaf’s sweet spot, then the answer is a resounding–YES!
If you are not familiar with plug-in technology let’s lay down some basics:
• There is no engine so there are no tune-ups, filters and belts to change, oil to check or add, etc.
• There is single-speed transmission so there are no fluids or filters to service
• You will never, ever buy any type of petroleum product to make the Leaf go down the street
That last one is a doozy and should get your attention, especially if you are currently spending $300 – $500 monthly on gasoline for your work commute and around town driving. So with all this great news, what do you need to know since Nissan has already said the Leaf may not be right for you?
The single biggest consideration is how far you drive daily and, secondly, if you can you recharge the battery at your destination. It doesn’t sound like much, but these factors are no small thing when owning a plug-in car. Your days of leaving the house with a 1/4 tank of gas knowing you can stop and fill the tank at hundreds of stations in mere minutes are over. If you run out of electricity in the Leaf you will need to find a charging station and wait until the car has sufficient battery charge to get you to your destination (or back home). Is this enough to scare you away from considering owning a Leaf? Let’s talk about the car and what to consider before pushing the start button, then we will come back to whether a Leaf should be in your garage.
The 2013 Leaf is the second generation model; the first was introduced in the USA in December 2010. It has a 24kWh Lithium-Ion battery (Li-ion for short) powering an 80 kW AC Synchronous motor with 107 horsepower. Charging the Li-ion battery is accomplished through a regenerative braking system and two plug-in ports offering three charging speeds:
Nissan Gets Charged Up
• Trickle 110V 21 hours: Discharged to a full charge
• Normal 220V 4 – 7 hours: Discharged to a full charge
• Quick 480V 30 minutes: Discharged to an 80% charge
The regenerative braking system converts braking or coasting into electricity, which is stored in the battery. You will come to enjoy monitoring the battery charge and mileage range (metered almost instantly with dashboard gauges) when driving around town or coasting down hills. It is quite common to start an in-town journey, of stop-and-go driving, to return with more or only a few miles depleted from the beginning range. However, where the regenerative braking system does not offer any help in charging the battery or adding to the driving range is when on the freeway. Cruising along at 55 – 65mph over an extended period will result in the battery charge and driving range decreasing right before your eyes. And if you decide to drive like everyone else on the freeways (at least in SoCal where I live) then you will be driving 75 – 85mph, which has a decidedly negative effect on your battery charge and driving range.
So how do you drive a Leaf? The first goal is to keep it fully charged before taking any trip of length. Then, before even getting into the car, you must calculate the distance you will be driving before you would have the ability and time to plug-in again. It could go something like this…
You leave for work in the morning, commuting one way 45 miles, with 95 miles driving range. When at work you can plug-in at the trickle charge or 110V level for eight hours. You will get approximately 45 miles over this period put back into the driving range which means your return home commute is completely covered. This scenario does not account for any stop-and-go traffic which could result in driving miles being added through the regenerative braking system; if you hit enough slow traffic, you will have used very few miles of the original 95 you started with.
If this sounds close to your five-day-a-week routine, then you could replace your current car and never, ever have to stop at a gas station again. And since your weekend miles are most likely fewer than your daily commute, the Leaf would deliver miles and miles with no out of pocket (gasoline) fuel expense. But what to do when you need to drive someplace further than the Leaf can accommodate?
1) Suddenly, the Leaf becomes your “second” car
2) Rent a car
3) You sign-up for Nissan’s One-To-One Rewards Program where your dealer may provide a set number of days in a conventionally powered Nissan car. Note: Not all Nissan dealers participate in this program and each have different loaner car policies. Shopping between dealers to see which one in your area offers the most desirable One-To-One Rewards Program benefits should be part of your Leaf purchase research
One other safety net if you live in California and are a AAA member (check your state’s local AAA club) is that you can get an emergency Quick charge from one of their service trucks. Just like if you ran out of gasoline and AAA dumped a five gallon can in your tank, select AAA trucks are equipped with the 480V generator that will give you about 20 miles driving to get you to a dealer or other charge station. Please, though, do not rely on AAA to get you to your destination – just plan better.
When taking delivery at the dealership there is a 2+ hour education and introduction process provided by a factory-trained Leaf Specialist. You learn about all the systems, charging, driving and safety aspects of owning an all-electric vehicle. So rather than try and go over everything you would learn in that session, let’s hit some of the basics to give you a feel for the car and it’s technology.
I was driving the fully optioned SL model which came with the three charging options listed above, hard drive-based navigation with voice activation in a 7-inch color LCD display, Bluetooth, Bose Premium 7-speaker audio system with USB, Pandora link and Sirius XM, Homelink and Intelligent Key, which allows for locking/unlocking the front doors with the push of a button on the door handle.
The SL model has all the comfort and safety features you would expect on a nicely optioned car such as front, side and roof-mounted (curtain) Air Bags, anti-theft alarm system with engine immobilizer, heated front (bucket) and rear (bench) leather appointed seats, 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, split-folding rear seatback, heated and tilting steering wheel, power and heated outside mirrors, power door locks and one-touch power windows, rear view camera, fog lights, LED headlights and a Photovoltaic solar panel (for charging the 12V battery) mounted on the roof spoiler.
Nissan also has a technology called Carwings Telematics which allows, from a smart phone, to remotely check your battery charge and estimated driving range, begin and end charging (with a Timer function) and activate the climate control system.
The 2013 Leaf comes with three warranties:
Basic: 3 year/36,000 miles
Battery: 8 year/100,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 year/60,000 miles
The Leaf SL comes with 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, MacPherson independent strut front suspension and torsion beams in the rear, with stabilizer bars at both ends, electronic stability and traction control. Combine this with a low center of gravity, because the batteries are under the seats, and this car handles very well. The tight turning radius of 17 feet handles most neighborhood streets without resorting to a three-point turn.
Regenerative braking systems can sometimes be grabby as they are not only stopping the car but converting energy to electricity. The Leaf’s four-wheel antilock disc brakes (with ABS) stopped straight and true.
The Leaf gets-up-and-goes with smooth acceleration and 100 percent torque at any speed through the direct drive transmission. Merging onto SoCal freeways and getting up to 65 mph were not an issue. Once cruising at freeway speeds the Leaf is quiet, more like silent, and smooth with only minor wind noise. The low 0.29 drag coefficient comes from underbody flat panels, a rear roof spoiler and those “bug” headlights that are designed to redirect the airflow away from the car. The result of all this with the lightweight wheels and low-rolling resistance tires delivers a combined city and freeway EPA MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) of 116: 130 city / 102 highway.
At slow speeds the Leaf emits a whirring sound to alert pedestrians that this completely silent car is nearby. In reverse, a pleasant version of the annoying beeper found on delivery trucks lets people know the Leaf is backing up. Both are very useful as driving an all-electric car includes the responsibility of realizing that no one knows you are there and that you need to protect them.
Finding a comfortable seating position with the 6-way adjustable driver’s seat and adjustable steering wheel was easy. Headroom in the front is ample, even for the tallest drivers. The front bucket/rear bench seats can
Leaf’s Dash Is Full of Useful Data
accommodate four adults with good head and leg room. The large glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. The cabin environment is as quiet as the exterior.
Pushing the start button results in a pleasant chime that lets you know the car is ready to be driven. The two level dash layout includes all the gauges necessary to monitor driving range and battery charge levels with the video screen centered for easy reach and viewing. The gear selector is a round knob in the center console that gives you three options – Park, Drive and Reverse – and is operated similar to a joystick. You can also shift into B-Mode where the regenerative braking force and brake response are increased. Nissan has designed a simple-to-understand and use cockpit with all buttons, knobs and switches within easy reach.
When you look at the Leaf one thing comes to mind: aerodynamics. This car was built to slip through the wind with the least amount of resistance. Most critical comments center around the headlight design, but just like the Mini dash and the Juke front end, all styling tastes are personal and you will either like the Leaf headlights or not. Otherwise, the car has an identifiable contemporary shape with four doors and rear hatch, with the charging door on the nose.
The 2013 Leaf I was driving was the fully optioned SL model with a MSRP of $36,910, which included a $850 Destination Charge. Depending where you live and your taxable income, you could potentially reduce your final cost by as much as $10,000 through Federal and State programs. It is recommended contacting your CPA before considering a Leaf purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.
Leaf pricing before any Federal or State tax programs, but including the destination charge of $850 is:
Model S $29,650
Model SV $32,670
Model SL $35,690
For those in California, the Leaf automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker, which allows driving in the carpool lane solo. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Leaf just for this benefit.
Observations: 2013 Nissan Leaf SL
The Leaf drives and handles as good, or better, than a conventionally powered car and is very, very quiet. Therefore, placing it on your shopping list comes down to how far do you drive and whether this would be your primary vehicle. If you fall into that 90-mile round trip daily (or one way with a charging station) driving range, then the Leaf should be seriously considered.
You will enjoy the smooth ride with tight turning and the instant torque at any speed. The Leaf delivers a comfortable ride experience with peppy acceleration.
What you will fully enjoy and embrace is whizzing by gas stations and not having to pay attention to the odometer for your next oil change or major service appointment.
There is much debate on whether owning an electric or hybrid vehicle makes financial sense, and the payback timeline. Early EV and hybrid owners were trendsetters, but that has all changed. Because of improved range and technological advances, consumers today are buying an EV or hybrid because of their drivability, comfort, performance and of course, their low impact on the environment and the idea of reducing imported fossil fuels. This “Statement Ownership” has been recognized and encouraged by the government through tax breaks on electric vehicles and home fast charging systems.
So, where do you fit in as a future EV owner? If the majority of your driving is the in-town or short freeway jaunts and you have access to a conventionally powered car, then you are the perfect candidate to purchase an EV. Make sure to take a lengthy test drive, which replicates your longest and most common trip, as this is the only way to truly see if the Nissan Leaf is right for your lifestyle.
And of course…Happy Driving!
The Socal Selling Point for the Leaf
For related stories, check out:
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segments Future
California Helps Drivers Plug-in and Replace Clunkers
How To Find the Best Price For an Electric Car
Better Deal or Bitter Deal
While price cuts and low lease rates have been moving electric cars like never before, resulting in “sold out” models and tight supplies at some dealerships, there may be a dark side to the deals. Last week, ALG Inc., the organization recognized by the auto industry as the arbiter of the residual values for vehicles, cut those values for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids because of high incentives, price cuts and a potential glut of models, according to a report in Automotive News.
As an example, ALG dropped the predicted residual value of a Nissan Leaf after 36 months by about $2,500. ALG values are used by banks so any rates using residual values above theirs mean the manufacturer is subsidizing the lease, which of course negatively impacts income from a vehicle. A drop in residual value like the one for the Leaf could typically raise the lease rate by $70/month.
The Leaf hasn’t been the only one dropping its retail prices, as we have noted at Clean Fleet Report. Volt dropped its price on the 2014 model by $5,000, which of course resulted in price drops for the 2013 models still on the lot. Honda’s Fit EV, Smart’s ED, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, GM’s Chevy Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, the Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford’s Focus Electric all have discounted lease deals aimed to boost sales. And more new models are coming on the market during 2014, including the BMW i3 and Golf-e, with the former’s announced price indicating an aggressive marketing stance by BMW.
When discounts like this happen in the rest of the auto market and residual values drop, the impact on auto companies is clear. Profits on the discounted vehicles drop and the models are often dropped or given a redesign aimed at revitalizing or repositioning them in the eyes of the consumer. For new models, it is often the kiss of death.
The concern ALG expressed reinforces talk in the auto industry about the overall weakness of the alternative fuel vehicle segment. Since several automakers have said bluntly that the vehicles are being produced solely to comply with government mandates (California’s ZEV Mandate being the main target), many have questioned their sincerity in marketing the cars or commitment to produce vehicles if there is consumer demand beyond the mandated volumes. The exception to this sentiment appears to be Nissan, led by its CEO Carlos Ghosn, who has put his company (along with partner Renault) on record as aiming for mass market electric vehicles by the end of the decade.
So the lower prices have been moving electric cars at a quicker pace than the rest of the market (overall sales numbers, though, can be characterized as miniscule but promising). Chrysler said that after offering the Fiat 500e
Fiat 500e – Sold Out or Sell Out?
for the same lease price as its gas-powered models, its 2013 allotment of vehicles was sold out (though it declined to specify how many cars that was). Honda dropped its lease price on the Fit EV, which had been languishing on dealer lots, and suddenly the cars moved and dealers were clamoring for more. EV advocates used these incidents as examples of pent-up consumer demand for electric cars while automakers shrugged them off as fire sales that brought no return to the company.
Our conclusion: The drop in EV residuals is not a death sentence, but not a good sign. Residual values can change, as this drop shows, but the Leaf and the rest of the industry will need to show some sustained strength, as in substantial sales not propped up by lease deals and price drops. It’s far from a sin in the auto industry to discount models or offer incentives to move them, but because electric cars (and plug-ins and hybrids) are a new segment and still viewed somewhat skeptically by the industry, they have more pressure to be competitive. Remember, it took several years for the Prius to achieve a sales status where it was seen as anything other than a West Coast novelty, and now it sits among the top 10 of all cars in sales – after only 15 years on the market. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
How To Find the Best Price For An Electric Car
Nissan’s Ghosn Bets on EVs Winning
Recent Sales of Electric Cars, Plug-ins, Hybrids & Diesels
To transform the vehicle fleet, you need to work on both ends — accelerating the purchase of cleaner new vehicles and the retirement of old clunkers. The California legislature is sending a package of bills to Governor Brown’s desk that does just that. Taken as a whole, these policies will ensure Californians at all income levels enjoy the environmental, public health, and financial benefits of cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
Assembly Bill 8, authored by Henry Perea (a companion to Senate Bill 11, authored by Fran Pavley) extends funding for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which, amongst other things, provides rebates for new low and zero emission light, medium, and heavy duty vehicles. Senate Bill 359, authored by Ellen Corbett, provides supplementary funding needed to meet growing market demand for the same rebate programs. Together, these bills will ensure California remains the nation’s largest market for plug-in electric vehicles, with almost all of the nation’s medium and heavy duty electric trucks and about a third of the nation’s 130,000 modern plug-in cars (see green line below).
Meanwhile, Senator Corbett’s “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act” (Senate Bill 454) will help ensure the Californian’s driving those vehicles will have a place to plug them in when they’re not enjoying the convenience of re-fueling at home at a price that’s equivalent to dollar-a-gallon gasoline. Likewise, Marc Levine’s Assembly Bill 1092 will help improve access to charging stations for drivers who live in multi-family buildings.
Transforming the state’s vehicle market isn’t just about getting more clean cars off dealers lots, but also about taking the dirtiest vehicles off the streets. Senate Bill 459, authored by Fran Pavley, aims to reform the state’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program, which provides drivers with cash incentives to retire older, higher polluting vehicles and replace them with cleaner cars and trucks. It’s estimated that three-quarters of vehicular pollution in the state comes from one quarter of the cars and trucks on the road. While the state has had some success in helping people retire those older vehicles, the portion of the program which provides vouchers for consumers to replace those clunkers with cleaner vehicles has yet to be successfully implemented.
Senate Bill 459 will reform the program to help Californians, especially lower income Californians, both retire their old clunkers and replace them with more efficient cars and trucks. This will not only clean our air, but help families that spend a disproportionate share of household income on transportation expenses. Replacing old vehicles with even moderately more efficient vehicles can provide significant savings; upgrading to a 25 mile per gallon vehicle from a 15 mile per gallon vehicle would save a California driver approximately $1,600 every year.
It’s worth noting that about 95 percent of vehicle parts are recycled, so the package of policies described above will literally be turning old clunkers into cleaner, safer new cars and trucks, accelerating the transformation of the vehicle fleet, cleaning our air, and easing pain at the pump.
VW’s 2013 Jetta Hybrid
2013 Jetta TDI
Tale of Two Turbos:
Hybrid vs. Diesel –
Okay, let’s get this said early – diesel and hybrid owners are not looking for the same thing in a car. VW believes that and we think they’re on the right track. Oh sure, both buyers want a quality vehicle that delivers high fuel economy, but there is something very different in their reason for choosing one of the two vehicles, according to VW’s market research. However, having the opportunity to drive the 2013 Jetta Hybrid and Jetta TDI back-to-back for a couple of weeks, I think the line between the two is pretty blurred.
Each car was fun to drive with good comfort and plenty of power, especially the TDI, which, when tromped-on was a blast. More on this later. Let’s start with what VW has accomplished with these two cars – excellent fuel economy.
Jetta Hybrid: Quiet and Smooth
The 2013 Jetta Hybrid is rated at 42 City/48 Highway with an average of 45 mpg. In my week of driving, which included about a third in-town and had me going from sea level to 4,700 feet on a 107º day (thanks VW for great A/C!) and plenty of jammed SoCal freeways, I averaged 41 mpg. The front wheel drive hybrid, powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged and intercooled gasoline (91 octane) engine and a 20 kw electric motor, are mated to VW’s seven-speed, dual-clutch Tiptronic automatic transmission. This combination generates a maximum 150 hp (at a high 5,000 rpm) with 184 lb-ft torque at 1,600 rpm. These two power sources make for smooth, fast acceleration with no turbo lag at any speed.
The VW hybrid system is constantly evaluating your driving style and based on the demand being asked of the car, it seamlessly switches between gasoline and electric including a nice option being able to drive up to 44 mph on electricity only when selecting “E-Mode.” They even have a “Sailing” mode where at freeway speeds the car runs on the electric motor if it senses a constant speed, the road is flat and the engine isn’t needed. VW so wants you to be in gasoline-saving mode that the Stop-Start feature kicks in and the Jetta is now cruising (Sailing) at freeway speeds on pure electricity. Turn-off the stereo and this is one very quiet ride. A light tap on the accelerator pedal turns on the engine again without any noticeable segue between the two.
And if you want to have some real fun, let me introduce you to the “Boost” mode. This is when cruising along in the gasoline engine and the need – or urge – to floor it invites the electric motor to join in and – Hello torque – off you go! I have to admit that just playing with the Boost was an enjoyable part of driving the hybrid and probably contributed to my getting less mpg than the EPA estimate. No hypermiling here.
I was driving the fully optioned Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium. The interior fit and finish were German tight, with a good mix of soft and hard plastics and no unnecessary fake woods or plastic chrome pieces. The heated leather
2013 Jetta Hybrid Interior
front seats were comfortable (with a 6-way partial power driver’s seat) and, combined with the adjustable steering wheel/column, Fender sound system developed with Panasonic, power moonroof/sunroof and rearview camera, made for a pleasant experience behind the wheel. The Sirius/XM option is always a guilty pleasure and other than the touch screen system taking some time to get used to, it all worked well.
The 60/40 rear folding seat with a ski pass-through opening provides a large storage capacity that is only slightly compromised by the 1.1 kwh battery positioned over the rear wheels. A few interior observations that are worth noting: If you like to sit low in the driver’s seat then your arm/elbow cannot rest on the top of the door panel, forcing you raise the seat higher than you might prefer. I also thought the center console was too wide as my right leg was pushed against it in the normal driving position, the sun visors could benefit from a wider and longer finger slot, and wondered why VW did not use rocker switches for the outside electric mirror adjustment and to operate the sunroof. Instead they use hockey puck shaped knobs that, while they work fine, detract from the sleek look of the rest of the interior. Plus I thought the pushbutton Stop/Start button and electric accessory dock were in odd places – both on the center console facing up.
Minor points, but as I said, worth noting.
The exterior of the hybrid has some styling features that differentiate it from the other Jetta models to increase aerodynamics and reduce wind resistance:
- a closed front upper fascia,
- underbody trays and side skirts and rear spoiler (the latter two also available on the GLI).
Overall, I liked the Jetta exterior styling with its clean lines and no useless cladding. VW calls this “class-up appeal” in which they offer more for less. I agree.
The Driving Experience
The 2013 Jetta Hybrid is quiet and smooth making for a very enjoyable driving experience. The SEL Premium model I was driving had 17” wheels and all-season tires, which provided good handling via the strut-type front suspension with coil springs and the multi-link, coil springs and anti-roll bar on the rear. Body roll was almost non-existent even when pushed above the recommended corner speed limits on some twisties I found in the SoCal mountains.
The Tiptronic transmission provides the option to manually shift when getting sporty and it worked like it should. One curious thing – why have this option and not provide a tachometer?
A good handling car of course is nothing without good brakes. The Jetta comes standard with discs all around, with vented fronts, and I experienced no fade with straight stops. The car comes with ABS, but here in Southern California where it has not rained in years, I will assume they work as advertised.
As mentioned earlier, the SEL Premium came with a 6-way adjustable, heated driver’s seat, which I was able to position in a comfortable driving position. At 5’ 9” I fit in all cars, including open wheel racers, so a true test was having a 6’ 1” associate sit in the driver’s seat and, when positioned, climb into the back to check leg, knee and head room. The Jetta accommodated my friend in comfort with room to spare for me in back.
And I can’t leave without mentioning the Bi-Xeron headlights that lit the road as bright as anything I have seen. This alone is worth considering the SEL Premium upgrade package.
2013 Jetta Hybrid MSRP
Base (Special Order) $25,815
SEL Premium $32,265
Note: Prices are based on most recent Internet-posted information and include destination charge (your local prices will vary, just like your fuel economy).
Jetta TDI: Powerful and Economical
The main difference in the Jetta TDI from the Hybrid is obvious when starting the car: you can hear it. The very distinctive diesel rumble is low in volume but, make no mistake, it is there. This just may be enough to keep some people from considering it over the gasoline or hybrid versions. But before doing so, give the TDI a lengthy test drive at your local dealer and you probably will find you can easily live with it.
The TDI model I drove was nicely equipped with Bluetooth, Sirius/XM and leatherette seats, which were comfortable, looked good and stood-in nicely for a more expensive leather version. But what my car had that was unexpected was a 6-speed manual transmission.
The manual has short throws with an easy-to-get-used-to clutch. There was no grinding and only one stall, when I forgot I was not driving an automatic – as I had been doing the previous week in the Jetta Hybrid. There is an Upshift light in the speedometer cluster that, if you follow it, reduces the fun of driving this car is reduced significantly. Of course doing so will maximize the fuel economy, especially when the light wants you to be in 6th gear at 45 mph. However, the TDI’s true economy comes at freeway speeds. In 6th, for example, at 80 mph the tach reads 2,000 rpm. Volkswagen rates the car at 30 City/42 Highway with 34 mpg average. In my 510 miles of 1/3 city and 2/3 highway I averaged 36.6 mpg and that included having some fun.
So what kind of fun can you have in the TDI with a manual? Well, this car, when asked, has instant, fast, push-you-back-in-your-seat torque that brings a big smile to your face. The driving experience might have been better had I had the Premium model with the 17” wheels.
Volkswagen has 75% of the passenger vehicle diesel sales in the USA and is #1 in sales versus diesel competitors. And there is little on the competitive horizon to knock VW off that perch especially since they will have a new TDI engine and additional diesel models coming in 2014.
2013 Jetta TDI MSRP
Base w/ Manual $24,015
Base w/ Auto $25,115
Premium w/ Manual $25,675
Premium w/ Auto $26,775
Premium w/ Manual & Navigation $27,135
Premium w/ Auto & Navigation $28,235
Note: Prices include destination charge and are based on current Internet postings at www.vw.com. Your prices will vary.
2013 Jetta TDI-Highway Performer
Observations: 2013 Jetta Hybrid vs. 2013 Jetta TDI
Way back at the beginning of this review I noted that diesel and hybrid owners have very different reasons for owning each vehicle. After my back-to-back drives, I will suggest that anyone considering a Jetta hybrid for its environmental statement also add the diesel to your shopping list.
The hybrid gets better fuel economy, rides smoother, is quieter and fun to drive, especially when the Boost mode kicks-in. But the diesel engines of 2013 burn clean, are smoke-free, get very good fuel economy and offer a torque/acceleration experience found on more expensive cars.
So which to buy? You will have to run the numbers of an approximate $2,000 base price premium for the hybrid against the number of miles you drive and of course, your personal needs. If you drive mostly in the city or with significant freeway stop-and-go traffic, then making the hybrid investment may well be worth your while. If you do mostly open freeway driving, then the diesel will deliver mpg in the high 40 range, which is oh so great.
You will not go wrong with either decision and of course – Happy Driving!
Story and photos by John Faulkner
VW Passat TDI had a record month
August was a high-water mark for some of the pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids, stoking hopes that these alternatives were starting to gain traction in the market. The year 2013 is two-thirds over and auto industry sales overall are doing quite well (up 14 percent compared to July 2013, up 17 percent compared to August 2012 and up 9.6 percent over the year-to-date compared to last year). The record sales this month by the Passat TDI, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf show that high mileage vehicles are definitely high on consumers’ shopping lists. More models continue to come onto the market, broadening consumer choices and adding to the ongoing discussion of fuel economy.
At this point in the year it is safe to say that the slice of the market held by hybrids, plug-ins and diesels will end the year near five percent of the overall market, which it topped in August by a good margin as all three sectors grew. As we’ve seen all year, each month may present a slightly different order, but the Top 10 vehicles are relatively consistent and a couple models on the margins of the sales numbers shuffle places among the top 14 or 15. That said, we also are seeing a couple distinct tiers of sales in this diverse group.
On top of the group – always – is the Toyota Prius. With a several year head start on most of the other cars on sales, it’s sales are typically triple those in the next tier. The second tier are the models breaking into the mainstream, selling well enough to assure their continued existence in the market, but well below the Prius level. At this level the VW diesels – Jetta and Passat – are joined by the midsize Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion hybrids as well as two Prius variants, the c and V and the Ford C-Max hybrid. In August the Chevy Volt also joined this group although its year-to-date sales drop it into the third tier.
The third tier is more crowded and is where the most shuffling takes place on a month to month basis. Looking back over the first eight months of the year this group would include the Volt mentioned above, the pure electric Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Tesla’s Model S. Knocking on the door of this group are a variety of hybrids – The Lexus CT 200h, Kia Optima Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Malibu Hybrid and Toyota Avalon Hybrid. Of note in this group is the fact that most of them are cars sharing technology with others in their corporate family so the incremental costs of the technology is spread across more platforms. Their sales numbers may not be as critical as what they add to the cumulative totals of hybrid sales for Toyota-Lexus, Hyundai-Kia and General Motors.
Details on sales for the first eight months of the year as well as the month of August (parenthetically) follow. It’s shaping up to be a solid year for these high mpg cars.
1. Toyota Prius – 106,448 – (16,157) The Prius is unchallenged as the leader among all of the alternatives, a mainstream car and something for the rest of this group to aspire to. It captures almost a third of all hybrid sales
Toyota Prius sells in a different level
and is charting among the top 10 selling cars in the overall market.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 32,756 – (4,729 The Camry’s hybrid version is a solid second best among hybrids for the year though in August it dropped to fifth in sales in the group.
3. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 31,151 – (5,876) The clean diesel standard-bearer is pushing toward the top of the second tier, in August once again second only to the Prius Liftback in sales. It accounts for fully one-third of diesel sales at this point.
4. Toyota Prius c – 29,850 – (5,478) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers and had a strong August. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup helped Toyota to a 1-2-3 podium finish among hybrid sales, Ford is mounting a challenge.
5. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 26,891 – (3,694) The flagship of fuel economy at Ford is leading a challenge by that automaker to Toyota’s dominance of the hybrid segment, although its approach to fuel economy includes also plug-in versions of the Fusion and C-Max, an all-electric Focus and its conventional EcoBoost engines.
6. Toyota Prius V – 25,976 – (3,932) The Prius “wagon” is having a good year, helping Toyota to continue to take four of the top six spots in this survey.
7. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 25,122 – (4,470) The Jetta’s “big brother” had a great August, setting sales records for the TDI version of the midsize model. The two VWs give the company a dominating position in the diesel market similar to Toyota’s with hybrids.
8. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 22,536- (2,411) Ford’s hybrid “wagon,” along with the Prius V, demonstrates that there is a clear demand for more versatility along with good fuel economy. It’s the top-seller among new models for this year.
9. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 14,354 – (2,303) Hyundai’s hybrid models flies under the radar somewhat, but with the Kia Optima Hybrid using the same technology their combined sales are almost at the Toyota Camry Hybrid level.
10. Chevrolet Volt – 14,994 – (3,351) The Volt had a record August as it dropped prices in the hotly competitive plug-in market. It’s 2014 model will be on sale soon and likely will continue its strong performance.
11. Nissan Leaf – 14,123 – (2,420) A strong August looks to keep the Leaf on track for a good year and just kept it out of the Top 10 by a few hundred sales.
Tesla’s Model S – surprise top seller
12. Tesla Model S – 13,150 – (1,700) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers (they release the official ones when they report their quarterly earnings so we should know real numbers in two months), but production has been steadily increasing during the year as the company fills its orders for its expensive, but exquisite sedan and begins ramping up exports. If the production continues to increase, it could potentially move up this survey, though realistically it will remain in the bottom group. It does have the “honor” of being the most expensive car in this list by a good margin.
Bubbling below the Top 10 (or 12 in this case) are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid, Chevy Malibu Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid and Lexus CT 200h Hybrid don’t rack up big numbers, but they add to the strength of the segment – and cumulatively accounted for more than 50,000 additional hybrid sales.
Something to keep an eye on are new models just coming into the market that might make an impact in the second half of the year. The new hybrids include the VW Jetta Hybrid and Audi Q5 Hybrid – new hybrid models for the best-selling cars for those two brands. In the diesel world the big news is the Chevy Cruze Diesel, which went on sale in June and appears to be a slow starter, while a Ram 1500 Diesel pickup and Mazda6 Skyactiv-D Diesel will be out later in the year. Plug-ins will welcome the Chevy Spark EV and Toyota RAV4 EV, both of which are being priced competitively to try to stimulate sales in this portion of the market.
Posted August 8, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
Other similar stories you might like:
The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy–Finally
Electric Car Price Wars
The Top 10 Markets for Electric Cars