Leaf Rolls to Pure Electric Lead

[2014 Update] The predictions of success may have been a bit too optimistic, but the Nissan Leaf continues to roll forward with another record month in August 2014 with more than 3,100 sales, almost 19,000 for the year so far and a cumulative 60,000 U.S./130,000 worldwide since its introduction in 2010. It’s not  what they had hoped, but the trend is moving in the right direction. Some of the early

Rumors abound of new options for the 2017 Leaf with a larger battery pack option (a la Tesla) that could double range. More as that develops.

In the meantime the Leaf remains the poster child of affordable, functional EVs.

2011 Nissan LEAF with 100 Mile Electric Range

Over 10,000 Nissan LEAFs are now on U.S. roads. By December 2012, Nissan will have delivered 100,000 LEAFs globally. The LEAF is a pure electric with no gasoline tank. This sleek 5-door hatchback seats five. The electric range is 100 miles on the U.S. EPA LA4 city drive cycle. Go 70 miles per hour on the freeway and your battery will be near empty in 60 miles, nor will you get the full range climbing mountain roads.

My wife and I (John Addison) have been delighted with driving our LEAF since we took delivery in April. Living in a city, Marci only needs a 40-mile range for her speech therapy work at two schools; living two blocks from transit and car sharing, I rarely need one. For long-trips, or times when we both need a car, we drive our hybrid for driving longer trips rather than flying. 80 percent of the time, the LEAF is the only car either of us drive. We have never run out of charge, but we have been grateful for public charge stations on a number of occasions.

The LEAF is ideal for many who live in a city where range is rarely an issue, and where transit, car sharing, and car rental are also available. The average U.S. suburban household has two vehicles, so the EV could be ideal as one of those two. For many people, this will not be the best vehicle because the range limitation will not meet their work or personal demands. These people should consider a plug-in hybrid or car with great mileage.

This car is high-tech. The LEAF SV model includes an advanced GPS navigation system. You can control and monitor battery charging and even pre-heat/pre-cool and charging control with your smart phone. The LEAF has Internet/smart phone connectivity to the vehicle, and, Bluetooth connectivity; intelligent-key with push button start, Sirius/XM satellite radio capabilities, and roadside assistance with the vehicle wirelessly notifying a support center. The SL model also includes a rearview monitor, solar panel spoiler which supplies a trickle charge, fog lights, and automatic headlights.

How much did your last gasoline fill-up cost? $20? $40? $80? Your electric utility will typically charge you $3 to fill-up your LEAF. Your electric utility may offer low rates to encourage low-cost nightly fill-ups when electricity is available and cheap; these fill-ups may only cost a dollar.

Nissan LEAF Price

Nissan has dropped its Leaf prices and now retails them in all 50 states for less than $30,000. That’s before:

  • $7,500 federal tax credit + state incentives
  • 8 year / 100,000 mile drive system and lithium-ion battery warranty

We’ve tested the LEAF

Electric Drive System

Nissan LEAF is powered by 24kWh of laminated lithium-ion batteries made by the NEC-Nissan JV, which generate power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm. This ensures a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience that is in keeping with what consumers have come to expect from traditional, gasoline-powered automobiles. The LED head lights reduce battery demand at night.

The Nissan LEAF includes an 8 year, 100,000 mile warranty. Since Nissan’s 24kWh lithium battery pack is likely to be half of the vehicle’s cost, warranty life will certainly be an issue. Some that normally buy will lease.

Charging

The car includes covered connectors for 110 volt changing and 220 volt J1772 smart charging. Although Nissan explored the idea with Better Place of battery swapping, or a separate battery lease, neither is being offered in the United States at this time. In 8 hours you are good for another 100 miles with a Level 2 AC220V home-use charger; in 26 minutes you can be 80 percent charged with a Level 3 DC 50kW quick charger. The 440v Level 3 chargers are scare, expensive, and certainly not for home use.

The LEAF is ideal for those who can install a charging unit in their garage. Many drivers, however do not own a garage, so a hybrid or public transportation may be better choices. Over time, we will see charging available at many employers and in multi-unit dwellings such as condos and apartments.

Green Features

Many of the early adopters of the 40,000 EVs on U.S. roads use renewable energy (RE) to charge their vehicles. The RE can be solar or utility provided renewables. Electric car critics and opponents claim that EVs will only result in more coal power. So far this has not happened. Even if coal power were used, the 70% efficient EV uses far less energy than the typical 15% efficient gasoline powered vehicle.

The LEAF and charging unit is designed for smart charging. Through an Internet browser, smartphone, or the car’s display, you can set-up a preference for nighttime charging when unused electricity is available on the grid. When your utility provides for it, you can set-up a preference to charge when excess RE is available. At your fingertips, you can override a normal preference.

Much of this electric car is designed for recycling, and recycled materials are used in building the car. 98 percent of the lithium batteries are expected to be reused in stationary applications or recycled. Nissan LEAF makes extensive use of recycled and recyclable materials, such as seat fabric, instrument panel materials, and front- and rear-bumper fascias. The LED head lights reduce battery demand at night.

Space

The 2011 LEAF offers more space than it would appear from an outside glance. You can seat 5 passengers. When it was brought to San Francisco, then Mayor Gavin Newsom at 6 foot, 3 inches, comfortably got in the driver’s seat. He also fit in the back seat. The 60/40 split fold-down rear bench seat is easily lowered when we load the car with school supplies, sporting equipment, bicycles, and luggage.

Safety

Safety features include vehicle dynamic control (stability control), traction control and six airbags. Nissan has included a number of safety features in the Leaf including:

  • 3-years of roadside assistance including in price
  • Advanced air bag system (AABS)
  • seat-mounted driver and front-passenger side-impact supplemental air bags
  • front-seat active head restraints (AHR)
  • pipe-style steel side-door guard beams (all side-doors)
  • Zone body construction with front and rear crumple zones
  • Energy-absorbing steering column
  • Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)
  • Vehicle dynamic control (VDC)
  • Traction control system (TCS)
  • SL Model review monitor provides a video display of the rear camera for safer backups and parking.

Specs

Dimensions

  • Length: 4445 mm / 175.0 in.
  • Width: 1770 mm / 69.7 in.
  • Height : 1550 mm / 61.0 in.
  • Wheelbase: 2700 mm / 106.3 in.
  • Weight 3,200 to 3,400 pounds.
Driving range over: 160km/100miles (US LA4 mode)
Max speed (km/h): over 140km/h (over 90mph)
AC Motor
  • Max power (kW): 80kW
  • Max torque (Nm): 280Nm
Battery
  • Type: laminated lithium-ion battery
  • Total capacity (kWh): 24
  • Power output (kW): over 90
  • Energy density (Wh/kg): 140
  • Power density (kW/kg): 2.5
  • Number of modules: 48
  • Charging times: home-use AC200V charger: less than 8 hrs
  • Optional quick charger DC 50kW (0 to 80%): less than 30 min
  • Battery under seat & floor

 

Future

Nissan started with a 50,000 car per year LEAF production in Japan. Nissan added U.S. manufacturing in 2013. The Tennessee assembly plant will grow to the capacity to build 150,000 Nissan LEAF electric cars per year, and 200,000 lithium-ion battery packs per year. The lithium packs also are used in Nissan’s hybrid cars. Within three years Nissan will be in volume manufacturing of the LEAF in the United States, Japan, and the UK. Nissan is going after the global market just as petroleum prices near triple their 2008 low and as major cities impose congestion fees for non-zero-emission vehicles and they have a lead worldwide in EV deliveries.

Other Cars to Investigate

Electric Cars. Nissan is facing battery electric competition from the Tesla Model S on the high-end and more directly from the Mitsubishi i, Ford Focus EV, Toyota RAV4 EV, Honda Fit EV, Chevy Spark EV, BMW i3, Smart fortwo EV and Fiat 500e with more to come. Top Electric Cars Report

Plug-in Hybrids may be a better answer if you only have one car and need greater range at times. With a plug-in hybrid, when your lithium battery is near depletion, a gasoline engine engages, giving you hundreds of miles of added range between charges or gasoline fill-ups. You can order a Chevy Volt with a 40-mile electric range, a Toyota Prius Plug-ins with a 14-mile electric range or a Honda Accord plug-in while Ford has both the Fusion and C-Max with plug-in versions. On the high-end, Cadillac just added the ELR, Porsche has a Panamera plug-in.  Top Electric Cars Report

Neighborhood EVs. There are 40,000 of the GEM and other 25-mph low-speed electric vehicles on the U.S. roads in university towns, fleets, and retirement communities. With federal and local tax breaks, the net cost is often under $10,000. With the growth of electric cars and charging stations, sales may actually increase for cost-leading light electric vehicles. These will continue to be ideal for many fleet applications and the most cost-effective for short-range trips.

By John Addison (updated 9/14/11; original 4/27/10); updated by Michael Coates (9/14/2014)

Road Test: 2013 Nissan Leaf

Road Test: 2014 Chevy Volt