Cars.com Names the Nissan LEAF as “Eco-Friendly Car of the Year”
Cars.com, a consumer website aiming to help ordinary people choose the right car, has named the 2013 Nissan LEAF its “Eco-Friendly Car of the Year.” The LEAF’s competitors this year were the Chevrolet Volt and the Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen TDI, Cars.com executive editor Joe Wiesenfelder told PluginCars.com.
The LEAF “is accessible, high-volume, and most recently started to address the limitations that have kept people from buying it,” he said.
The limitations Wiesenfelder is referring to are price and charging rate. The price of the 2013 LEAF is nearly $6,000 less than its predecessor, he said. That was achieved through moving production domestically—to Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tenn.—and a minor downgrading of features on the base model, said Wiesenfelder. (Last week, Nissan announced a slight increase of $180 in the 2014 model.)
As for charging speed, most 2013 trip options now use a faster on-board charger. Before 2013, the LEAF only had a 3.3-kW charger that adds about 10 to 12 miles for an hour of charging. Now, except for the rock bottom trim option, the charger is 6.6 kilowatts, which doubles the number of miles to 20 to 25 miles added for an hour's worth of charging from a Level 2 240-volt source.
Gaining Familiarity With Mainstream Buyers
Cars.com considered that an important upgrade. It makes the LEAF accessible to a greater number of buyers, said Wiesenfelder. If that feature had been offered in earlier versions of the LEAF, sales might have been better, he said. “The car itself was the bottleneck,” said Wiesenfelder.
Still, there are enough LEAFs on the road now “that people who took a wait and see attitude are saying the cars are still out there, the cost of ownership turns out to be comparatively low, and they are proving reliable,” he said.
The LEAF commonly gets about 80 miles to a charge, but Cars.com didn’t consider that a major disadvantage, said Wiesenfelder. People who buy the LEAF are aware of range considerations, he said. “Some people want to drive a vehicle like that, one that is environmentally friendly and high-tech.” Also, the Cars.com staff had a LEAF for some months and “we found it absolutely was enough range,” he said.
Cars.com is seeing more searches for plug-in electric cars, he said, but not as many questions about the technology. “There were more questions when (the LEAF) was brand new,” said Wiesenfelder. “It is probably a good thing in many ways that people are less concerned” about the technology, he said. “People own then, and see them on the road.”
Plug-in electric vehicle sales nearly doubled in 2013 compared to the previous year, he said, and the single biggest contributor to that rise was the LEAF.
Evolution Is Important
The LEAF topped the Volt because the Volt “hasn’t evolved much in recent years,” said Wiesenfelder. Car companies commonly redesign vehicle models every three or four years—so the LEAF and Volt are both due for new versions. Since its introduction, the LEAF’s new features have been more dramatic than changes with the Volt, although the 2013 model had a jump in all-electric range from 35 to 38 miles, and the 2014 Volt is offered with a $5,000 drop in its starting price, down to $34,995.
The minimum standards every model considered for Eco-friendly Car of the Year are passing standard crash tests, being reliable, and have good fuel economy. Then Cars.com looks at how cars perform relative to other vehicles of their type, and the accomplishments of the model year vehicle being considered.
Eco-friendly refers to both ecology and the economy, said Wiesenfelder. Cars.com considers plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, and diesels because “people are interested in the three categories for both reasons,” helping the environment and saving money, he said.
Last year, the Toyota Prius was the Eco-friendly Car of the Year; in 2012 the Volkswagen Passat TDI won. The LEAF also won in 2011, soon after it was introduced.
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