Turning Over the All-New 2013 Nissan LEAF
The Nissan LEAF is now an American-made car, with many running improvements, and I got a chance to pilot one of the first off the line in Tennessee during the run-up to the 2013 New York International Auto Show. The car was great, too bad about that killer New York traffic.
A Slew of Upgrades
Sitting immobile in congestion in an electric car is just like in a gas vehicle, only quieter. The LEAF SL I drove—built just three months ago—was going nowhere fast, though I did get to see many of the upgrades in action, including the electric (not cable-operated) charge door release, the slicker climate control, and (more importantly) the much-improved heat pump-based cabin warmer, which had us toasty in 30 seconds flat. I sat on leather seats, too, something not possible in earlier LEAFs (it’s now part of a premium package).
The LEAF is in three models now, the base, plus the SL and SV. Brendan Jones of Nissan is willing to go out on a limb and predict that the mid-range SV ($31,800 before the $7,500 income tax credit) will claim 55 percent of the market; the upscale SL ($34,840) 25 percent; and the new base S ($28,800) just 20 percent. “For a base model trim, that’s a big play,” Jones said. “The base models are often in the 10 percent range.”
A Big Sales Jump?
With sales of 9,819 in the 2012 calendar year, and 1,303 to date in 2013, the LEAF is falling far short of projections. And that’s why Nissan is really sweetening the pot on the offering. The cheaper price (down $6,000 on the entry-level model) is complemented with a host of improvements, some of which are responding to consumer preferences. Minor improvements in aerodynamics (from a .29 to a .28), improved regenerative braking (with a new “B” setting that really dials it on—I felt like a MiniE driver), software upgrades, and some modest weight reductions (100 pounds) have led to a slightly better EPA range rating—75 instead of 73 miles.
In the real world, with a 100 percent charge, the LEAF is supposed to now get 84 miles on a charge, but the EPA test process doesn't give full credit for these improvements.
Even the Stereo is More Efficient
Is there more? You bet. The 3.3-kilowatt charger is still in the base car, but the upper strata gets a twice-as-fast 6.6-kilowatt unit, which has been relocated up front to increase cargo space. What you see under the hatch now is the woofer for the Bose stereo (in models so equipped). That Bose unit is a real tour de force, cutting electric consumption by 50 percent compared to standard installations.
A more efficient amplifier means smaller cooling fins, and a much smaller and lighter (650 grams vs. one kilogram) unit overall, explains Bose’s John Pelliccio. The speakers are also smaller. Versions of this stereo are also in the Chevy Volt and Fiat 500, but this is the first application in an all-electric car.
Staying With CHAdeMO
The 110 charger has been redesigned so the plug stays in the wall, but the CHAdeMO fast-charge port is staying put, despite the imminent arrival of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ “combo” plug (Level 2 and Quick-Charge alI in one unit). “Nissan is committed to CHAdeMO,” said Higginbotham. “We’re not making any changes there unless something happens in the marketplace.”
The Chevrolet Spark EV is the first electric car I’ve seen with the combo plug, but it’s likely to become more widely deployed as American and European automakers play catch-up with pure EVs in the American market. Since LEAFs with CHAdeMO are ubiquitous, we’re likely to see fast chargers with wands for each choice.
Higginbotham was still talking, and I was inching along in bumper-to-bumper traffic near the old West Side Highway. I abandoned plans to visit Grant’s Tomb and turned the car around, achieving my fastest times of the day in the parking lot at Chelsea Piers. Yes, electric cars are city cars, but New York traffic presents unique challenges.
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