Nissan calls the Nissan LEAF the "world's first affordable, zero-emission car." Unveiled on August 2, 2009, the LEAF is a well-equipped, all-electric hatchback that seats five adults and commonly travels about 80 miles on a single charge. As of summer 2012, the LEAF is available to test-drive and purchase at Nissan dealerships throughout the United States.
The Nissan LEAF is powered by a 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which generate power output of more than 90kW—while its electric motor delivers 80kW (107 horsepower). Altogether this allows for the LEAF to drive at speeds of up to 90 mph and deliver a 0-60 mph time of around 8 seconds.
As opposed to a combustion engine (which reaches its maximum horsepower and torque at higher RPM) the LEAF's motor has 100 percent of its torque available from a standing start. As a result, the LEAF has much better low speed performance than even some high-performance gas-powered cars and can hold its own throughout the acceleration from 0-60 mph. The LEAF has no transmission and does not need to shift gears as it accelerates, resulting in a very smooth ride. Also, unlike the continuously variable transmissions of most conventional hybrids, the LEAF is extremely responsive when its accelerator is pressed.
As almost every reviewer has remarked that the LEAF is a very easy car to drive. The steering is effortless and solid, and the car is stable in corners and during braking thanks to its traction control, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD). In addition, the heaviest object on the car is the battery, which has been put low and in the center of gravity to give it exceptional balance and stability.
Because of the quietness of the electric motor, driving the LEAF takes a bit of adjustment if you're used to hearing the whir of the engine. With the engine and emissions equipment gone, road and wind noise become more pronounced, but Nissan has done an excellent job of reducing those with sound insulation. Unless you have driven an EV before, the LEAF will be the quietest car you've ever driven.
How Do You Fill it Up?
If you're new to electric cars, gone are the days of driving to the gas station or navigating the fill-up rush after work. The Nissan LEAF has a 24-kWh battery pack that can be charged daily from the convenience of your own home. Since most people drive less than 40 miles a day and their vehicles spend about 80 percent of the time parked in their garages, the vast majority of charging will be done at home during the evening.
There are essentially three ways you can charge the LEAF's battery pack: standard household three-prong outlet, a Level 2 charging station, and DC fast charging.
The most common of these methods is Level 2. These are special purpose charging points that can be mounted on a wall or pedestal in your home, place of work, and virtually any other location that has electricity. They are capable of supplying a charge at 220-240V (just like the outlet for an electric dryer). While charging at a Level 2 station, a LEAF can add approximately 10 to 12 additional miles of range per hour. Charging from empty to 100 percent full at home, for instance, is estimated to take approximately eight hours using this method.
When competing all-electric models, such as the Ford Focus Electric and BMW ActiveE, were released with 6.6-kW chargers—capable of adding range at twice the rate of the LEAF’s 3.3-kW onboard charger—Nissan hinted that future models (as early as 2013) would have the faster capability.
The LEAF's battery can also be charged at locations that install industrial-level DC Fast Chargers—which can add about 60 to 70 miles of range to an electric car in less than 30 minutes. DC Fast Chargers have been slow to roll out in the United States—and the business models to support them remain challenging. Even a few DC Fast Charging stations could eventually prove very useful for EV drivers wanting to travel beyond local destinations. It's important to note that if you want to take advantage of the DC Fast Charging stations, you'll have to add a $700 option to the LEAF (only available in the SL model) at the time of purchase.
Charging from a standard 3-prong, 110-120V outlet at home (while doable with included equipment) is not recommended for everyday use. Charging from a standard 3-prong outlet is known as Level 1 charging. It’s slow, adding about 4 to 5 miles of range for every hour of charge, so it could take up to 17 hours to fully charge the LEAF's battery using that method.
How Far Can You Go?
Nissan advertises that the LEAF travels 100 miles, but that’s more than most drivers get on a regular basis. Factors such as temperature, terrain, extra cargo weight, and high speeds or aggressive driving could have a significant effect on your actual range. If you were driving uphill constantly, in subfreezing temperatures at 80 mph with four large adults in tow, your range could theoretically drop to as low as 50 miles on a full charge. The process also works as a benefit on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you were driving in very moderate temperatures at 45 mph without any passengers on a flat surface you could perhaps squeeze more than 100 or 110 miles out of a full LEAF battery.
In July 2012, LEAF owners from hot climates, such as Arizona, complained about a loss of as much as 15 percent of battery capacity due to high temperatures. At first, Nissan officials brushed off the concerns with banal explanations about variables that could affect range. But after bad press from repeated complaints, the company started taking the issue more seriously—expressing a commitment to “understand the root cause” of the problem. The LEAF employs a “passive” air-cooled system, while other EV makers, including Tesla, Coda and Ford, use active systems to distribute air or liquid to keep the battery pack in a moderate and optimal range of temperature.
Nissan strategically situated its initial markets in regions with relatively mild weather, but the LEAF is now offered on a national basis. Therefore, the EV will also need to maintain adequate range in the country's most frigid states. In its current configuration, range is reduced when a driver runs the vehicle's heater for an extended period. Nissan responded to feedback about the need to maintain range in cold weather, and has promised that it will equip the 2013 LEAF with a more efficient heater. According to the company, drivers could experience as much as 20 or 25 miles of range in cold weather conditions in the new model, compared to previous models with less efficient heater.
Design and Styling
The Nissan LEAF's styling is recognizable as something different—an intentional feature. Much like the Prius design is now synonymous with "hybrid," Nissan had hoped the LEAF design would eventually be considered synonymous with "EV." But that has not appeared to be the case, and its unusual design could be an obstacle to mainstream acceptance. The LEAF's styling has elicited reactions ranging from "god-awful ugly" to "cute and pretty." Car buyers either love it or hate it.
The LEAF's front end is characterized by a low hood—thanks to having no combustion engine—sandwiched between two V-shaped headlights reminiscent of shark-fins. The headlights work by reflecting light-emitting diodes (LEDs) off of shiny, blue-hued reflectors. The unique headlight shape is designed to cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag. Even with the headlight high beams on and the air conditioner running full blast, all the electronics in the LEAF will only consume 10 percent more power than if you were driving with them off.
Some LEAF drivers say there is a blind spot at both bottom corners of the front windshield. As a result, when making turns or going around corners, confidence that you're not going to run something over is undermined.
Because of the lack of emissions equipment, the LEAF's designers were able to take full advantage of the newly created space underneath the vehicle. The rear hatch has ample depth, allowing for more cargo space than meets the eye. The swooping shape of the roof allows for generous headroom in both the front and rear seats.
The Nissan LEAF interior has been described alternately as uncluttered, techno-chic and elegant, as well as boring, drab and plain—reflecting the range of reactions and highlighting the fact that it will not appeal to everyone. The dashboard is bathed in blue light and the car makes a choice of funny and/or pleasing sounds when you start it up.
Connectivity and Driver Displays
The Nissan LEAF employs an exclusive advanced IT system. Connected to a global data center, the system can provide support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day. The dash-mounted monitor displays the Nissan LEAF's remaining power—or "reachable area"—in addition to showing any nearby charging stations. Another feature is the ability to use a smart phone app to turn on air-conditioning and set charging functions—even when Nissan LEAF is powered down. An on-board timer can also be programmed to charge the car at pre-determined times (to take advantage of off-peak electricity rates in some regions), or to stop charging when the battery pack reaches 80 percent state of charge (to preserve the life of the pack).
With multiple levels of displays, a LEAF driver will never be more than one or two click s away from accessing vital stats related to the efficiency and range of the vehicle—although this data can be overwhelming and difficult to translate into meaningful action.
Customer Feedback and Response in the 2013 Model
By and large, LEAF owners are extremely satisfied with their electric cars. However, as with just about any car, drivers have discovered shortcomings. Most of the pet peeves for the LEAF are somewhat trivial, such as: a wimpy horn, a slightly outdated infotainment system, a poorly designed glove box, and upholstery that attracts dirt and grime.
But there is one issues that repeatedly comes up as a more serious issue: The instrumentation for the LEAF comes with a gauge that estimates the amount of remaining range, in miles still available to the car, based on the charge of its battery. The software behind this number is either wildly pessimistic or wildly optimistic, but rarely is it accurate. Many drivers have been unnecessarily alarmed that they are going to quickly run out of juice and be left stranded, only to discover that the battery pack has energy to spare after reaching a destination. LEAF owners have dubbed this gauge the “Guess-O-Meter.” Nissan is reportedly working on a fix, but it can’t come quickly enough.
In addition to the better heater to address cold-weather range, and a faster on-board charger, the 2013 Nissan LEAF is expected to come with an optional leather interior package and will offer LEAF buyers a choice of either a light- or dark-colored interior.
Sales and Deals
The biggest change in future models could be the pricing—and that’s a response to sales numbers that have fallen short of Nissan’s goals.
In June, Nissan announced a new attractive lease offer. Qualified customers can lease the 2012 Nissan LEAF SV (the base trim level) for $289 per month for 39 months with $2,999 in out-of-pocket expenses (excludes tax, title, registration and destination charge), based on 12,000 miles per year. That's a relative bargain considering that the LEAF SV retails for $35,200.
The lower lease reveals that Nissan is aware that it must dramatically increase the pace of LEAF sales if it's going to achieve sales targets for 2012. The company was hoping to sell 20,000 LEAFs, doubling U.S. sales compared to last year. In April, Brian Carolin, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Nissan North America, told Detroit News that, "Our target has not changed." However, U.S. sales in the first half of 2012 only reach 3,148 units—nearly 20 percent below 2011 numbers, even though Nissan was trying to double the previous year’s sales numbers.
In July, several dealers in key markets began putting big incentives—discounts as high as $5,000—on the car. Paul Scott, a long-time EV advocate now selling LEAF’s in Santa Monica, Calif., doesn’t like the trend. “As with any product that is not selling as fast as producers would like, the price needs to soften to increase sales. I believe these cars are worth the MSRP, but clearly, most of the public does not,” said Scott. “Here at Nissan of Downtown LA, we are negotiable, but the $5,000 figure seems way out of line. I think that degrades the product in people's minds.”
Scott attributed slow demand to anti-EV media coverage, the recession, and falling gas prices. “All of these things have depressed sales,” he said. Scott still sees the LEAF as a great car, and said that his customers are “all in agreement that it's a fantastic vehicle that works as a primary car for virtually all of their needs.”
Alan Baum, an auto industry analyst with 25 years of experience, said it’s too early to read a lot into these dealership incentives. “There are always dealers that have too much of one vehicle and not enough of another,” he said. “That’s not news.”
Baum suggested that perhaps a couple of dealers “got ahead of themselves” by taking more volume than they wanted. “Now, they’re trying to deal with it.” Baum believes the verdict on EV popularity won’t be determined until electric vehicles are available in a wide range of styles and segments.
Despite the disappointing sales numbers in 2012, the Nissan LEAF is by far the best selling electric car on the market (although plug-in hybrids, like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid are outselling the EV). Nissan has established a leadership role in pure electric cars, and it’s unlikely for at least the next few years, that any other EV will outsell the LEAF in the United States.
Nissan LEAF Stats
- Availability: Now
- Base MSRP: $35,200
- Est. tax credit: $7,500
- Technology: Electric Vehicle
- Body type: Sedan
- Seats: 5
- Range: 73 miles
- Battery size: 24 kWh
- Charging rate: 3.3 kW
Article · 13 comments
Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield says:
Nissan wants to see 600 electric car rapid chargers throughout the United States by the end of March 2014. The rapid...
Article · 10 comments
Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield says:
New York City Major Michael Bloomberg yesterday officially announced that six all-electric Nissan LEAFs are entering...
Everything you need to know about charging, range, batteries, incentives and more - explained in plain English.