Nissan LEAF Finally Gets Official EPA Fuel Economy Label

By · November 22, 2010

Nissan LEAF EPA label

With consumer deliveries scheduled to begin in the next month, the Nissan LEAF has been granted a final fuel economy window sticker from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—truly at the eleventh hour. The label, based on the EPA 5-cycle testing procedures that all vehicles are subjected to when developing their window stickers, will tell consumers that the LEAF gets 99 miles per gallon-equivalent (MPGe), can go 73 miles on one charge, takes 7 hours to fully charge and releases zero grams of carbon dioxide per mile. The 99 MPGe rating scores the LEAF as best-in-class for midsize vehicles.

The final label was a long time coming, but at this point Nissan is just relieved to have it before the cars start shipping. "Being a leader, we're the first," said Mark Perry, Nissan's North American Director of Product Planning, in an interview with PluginCars.com. "We've been working hard at this to make sure everything was right. We're excited to be first and we're excited to be considered best in class for fuel efficiency and environmental impact and we couldn't have asked for a better result."

Is 73 Miles Per Charge Fair?

As many readers know, an electric car's range will vary greatly depending on driving style, so including one figure as an average doesn't really capture reality. All along Nissan has said that the LEAF will average 100 miles per charge but that range can vary from 40 to 140 miles depending on conditions. In fact, just last month I was given the chance to be the first person on the planet to publicly take the LEAF from a full to empty battery and delivered 116.1 miles without hypermiling.

However, given that the EPA label will state that the LEAF only goes 73 miles per charge, consumers will be presented with a different number than the 100 miles per charge that Nissan has been claiming—and one that will likely be at the low end of what consumers can expect to see on a daily basis. Mark Perry indicated that he's not terribly concerned about the range listing on the EPA label given that it all comes down to this "range of ranges" concept. "100 miles was against the LA-4 cycle, 73 miles is against the EPA 5 cycle, there will also be a Federal Trade Commission alternative fuel label that lists 96 to 110 miles as the range," he said.

But still, after all the early adopters buy their vehicles, this will be the main number that consumers see when they are thinking about buying a vehicle. 73 miles per charge is a hell of a lot less enticing than 100 miles per charge.

Does Miles Per Gallon-Equivalent Actually Mean Anything?

For better or worse the EPA has decided to go with the controversial MPGe rating system to bring some familiarity to consumers when thinking about fuel economy. Rather than rating electric cars with a "miles per kilowatt hour" number, the EPA has done its own calculations to give a kilowatt hour an equivalent energy rating to a gallon of gas. "Time will tell whether this idea of miles per gallon equivalent resonates with consumers or it doesn't," said Perry. "I think this is where it starts and we'll see over time whether consumers accept it. Consumers have told the EPA from the beginning this is where they wanted to jump off from because they recognize miles per gallon, but of course, we have no gallons. There's this whole big physics formula behind the scenes, but very simply the consumer said 'I understand miles per gallon and I still want a comparison, so just make the comparison easy for me to understand.'"

Nissan Chooses Familiarity Over Letter Grades

Nissan was given the choice of using the new EPA label style that is currently in a public comment period (with letter grades of A+ to D-) or going with the old style that most consumers are comfortable with. "We could have chosen that A+ to D- approach and we would have gotten an A+, but given the choice we opted for the more familiar format," said Perry. "Consumers are familiar with the existing labels that are on cars, this one maybe has different categories and different numbers but it looks the same and has the same information."

So What Does the Label Tell Us About the Car?

Based on the EPA 5-cycle testing procedure, the LEAF will only return 2.94 miles per kWh (mpkWh)—derived from the listed 34 kWh used per 100 miles. As those of us that understand the ins and outs of electric cars will tell you, 2.94 mpkWh is a low-ball number for a vehicle designed from the ground up as an EV and would require you to be driving with absolutely no mind to saving energy in an aggressive manner. Sure it will happen occasionally, but it won't be the average. Nissan believed its hands were tied on this rating. "The EPA took the LEAF through same 5 cycle test they use to test gas engine cars—so air conditioning on and biased more highway driving than city," said Perry. "It's the law, the EPA couldn't change it and we couldn't petition them to change it."

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.