In the automotive world of today, when someone says eco-vehicle, the first vehicle that comes to mind is the Toyota Prius, popular for its reputation of low emissions and high efficiency. I agree that it is a step in the right direction, but why can't we have no emissions at all? Nissan has just introduced its all electric, zero emission, Leaf. The Leaf not only opens a whole new market for the automotive industry, but also substantially raises the bar as to what a truly environmentally friendly vehicle should be.
The Leaf is a plug-in electric vehicle that has three methods of charging. The first is Level 1, which you can plug right into any 110V wall socket at home. This level of charging will charge the Leaf's battery from 0%-100% in 20hrs. The second is Level 2, which is done through the industrial sized 220V plug you might use for your washer/dryer or oven. This level of charging will charge the battery in just 7 hours from completely dry to completely full. Last but not least is Level 3, which is a quick charge function that will charge the Leaf's battery to 80% in just half an hour. These charging stations require a special 440V input and will probably not be installed in homes. Nissan has said that they will be building charging stations with these quick charge plugs in between major destinations so that you can do a small roadtrip in your Nissan Leaf. For example, there are plans to build a quick-charge station somewhere in Casa Grande, AZ right between Tucson and Phoenix. In addition to home/charge station charging, the Leaf also charges itself while you're on the move. The first way it does this is a regenerative braking system similar to that of the Prius. The second, is through its electric motor; if you begin to coast, it will turn the motor into basically a giant alternator to charge the battery.
Recently, a friend and I were given the opportunity to test drive some Leaf's. I will tell you right now, before having any experience with the Leaf, I was very skeptical towards the idea of electric cars. My first suspicion was the long term impact, mainly the disposal of the dozens of batteries required to power EV’s. I was more than surprised to learn that the batteries used in the Leaf were 99.4% recyclable, and that they would only lose 20-40% of their capacity over 10 years of regular use. Not only are the batteries recyclable everything in the Leaf's interior is either from recycled materials or is recyclable.
One of the biggest concerns with EV's is the range. The Leaf has an average range of 100 miles from a fully charged battery, which I will agree doesn’t seem like a lot. Think about it this way, the average person drives roughly 15,000 miles per year, if you do the math that’s right around 40 miles a day. Nissan will refuse to deliver any Leaf's to a location if it feels that don’t have the infrastructure to support it. A proper infrastructure includes things like charging stations outside of businesses so you can keep your battery full while at work.
Another big concern with electric cars is running costs. Thankfully, the Leaf is a very inexpensive car to run, averaging only $3.50 to fully charge the batteries. With gas prices as they are now, you can expect to spend around $2200 a year for commuting. Driving the same amount a year with the Leaf would only cost you $375, assuming you only charge your Leaf at home. So not only do you have more than half of your battery life to spare and money to spend, you can also drive like an ass and still be economical.
And you really can drive like an ass. Since the Leaf uses an electric motor, there is no torque curve; this means that when you press on the throttle, all the torque the leaf has to offer is instantly avalliable. After driving the Prius, I excpected the Leaf to be a similar experience, dull and quiet. I was pleasantly surprised when I was pushed back in my seat a little bit when I floored it on a straight. I wasn’t able to drive the car hard, but from what I did drive, the car didn’t feel weighed down by the batteries. It also helped that it has an electric steering system that, depending on your speed, varies how much power it delivers to the wheel, which gave the car a very solid feel.
Aesthetically, I think the Leaf is a pretty good looking car. Eco vehicles seem to always have an odd look to them, and the Leaf is no exception. Hopefully, like the Prius, the next generation will be a lot sharper and sporty looking. The interior is surprisingly nice, although it isn’t leather, it doesn’t feel cheap. Another thing I was surprised about was that they all come standard with a full Voice Navigation. It’s not a bad one either, unlike others; it will visually show you what is in your driving range, taking into account a round trip.
Overall I was really pleased with the Nissan Leaf. Being the first production electric vehicle that doesn't appear as though it will fail (*cough* GM EV1 *cough*) I think it is a big step in to the future. It is the perfect daily commuter for someone living in a city like Los Angeles or Boston. I wouldn’t suggest it yet for a family that likes to travel a lot, although more and more charging stations will be setup over time. Things are really looking up for the electric car.
Photos by: Otis Blank. Words by: Eze Ahanonu.