The Nissan LEAF: Change Has Come
The coming introduction of the Nissan LEAF marks a major milestone for the future of personal urban driving. The LEAF is different from all other “green” vehicles currently on the market. It is a true battery-powered electric automobile: not a hybrid with multiple power sources, but an electric-only, five-seat, five-door sedan. Plug it in at home, drive a maximum of 100 miles to the office and back, then recharge it at the end of the day. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, which undoubtedly gets closer to reality with each passing month, the Nissan LEAF is set for a December launch this year. In the U.S., a $99 placeholder fee is all that it takes to get your name on the list of prospective buyers.
So what’s the catch? Surely it can’t be that simple.
It may seem obvious to say, but to be effective, the Nissan LEAF needs access to electricity. The most convenient way to recharge the LEAF is in your home. With this in mind, Nissan partnered with AeroVironment Inc. to design and install a simple 220-volt home charging dock. Compact and weatherproof, it easily fits inside your garage or outside, where convenient charging can take place.
Should you decide to purchase a Nissan LEAF, an appointment is scheduled for installation of the charging dock. A certified electrician will assess your home and within 24 hours provide a quote for the cost of installation. Tax credits may be available for up to $2,000 to help offset the cost.
Assuming all goes according to plan, the main concern for recharging the Nissan LEAF on a daily basis is most likely not when you arrive at home. Instead, the biggest obstacle to mass acceptance may be our daily commute to the office, or the possibility of a weekend or longer drive that exceeds 100 miles.
To best charge the Nissan LEAF, a 480-volt power source is required. With 480-volts, the vehicle can achieve 80% capacity in just 30 minutes. Working with federal, state, and local governments, Nissan is already discussing plans to add this plug-and-go technology in the near future. Urban centers such as Seattle, Phoenix, Tucson, and various cities in California and Oregon are all looking at ways to simplify the charging process. Considerations demand a timely but effective response, as Nissan is not the only automaker bringing new electric cars to market. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV, MINI E, and Chevrolet Volt are already testing, and should be released soon after the Nissan LEAF.
With so much yet to be done to integrate electric cars into everyday life, is the time right for an all-electric automobile? The simple though not-so-obvious answer to this question is an emphatic yes!
Mark McDade, director of marketing at Nissan Canada, believes there are four main reasons why now is the time to turn over a new LEAF in the auto industry:
First, President Obama has announced his goal: By 2050, vehicles must reduce emissions by 83%. Even the most optimistic of us realizes that any chance of achieving this enormous reduction requires time and a vast commitment to future technologies. The LEAF is a first step for Nissan in the direction needed to achieve this goal.
Second, the price of oil is certain to dictate the types of technology propelling us forward in the future. At today’s rate of $80 a barrel for oil, the concern to burn less is very real, but panic has yet to hit the market. Many analysts believe $100 a barrel will soon be reality, while some alarmists claim it may not be too long before $200 is the norm.
Third, the current mindset of the consumer understands that change is underway, and is looking for alternative solutions. As Mr. McDade stated when interviewed for this story, "A pure electric vehicle delivers this in spades."
Fourth, and perhaps the most significant at Nissan, according to Mr. McDade, is that the electric automobile is ready now. Nissan began testing batteries as an alternative power source back in the 1940s and has been working in earnest for the past 20+ years. The most visible applications from recent history include the Nissan Altra EV introduced at the 1998 Los Angeles International Auto Show, and the two-seater Nissan Hypermini one year later. The 2011 Nissan LEAF is the culmination of Nissan's vast experience and demonstrates just how far the technology has come.
A transformation is underway in the auto industry. The time for alternative power is now, and whether we like it or not, our relationship with the automobile is certain to be different. Some will resist, others will embrace the new reality. The Nissan LEAF is here
Nissan LEAF SpecificationsEngine: 80 kW AC synchronous electric motor
24 kWh lithium-ion battery
3.3 kW onboard charger
Steering: Vehicle speed-sensitive power assisted
Brakes: Power 4-disc regenerative, ABS/BA/EBD
Air Bags: 2 front, 2 side, side curtain
Top Speed: 90 mph
Competitors: Chevrolet Volt, MINI E, Mitsubishi i-MiEV
MSRP: $32,780 (as low as $25,280 after tax savings)