“All the electric motor’s torque is available right from standstill. As soon as you press the accelerator pedal, the car will simply shoot ahead,” says Armaan Ebrahim, the famous racer from Chennai, who is guiding me how to operate an electric car. I am at the wheel of Nissan Leaf, the largest selling electric car in the world. “Something like when you switch on a kitchen blender—the blades almost instantly go from zero to a few thousand spins,” I add. Ebrahim smiles. “Exactly.”
He is right. The Leaf surges forward exactly at the time I hit the accelerator pedal, not a moment later.
Nissan India, as part of its 10-year celebrations, brought the Leaf electric car and the Patrol SUV from Dubai to the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida, where we drove the former.
The Leaf, since it was launched in 2010 in Japan and the US, has turned into a legend of sorts. Available in 40 countries today, the Leaf has sold more than 161,000 units until now. The acronym, in fact, stands for Leading, Environmental-friendly, Affordable, Family car. As an all-electric car, the Leaf produces no tailpipe emissions. Heck, it doesn’t even have a tailpipe!
Although not as futuristic as the BMW i3 or the i8, the Leaf easily gels with its contemporaries such as Chevrolet Spark EV, Volkswagen e-Golf, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, etc. Sculpted headlamps that look like flared nostrils and rear lamps that incorporate a blue badging help the Leaf stand out. The Leaf, expectedly, looks ages ahead of the humble Mahindra Reva e2o, which is the only electric car available in India currently.
Because the Leaf is the future of transportation, the cabin is avant-garde. Bluetooth and keyless start are standard features. The distinctive domed gearlever—it looks like a computer mouse—is eye-catching. The cabin seems to be solidly built and the layout is very different from any car you have seen in India. There is enough space for four passengers and the Leaf can compete with traditional family hatchbacks in terms of practicality. The good thing is that because the Leaf is a purpose-built electric car, its boot space isn’t compromised by a battery pack. Why? Because the batteries are stored under the seats.
We drove the Leaf briefly. But even in those few minutes we could feel how different the car is from any of the hatchbacks running on Indian roads. First, the Leaf’s motor produces a barely audible whine when on the move. Second, the wind noise is minimal because the car has a very aerodynamic body. Third, the acceleration is intense, or appears so because the torque—the pulling power of the engine—is available right from standstill (Nissan claims a 0-100 kmph time of 10 seconds). Fourth, the car handles very well on sharp turns. Fifth—and this can be an issue—whenever you accelerate, you do it keeping in mind that it is an electric car that has got a limited range, so the foot unknowingly turns soft on the accelerator pedal.
Nissan claims the Leaf has got a range of about 160 km.
The Leaf is a spacious hatchback that is inexpensive to run. The electric motor pulls eagerly but has got a city-specific range of 160 km. The company says that it takes about eight hours to fully recharge its lithium-ion batteries. The Leaf, because of its practicality, has become the largest selling electric car in the world. However, when we asked Guillaume Sicard, the president of Nissan India operations, whether the Leaf would be sold in India any time soon, his answer was, “I don’t really know.” If Nissan, however, decides to get the Leaf to India as a CBU, its high price tag will mean it will appeal only to a fraction of the car-buying public. The Leaf costs about $30,000 in the US—discounting the federal tax savings—so its Indian price, theoretically, should be close to $60,000, or over R36 lakh, which is too high even for a futuristic electric vehicle. While Nissan could think of ways to price it lower, the Leaf will still face numerous challenges—problems of electricity shortage and lack of infrastructure (read charging stations), to begin with.