The Leaf is the world’s first mass-produced—and also the world’s best-selling—electric car. Since the car went on sale in 2010, Nissan Motor Company has sold 300,000 units globally. The acronym LEAF stands for Leading, Environmental-friendly, Affordable, Family car. As an all-electric car, the Leaf produces no tailpipe emissions. Actually, it doesn’t have a tailpipe. The new Leaf, launched last year, will be sold in more than 60 markets worldwide. But as of now, it’s not available for sale in India. So we travel to the US, and drive it from Las Vegas to Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.
How is new Leaf different?
Here, we talk about the US market. Before a car goes on sale, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests it and gives an estimate of its range and efficiency. The EPA has rated the Leaf’s range at 151 miles, or 243km. The Leaf’s MPGe—or miles per gallon equivalent—is 125 MPGe (city) and 100 MPGe (highway). MPGe is the distance a vehicle can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline. In terms of km per litre, 125 MPGe is about 53kpl. In terms of savings, the EPA estimates the Leaf will cost $600 in fuel charges per year and should save the driver $4,000 in fuel costs over five years when compared to the average new gasoline car.
Prices start at $30,000, which is lesser than the much-talked-about but yet-to-be-launched Tesla Model 3.
How does it look?
The Leaf doesn’t look as swanky as, say, the BMW i8 or a Tesla, and instead easily gels with traditional cars. The reason is it’s a family car, so the focus is more on practicality, comfort, cabin space, and low buying and running costs. Yet it does look ages ahead of the humble Mahindra e2o, which is the most popular electric car in India.
Is the cabin spacious?
Because the Leaf is the future of transportation, the cabin is avant-garde. The distinctive domed gearlever—it looks like a computer mouse—is eye-catching. The cabin is solidly built and spacious enough for five large-sized adults. Because the Leaf is a purpose-built electric car, its boot space isn’t compromised by a battery pack—because batteries are stored under the seats.
How does it drive?
All the electric motor’s torque—the pulling power of the engine—is available right from standstill. As soon as you press the accelerator pedal, the car simply shoots ahead. To give an analogy, when you switch on the blender in your kitchen, the blades instantly go from zero to a few thousand spins—similar is the case with an electric motor in a car.
The drive experience is different from a gasoline engine car. 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 is available right from standstill.
Does it get futuristic tech?
Yes, loads of it. The Leaf comes with ProPilot technology (called ProPilot Assist in the US), ProPilot Park and e-Pedal.
ProPilot is a semi-autonomous driving technology which helps with driving—like following the car ahead at a pre-set distance or helping keep the car in its lane. It can even bring your Leaf to a full stop based on the traffic flow, and hold you there.
The e-Pedal is an innovative technology—it lets you accelerate and brake with only one pedal. So as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator pedal, the car understands you want to slow down, and gradually brakes automatically. As you press the accelerator, the car lets go off the brake and proceeds with the usual pace.
Will it come to India?
With India’s aim of 100% electric mobility, a car such as the Leaf makes huge sense for the country. Its range is very good, and if it’s launched here, Nissan will also have to bring the charging infrastructure, which includes a quick charger. It’s perhaps time Nissan, and other global car-makers, start testing their electric cars in India in a big way, and try and work out localisation strategies.