General Motors must be kicking itself. Over a decade ago, it had a highly advanced electric car, the EV1 on its hands. It leased over 1,000 examples of the experimental model to customers in California over a three-year period, and they liked it so much that GM had to practically pry the cars from their hands to get them back. It should have paid attention, but instead it went back to producing the highly profitable behemoth SUVs that sold like hot cakes in the heady days of the early Noughties. Two Middle Eastern wars and one credit crunch later, and suddenly the electric car has been catapulted back into relevance. GM hasn’t totally dragged its heels – it’s currently deep in the development of the Volt electric car – but thanks to its short-sightedness it has now, once again, been beaten to the punch by the Japanese. Nissan, to be specific, which has just announced details of the LEAF zero-emissions vehicle that should be gliding silently around American, European and Asian cities in just over a year’s time.
Nissan describes the LEAF as ‘the world’s first electric car designed for affordability and real-world requirements’ – subtle digs at the celebrity-baiting Tesla Roadster and overgrown roller skates like the G-Wiz, perhaps? The car is a suitably futuristic-looking, five-seat, mid-size hatchback powered by a brace of lithium-ion batteries that give it a top speed of 140km/h and a maximum range of 160 kilometres, aided by a regenerative braking system. There’s no word on prices yet, but Nissan is promising that the LEAF will be competitive with the likes of the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Opel Astra, and it will also benefit from the significant tax breaks for electric vehicles that exist in most countries.
Nissan has also taken proactive steps to ensure that the infrastructure necessary for the LEAF to be a practical everyday car will be put in place. Together with its parent company Renault, it has formed partnerships with countries such as the UK and Portugal, as well as local governments in Japan and the US, in order to develop a comprehensive charging infrastructure through public and private investment; secure incentives and subsidies for electric cars from local, regional, and national governments; and initiate public education programmes on the individual and societal benefits of zero-emissions mobility.
Engine: The LEAF is powered by compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate a power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW. Nissan says this drivetrain delivers the fun and responsive driving experience that consumers have come to expect from traditional, petrol-powered cars.
Power socket (located under the Nissan badge on the car’s nose): The LEAF can be charged up to 80 percent of its capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger. Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours, however.
Headlights: As well as looking pretty funky, the LEAF’s LED headlights split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag. They also consume about 50 percent of the electricity that conventional lights do, which helps the LEAF to extend its range. Clever!
Windows: The LEAF features an exclusive and advanced on-board IT system. Connected to a global data centre, it can provide support, information and entertainment for the car’s occupants 24 hours a day.