Even Fox News star Glen Beck seems to have jumped on the publicity bandwagon for Nissan’s electric car, the Leaf. Beck, in a sarcastic “apology” to President Obama for saving GM, referred to the $41,000 Chevrolet Volt as having a range of 40 miles.
“It goes 40, count them, 40 miles before the electricity runs out. All this could be yours for the low, low price of $41,000,” said Beck, ignoring the range extender which takes the Volt up to 300 miles in one go.
Beck sort of praised the Nissan Leaf, on sale in America in December and Britain in the New Year.
“The new Nissan leaf gets 100 miles and (only) costs $32,000,” Beck said.
It remains to be seen whether the Leaf will ever regularly get you 100 miles, but I’ve been driving the new battery-powered car, at Nissan’s technical centre about 25 miles north of London. The Leaf is big enough to take five passengers in some comfort, and has a luxurious interior. It should too – the Leaf will sell in Britain for £23,990 tax paid ($37,600) after the government subsidy of about £5,000 ($7,800).
On the road the Leaf feels like a regular car, apart from the silent motor, and has impressive acceleration. I was only allowed about 20 minutes behind the wheel so any judgement about its range was not possible. But using the car’s regenerative braking facility – this captures energy as the car freewheels and returns it to the battery and has nothing to do with the brakes – the journey of about 20 miles took about 15 miles out of the battery. The route was flat, the temperature about 75 degrees, and the air conditioning was off.
The Leaf is programmed to gradually shut down energy- consuming extras like the sound system and air conditioning when the range left in the battery falls to a low level. Most people seem to think that owning an electric car will force huge changes in driving habits, but Nissan Vice-president, Vehicle Design and Development, Jerry Hardcastle disagrees. He thinks Leaf drivers will only have to make minor concessions.
Nissan, and its affiliate Renault of France have bet hugely on the success of battery-only powered cars. But a recent deal to team up with Mercedes Benz might mean that plug-in hybrids and Volt-like extended range electric technology might be available if battery-only bombs.
Hardcastle said Nissan (and Renault) rejected the idea of building a cheap and cheerful golf-cart like vehicle, saying it reckoned buyers would demand a proper, full sized car. He said the price of batteries, the most expensive component currently and the reason cars like the Leaf are so expensive, will fall to around the cost of conventional gasoline and diesel engines within five years.
One uncomfortable reminder of the possible unintended consequences of silent battery cars; on the test route was a squashed bunny, which my Nissan co-pilot assured me had not been run over by the Leaf. And young ducks wandering the grounds at Nissan’s offices didn’t seem to be aware of the electric car’s presence. Perhaps this should be the cue for former GM icon Bob Lutz’s idea that, like mobile phones, battery car owners should choose their own ring-tone equivalent to warn off pedestrians and animals. Make mine a V-12 Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer. Or maybe a Spitfire.
Neil Winton – August 20, 2010