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Nissan Leaf: The Perfect Urban Car?

Last week I took a ride in a friend's new Nissan Leaf, which may be the perfect urban car. It has adequate performance and can more than keep up with traffic, even on the interstate. It is essentially noiseless. Its range is limited, but more than adequate for trips around a city. It has a quite spacious storage capacity. Best of all, it's pollution free. The only thing that's missing is the “zoom.”

What is zoom? It's a sleek, sexy body style — maybe a coupé or convertible. It's the sound of an engine howling toward a 7,000 rpm redline. It's carving a corner and hitting the apex exactly. It's braking as late as possible while double-clutching to downshift, turning-in at the right point, and then maxing the exit speed. It's zero to 60 in less than five seconds. It's the thrill of pretending you're a racer. It's the ego trip of posing as a rugged outdoor 4WD dude. It's the promise of getting the girl. Until now, zoom is what has sold cars, but we don't need zoom any more.

My friend doesn't care about zoom. He doesn't do drag racing starts or road racing corners. He doesn't go off-road. He's married; he already got the girl a long time ago. What he wants is reliable, comfortable, economical transportation. Because he cares about ecological issues, a green car with low carbon emissions is a bonus. He's a good representation of an average car buyer, but he's ahead of the pack.

An all-electric car like the Leaf would serve a major segment of the population very well. Most people driving SUVs, pickup trucks, or large cars don't really need them. Their trips are short; they rarely have a passenger, let alone three or more; and they don't usually carry bulky or heavy loads.

An all-electric vehicle does have a limitation. Their range is usually roughly 100 miles round trip. If that's the longest round trip a person ever makes, or if a person is commuting less than 50 miles round trip and the rest of his or her trips are a few miles for groceries or other errands, then range is not a problem. If more range is absolutely a requirement, a hybrid may be a better choice. But, as a short-range urban vehicle, perhaps a second car, an all-electric vehicle like the Leaf may be the perfect choice.

26 comments on “Nissan Leaf: The Perfect Urban Car?

  1. Alex Pohorily
    February 6, 2012

    I wish the car had better styling. For $35k+ we deserve something a bit more artistic. For a car that's just meant to modestly pull someone around town I would hope for something in the $20k price range (though I do realize the technology is expensive). I'm quite interested in what BMW is doing in that market. Pretty sure they will deliver something that will turn heads.

  2. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 6, 2012

    At this price, with that limitation, it is clear that the Nissan Leaf is not for me – zoom or not zoom. Electric cars need to be more energy efficient before they can attract many buyers. But for now “the beautiful one is not yet born”.

  3. Wale Bakare
    February 6, 2012

    Price not that bad for Nissan leaf.  Either of Volvo or Mercedeze benz would probably be my choice for full electric  car.  I think some techno-artfull design are going on them both.

  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    February 6, 2012

    @Wale Bakare:

    The car is by no means a perfect urban car, and based on recent complaints, I will think twice before buying an all-electric car. Nissan Leaf users are having “range anxiety”. This is what one user is saying about the car:

    “My life now revolves around a near-constant calculation of how far I can drive before I'll have to walk. The Nissan Leaf, I can report, is perfect if you don't have enough anxiety in your life,” ( http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2011/11/nissan-leaf-leaves-buyers-suffering-range-anxiety.html)

     

  5. Brian Keez
    February 6, 2012

    I drive an average of 2,000 miles per month and the LEAF has been excellent. The looks of the car are a small price to pay for the relaxing ride and ultra-low maintenance cost. Range isn't that big of an issue for me 95% of the time because I plug the car in while I spend time at client sites if there is an outlet or charging station is available. So someone that spends 8 hours a day at work can have a full charge to drive home with, then plug in at home and have a full charge in the morning.

  6. bolaji ojo
    February 6, 2012

    Alex, Pricing and battery range are the two issues most people keep citing about all electric vehicles. I guess we would all like pricing to drop to a reasonable level to drive adoption but it seems this is not going to happen, at least not in the near future. I wonder, though, why this is the case. Could it be because most manufacturers don't want to cannibalize the other vehicles that obviously have high margins?

  7. Brian Keez
    February 6, 2012

    As an owner, I can tell you that I don't have any anxiety problem. If I ever did, it faded quickly. I know the car so I know how far I can go. If I am taking a new trip that is over 60 miles one-way, I do need to know that I can plug-in to refuel at my destination. The article that you reference was written by someone that drove the car very long.

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 6, 2012

    It was clear from last night's Super Bowl advertisements that zoom still has a large and enthusiastic following. Chevy–of all companies–heavily promoted their Camaro as a get-the-girl car; and its Silverado as the manly-men choice. There was one bizarre ad for an eco-friendly vehicle but I forgot the brand (I kid you not) and can't seem to find it in coverage of this very expensive advertising venue. So I guess that ad did not do the job.

  9. Ariella
    February 6, 2012

    @Barbara well, of course, ads for the Superbowl do make certain assumptions about the audience. The commercials strive for emotional connections and humor, not for rational arguments about what's good for the environment and for fuel economy. 

  10. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 6, 2012

    Ariella–absolutely!And advertisers are unapologetic about it. At some point, though, wouldn't you expect beer-guzzling, muscle car-buying, women-ogling, cat-hating snack-food addicts to get offended by the stereotype?

  11. bolaji ojo
    February 6, 2012

    Barbara, They probably barely noticed it. When you are a “beer-guzzling, muscle car-buying, women-ogling, cat-hating snack-food addict” you probably don't notice the stereotype on TV because you are too busy “beer-guzzling, muscle car-buying, women-ogling, cat-hating snack-food(ing)”.

    Those of us who aren't into all that use the ad break to top up our wine and whisky glasses or just escape the stereotype.

  12. bolaji ojo
    February 6, 2012

    gotmyleaf, I can't imagine buying a vehicle that's also jacking up your “anxiety” level. Before buying the vehicle, I believe you were aware of its limitations but was also convinced its advantages were sufficient for your need. Before buying an electric car, it's imperative the buyer consider these factors before making the purchase. That's the way to avoid the anxiety problem.

  13. Brian Keez
    February 6, 2012

    The anxiety is only a factor when you're not sure about the cars range. After driving for a few hundred miles, ther is NO anxiety. We just have the security of knowing that there are lots of stations to get gasoline. Switching to all electric means learning where to get electricity, which doesn't take long. 'Range anxiety' is just another way to say 'I don't know where to get electricty for this car.'

  14. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 6, 2012

    Bolaji: LOL. I was hoping the beer-guzzling, muscle-car buying, women-ogling cat-hating snack food addict lobby would weigh in. Then I realized they are unlikely to be reading EBN. We cater to the wine-drinking, hybrid-buying, circuit-ogling, lead-hating, granola-addicted set. Typical blonde, right? We get mixed up so easily 🙂

  15. Wale Bakare
    February 6, 2012

    @Hospice, thanks for the link. Am delighted for the factual experience of mileage drive for the consumption of 7 – 8 hours fully charged car battery for Nissan Leaf. Comparatively, what experience has anyone got on power consumption of EVs currently being manufactured by other auto-makers?

  16. bolaji ojo
    February 6, 2012

    Wale, I drove the Chevy Volt but as many people have already pointed out, it is more of a hybrid than an electric vehicle. I drove more with gasoline than I did on electric but that was because I was driving across multiple states. I think for town commuters it would be perfect.

  17. _hm
    February 6, 2012

    It is very interesting development. However, price is quite high and performance of electric car in -30C to -45C is very limited. They may soon evelove to overcome this deficiency and we eagerly await moe novel ideas.

     

  18. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 7, 2012

    'It's the sound of an engine howling toward a 7,000 rpm redline.”

     

    A couple of years back I visited an Electric motorcycle designer in Milan, Italy. That guy has designed an electric sports motorbike ( 'ZOOM' style) and to make it sound  like a real powerbike he had added computer generated engine sound to it. So even though the electric motor was noise less while accelerating, the controller generated sound matched that of the conventional power bike and gave the same thrill of driving to the young riders. Performance wise that motorcycle was matching the conventional bike.

    May be NIssan Leaf designers can incorporate such sound simlations till the EVs are accepted by the general public on their real merits.

  19. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 7, 2012

    If the Italian designer figured out a way to spare bystanders from the sound of revving engines, better yet!

  20. TimKarr2000
    February 7, 2012

    Barbara:  You've got your wish – I am part of the “beer-guzzling, muscle-car buying, women-ogling cat-hating snack food addict lobby”.  I like to sit on my front porch with some Miller Lites, my Burger King burgers and fries with my 2004 Ford F-150 Lightning SVT (5.4L V8) parked in the driveway while watching females in my neighborhood walk by.  However, I do own a cat … well, my wife does anyway.

    In any case, I understand the “zoom factor” of a vehicle and would be willing to purchase an electric muscle car if it could give me that exhileration of stomping on the gas/electric pedal for a nice burst of speed.  I refer to that as the “weeeeeeee factor”.  I mean who doesn't like that soft of excitement?  Most Americans cannot live without a car to get from Point A to Point B, so why can't we have some fun getting there and be green at the same time?  If Detroit can develop the car seen in the movie “The Dilemma” with Kevin James and Vince Vaughn (a Dodge Charger with an electric engine that sounds and performs like a true muscle car), then count me in!  I will even promise to snuggle with my wife's cat once in awhile.

  21. bolaji ojo
    February 7, 2012

    TimKarr2000, I never admit to ogling anything other than a plate of cheesecake but I am with you about the horsepower. My car must leave the competition quaking and not wheeze (silently or loudly) past anyone. And, if it's a truck, please make it a Ford, Chevy or GMC Suburban with lots and lots of horses under the hood. I want the speed when I need it and watching the sunset with a chilled bottle of beer or Scotch whiskey straight from the bottle, is, shall I say it, “Priceless.”

  22. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 7, 2012

    TimKarr–first, thanks for not taking my stereotying too seriously. Some of my best friends are beer-guzzling, muscle-car buying…you catch the drift 🙂

    Your point about “why not have fun?” is a good one. When my sister-in-law was debating the Jetta vs. Passat ages ago, I told her life is too short to drive economy cars (plus, she has a 40-mile commute.) She also has Sirius. I'll admit to envying her Passat from the broken window of my Jetta.

    Good luck with that cat thing…

  23. elctrnx_lyf
    February 8, 2012

    I feel the perfect city car should be affordable by many young crowd who move into the city. More to this the looks are very important to these young buyers and mixed with technology. 

  24. Jay_Bond
    February 8, 2012

    I think the leaf is a perfect urban car if you don't have many miles to drive. Another limitation I ponder is how well will this vehicle handle the nasty winters? As a muscle car junkie, loud motorcycle riding person, I tried the economical approach of owning a Honda Civic for my commute. Great car, but I found that after a year it just wasn't for me. Especially while living in Michigan with the nasty winters and about 80% of the people driving SUV's or trucks. So I got a 2012 Honda Pilot. Sure I don't get the gas mileage for my commute, but I feel better and I can haul the boat, the dogs, and project materials without a second vehicle.

  25. TimKarr2000
    February 10, 2012

    Jay:  You make a very good point – you also need to consider your geographic location when purchasing a vehicle.  I don't think that you would have much success driving a Leaf in 12″ of snow.  My daily driver is a 2003 Toyota 4Runner (4.7L V8) which can handle practically any type of driving situation including 12″ of snow.  I mostly keep my Ford F150 Lightning SVT “muscle truck” in the garage because it only handles well on dry roads.  However, I can drink my Miller Lite beers at home in any kind of weather.

    * sigh * I can already hear the “tree huggers” yelling at me because I have not one but TWO vehicles with V8 engines.  To them I say, “have a nice steak with your granola.  It will actually make you feel better.”

    Bolaji : You say that you would never “admit to ogling anything but a plate of cheesecake”.  Is “cheesecake” just a euphemism, or do you really mean the delicious high-calorie dessert item?

    Barbara :  sounds like we could be fine friends!  By the way, my cat says “hi” … actually that's “meow”.

  26. Jay_Bond
    February 10, 2012

    Trust me, if I could still have my way I would still have my diesel Super Duty, my muscle cars, my motorcycle and my boat. But I guess I have to compromise with my wife. Atleast I still have my LOUD bike and a boat and am driving a new 4×4. Not too mention her CRV.

    I think the Leaf is a great idea, just not while I'm living in Michigan. Then again if they could make an affordable electric 4×4 that meets the demands of a truck, I'd take a serious look. 

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