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.