Eliminating emissions is just the start. Nissan’s LEAF is leading the electric revolution, driving tomorrow – today
Flipping the On switch is a liberating experience for Johannesburger Greg Ball. His home and business run off-grid, entirely on solar energy. And that’s not where it ends for the Ball family, who further shrink their carbon footprint by storing water and growing their own vegetables.
Unsurprisingly, green lifestyle consultant Ball became the first buyer of South Africa’s first zero-emission vehicle, the Nissan LEAF. He has followed the more than 100 000 buyers in more than 35 countries – that’s nearly half the total of EVs sold.
“I am now able to set an example to my customers, as well as my two young children who are learning how to approach their future,” says Ball. “I have developed what I call a ‘green conscience’ towards everything we do – from small actions such as home waste disposal to large actions like how we build houses and commute. Everything we do must minimise our impact on the planet and make sense economically – Earth is the only home we have.”
Ball is not alone in his thinking. The Nissan LEAF has won countless global Car of the Year awards and is now available to customers in 35 countries on four continents.
Says Nissan South Africa’s Chief Marketing Manager for Electric Vehicles and New Technology, Ross Garvie: “It’s clear to see that the South African public is ready to begin adopting this new form of mobility.” It’s worth noting that the decision to launch the LEAF was taken only after meticulous planning and strategic pilot programmes involving Eskom, the Technology Innovation Agency and Department of Environmental Affairs.
Does it make sense, though, in hard practical terms?
Decidedly so, says Garvie. “The overall low cost of ownership and maintenance costs, and the fact that LEAF is available as an outright buy rather than on a lease scheme, make it a strikingly attractive alternative to conventional petrol, diesel or hybrid vehicles.”
Tech for a new era
The LEAF’s impressive green credentials belie the fact that it is intended to embody Nissan’s mantra, Innovation that Excites.
The fully electric drivetrain features a lithium-ion battery pack linked to a front-mounted electric motor. Thanks to an electric motor’s on-or-off nature, maximum torque is available the moment you step on the throttle pedal. For those times when economy is paramount, a switchable eco driving mode is available as standard. This reduces throttle sensitivity and mimics the driving characteristics of conventional vehicles, while also encouraging economical driving habits.
The vehicle layout, designed to package the electric drivetrain efficiently, has a spinoff benefit: it also optimises the car’s centre of gravity, with a distinctly beneficial impact on handling that translates directly into more precise and secure cornering.
Achieving the LEAF’s efficiency goals requires some innovative thinking. Aerodynamic drag – its effect doubles with increasing speed – is minimised by a specially sculpted body and eco-friendly tyres featuring low rolling resistance and a noise-conscious design. Its LED headlights are much more efficient (and longer-lasting) than conventional types, and the roof spoiler with integrated solar panel feeds the conventional 12-volt battery with solar power, lessening ancillary systems’ drain on the main battery pack.
Recharging is a technologically sophisticated yet simple and cost-effective process. An overnight home charge device sold together with the LEAF on purchase will provide a “fill up” in eight hours. For a quick top-up, high-output stations at Nissan LEAF dealers provide an 80 per cent charge from zero in just half an hour, free of charge to Nissan LEAF owners. (Currently Gauteng has nine participating dealers as part of phase one of Nissan LEAF roll-out in South Africa. Cape Town and Durban-based stations are due in 2014.)
Although the LEAF is by design frugal, it is by no means lacking in creature comforts – the kinds of features and finishes you’d expect, in fact, of a car in this bracket. This is also a solid, practical car that is at home in clogged city streets as it is on the freeway. Able to fit 5 and their luggage comfortably, it has a 195-km range and low running costs. Above all, its drivetrain layout translates into efficient space utilisation, superb drive refinement and the unmatchable feel-good factor of less maintenance and the knowledge that you’ll never have to see another filling station forecourt.
Nissan LEAF in brief
Design 5-door hatchback, 5 seats
Drivetrain Fully electric 24 kwh Li-ion, front-mounted electric motor
Output 80 kw, 254 N.m
Price R446 000 (excluding home charger) at selected Nissan dealers.