2011 Nissan Leaf: Our Experts Talk Electric Cars

August 2, 2010

If you're curious about the 2011 Nissan Leaf--everything from ordering and owning one, to seeing how it stacks up against the 2011 Chevrolet Volt--you're in luck.

High Gear Media's sprawling network of writers counts four reporters who have driven the 2011 Leaf, at almost every stage of the EV game. Last week, two of us took the Leaf for test drives in near-production form--in San Jose during Plug-In 2010, and in the UK as part of the preparation for the Leaf's September marketing launch there.

With all this info at our fingertips, we've hooked up a Skype channel with our team for this car talk on the Leaf. Bringing you some of the essence of the new EV? AllCarsElectric's Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, GreenCarReports' John Voelcker, TheCarConnection senior editor Bengt Halvorson and HGM editorial director Marty Padgett.

Here's how we rolled:

Padgett: Today, High Gear Media is talking about the 2011 Nissan Leaf. Our car talk includes all our editors around the globe who've driven the Leaf in various forms - I'm Marty Padgett, and I'm joined by Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield from the UK, John Voelcker in New York and Bengt Halvorson in Portland.

Padgett: Hello, HGM family--first question goes to John. Fresh from NPR's All Things Considered and our in-house Volt expert.

Padgett: John, what's the technical aspect of the Leaf most difficult to explain to your mom?

Voelcker: Actually the Leaf is a lot easier to explain than the Volt, LOL. I just tell her it's got batteries and an electric motor, and that's how it runs. No gasoline engine to complicate things.

Padgett: I'm guessing that some people will be confused by the various charging capabilities. Nikki - in your test drive in the UK, was Nissan able to quick-charge cars at the highest 440-volt capacity?

Gordon-Bloomfield: The guys at the Nissan European Test center were able to fast charge the Leaf in 30 minutes to 80% SOC. So yes, they were!

Gordon-Bloomfield: It's a Chadamo charger.

Gordon-Bloomfield: We do not know if it will be publicly rolled out, however.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Getting charged up

Voelcker: I'd add that unlike the Volt, the Leaf really requires 240-Volt charging in your garage to be practical for daily use. Charging it on 120-V power takes 10 to 15 hours.

Gordon-Bloomfield: I would also like to point out that home charger options are not limited to Nissan's own.

Padgett: Good points. You all know I'm on the Leaf buyer's list. I still haven't been contacted for a home assessment, which determines how much it'll cost to get 240-volt service, for an 8-hour recharge. That's a big relative unknown.

Padgett: Bengt, out in Portland, do you know of any public charging stations that would, um, amplify the Leaf's usability?

Halvorson: I actually know of plenty of public charging stations, at 220; but I don't think quick-charge stations are deployed yet, anywhere to the public?

Halvorson: The city of Portland has been offering them for free for years.

Padgett: I'm not sure, either. Nikki are you aware of companies other than AeroMotive (sp?) that can install the kit?

Gordon-Bloomfield: The closest you have are fast chargers for the Tesla.

Gordon-Bloomfield: I believe there are others in the pipeline but the names escape me.

Gordon-Bloomfield: Bear in mind that several high current charging stations exist for the Tesla.

Halvorson: One of the most significant issues I see with chargers is that many of the early adopters for Leaf also happen to be low-footprint urban dwellers, who live in energy-saving condos and might not have parking at all.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Getting past gasoline

Padgett: After driving the Leaf, I'm thinking the biggest hurdle to owning one will simply come down to convincing people they can live with 100-mile daily range. Bengt, how would you get that across in a 15-second ad to a potential Leaf buyer?

Voelcker: Actually, early adopters almost universally say that after the first week or two, they simply adapt their lives to the car's range and use another car if they have to go longer distances.

Gordon-Bloomfield: Also, many first time Leaf owners own hybrids or an EV already.

Voelcker: This is more of a psychological worry about the unknown. More than 90 percent of U.S. vehicles do well under 100 miles a day.

Gordon-Bloomfield: Many RAV4 EV drivers are switching to leaf, or at least buying one.

Padgett: And Prius owners are the group signed up en masse to buy...

Halvorson: I'd outline exactly how many trips you could make, in the typical metro area, in a day.

Halvorson: Especially if you're in a congested place, like New York, London, Boston, and are creeping along at 20-30 mph when you are out driving, that's many hours in the car.

Padgett: Agreed. I think if you fill your tank with gas once a week, you're well within the bounds of a Leaf.

Gordon-Bloomfield: on Friday, I was able to get the Leaf to estimate 140 miles remaining after careful driving between 30 and 50 mph.

Padgett: Nice driving!

Halvorson: I've had plenty of hints that Nissan has been very conservative with range figures.

Halvorson: And lowballing the range, a bit, is part of the marketing, I think. Setting people up for success.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Leaf Vs. Volt

Padgett: So on the epic battle that's brewing...

Padgett: Sort of the Mustang versus Camaro for our performance-impoverished times...

Padgett: Volt Vs. Leaf. John, you've pointed out the Volt has a, well, "middle American" shape

Padgett: I assume you're not suggesting it has a gut

Padgett: but there's been many a report that calls the styling cautious. With the Leaf, it seems a little more edgy-though clearly Renault influenced. Which of these do you think people are going to want, based on non-EV issues?

Gordon-Bloomfield: The volt is set up to be an acceptable car for a red-blooded male to drive. The leaf is much more feminine in design.

Voelcker: The Leaf is definitely a more distinctive shape, though both cars have a high abrupt tail. I just find the Volt more 'normal' -- and hence less visually identifiable. Which may not square with the idea that early adopters WANT other drivers to know they're driving a specific kind of car.

Gordon-Bloomfield: The Leaf also takes its design from the Prius.

Voelcker: The Leaf may get its own South Park episode, and it can be caricatured as a cartoon. The Volt will look just like other five-doors as a cartoon.

Halvorson: I think that on the coasts, and in places where the Leaf early adopters are, the Leaf by far has the more appealing shape and style for those shoppers. However the real test comes a couple of years from now, when the Leaf has spread to the entire market. Will Euro-style hatchbacks still be considered funny-looking?

Halvorson: The Volt, on the other hand, looks far too much like any other GM sedan. That's the complaint I'm hearing from those who are already Prius owners or green-car advocate types.

Gordon-Bloomfield: GM took a bullet with the EV1 styling. It has become more conservative as being green has become more mainstream.

Voelcker: And (I can toss in a link if you want) all the data show that Prius owners (the best proxy for Leaf owners, as you pointed out) buy the car to show off their convictions. Just like HUMMER owners do.

Padgett: A HUMMER says you're daring...a Leaf says you're caring?

Voelcker: I'm not sure that's exactly what a HUMMER says, Marty, but that was a great line. You planned that, didn't you? :)

Padgett: Oh, I recycled that from long ago. See, John? I'm more aware than you think.

Voelcker: Dude, you're a Prius owner who's ordered a Leaf! You're practically a ... wait, we'd better keep it clean.

Padgett: And with that...let's call this a closed session. Thanks for chiming in, gang. We'll be back with another Skype car talk soon.

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