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Articles on Electric Vehicles

December 17, 2014
Paul Gipe

Why We Chose a Nissan Leaf for Our EV


It was fairly simple really. Tesla was out. Too much money. At more than 100,000 the Tesla is well out of reach for most middle-class families--certainly for us. That narrowed the choices down considerably.

The Leaf was a real car. It wasn’t a toy. It was a sedan with four doors about the size of our 2010 Prius. It was a real car driven by real people—not just rich EV nerds. And it was affordable.

Nearly all other electric vehicles (EVs) on the market were “compliance cars.” That is, the manufacturers adapted the chassis of a standard car to an EV drive train to meet California’s mandate that a certain percentage of their fleet be “clean air vehicles.” In other words, they were doing just enough to get by the regulators.


Note: This is one article in a series on Electric Vehicles (EVs) and our experience moving to electric.


Only Nissan had made the commitment necessary to build EVs in a big way. They opened a plant in Smyrna, Tennessee to build Leafs in the US—using American labor. (Non-union to be sure, but still Americans working on the line.) They even built a battery plant nearby to serve the assembly line. That’s a huge financial commitment—and it could go wrong for many reasons. Only Nissan and Tesla have taken on that risk and the scale of Nissan's bold step is far greater than that taken by Tesla to date.

Nissan also designed the traction battery and drive train specifically for the Leaf. It wasn’t just added on to a conventional car. The batteries are built into the floor pan and seat supports.

And Nissan was doing things right. They were supporting local groups promoting EVs and cajoling dealers into providing charge stations. They also took the steps necessary to address accelerated battery degradation and the subsequent erosion of consumer confidence in the car and the Nissan brand. Nissan may have been slower to react than they should have been, but they did respond—eventually.

There was also a broad base of experience with the Leaf. It’d been on the market since 2011 and there was an active and vocal community of Leaf users that kept Nissan on its toes.

For middle-class consumers, the Leaf is also affordable. An EV is more expensive than a conventional car and the Leaf is no exception. You have to pay for both the traction battery and for the home charge station--neither if which is cheap. But it’s those very components that make an EV a wise choice in a world where the future of liquid fuels are uncertain.

All told the Leaf with the quick charge package costs about $33,000—a good $10,000 or one-third more than a conventional economy car. For the time being, however, subsidies of various sorts eliminate that cost differential and put EVs on the same level as cars with internal-combustion engines (ICEs).

The Leaf’s not an ideal EV for sure. The range is too limited. (More on this in coming posts.) Yet the Leaf is a real car, a real EV, real people are driving it, and it’s affordable. And Nissan had taken a big technical and financial risk to put the Leaf on the market.

If you wanted an EV and wanted to support the movement to electrics and wanted to give a vote of confidence to a company moving in the right direction, you couldn’t go wrong with a Leaf.

We chose the Leaf, the first Nissan (or Datsun for oldtimers) either of us had ever bought.


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