Driving the Nissan Leaf

Yesterday I took part in a Green Zone Drive event and had a test drive in the Nissan Leaf in the Mebourne CBD. I attended along with Michael and John, of the 3 Day EV fame. Also present were some other low emission vehicles and the Mitsubishi MIEV.

Our guide for the drive in the Leaf was Paul, a very helpful EV enthusiast from Nissan. Paul especially enjoyed meeting Michael and I as we both drive (home converted) EVs every day.

So off I went for a test drive in busy Melbourne CBD traffic! For about 10 minutes we drove around city blocks and had the occasional chance to put our foot down and test the regen. Compared to my home-made EV the Leaf was very smooth and refined. It was silent to drive and accelerated well. The AC motor gives more mid range acceleration than my DC motor conversion. The Leaf has lots of cool flat-screen diagnostics showing kW used, regen stats, an estimate of remaining range, and how much power the air conditioner is using.

Michael, John and I made some comparisons between the Leaf and the MIEV, for example dashboard electronics, size, and performance.

However I think these are small issues. The real comparison here is between petrol and electric. Car companies marketing factory built EVs should be hammering home the advantages of Electric Vehicles such as low “fuel costs”, trivial maintenance, low reliance on foreign and depleting oil supplies and zero emissions. I should know – we have 25,000 Electric kilometers on our home built EV now. It is really hard to go back to petrol after driving electric……

Some more photos. John is 6 feet tall, and had adequate leg room in the rear of the Leaf:

Here is the Leaf just in front of us while driving the MIEV. We nearly had an silent drag race on our hands…..

The engine bay looks like a regular 4 cylinder car. In fact the silvery casting on the left is the same cylinder head cover as used in some 4 cylinder Nissan engines. The 12V lead-acid battery seems like a throw-back, but I also have one in my EV to power the 12V electrics.

There are three phase and single phase charge connectors giving the car a fast charge capability, although overnight charging is recommended by Nissan to maximise battery life. I charge my EV overnight. It’s no big deal once you realise “refueling” an EV is more like charging a mobile phone than filling up at a petrol station. Just plug in when you get home and come back in the morning.

For me the Leaf has the feel of a “mainstream” medium size vehicle. If you travel less than 100km a day buy one and say good bye to petrol, servicing and emissions. It could be the “break through” EV.

EV Efficiency

Paul pointed out an interesting fact: EVs are more efficient in city driving than on the highway. This translates to increased range in the city. I think this is because the major energy loss in EVs is wind resistance which goes up quickly with speed. Everything else (e.g. the battery to wheels power train) is already very efficient at any speed. Efficiency is one reason we use electric motors in fixed industrial applications like factories rather than petrol engines. In ICE vehicles the major losses are in the power train, i.e. petrol to wheels efficiency is at best 20%. Power train losses dominate with low speed stop-start driving.

Here is a classic example. In an EV the motor stops when you do. So it’s efficiency sitting at traffic lights is 100%. No energy consumed for no velocity. An ICE vehicle wastefully idles at traffic lights, so it’s efficiency is 0. Fuel is being used to propel the vehicle at zero velocity.

EV Pricing and Market Traction

The MIEV and Leaf are being pitched at around AUD $48,000, about the same price as a Prius here. In the same market this sort of money will buy you a very nice mid-size European car. I would like to see EVs for a drive away price of less than $40,000. This would differentiate these EVs from the Prius, and get over the “range anxiety” hump compared to hybrids. When everyday people “get into” EVs and start talking to each other network effects will take over.

As I have pointed out before, an electric vehicle is implicitly simpler than an internal combustion vehicle and should cost less to make and sell. Like a lot of consumer electronics hardware, the price can be driven asymptotically down with increasing volume.

So it’s a volume game. Market traction and competition will push the price down. At this stage Manufacturers are dipping their toes in the water. But at some point competition will get real, consumer demand will increase, volume will increase, and EV prices will drop sharply.

5 thoughts on “Driving the Nissan Leaf”

  1. Hi David,

    You commented that the silvery thing to the left of the engine bay is the same as a Nissan cylinder head cover, but you didn’t say what actually goes on under that cover in this car. That engine bay looks quite busy for a car without a bay mounted engine.

  2. I had a chance to take a good look at 2 electric vehicle prototypes from Samsung and Hyundai today, at a Smart Grid exibition in Seoul. About half the exhibition is about electric cars, and charging systems for them.

    The Samsung is a rework of their existing gasoline powered SM3, which uses the same Renault-Nissan developed drive as the Leaf. All the bits under the hood were actually labelled Renault. Its amazing how much like a normal gasoline powered car the engine bay looks. It has a big water filled radiator, with a big fan, to cool the motor. The motor is quite large, with a pack of control equipment on top, and has a similar overall shape and size to a small gasoline engine. I now understand why David’s picture of the Leaf engine bay looks the way it does. They claim 11.8s 0->100km/h, and 170km range.

    The Hyundai model is called the Blue-On. It seems to be based on in-house developed technology, and it seems to have been designed from scratch to be an electric car. Its very much a mini car. The batteries are spread under the floor and under the rear seats, but the total volume of battery didn’t look that big. Water cooling features strongly in this design as well.

  3. I am very impressed with the Nissan Leaf and its space. It looks compact but it looks deceiving as it offers adequate spacing like that of a compact sedan. I think I will check out this nissan ny.

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