Happy Third Birthday, Nissan LEAF

On December 3, 2010, Nissan’s first mass-produced electric car — the five-seat LEAF hatchback — was launched at Nissan’s headquarters in Japan. 


Seven days later, on December 11 — three years ago tomorrow — California resident Olivier Chalouhi became the world’s first Nissan LEAF owner after being presented the keys to his car at a gala event at San Francisco City Hall.

Fast forward three years, and the Nissan LEAF has sold more than 87,000 units, is now made in three different factories around the world, and can be found on sale everywhere from South Africa to Scotland, Australia to Argentina.

When it originally launched in 2010, the Nissan LEAF (its name being a backronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car) went on sale in the U.S. with an EPA-calculated range of 73 miles per charge. In Japan and Europe — where fuel economy test cycles are notoriously optimistic — the same car was quoted as having a range of 120 miles and 109 miles respectively, but reports from early adopters around the globe soon pegged the real-world, easily achievable range of the all-electric car somewhere between 60 and 90 miles, depending on how it was driven.

The Nissan LEAF was the first electric car to go on sale with on-board telematics that enabled drivers to remotely check on their car’s state of charge from a computer or smartphone, as well as start or stop cabin pre-cooling, commence charging, and set routes. Since then, remote telematics has become the gold standard for any new EV, with very few cars now going on sale without features similar to or better than Nissan’s CARWINGS system.

Nikki and Mark plug one of the TransportEvolved Nissan LEAFs into a quick charge station.

Nikki and Mark plug one of the TransportEvolved Nissan LEAFs into a quick charge station.

For the first two years of its existence, all Nissan LEAFs were made in Japan at Nissan’s Oppama plant. Due to unfavourable exchange rates and relatively low initial production volumes, the Nissan LEAF initially commanded a $32,780 sticker price before state and federal tax incentives in the U.S., and £28,350 before UK government incentives. Due to the high sticker price, sales during the LEAF’s first year failed to meet Nissan’s expectations, but a price drop for the 2012 model year — as well as more global availability and increased production — improved sales dramatically.

For the 2013 model year, Nissan decided to decentralise production, moving European production to Sunderland, UK, and North American production to Smyrna, Tennessee. As well as improving motor and power electronics design, giving the 2013 LEAF a larger load bay than the 2011/12 model years, Nissan also managed to knock 28 kilograms (62 pounds) off the car’s curb weight.

Other improvements, including a percentage state of charge meter, more durable interior trim, and heavier steering made the 2013 Nissan LEAF — called LEAF 1.5 by many fans — a more conventional-feeling car. In addition, the improved drivetrain and replacing the previous-model’s inefficient heater with a heat pump-based heating system dramatically improved range, with most 2013/14 LEAF drivers reporting it’s possible to easily drive 70-90 miles on a single charge, while some are able to get more than 100 miles per charge.

Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing, as owners in Arizona and other warmer states in the U.S. can testify. Thanks to extreme temperatures and a lack of liquid cooling in its battery pack, many LEAFs subjected to extended triple-digit heat-waves in the height of summer have shown signs of premature battery ageing, making them behave like a battery pack with many more miles and many more years of use in just a few months and ultimately, unable to travel as far per charge as a similarly-aged LEAF with a similar odometer reading in a more temperature climate.

After a long dialogue with the affected LEAF drivers — which some drivers may categorise as a fight rather than a dialogue — Nissan not only begun a global LEAF Advisory Board (LAB) in order to better communicate with its EV customers and understand what its drivers needs and wants are, but worked hard to develop a new battery chemistry which is more resistant to heat-related premature ageing.  The new battery pack is expected to go into production in early 2014, and will be put in all new LEAFs, as well as the Nissan e-NV200 minivan, which launches next spring.

The Nissan LEAF is selling more cars than ever before, so production has increased to meet with demand.

The Nissan LEAF is selling more cars than ever before, so production has increased to meet with demand.

Despite these setbacks however, the Nissan LEAF is now selling faster than ever before and currently occupies the number one slot for global electric vehicle sales. Every day, thousands of people around the world now drive to and from work without ever needing to visit the gas station, and thanks to an increasing network of rapid quick charge stations in key market areas capable of refuelling the LEAF form empty to 80 percent full in 30 minutes, more people than ever before are making the switch to electric.

Happy Birthday LEAF. Here’s hoping your fourth year brings increased sales, more zero emission miles, and perhaps a few Nissan EV siblings to play with.

How are you celebrating the LEAF’s birthday? Do you own one? And what is your favourite bit about the car? Leave your thoughts — and birthday wishes in the Comments below.


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