Five years ago this week, Nissan began deliveries of its first production electric car, the 2011 Nissan LEAF. Powered by a 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and 80 kilowatt electric motor, the compact car was the first truly family-friendly electric hatchback you could buy.
Since then, nearly 200,000 LEAFs have been sold worldwide, covering 1.2 billion miles in the process. That’s equivalent to 2,600 round trips between the Earth and the moon and, claims Nissan, has prevented a total of 328,482 tons of CO² from entering the atmosphere. Of course, since not everyone who owns a Nissan LEAF charges it from zero carbon electricity sources, that figure is a little hard to tie down. It is, nevertheless, still impressive.
While Nissan has just managed to miss selling its 200,000th LEAF ahead of the car’s fifth birthday, the Japanese automaker says it should deliver its official 200,00th LEAF in January. That milestone ensures that at least for now, the Nissan LEAF will be the world’s most popular and successful electric vehicle. Indeed, its nearest rivals — the Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model S — have each totalled around 100,000 global sales since their launches in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
For the first two years of production, every single Nissan LEAF made was produced at Nissan’s Oppama production facility in Japan. Shipped around the world on giant cargo ships, early customers with LEAF pre-orders would eagerly spend time checking shipping manifests to find out if their car had finally arrived in the country. Indeed, while initial sales were slow due to low production volumes, deliveries during 2011 suffered something of a setback due to the devastating tsunami and earthquake which hit Japan in the spring of that year.
While Nissan’s Oppama production facility was not affected directly by the disaster, it did have to shift production priorities in order to keep its overseas customers happy, as well as find new suppliers able to make up for any losses suffered by tier one parts suppliers who had been directly affected by the disaster. (A side note: while it’s not exactly a pertinent point, we note that our first Nissan LEAF Staff car, nicknamed by the Gordon-Bloomfield family as ‘Hiro Nakamura’, was one of the last Nissan LEAFs to safely make it out of Japan before the earthquake hit.)
In 2012, Nissan expanded production of the LEAF two two additional facilities, one in Smyrna ,Tennessee, and one in Sunderland, UK. Operating alongside the original LEAF production line in Oppama, each factory took over production of the LEAF for their own respective markets. Smyrna produced all LEAF models for the Americas, while Sunderland produced all European (and we suspect but can’t confirm African market) LEAFs. Oppama meanwhile, took responsibility for Asia and Australasian LEAF production.
Alongside each of the production lines, each facility is home to a dedicated high-tech lithium-ion production facility, where Nissan builds the lithium-ion battery packs used in its vehicles from scratch. In the case of Nissan’s Sunderland facility, its lithium-ion battery factory also produces cells for Nissan’s e-NV200 electric minivan, which is built in Spain alongside the rest of Nissan’s NV200 family.
While the design of the LEAF hasn’t changed from the original 2010 model to today’s LEAF, there have been some important under-the-hood changes in the past five years. The first big one came in 2012, when Nissan shifted production to three facilities for the 2013 model year. At the same time, it revised much of the LEAF’s original drivetrain and power management system, replacing the early trunk-mounted charging system of early cars with a new integrated under-hood power inverter unit which was more efficient and cheaper to make than its predecessor. It also made tweaks to the battery pack chemistry, producing a battery pack which was more robust and less likely to suffer premature battery aging in extreme climates.
This was accompanied by the inclusion of an efficient heat pump heater system on higher-end models, replacing the resistive (range-sucking) heater element of earlier cars.
Then, for the 2016 model year, Nissan introduced an optional 30 kilowatt-hour battery pack, extending the range of the LEAF to 107 miles on the EPA test cycle from the 84 miles of previous years. While Nissan North America still refers to the LEAF as the first-generation model, its colleagues in Europe refer to the current 2016 Nissan LEAF as the “third generation” LEAF, although we’d side with Nissan North America on this one.
The true second-generation LEAF, expected to come to market some time in 2017 or 2018, will likely offer a 200+ mile range, as well as improved on-board technology, a more conventional design, and semi-autonomous drive capabilities.
Of all of Nissan’s LEAF markets, the U.S. is currently the biggest, says Nissan, with more than 90,000 LEAFs sold there since launch. Japan comes in second place, with 50,000 or so LEAFs now on its roads. Finally, Europe comes in third place, totalling around 40,000 sales since launch. But given the massive rise in plug-in sales in Europe, specifically the UK, that leaderboard could change moving forward.
Why has the LEAF been so successful? Part of its success lies in the vehicle’s design, which combines hatchback practicality with good road handling and durable clutter-free interior. Thanks to the battery located beneath the car’s floor, there’s also a class-leading cargo space, swallowing far more than an average compact hatchback can.
Optional on-board CHAdeMO quick charging also makes it possible to quickly extend the LEAF’s range from empty to 80 percent full in around 30 minutes, making the LEAF capable of trips far beyond its single charge range with a little planning. And it’s perhaps this feature — along with Nissan’s approach to Quick Charging infrastructure — which has helped the LEAF become so popular.
Since the LEAF launched, Nissan has played an active role in encouraging and funding the installation of CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations. To date, around 10,000 LEAF-compatible CHAdeMO quick charging stations have been installed around the world.
Do you own a Nissan LEAF? How many years have you been driving it? What do you like or hate about your car — and what improvements would you like to see before the LEAF turns ten?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below — and help yourself to some birthday cake!
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