Nissan Leaf – Test drive

What makes one get out of bed at 9am Saturday with 6 hour worth of sleep in a very cold day? Electricity! Provided by the “Nissan LEAF Tour” in Lisbon.

I had scheduled a test drive 2 or 3 weeks ago, and today was the day to engage in a first person pure electric drive. As i was rushing to Expo in my beaten diesel i wondered how it would feel as the only previous experience was in an Altima Hybrid (full electric up to about 25k/h)…  after arriving on site, the check-in process was a breeze , just signing up a responsibility term and show the drivers license, and 5 minutes afterward i was seated up in a brand new Nissan LEAF with Gary (a very nice Nissan technician) on the passenger side.

So, how was it? In two words, very cool. The test drive was a tour around the outer perimiter of Parque das Nações, 10kms worth of urban and sub-urban routes (not the usual salesmen drive around the block / or in the parking…yes it actually happened to me once…). So, how is it? Smooth, silent, powerful, calm, relaxing. Really smooth power delivery, the 0-100K/h acceleration is pretty good (around 10s), and almost no noise, just a cool “jet like” wine at wide open throttle, you really don’t feel no lack of power and you can merge to highways pretty easy. Really didn’t push hard on corners, but the direction feels good (not the normal Nissan feather like steering), so as the suspension and brakes feel pretty competent. This IS NOT a sports car, but a perfect commuter car, very easy and relaxing to drive. Its like a magic carpet, that slides down the road. It must be driven to be sensed.

Afterward when i went back home in my 10 years old diesel, it felt more like a 100 year old car with all those nasty engine/transmission noises…. Back to the Leaf, it is a real car, a real solid product, not a gizmo with wheels, is a great accomplishment by Nissan. I believe that if Tesla Roadster showcased the electric car technology and inspired many, the Leaf can be the dawn of the electric revolution.

For the bad part, the ugly design, other bad point is the ugly design, and of course the ugly design. Did i mention the ugly design? How hard could it be to make a (much) better looking car? Well, lets just hope Leaf 2.0 gets better looks. Also the range, of course always the range, only 160kms (at highway better to expect around 100Kms) so this implies a oil burner as a backup car for that 1% big trips. The range issue is something that will remain for many years, as the battery capacity trend show small improvements over time, about the double of capacity for each ten years. So, maybe only a 2030 Leaf can have a decent +600Kms range, and by then we can finally trash the oil burners.

The good news in this range/battery/electric car business, is that the engine is +90% energy efficient (almost no margin of progress here), so the battery as the weak link, in 10 years from now a “simple” battery swap upgrades the car to the latest technology.

I also did some number crunching…

Pure financial comparison of a Golf Mk6 TDI / Nissan Leaf  (for the bean counters like me)

Assuming 100.000Kms/5 years worth

1 – Sale value

Golf: 25.023€ (Volkswagen  Golf  VI 1.6TDI Trendline BM 99gr 5p)
Leaf: 30.250€  (includes 5.000€ government subsidy for the first 5000 buyers)

both of the prices, don’t include the administration and transport fees, so is normal that the final price is a bit higher, even that i believe a bit upper in the Golf… anyway both of those prices are ridiculous high if we compare with other markets, but here in Portugal is just like that 🙁

Advantage for the Golf – 5000€

2 – Fuel costs

Golf: rated at 4.5L/100Kms, but has we know this is in optimal conditions so lets make it 5L/100Kms @ 1.25€ diesel liter (yes, a very optimistic price for 4 years range).
5000L * 1.25 = 6250€
Leaf: Nissan rated it at 24Kw/h battery and 160kms range, so assuming 100% discharge of battery (that is really a bad thing to do, specially when Nissan trows a 5/8 – Europe/US – year battery warranty), it goes around 15Kw/h per 100Kms. The EPA in a more aggressive tests (highway speed/AC on/ heater on/heavy traffic) averaged the tests and rated the leaf at 34Kw/h per 100 miles. That’s 34Kw/h = 160.9Kms or 21.13Kw/h per 100Kms. So, using the EPA number and trowing in a 10% buffer for losses during charging, we will use a pretty conservative 23.25Kw/h per 100kms. At today price, night charging would cost 0,0742€ + VAT * 23.25 = 2.08€ (100Kms) * 1000 = 2087€

Advantage for the Leaf- 4183€

3 – Maintenance costs

Golf: tdi engines get very expensive long life, low viscosity oil, plus filters, front brake pads, ac filter and ducts disinfection. One time a year in the vw workshop should go around 300€/year. So that’s 1200€.
Leaf: the 107 horsepower electric induction engine only has five moving parts, so no oil changes, air filter, fuel filter. Regen braking also means less brake pads wear. So in 4 years/100.000Kms probably you will get your cabin filter changed and the ac system sanitized, wiper fluid topped up and maybe front pads, and tires. Lets quote this at about 150€ ?

Advantage for the Leaf- 1000€

4 – Road taxes

Golf: 431,84€
Leaf: 0€
Of course both of these values as things go by can only go up not down…

Advantage for the Leaf- 431.84€

5 – Re-sale value or TCO after 4 years
Golf: pattern and trends show a typical loss around 40%, so it will sell for about 15.000€
Leaf: a big question mark. There is really no way to tell how an 100% electric will hold-on value. The Prius and other hybrids do ok, but this is a completely different ball game… actually it comes (yet again) to the battery endurance and performance and the swap price for a fresh one when the old gets tyred. Nissan didn’t disclosed the battery pack cost neither a swap job cost. The only sure thing is a 5 year/100.000Kms warranty on 80% range. So lets assume that it will go to about 10 year/250.000Kms with still 60% range, then it all comes to cost, if by then you can put a new one in for a sensible value, lets say around 3.000€, thats ok because in the oil burner at that mileage you propably had to swap clutch, egr, maf, turbo service, timing service so thats about the same. But probably the cost will be much higher, but anyway who knows in 4 years what will happen. Because of all this unknown i will use a 10% buffer, so lets go to 50% value loss, so it will go for 15.000€.

TCO Totals:

Golf: 17.850€
Leaf: 17.150€

There you go, for me that is a technical tie. The Leaf may benefit from faster higher oil prices in the next years than electricity, but it losses in the predictability of the resale value or in the long run (4 years plus) of the battery swap costs. This is a tricky situation, good for gamblers, because nobody really knows in the medium/long run in the economic point of view what will be the best option.

Environmental comparison of a Golf Mk6 TDI / Nissan Leaf  (exploring the tailpipe pollution to power plant pollution argument)

Here i am just looking to the actual emissions produced for traveling. Not the product life cycle, ex: car production emissions, dealership transport, end of life, etc… Also, will not be accounting at all the emissions made in the production of the power plants, dams, wind turbines, power grid, etc. It is assumed that both the cars are in perfect condition, specially the oil burner anti-pollution systems, EGR valve, DPF, etc.

Golf 1.6 TDI Bluemotion (g/km)
CO2 – 109
NOx – 0.1215

A little more difficult to calculate, because it depends on the power mix. At July 2010 the portuguese power mix was:

witch translates in:
CO2 (g/kWh) –  369,23
NOx (g/kWh) – 1,06

we know (see up in the post) that the Leaf gets circa 21KWh per 100Kms = 0.21Kwh per 1Km. So as by now (i hope that renewable sources continue to grow strong in the next years) :

CO2 – 77.53  (g/km)
NOx – 0,2226 (g/km)

If in CO2 the Leaf can get a very good value and should be at least by a 20% margin the best vehicle on the road, the last generation diesel engine with all bells and whistles can hold on very well in the very nasty and unhealthy nitrogen oxides by almost half. In conclusion what seemed at first an easy victory for the Leaf turned out to be a major win for the Golf (as a flagship for the latest diesel engine advances, for instance the mk 4 1.9 TDI Euro III is rated at +0.25 g/Km). This very simple math shows that there is still lots of work to be rolled out by EDP, in providing us a more eco-friendly power.

Winner: Golf


Thanks Nissan for the oportunity to drive electric (and the 1Gb pen drive), it was a great experience i will not forget. Who would guessed some years ago that the company of the sick boring Almeras and Primeras is the first to deliver a 100% mass production electric vehicle, great work! They really stand up to the company motto “Shift Expectations”. The car is a great product and a great drive, now i know for sure that i will own an electric car in the (near) future. I will not buy one just now because of 3 main reasons:

1 – I dont have a parking spot/garage where i can arrive at night plug in and take the elevator home
2 – There is a big void about the battery swap cost and resale value
3 – For now, is not that eco friendly as one might think at first glance

I’m working in solving point 1, hope car companies solve point 2 and hope that when 1 and 2 are both solved point 3 is allready solved by the power utility (or else i can allways take matters in my own hands…).

The stone age didn’t end because of end of stones. “Oil age” probably will end up also with lots of oil left, it’s just up to car companies to strive and keep launching better and better oil free vehicles.

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