Nissan LEAF (almost) test ride, impressions, and the LEAF tour

The LEAF tour has been in the San Francisco Bay Area this week, and today was at the Santana Row shopping center in San Jose.  The tour will be in various cities across the U.S. and those who are interested should go to Nissan’s website (see The Nissan LEAF is touring America, and first deliveries are expected 1 year from now) for more information.  During todays session Nissan allowed the press to drive it around a small test track.  The car was a prototype vehicle (aka test mule) built from a highly modified Nissan Versa, but we were promised the drive system was nearly identical to the LEAF’s.  Assuming the final production vehicle (due next year) is largely the same, it seems they have a winner on their hands.

The LEAF is an all electric sedan, zero emissions, five passengers, 90 miles/hr top speed, 100 mile range, and due to be launched in T-12 months (or so).  By “all electric” they mean there is a large battery pack on-board (26 kilowatt-hours), and no gas engine.  By “zero emissions” they of course mean tail pipe emissions, that is if it had a tail pipe.  By 100 mile range, they mean the “LA4” model for estimating mileage figures.  See Technical specifications for the Nissan LEAF.

What’s it like?  It’s very nice, good acceleration, good handling, and comfortable.  It is of course quiet and smooth, as is expected of an electric car.    I’ve driven electric cars before and I own several electric motorcycles, bicycles and scooters, so the quietness is not at all new to me.

Nissan went to great lengths to make the driving experience as “normal” as possible apparently hoping that some degree of familiarity would breed acceptance.  Other electric car makers such as Myers Motors or Aptera seem to go for far out designs, but not Nissan with the LEAF.  The passenger compartment is very typical, a dash board, steering wheel, control levers on the steering column, that sort of thing.

Some things are a little unusual.  The system is “drive-by-wire” meaning there is no direct mechanical linkage to anything.  Instead the computer reads signals coming from the controls, interpolates the signals, and performs your intent to its best interpretation of them.  In the test vehicle the controls felt very natural and normal, but for one.  The gear selector is a joystick-like knob in the center console rather than a lever going down into the transmission.  It’s simply a different way to select gears, which would grow to be familiar after awhile.

Behind the hatchback is an ample storage area, and the rear seat folds down to expand the storage area even further.

The charging port is under a flap in the front of the car.  Under the flap is two charging ports.  One is the standardized J1772 connector which offers “level 1” and “level 2” charging, the latter offering 3 hour or so charging speed.  The second port is for high speed charging (“level 3”, 25 minutes).  It is not currently a standardized port meaning there may be a period of confusion over high speed charging port design.  The Nissan officials explained there is a standards committee working on high speed charging port design, and the work is not yet finished.  Nissan did not want to delay implementation of high speed charging and it was implied they would swap out the high speed charging port once the standardized design is known.

A part of the LEAF rollout is infrastructure preparation.  Nissan officials explained that the initial cities for LEAF rollout were chosen due to local factors.  There is a chicken-and-egg style problem with electric vehicle adoption, if there are no charging stations nobody will buy the cars, and if there are no cars who would want to build charging stations.  Nissan is working with local agencies across the country to ensure charging infrastructure exists once the cars are ready.  See Nissan supports electric vehicle & infrastructure deployment project

In some areas there are existing charging stations from the last time the car companies were making electric cars (about 10 years ago).  These charging stations use different connectors and it was explained they can be converted simply by replacing the connector with a new one.  In other areas new charging stations will be installed.  Because the J1772 connector is a standard implemented by every company making plug-in electric cars, the charging station infrastructure is for the benefit of every car company, not just Nissan.  Unlike cell phones where there is no common cell phone charger connector, the new electric cars have standardized connectors.  See Planning for the coming wave of electric vehicles

It’s T-12 months and counting.

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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