The Truth About Cars » Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:58:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Dongfeng Nissan Launches Leaf-Based Venucia e30 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/dongfeng-nissan-launches-leaf-based-venucia-e30/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/dongfeng-nissan-launches-leaf-based-venucia-e30/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 10:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=912650 After 3.1 million miles of pilot testing, Dongfeng Nissan last week launched its version of the Leaf for the Chinese EV market, the Venucia e30. Prior to the official launch, around 300 of the ¥267,800 ($43,460 USD) e30s went through a quality and safety pilot program in Guangzhou, Xiangyang and Dalian, logging 3.1 million “failure-free” […]

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After 3.1 million miles of pilot testing, Dongfeng Nissan last week launched its version of the Leaf for the Chinese EV market, the Venucia e30.

Prior to the official launch, around 300 of the ¥267,800 ($43,460 USD) e30s went through a quality and safety pilot program in Guangzhou, Xiangyang and Dalian, logging 3.1 million “failure-free” miles in so doing. Six more cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Tianjin and Hangzhou — join the original three locations as part of the initial launch before sales go nationwide next year.

As for what consumers will get out of the reworked original EV for the masses, the e30 is expected to deliver up to 35 miles in range after using the quick-charge option, with normal charging also available. In addition, the EV comes with government subsidies, as well as lower running costs of 85 percent compared to similar gasoline models.

Though it remains to be seen how well the e30 hits it off with the Chinese public, the Leaf is doing well for itself as of late, with Nissan selling 3,186 units in the United States last month, and year-to-year U.S. sales jumping 34 percent to 18,841 units.

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Nissan Loses Money On Every Leaf Replacement Battery Sold http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/kuhlman-nissan-loses-money-per-leaf-replacement-battery-sold/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/kuhlman-nissan-loses-money-per-leaf-replacement-battery-sold/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=873026 In June, Nissan announced that Leaf owners could obtain a replacement battery pack for $5,500 upon trading in the old unit. While a boon to said owners, the automaker is losing blood on the deal every time a pack is sold. Green Car Reports interviewed Nissan vice president of global communications Jeff Kuhlman, who explained […]

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In June, Nissan announced that Leaf owners could obtain a replacement battery pack for $5,500 upon trading in the old unit. While a boon to said owners, the automaker is losing blood on the deal every time a pack is sold.

Green Car Reports interviewed Nissan vice president of global communications Jeff Kuhlman, who explained that the low price for the new pack was the result of his employer subsidizing the price, though he declined to state how much Nissan spends per replacement. Thus, no profit is being made at this time off of the exchange.

However, Nissan isn’t yet hurting on this “customer-first” initiative. According to Kuhlman, no one has taken the automaker up on its Leaf battery replacement program.

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Nissan: 633 CHAdeMO Fast Chargers Available For Use Today, More Coming http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/nissan-633-chademo-fast-chargers-available-for-use-today-more-coming/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/nissan-633-chademo-fast-chargers-available-for-use-today-more-coming/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 12:00:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858009 Just in time for the Fourth of July travel weekend, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MIEV owners will have access to 633 CHAdeMO fast chargers, up from 160 stations in January 2013. Green Car Reports says back then, the majority of those chargers were along the West Coast and Texas, with Nissan promising to triple that […]

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Just in time for the Fourth of July travel weekend, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MIEV owners will have access to 633 CHAdeMO fast chargers, up from 160 stations in January 2013.

Green Car Reports says back then, the majority of those chargers were along the West Coast and Texas, with Nissan promising to triple that number within 18 months. Nissan North America senior manager of corporate communications Brian Brockman announced last week that his employer had gone above and beyond by bringing online nearly 500 units in the time period, with all listed on PlugShare.

As for the rest of FY 2014, Nissan will push forward to bring more CHAdeMO stations online, from its network of dealerships, to top Leaf markets such as Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston. Meanwhile, another vehicle will be able to make use of the chargers when the 2015 Kia Soul EV goes on sale later on this summer.

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Nissan UK: Leaf Dominated EV Sales In 2013 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nissan-uk-leaf-dominated-ev-sales-in-2013/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/nissan-uk-leaf-dominated-ev-sales-in-2013/#comments Fri, 20 Jun 2014 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=847961 Though consumers in the United Kingdom may not have been too interested in electric vehicles last year, Nissan says the majority of those sold belong to the automaker. Just-Auto reports out of the 2,507 EVs sold in the U.K. in 2013, 73 percent — 1,830 — belonged to the Nissan Leaf. The automaker added that […]

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2013 Nissan Leaf. Photo courtesy Nissan.

Though consumers in the United Kingdom may not have been too interested in electric vehicles last year, Nissan says the majority of those sold belong to the automaker.

Just-Auto reports out of the 2,507 EVs sold in the U.K. in 2013, 73 percent — 1,830 — belonged to the Nissan Leaf. The automaker added that the nation’s EV market continues to be “well-supported” by incentives and breaks on taxes and congestion pricing.

Meanwhile, charging the Leafs continues to be made easier thanks to expansion of the charging network. In 2011, only 752 units were available along the roadway; today, 5,731 thus far. Fast-charging Chademo stations also are on the rise, beginning with 60 in 2013 and growing to 232 currently. Nissan expects 500 of the fast-charging stations to be available all over the country by 2015, with 90 percent of all service areas in possession of a Chademo.

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Best Selling Cars Around The Globe: The Nissan Leaf Found Its Home In Norway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-the-nissan-leaf-found-its-home-in-norway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-the-nissan-leaf-found-its-home-in-norway/#comments Wed, 15 May 2013 13:34:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=488552 Last time I spoke with you, we went to our traditional monthly worldwide Roundup, spending time praising the ever-impressive performance of the Nissan Qashqai. This week I take you to Norway, the new land of the Nissan Leaf… Contrasting with the rest of Europe, Norwegian new car sales are in great shape in April, up […]

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Last time I spoke with you, we went to our traditional monthly worldwide Roundup, spending time praising the ever-impressive performance of the Nissan Qashqai. This week I take you to Norway, the new land of the Nissan Leaf…

Contrasting with the rest of Europe, Norwegian new car sales are in great shape in April, up 29 percent year-on-year to 13,988 registrations which brings the year-to-date total back into positive at 47,684 units, up 4 percent on 2012.

If the VW Golf unsurprisingly flies above the competition with 903 sales and 6.5 percent share now that the Mazda CX-5 is out of sight at #16, the big event this month is the continuous progression of the Nissan Leaf, now #2 at 455 units and a 3.3 percent share.

This is by far the Leaf’s best ranking anywhere in the world, and no less than the fourth consecutive record month for the Nissan Leaf in Norway, after ranking #4 with 297 units and 2.8% in March#5 with 287 sales and 2.5% in February and #9 in January.

In fact, Norway is the only country in the world where the Nissan Leaf has managed to break into the monthly Top 10!

This is another proof (if we needed one) that government incentives are the key (for now) to success for electric cars. Norwegian buyers of the Nissan Leaf  benefit from priority lines to avoid congested traffic, similarly to what was done with the Toyota Prius in California.

You can be sure you’ll be the first to know if the Leaf manages the historical feat of taking the lead of the Norwegian models ranking in the coming months!

Matt Gasnier, based in Sydney, Australia, runs a blog named Best Selling Cars, dedicated to counting cars all over the world.

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Requiem: 2012 Coda Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/requieum-2012-coda-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/requieum-2012-coda-sedan/#comments Wed, 01 May 2013 23:30:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=487013 About a year ago Bertel, Ed and I ended up in Los Angeles for a PR meet/dine with Coda. No automotive event would be complete without a drive and our electrifying dinner was no different. Bertel and Ed wisely chose to leave the driving to me (although they did toss me in the trunk and […]

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2012 Coda EV, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesAbout a year ago Bertel, Ed and I ended up in Los Angeles for a PR meet/dine with Coda. No automotive event would be complete without a drive and our electrifying dinner was no different. Bertel and Ed wisely chose to leave the driving to me (although they did toss me in the trunk and close the lid later that evening). Since that night I have struggled to erase the Coda from my mind when today it all came flooding back. Coda has filed for chapter 11 protection. I know it’s bad form to speak ill of the departed, but this is TTAC so let’s have a review style requiem for the worst EV ever made.

Exterior

If you ordered your car by the inch, the Coda is what 176 inches of generic sedan would look like. Since Coda was a small California company without the deep pockets of Elon Musk, they did what any start-up with a screw loose would do: turn to China. Hafei was crazy enough to be smoking the same thing Coda’s dudes were, so they offered up their Saibo sedan as a donor car. Plain hardly begins to describe the Saibo. It looks like a cross between a 1990s Corolla and a 2000 Civic with some 1980s Geo tossed in. No problem, just call in a design firm. Sounds good right? They hired Pininfarina. Sounds even better, right?? Yea, except look what they came up with. Ouch. The result was a grille-free beige something that was so boring we failed to take a side-profile shot of it. You didn’t miss much.

2012 Coda EV InteriorInterior

The Saibo was based on a last-century Mitsubishi Lancer, sort of. Knowing this, I feared that the 2012 Chinese car would still be sporting a 1990s interior. Oh how I wish that were true. Instead, they attempted to “modernize” things by creating an interior that even Benz/Cerberus era Chrysler would have rejected. That’s fine when the Chinese version costs about $15,000, but with a starting price of $37,250, “bad” doesn’t begin to describe what’s happening here. The dashboard in the “production” vehicle we drove rattled and squeaked non-stop, the radio was a Best Buy special with no Coda customization, and the only “feature” touted was the leather wrapped steering wheel. In truth, the tiller was fairly pleasant to hold, except that when you moved it you were reminded it was attached to a Coda. Toss in the cheesiest gauges I have ever seen and an imitation Jaguar Drive Selector gear shifter that looked bad and felt worse and the cabin was complete. I think recalling the horror within is bringing back my PTSD, I need to sit down.

Infotainment

Seriously, they just used an aftermarket double-din radio. Check out Crutchfield for the review on that.

2012 Coda Sedan, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesDrivetrain

Under the not-sexy-at-all hood of the Coda beat a 130 horsepower electric motor capable of delivering a stout 220 lb-ft of twist from zero to whenever it hit its redline (we weren’t told) through a single speed transmission. If that sounds OK, trust me, it’s perfectly fine. In fact, the drivetrain of the Coda was innovative and had nothing to do with their failure. Powering the motor was a custom designed lithium ion iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery that sported square rather than round cells for greater energy density and better cooling. The power pack under the floor was rated at 31kWh (larger than the Leaf) but because of the Coda’s weight, range was barely better than the Nissan. Unlike the competition, Coda installed an active thermal management system to keep the cells at the optimum temperature at all times to prevent the same sort of battery failures we saw on the Leaf in the Arizona desert.

2012 Coda EV on the road, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

So far, the Coda sounds like a boring little car with a bland interior, high-tech drivetrain with an advanced battery pack. In truth, the Coda sounded like a reasonable argument on paper and it looked like something you could live with in person… until you drove it. The Coda’s motor management software that had all the refinement of a science project. An elementary school science project. Acceleration was brisk but wasn’t in tune with the sloppy bumper-car pedal. As with most EVs, the Coda had regenerative braking but the system was bipolar providing either too little assist or way to much. Press the brake pedal down 10%, nothing. 20 %, nothing. 30% was where the “magic” started with the slightest resistance to forward progress. Between 31 and 40% things were peachy-keen but soggy. Press the stopper to 41% and everyone in the car will be dialing a whiplash injury lawyer.

Steering feel was horrid, but so is the feel in the Prius. Not much to say here.

2012 Coda EV, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So far everything I have described could have been lived with, you know, if someone gave you a Coda and you were unable to sell it. What absolutely could not be lived with was the ride. No 1990s Mitsubishi had a terribly polished ride to begin with, add Chinese tinkering, tinkering by a company that had never built a car before and 728 battery cells and you have a recipe for disaster. To compensate for the added weight, Coda jammed stiffer springs on all four corners and did nothing else. Crashy doesn’t begin to describe what my vertebrae felt on our 50 mile drive. If you think adding passengers would have improved things, we tried, there here were four of us in the car and we are all “American sized”.

Adding insult to injury, the EPA rated the Coda sedan the least efficient EV in modern history. No wonder they failed. Still, I’m sad to see Coda Automotive go because there will be one less voice in the EV conversation and auto journalists will have one less car to complain about. When you gathered writers together, someone will proclaim “there is no such thing as a bad car anymore.” Then somebody would remember Coda and we’d all have a good laugh before we moved back to complaining about the Prius. Now Coda is a fading memory, unless you are unfortunate enough to have one in your garage, then you won’t be able to forget. Or get it fixed. My condolences.

Coda gave me a free T-shirt at the Coda store, I still have it.

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The Truth About Battery Life http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/the-truth-about-battery-life/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/the-truth-about-battery-life/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 21:07:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478387 The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology […]

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The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology has always interested me. So when people from Phoenix came to me crying in their soup about their LEAFs in the heat and friends started wagging fingers at Tesla and the New York Times, I figured it was time for a battery reality check.

What’s the problem (this time)?

Consumer Reports says their Tesla’s power gauge dropped to “zero” at the 173-mile mark on a 176-mile trip. At the beginning of the trip the range indicator said 240 miles while the “projected range” indicator which takes driving style into account said 188 miles. On first glance this sounds like some horrific range issue. “OMG, the Model S missed its 240 mile range by 64 miles.” But did it?

 

What was the problem last time?

If you didn’t know about the Tesla / New York Times punch up, then click here for the article that started it all. (And a picture of a Tesla on a flatbed.) Basically John Broder took a Tesla out on the road for a long road trip and ran out of juice. Of course he also didn’t charge the battery fully at every opportunity he had, but that’s beside the point for the moment.

About those journalists

Our readers are no doubt familiar with Jack Baruth’s assertion that the vast majority of auto journalists are less than professional drivers. The same applies in this case, the majority of journalists know rather little about EVs, how they work, what’s going on in the battery pack and why it matters. Much like a novice on the track, a novice in an EV can result in unpredictable results.

How batteries work

Batteries are a means of storing electricity chemically. The fact that we’re talking about a chemical reaction is absolutely vital to keep in mind when anyone starts talking about range, battery degradation, heat, cold, charging, etc.

All batteries have three basic components: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte between the two. Depending on what materials are used for each of these three components battery life, cost and power density will vary. At the low-end of the scale we have the zinc-potato-copper battery from school and at the high-end of consumer electronics we have the lithium iron phosphate-dimethyl carbonate-graphite battery known as the Lithium-ion battery, or the battery that powers modern cell phones, laptops, electric cars and is even used in the new Boeing 787. (Yea, the one getting the bad press.)

Every battery chemistry has its advantages and disadvantages. Lead-acid batteries (the one that starts your car) are heavy, cheap and can handle the high current draw of starter motors. Ni-Cad batteries that were popular in my child hood were relatively easy to manufacture and lower cost than other alternatives. Nickel-metal hydride batteries have been around for some time and thanks to their stability and energy density have been used in hybrid vehicles since the Prius and Insight. Lithium based batteries are the current star in the consumer electronics world because their power density and ability to charge rapidly are excellent for smartphones, tablets and laptops. The problem is Lithium batteries can be more “temperamental” than some of the older chemistries. If you want to know all there is to know about Lithium-ion batteries, click on over to Batteryuniversity.com.

What does this have to do with the cold?

Because batteries store energy chemically, a chemical reaction has to occur when charging and when discharging. When batteries get cold, the internal resistance of the battery increases which decreases the amount of energy that you can get out of the pack. You can test this at home yourself if you have a camera flash at home. Drop the batteries into the freezer, put them in the flash and see how long it takes to recharge the flash. What does this mean in a car? Well, you are charging outside and it’s near freezing, then (A) you won’t be able to completely charge a battery and (B) after charging if the battery cools off to ambient you won’t be able to use a portion of those electrons you just stuffed in the battery. Think about your 12V car battery, remember that cranking amps vs cold cranking amps rating? Same thing.

To fix these problems many EVs (like the Model S) heat the battery to try to keep it at an optimum temperature. Doing so ensures that you can use the entire capacity for charging and discharging, but it of course consumes power, and the colder it is, the more power it takes to heat the battery. In hot weather the system cools the battery to preserve the lifetime of the battery chemistry.

What are the factors that decrease battery life?

There are many factors involved, but put simply, having your battery at a very low state of charge or a very high state of charge has a negative impact on battery life. The rate at which you take the battery from charged to discharged or discharged to charged also has an impact. While cold temperatures may keep you from getting the most out of your battery, it usually doesn’t impact longevity. Heat on the other hand has a severe impact on battery life and it gets worse the higher the state of charge.

Back to Consumer Reports

Without access to Elon’s creepy data logs of the CR test vehicle, I have two suggestions to what was going on. First off, the car was fairly close to reality with the projected range of 188 miles, but this needs explanation and education. The car was saying that if you drive gently the maximum range is 240.  Drive it like you’ve been driving it,  expect 188. Now we insert the cold weather into the mix. I assume he was heating the cabin on a chilly day and driving like normal. What wasn’t obvious is that the Model S may very well have also had the battery heater turned on, if so, there’s your 12 miles. Even if that wasn’t the case, any gasoline car that gets the range estimate within 7% scores in my book.

What about those LEAFs in Phoenix?

A while back I got a frantic call from a friend in the Phoenix area. “My LEAF’s batteries are dead!” So for the next 15 minutes he poured his heart out about the problem. Towards the end the usual comments from a person dealing with “automotive loss” came out “Nissan needs to give me a new battery.” After all his woes had been aired he asked me what I thought. I paused for a moment and said (as nicely as possible) “I’m not sure what your problem is. What you are describing to me is normal battery wear and tear.”

You see, unlike the Model S, the LEAF does not have an active cooling system for the battery pack. (This was done to save money and with the LEAF now dropping to $28,800 (less than half the Model S), you get what you pay for.) The lack of active cooling means that in the hot Arizona desert, parked in the sun at work or at the mall your battery is slowly dying. Why? It’s all back to the chemistry again. The optimum service life of Lithium-ion batteries is achieved when the cell is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking in the sun for 8 hours a day while you’re at the office the inside of the car can easily go over 170 degrees when it’s 115 outside. Since he had to charge his car at the office in order to get back home, he was compounding the problem since batteries get hot as they charge. As the battery aged because of the long commute he started to drop by the local DC quick charge station. This made the battery age even faster because now the battery is hot and you are rapidly going from one state of charge to the other. Net result: 20% loss in capacity over 2 years and 33,000 miles. Case closed.

What about my Prius? (or other hybrids)

Right now the Prius, and most older hybrids like the Escape Hybrid and the first generation Fusion Hybrid use Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries. This chemistry is more stable but less power dense than lithium based batteries. In addition remember what I said about battery life? State of charge and charge/discharge rates are large factors. Hybrids extend their battery life deliberately by never fully charging nor fully discharging their batteries. In fact most non-plug-in hybrids use 60-70% of the rated capacity in the battery. Since they don’t depend on the battery for 100% of the propulsion like an EV does, charge and discharge rates are lower which also extends battery life. And lastly, it’s less obvious when your hybrid’s battery does age because it’s not your only source of propulsion. As hybrids move to lithium batteries they are retaining these life extending measures, but even still they may or may not have the same life span as the NiMH batteries, only time will tell. In the plug-in world, only GM seems to be operating in a cautious fashion by only using about 80% of the Volt and ELR’s battery pack vs nearly 95% of the capacity in Ford and Toyota models.

Who’s right and who’s wrong here? Who is to blame?

Everyone. The EV buyer who didn’t bother to do his homework, the dealer who didn’t help set expectations, and the manufacturer who promised all would be well. My inclination however is to place the burden on the EV buyer. If you’re going to buy a car of any description, you need to do your homework. You don’t buy a Mazda Miata and then get upset when you bend the frame trying to tow your 5th wheel. Likewise, don’t expect any EV to have some magical battery that runs on butterfly-farts and lasts 250,000 miles, it just won’t happen. Yet.

 

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New Nissan Leaf Promises You More Or Less http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/new-nissan-leaf-promises-you-more-or-less/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/new-nissan-leaf-promises-you-more-or-less/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2012 11:13:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467513 Nissan showed a refreshed version of its all-electric Leaf today. Available to the Japanese market at first, it offers both more and less. Through a number of system tweaks, the nominal range under the Japanese JC08 test cycle has been raised from 200km (124 miles) to 228 km (141 miles). Of course, that Japanese cycle […]

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Nissan showed a refreshed version of its all-electric Leaf today. Available to the Japanese market at first, it offers both more and less.

Through a number of system tweaks, the nominal range under the Japanese JC08 test cycle has been raised from 200km (124 miles) to 228 km (141 miles). Of course, that Japanese cycle is completely out of touch with the real world, but there is hope that under the right conditions, you might get more than 10 percent additional range out of the new Leaf.

In the more department, there are added computer functions that tell you for instance what percentage of battery power is left, or what the state of charge may be when your reach your destination. Leather seats are available, a BOSE energy efficient sound system, regenerative braking has been enhanced, and the cabin heater works with a power saving heat pump.

In the less department, there is a lower price by way of a more frugal “S” (as in Spartan?) grade that dispenses with luxuries such as aluminum wheels, LED headlights, or the germ killing Plasma Cluster Ion generator.  With Japanese subsidies applied, the Japanese entry price comes down from nearly 3 million yen ($37,000) to some 2.5 million yen ($31,000).

The new Leaf also is less dependent on China. The rare earth used in the electric motor has been reduced by 40 percent.

2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan 2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan 2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan 2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan 2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan 2013 Nissan Leaf - Picture courtesy Nissan

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QOTD: How Many Leafs Were Bought So Far? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/qotd-how-many-leafs-were-bought-so-far/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/qotd-how-many-leafs-were-bought-so-far/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2012 14:48:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466989 A game of two questions: How many Nissan Leaf do you think were sold so far? And where does it sell the best? Answer after the jump. There you go: Official numbers, factory-direct. How close were your guesses? (FY=Fiscal Year. FY12= April 2012 to date.)

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A game of two questions: How many Nissan Leaf do you think were sold so far? And where does it sell the best? Answer after the jump.

There you go:

Official numbers, factory-direct. How close were your guesses?

(FY=Fiscal Year. FY12= April 2012 to date.)

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Slow EV Sales Disappoint And Frustrate Nissan COO http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/slow-ev-sales-disappoint-and-frustrate-nissan-coo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/slow-ev-sales-disappoint-and-frustrate-nissan-coo/#comments Tue, 06 Nov 2012 14:37:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466022 Nissan’s chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga said he was “disappointed and frustrated” by the lackluster sales of electric vehicles in general and the Leaf in particular. Speaking at the mid-term results press conference at the Nissan HQ in Yokohama, his emotional appeal to recognize Nissan’s pioneering efforts in the field of zero emissions had undertones of […]

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Nissan’s chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga said he was “disappointed and frustrated” by the lackluster sales of electric vehicles in general and the Leaf in particular. Speaking at the mid-term results press conference at the Nissan HQ in Yokohama, his emotional appeal to recognize Nissan’s pioneering efforts in the field of zero emissions had undertones of an eulogy on the electric vehicle:

“Somewhere in the history of mankind, people will have to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and Nissan is assuming the risk to do it now. We were the first volume maker deploy EVs globally. Please don’t forget that we have this passion and a sense of mission.”

Not giving up on EVs, Shiga personally heads a task force to accelerate the sales of EVs. So far, Shiga did not have more to report than mining the data harvested from the connected Leafs, and giving the data to companies that will install quick chargers.

Next month, it will be two years that Nissan launched the Leaf pure EV. According to Shiga, it saw global sales of 42,700 units since introduction, 19,000 of them in Japan.

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Nissan Uses Strippers To Sex Up Limp Leaf Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/nissan-uses-strippers-to-sex-up-limp-leaf-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/nissan-uses-strippers-to-sex-up-limp-leaf-sales/#comments Mon, 22 Oct 2012 15:11:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464486 Warning: Video NSFW in Sharia jurisdictions and parts of corporate America Nissan plans a budget Leaf to be sold along the current version, Nissan’s Andy Palmer told the Financial Times. With the stripper model, Nissan hopes to extend the car’s reach beyond early adopters to “pragmatists.” Another problems remains unsolved: The car’s reach. “The main […]

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Warning: Video NSFW in Sharia jurisdictions and parts of corporate America

Nissan plans a budget Leaf to be sold along the current version, Nissan’s Andy Palmer told the Financial Times. With the stripper model, Nissan hopes to extend the car’s reach beyond early adopters to “pragmatists.” Another problems remains unsolved: The car’s reach.

“The main hesitation in buying the car is from range anxiety,” Palmer told the FT. “Maybe we were over-optimistic with the ramp-up as well.”

Nissan budgeted for 40,000 Leaf’s to be sold in the current fiscal, but sold fewer than 12,000 Leafs in the first half. Range, cost, and charge time are seen as the main reasons standing in the way of mass adoption of EVs.

Cost is already coming down, but not due to scale effects: In addition to generous government subsidies, Nissan offered incentives worth more than $4,200 on the Leaf in September, TrueCar says. Edmunds estimates that GM is putting more than $5,000 on the hood of each Volt, Truecar thinks $8,000 is more like it.

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The Truth About Tesla’s Charging Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2012 16:52:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451848 Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? […]

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Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? Sorry, you aren’t invited to this charging party. Have a Tesla and a LEAF? You’ll have to be satisfied with separate but equal charging facilities as the Tesla proprietary charging connector restricts access to Tesla shoppers only. Is this class warfare or do we parallel the computer industry where connectors come and go with the seasons?

What’s the big deal with charging? Let’s go over the Model S’s charging time chart and you’ll understand. From a regular 120V wall outlet the Model S will gain 4-5 miles per hour of charging and consumes about the same amount of power as a space heater. Charging at 41 amps, the car gains 31 miles per hour and consumes as much power as TWO average electric clothes dryers. Charging at 81 amps (a service that many homes with older wiring or smaller services cannot support) the Model S gains 62 miles an hour and consumes more power than an average home’s A/C, dryer, washer, stove, oven, lights and small appliances put together. With a range of 300 miles and a 10 hour charge time at the 41A rate, it’s easy to see why fast charging stations are appealing. Tesla’s Supercharger’s specs are yet to be revealed, but by the numbers it is apparent the system is delivering a massive 90kWh charge which is likely 440V DC at around 200A. An hour of charging at that rate is 70% of the power that my home uses in an entire month.

Is this a Tesla issue? No, it’s an EV issue. If you expect your EV to drive like a regular car, modern EVs are a delight. If you expect your EV to refuel like a regular car, we’ve hit a snag. But it’s more complex than that, you see, only three of the four Model S trims support DC fast charging and the only other EVs on the market with a DC charge port are the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Except they don’t use the same connector or the same standard. Oops. Adding more complications to the mix are the EVs with no DC charge connector like the RAV4 EV, Volt, Prius Plug-In, Accord Plug-In, Focus, Active E and Coda while the new Chevy Spark is rumored to début a third standard: the SAE combo plug.

Of course, if you think of your car like you think of your cell phone, this makes sense as the phone you bought last year wont use the same charger as the phone you buy today. If you think of this in car terms however it’s like buying a new car and finding out that most of the gas stations have a nozzle that won’t fit your car.

Back to those Tesla charging stations. Tesla opened the first four in Southern California and announced two more stations will go online in October with stations in Las Vegas, Northern California and Oregon by summer 2013 with the 100 station network being complete by 2015. If that network sounds familiar then it should, because the recent settlement in the California vs NRG lawsuit means there will be 200 new CHAdeMO stations in California over the same time frame in addition to the 8 already installed and the 75 commercial stations planned or under construction. It isn’t just California on the CHAdeMO bandwagon however, the Department of Energy claims there are over 113 CHAdeMO stations in the USA and a 1,200+ unit installed base in Japan.

What does this mean to Tesla owners? Until Tesla creates a CHAdeMO to Tesla charging adapter cable (much like they have a J1772 to Tesla cable for use at public AC charging stations), Tesla owners will be restricted to regular AC charging or the smaller Tesla only charging network. On the flip side, Tesla is promising the Tesla charging stations will be free to Tesla owners, positioned next to trendy restaurants and you won’t have to mix with the Leaf owning rabble. You can also feel superior because Tesla’s newer standard charges 80% faster than the 50kWh CHAdeMO connector.

What does this mean to LEAF and i-MiEV owners? It means this is just the beginning of a standards battle. If you bought an EV before this raft of new J1772-connector-toting models, you know what I’m talking about. While CHAdeMO has the lead now, depending on what standard the rest of the industry supports this could change rapidly.

What about the rest of us? If we continue to build more battery electric vehicles and continue to develop batteries that are more and more power dense, you can expect even the snazzy Tesla charging connector to be outdated on a few years. If you expect an EV SUV to deliver 300 miles of electric range, AWD, decent performance, mild off-road ability and Range Rover quality luxury trappings, then expect it to have a battery that is 50-100% larger than the Model S’ massive 85kWh pack. This means you have to either take all the charging rates and nearly double them, or you have to develop a charging method that charges 50-100% faster to keep the same performance.

Of course, just like LEAF owners experience battery degradation caused by repeated use of DC quick charge stations, Tesla owners should be mindful that batteries don’t last forever and the faster you charge them the shorter their life will be.

 

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The Case Of The Missing Bars: Leaf Owners Stage Massive Test To Prove Premature Battery Aging http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-case-of-the-missing-bars-leaf-owners-stage-massive-test-to-prove-premature-battery-aging/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-case-of-the-missing-bars-leaf-owners-stage-massive-test-to-prove-premature-battery-aging/#comments Wed, 19 Sep 2012 13:15:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=460798 Earlier this year, Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona started to observe bars missing from the charge state display of their cars. Instead of the 12 bars that signal a full battery, some saw only 10 or less. This spread like the Arizona wildfires through the EV community. As of today, the discussion at the Mynissanleaf […]

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Earlier this year, Nissan Leaf owners in Arizona started to observe bars missing from the charge state display of their cars. Instead of the 12 bars that signal a full battery, some saw only 10 or less. This spread like the Arizona wildfires through the EV community. As of today, the discussion at the Mynissanleaf forum  has swelled to 373 pages. Nissan looked at the affected cars, and so far has not rendered a verdict. Or maybe it did. 12 Leaf owners did assemble one night to prove Nissan wrong.

Three weeks ago, Nissan’s Executive Vice President Andy Palmer was quoted by Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald as saying that “we don’t have a battery problem” and that the battery level display is faulty. Enraged, the Arizona Leaf owners set up a massive test, and published the results at InsideEVs.

12 Leafs with odometer readings as low as 2,500 miles and as high as 29,000 miles assembled at night at 7755 South Research Drive, Tempe, Arizona. The location was chosen because it has a DC Chademo fast charger, and two J1772-2009 EVSE charging stations. From there, they did set out to drive the Leafs until the battery runs out, or more exactly, until the Turtle in the display strongly recommends to get off the road. They even had a small fleet of dollies and a flatbed truck to collect the exhausted Leafs.

The results of the test appear to support the group’s claim that the Leaf’s batteries degrade much faster than they should, at least in the hot climate of Arizona. A Leaf with 29,000 miles on the clock did last only 59.3 miles during the group’s test, a nearly 30 percent degradation from the 84 miles the group says a new Leaf should get. A Leaf with only 2,500 miles on the meter did last nearly 80 miles.

The test was professionally set up, VERY detailed description here. The group also measured the charge indicator, and found that in most cases, the instrument low-balls the available charge. Says Tony Williams who spearheaded the effort , and who had done an all-electric Canada to Mexico trip in a Leaf:

So, Andy Palmer was right… they have poor instruments. But, he was wrong about the batteries. It was sheer stupidity to tell this group of owners that the batteries are ok. “

We talked to Nissan’s General Manager of Global Communications, Jeff Kuhlman, in Yokohama. Kuhlman praises the affected owners who “are very knowledgeable, some are engineers themselves.”

He denies that Nissan has come to a conclusion on the matter: “We cannot give you a final analysis, because there simply is none available yet.”

Seven affected Leafs were inspected by Nissan , and subsequently returned to their customers. Nissan did a full data download on all units.

“The data are with our technical team in Yokohama, and they are still analyzing them,” says Kuhlman. “Once they have finished their analysis, the owners will be contacted first, and we will discuss with them what needs to be done.”

Kuhlman expects the verdict to be available “within days.”

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GE WattStations and LEAFs: We’ll fix it in software. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ge-wattstations-and-leafs-well-fix-it-in-software/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ge-wattstations-and-leafs-well-fix-it-in-software/#comments Fri, 27 Jul 2012 17:15:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454460 As we reported back on July 17th, there were reports of Nissan LEAFs “bricking” themselves while connected to GE’s WattStation home charging stations. Over the last 10 days, I have been on a number of conference calls, spoken with a number of Leaf owners, electrical engineers and battery charging gurus. As it turns out, the […]

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As we reported back on July 17th, there were reports of Nissan LEAFs “bricking” themselves while connected to GE’s WattStation home charging stations. Over the last 10 days, I have been on a number of conference calls, spoken with a number of Leaf owners, electrical engineers and battery charging gurus. As it turns out, the problem was exactly as I had surmised: bad utility power damaged the LEAF. The only involvement the GE WattStation had, was that it was merely the connection between the LEAF’s on-board charger and the utility.

Back when I was contemplating getting an electrical engineering degree, I was working for a small computer peripheral design company. The experience has proved useful countless times, but this popular engineering joke is particularly àpropos: how many hardware engineers does it take to change a light bulb? None, we’ll fix it in software. To that end, GE released the following statement this morning:

“Nissan and GE have completed their investigation into the instances of Nissan LEAFs experiencing on-board charging (OBC) issues when using certain EV chargers. Nissan has traced the root cause of the issue to the LEAFs OBC software that can allow damage to occur to its OBC components while using certain chargers and in certain instances, such as when a brief under voltage or blackout condition occurs. Nissan is working to address this issue as quickly as possible, and in the meantime is advising customers to avoid charging during times when brownouts or momentary power dips may be likely, such as during electrical storms or high power usage on the grid.”

Until Nissan releases this fix, Nissan and GE are both telling us that LEAF owners should continue charging as normal, and on the off-chance you fry your LEAF during an electrical storm before Nissan has this fix, your warranty should cover the problem.

What about the problem with LEAF batteries permanently loosing their charge in the Arizona heat? Check back for an in-depth look next week.

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Nissan Feels The Heat For Degrading Leaf Batteries In Arizona, Owners Feel Unloved http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/nissan-feelin-the-heat-for-degrading-leaf-batteries-in-arizona/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/nissan-feelin-the-heat-for-degrading-leaf-batteries-in-arizona/#comments Sat, 21 Jul 2012 16:29:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453698 CBS 5 – KPHO While Arizona is battling its wildfires, Nissan is having its hands full dousing the flames of Leaf owners in the Grand Canyon state. There is a rash of reports about degrading batteries, and owners blame the scorching heat. “When I first purchased the vehicle, I could drive to and from work […]

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CBS 5 – KPHO

While Arizona is battling its wildfires, Nissan is having its hands full dousing the flames of Leaf owners in the Grand Canyon state. There is a rash of reports about degrading batteries, and owners blame the scorching heat.

“When I first purchased the vehicle, I could drive to and from work on a single charge, approximately 90 miles round trip,” a Leaf owner, still an ardent fan of the car, told the Phoenix CBS affiliate. “Now I can drive approximately 44 miles on this without having to stop and charge.”

A TTAC reader reports:

“I personally was a 2011 LEAF owner in Phoenix. I lost a battery capacity bar at 10-1/2 months and 10,200 miles. I ended up selling the car out of concern about the battery. I then leased another 2012 LEAF for 2 years to keep driving gas free without the battery liability.”

Owners have banded together at the Mynissanleaf.com forum, where the thread stood at 162 pages at the time of this typing.

From reading the posts, owners still seem to stand behind the cars they believe in, but they “feel somewhat abandoned by the company they’ve supported,” as CBS reports. Nissan has made loaners available to affected owners, and will dispatched  half a dozen cars to Casa Grande to conduct extensive testing starting next week.

Contacted by TTAC, Nissan HQ in Yokohama had been unaware on Thursday, started looking into the matter on Friday, and asked on Saturday to wait for the outcome of their investigation.

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Dead LEAFs and GE Chargers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/dead-leafs-and-ge-chargers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/dead-leafs-and-ge-chargers/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2012 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452941 The GE Wattstation killed my Leaf! That’s the story being reported by the New York Times as well as PlugInCars.com. As the tale goes, 11 Leaf owners have had their chargers “damaged” while charging with GE’s Wattstation home charging station. The relative significance of only 11 failures aside, the Nissan Dealer in San Pablo, CA […]

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The GE Wattstation killed my Leaf! That’s the story being reported by the New York Times as well as PlugInCars.com. As the tale goes, 11 Leaf owners have had their chargers “damaged” while charging with GE’s Wattstation home charging station. The relative significance of only 11 failures aside, the Nissan Dealer in San Pablo, CA confirmed to PlugInCars.com that Nissan North America has notified dealers of a potential problem with the Leaf and the GE home charging station. TTAC contacted Hilltop Nissan and they have yet to return our calls. Rather than just parroting back the usual news reports we dug deep. We contacted GE and Nissan, consulted some professional electrical engineers and read though hundred of pages of boring SAE documents. Click past the jump to learn more about EV charging than you ever wanted to know.

Before we dissect the dead Leaf issue, we must first understand how EV charging stations work. Because there were a wide variety of charging connectors prior to the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt coming on the scene, we’re going to focus on just the SAE J1772 standard. Other than Tesla, who has decided to off on a tangent with their “prettier” charging connector, all EVs and PHEVs on sale in America use this connector. The short list includes the Leaf, Volt, Karma, Coda, Prius Plug-in, i MiEV, Fit EV, RAV4 EV, Focus Electric, Smart EV, and ActiveE.

The first thing you need to understand is that a “charging station” or “EV home charger” is a confusing term that seems to imply that the home unit is “doing all the work.” In reality, the J1772 connector and station you plug your car into is simply a “smart” extension cord for your car. All the circuitry required to charge the battery, monitor the rate of charge, and keep tabs of the heath of the battery are driving around with you all the time.

Wait! Why is my charger in my car, isn’t that inefficient? While the extra weight of hauling around your charger sounds crazy at first, it is the easiest way to make the charging infrastructure both universal and cost-effective. Because each EV’s battery differs in cell count, voltage, chemistry, cooling characteristics and capacity, it is easier to supply AC power directly to the car and allow the car’s electronics to charge the battery the way it sees fit. The charging connector is simply responsible for communicating to the vehicle what kind of power is available and providing protection to the electrical circuit on which it is installed.

The J1772 connector has 5 pins: AC1, AC2, ground, “control pilot” (aka data) and “proximity detection.” AC1, AC2 and ground are fairly self-explanatory. When using 120VAC AC1 is power and AC2 is neutral. When connected to a 240V circuit AC1 is power and AC2 becomes power as well.

OK, why not just use an extension cord? What’s going on in my charger? Excellent question. Inside the charger we essentially get some relays that turn on and off the power to the pins when the car requests it. In addition we have electronics that communicate the power type (120VAC or 240VAC) and maximum charge current available from the charging station.

So how does it work? When the station is not connected to a car, the AC1 and AC2 pins are not active. This is a safety measure to keep you safe if you should decide to go probing with a paperclip. When you start to connect the vehicle, the first thing that connects is the ground pin because it is longer than the others. The ground in theory helps prevent (among other things) static discharge that could harm the electrical components. The next pins that connect are the power, data and proximity detection pins. Now that everything is connected, the car sees the proximity detect line, establishes a data connection with the charging station, and tells the car what voltage and current options are available. Part of this process involves checking for the presence of a small silicone diode SAE refers to as D1. According to SAE, the purpose of D1 is that it “insures that an EV is actually connected and can be discriminated from other potential low impedance loads.” In other words, D1 isn’t involved in actually charging, just in the verification that there’s actually a car connected to the plug. Next, the car tells the charger what kind of charging it will be doing and requests power. The station energizes AC1 and AC2, the car begins drawing power and charging the battery.

During the charge the station and the car are both monitoring the connection and either device can end the charge at any time. When you unplug the car, the first connections broken are the proximity and control pilot connections, which cause the station to stop power to AC1 and AC2 within milliseconds.

Back to that whole GE thing

The core of the issue seems to be the circuitry that communicates with the charging station. According to SAE, “the minimum control circuit necessary on the EV to use in conjunction with the inlet uses one diode, one capacitor, and one resistor“. Based on the way these components are connected between the “control pilot” pin and the ground connector, the station knows a car is connected and can tell basic charge status.

With me so far? Let’s dig deeper. Suppose that for some reason you had a bad building ground that caused some sort of transient voltage, or ground fault in your home’s electrical system, or a massive power surge from your utility. If this was the case, it is possible to damage the diode which, in this case, is the most likely component to be damaged from a reverse voltage situation. Again, this is possible because the station just connects the car’s on-board charger to the mains. This is likely enough that the J1772 spec outlines that D1 should be rated for at least 100V because “this diode is exposed directly to cable transients.” If D1 fails, charging stations that adhere strictly to J1772 won’t energize AC1 and AC2 because they will think that there is no vehicle connected or there is a fault in the connection.

Actual failures

From my forum research is appears that the Leaf failures fall into two broad categories: D1 failure and a failure involving more than just D1 on the control side of the charger.

The failures can be identified from one another by using the EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) that came with your car. Users on MyNissanLeaf.com report that if D1 has failed, then the car will still charge with the EVSE as it does not check for the existence of D1 in the first place. If the car fails to charge period, then there’s more wrong.

Assuming there is no design fault inherent in the Wattstation’s “control pilot” design (and we might assume this logically because the issues are limited to Nissan Leaf vehicles only), the most likely possibility is a problem with the an underrated or faulty D1 diode in the Leaf’s charger that makes the control pilot circuit more susceptible to transient current and failure. While it does seem fishy that the problems are only reported with the Wattstation and not the popular Leviton and Nissan branded chargers, the issue likely comes down to surge suppression and bad luck. It is likely that Nissan uses a D1 diode with a lower rating (and therefore affording less protection) than the Volt and Prius plug-in. With so few EVs on the road, and little public information on the specifications of electrical components in the chargers it is hard to say for sure.

With US Leaf sales at approximately 12,841 through June 2012, Volt sales at 16,814, i MiEV at 413 and some 2,000 Plug-in Prius sales to the same date, there are some 32,000 EV/PHEVs on the road (not counting the smaller volume vehicles). GE won’t release specific sales numbers simply citing sales in the “thousands.” Even if we assume this means only 2,000, then the number of actual problem units is just over half a percent. If you assume that half the units went to Volt owners and half went to Leaf owners, then the problem percentage raises only to about 1% of all the units being used with the Leaf. Maybe.

Confirming our hypothesis which is that the root cause of the failure is a factor external to the Leaf we got a statement from Nissan at the 11th hour.

We are aware of several isolated instances of Nissan LEAFs sustaining damage due to voltage current spikes from the power grid. These isolated instances, while resulting in component damage to the on-board charger, did not result in any injuries or fires.  Some of these reported occurred while LEAFs were charging at GE WattStations. Nissan and GE are working to investigate every issue and determine root cause of the charging issues. While this issue represents a handful of incidents out of millions of charging events involving the Nissan LEAF, we are doing everything we can to get to the bottom of the issue. --Katherine Zachary, Nissan North America

While a power surge/spike is the most likely cause, it seems to highlight a possible shortcoming in the Leaf’s charging circuitry that may make it more susceptible to this type of damage. But it’s probably not all D1’s fault, your home might be killing your leaf. If you live in a home built before 1960, your home was likely built without grounded outlets, and possibly without the neutral line being connected to ground properly. If the neutral is “floating,” there is the possibility of having some very strange voltage potentials at the charging connector to your car. We have no real way of knowing whether the Leaf or the Volt is more likely to fail from this sort of event, but we can assume that it may manifest itself in the Leaf first as Volts don’t have to be plugged in to operate. There are a few steps you should take regardless.

1. Get a surge suppressor. You put one on your computer, your TV, your stereo and even your fridge. Why wouldn’t you put one on the most expensive appliance you’ll ever buy? Regardless of the outcome of the GE/Nissan investigation, the few hundred you’ll spend on a surge suppressor is insurance well spent, especially if you live in a lightning prone area. According to GE, the Wattstation has an internal 6kV surge protection per UL2231-2 & IEC 1000-4-5 which is the same standard that Leviton and other competitors meet. Buy a whole house surge suppressor anyway.

2. Have an electrician checkout your electrical system before you have a station installed. This may seem like a no brainer, but if you’re just asking your electrician to install an outlet to plug the station into, or hard wire the station, they may not check your main panel to see what’s going on. Be sure they check your main and all sub-panels (at the least) to see if everything is kosher.

3. If you live in a lighting prone area, have lightning rods professionally installed on your home.

 

In the end this is a textbook example of the power of the internet. The fact that a very small percentage of problems can make a New York Times article is amusing to say the least. But it also tells us something else: As EVs gain market share and our cars become essentially expensive electrical appliances with expensive computers inside, we need to re-think how we view the quality of the power in our homes.

 

According to the New York Times: A spokeswoman for Nissan North America, Katherine Zachary, said in an e-mail, “There’s no official Nissan policy instructing customers not to use G.E. WattStations.”

We contacted GE ourselves and got the following response:

Since its launch in 2011, GE’s WattStation Wall Mount has performed as designed, thousands of units have been shipped, and it has received positive reviews from EV drivers. Regarding the charging issue raised by 11 Nissan Leaf owners who had GE WattStations, GE’s current analysis does not indicate that the WattStation is the cause of the reported failures.  GE has been actively working with Nissan to help determine the source of this issue. The GE WattStation has not encountered a similar issue with other brands of electric vehicles. GE’s WattStation is also designed and tested to the SAE J1772 and appropriate UL standards and these tests have been validated by an independent third party. And there have been no design changes to WattStation since its 2011 launch.

The GE WattStation has surge protection per UL2231-2 & IEC 1000-4-5 which will protect the internal circuitry of the charger in the event of a surge up to 6kV.  This  is consistent with what is seen with our competitors.  –Sean Gannon, GE Energy Spokesperson

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Your Tax Dollars At Stake: Battery Maker A123 Running Out Of Runway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/#comments Sat, 07 Jul 2012 14:03:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451657   The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters: “The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. […]

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The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters:

The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. regulators that it “expects to have approximately four to five months of cash to support its ongoing operations” based on its recent monthly spending average.”

Reuters views A123’s issues as “a reminder of the struggles for a U.S. electric-vehicle industry still in its infancy and dealing with lower-than-projected demand.”

The wire service calls President Barack Obama’s goal of getting 1 million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2015 “a target that is looking increasingly unrealistic.”

America’s best-selling plug-ins, the Volt, the plug-in Prius and the Nissan Leaf jointly sold 2,990 units in June. They were out-sold by a small sports car targeted at drifters, the Toyobaru hachi-roku, which sold 3,502 units in June.

 

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Nissan Owners Plant Leaf Forests While They Drive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/nissan-owners-plant-leaf-forests-while-they-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/nissan-owners-plant-leaf-forests-while-they-drive/#comments Mon, 11 Jun 2012 07:07:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448318 In Japan, drivers of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf plant trees while they drive. Nissan started a Zero Emission Fund. Carbon credits are paid into this fund by converting the CO2 emissions prevented by individual Leaf owners in Japan. The Leaf already awarded virtual “Eco Trees” to its drivers, simply symbols for environmentally responsible driving.  The new […]

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In Japan, drivers of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf plant trees while they drive. Nissan started a Zero Emission Fund. Carbon credits are paid into this fund by converting the CO2 emissions prevented by individual Leaf owners in Japan.

The Leaf already awarded virtual “Eco Trees” to its drivers, simply symbols for environmentally responsible driving.  The new program is not just a feel-good gimmick, trees are now growing for real and officially. The carbon credits are certified by Japan’s  Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and are sold to the Green Investment Promotion Organization. The METI affiliate promotes investment in low carbon emissions. The Leaf’s distance traveled is accurately recorded on-line by Nissan’s Carwings data center.

According to The Nikkei [sub], individual owners qualified for the generation of carbon credits since 2008, but the small lots  – a single vehicle can earn emission credits equivalent to the approximately 0.9 ton of CO2 generated annually by a gasoline-fueled car – were rarely used by their owners. Consenting Leaf owners now can consolidate their otherwise lost credits. Japanese Leaf sales totaled around 12,000 until March. Nissan plans to generate carbon credits of up to 10,000 tons this year, The Nikkei says.

Profits earned by the sale of the credits are used to pay for quick charge stations and to plant trees. The more you drive, the greener the trees. The forests created while driving are appropriately called “Leaf forest,” but I am not sure that the pun works in Japanese.

 

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Nissan Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/vellum-venom-2013-nissan-leaf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/vellum-venom-2013-nissan-leaf/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2012 10:54:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448002 History repeats itself.  I repeat, History repeats…well, you see my point.  Which was probably one of the reasons why my creations in Car Design College were universally panned as being “too retro”, among other things. It was a similar fate given to Lenny Kravitz, except he was very talented in his form of artistic expression.  […]

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History repeats itself.  I repeat, History repeats…well, you see my point.  Which was probably one of the reasons why my creations in Car Design College were universally panned as being “too retro”, among other things. It was a similar fate given to Lenny Kravitz, except he was very talented in his form of artistic expression.  And while you can’t “sell” most design studios on the power of history, I present to you the latest Nash/AMC Rambler.

I mean Nissan Leaf.  You’ll have to forgive me for seeing the similarity between the two, in spirit, historical context and on the Vellum.

 

The Leaf embodies many of the (un)loved traits of modern cars, but adds the element of a compact Euro-Asian people mover in terms of its proportioning. Which unloved trait do we see here? Gigantic chromey lights! The look is, well, positively electric. (snort)

 

While hard to tell in a brutally hot lunchtime photo shoot, this emblem is a bizarre blue-tinted chrome affair.  If this car wasn’t 100% electric-powered, I’d hate it.  But since the Leaf is all electro-juice, the symbolism is quite delicious.  In a very, very subtle manner.

As you probably already know, this is a “fuel door” of sorts, to plug-in the Leaf and recharge its batteries. The presentation is worthy of a gourmet meal at an overpriced restaurant. Nice job, Leaf Brand Management Team!

 

Design elements on this curious little vehicle are actually quite well-integrated.  The honeycomb grille doesn’t look cheap, the subtle folds in the plastic bumper harmonize with the design elements presented here and the chrome trim isn’t an afterthought. If I told you this was a Lexus, would you believe me?

 

Once again, I really enjoy how the bends/folds in this design integrate into the package, reducing “visual” bulk from this obviously tall and tipsy looking vehicle.

 

While nearly impossible to photograph in this setting, the hard crease here is especially interesting, at least on a black paint job.

 

Born from jets?  While not the 1950s space age tailfins, this (admittedly oversized and Chevy Avalanche-like) plastic casting definitely makes you realize there’s no conventional powertrain underneath.  We don’t need no stinkin’ cowl vents for engine cooling!

 

I wish the Leaf’s headlights looked this slim, modern and sexy from every angle.  This is a car from the not-too-distant future!

 

WTF is this, son?  An absolute waste of real estate, and not in the cool chrome tailfin trim kinda way.  To emulate a cool tailfin, the headlights must taper down quicker as they reach the front doors.  Or maybe this hunk of plasti-chrome need not exist: round the end of the headlight like a MINI/500/911/Beetle and put the turn signal in a less gaudy assembly.

 

You know that any people mover with these proportions and chassis hard points will need a hunk of glass to avoid the Black Plastic Triangle syndrome, but you don’t expect this: a round theme on the sideview mirror base emulated in the glass tinting. Very cool!  Also note the side window defogger’s feng shui like location perfection.

 

Alternative fuel vehicles normally have super-sleek wheels to minimize drag, so I am a little surprised to see such large holes on the Leaf’s hoops. Then again, the flat face probably helps more than you’d imagine…but I’d prefer the 1970s modernist perfection of the rims found on the last-gen Honda Civic Hybrid.

 

Small, stylish and voluptuous.  I like the Leaf’s “hips” as the belt line fluidly moves upward, skyward.  It reminds me of the similarly goofy profile of the 1974 Ford Gran Torino sedan, but with less real estate and almost no overhang.  Which is why the Rambler analogy makes far more sense. This is a small car that looks distinctly familiar…yet not so much!

 

Mitt Romney would be proud.  If those roof pillars aren’t an homage to the work of his father, I donno what is!  While not classically beautiful, the Leaf is a Lenny-Kravitz-retro alternative fuel Rock Star!

 

Too bad about the black plastic triangle.  I really wish the door glass and extended all the way back, like the Rambler from whence it came. Sure that’d be stupid retro like the glasses on Stephanie Courtney’s character in the TV show Mad Men, but why the hell not?  This ain’t no Nissan Altima!

 

But when pairing the side with the rear, you see something un-retro: very cool and collected taillights.  So cool in fact, that I wish the headlights emulated their slender and sleek profile. This rig must be unmistakable at night, in a very good way.

 

We may never see a vehicle this comfortable with itself ever again. While the Leaf is unabashedly tall, the taillights keep the CUV references at bay.  They make you proud to have a tall vehicle, because it might be just as hip as owning a MINI Cooper.  And the rear bumper?  Sure it’s a massive beast like every other car out there, but the strong downward plunge of the lights almost makes it look like a toned and fit plastic form!

Pictures don’t do it justice, there’s more surface tension back here than you can imagine. And unlike the front, it’s not so much because of creases and harsh bends.

 

Although here’s one harsh bend that is hard to hate: the taillights absolutely make the Nissan Leaf.  When’s the last time you could say that about a new car?

 

More blue-chrome goodness.  Even better, the grab handle has a rather excellent casting that allows for an integral backup camera. Eat your heart out, Lincoln MKZ.

 

I mentioned the surface tension present in the rear, and perhaps this strong fold at the corner of the bumper is one reason why. Such is the beauty of a black body in harsh sunlight.

 

Wait…no plastic inserts or gaudy tailpipes?  Obviously no on the latter, but the former is a pleasant surprise: sometimes lighting elements should slip into a body and never draw attention to themselves.  Reflectors are one such light. Too bad the front’s side markers didn’t learn from the same master.

 

 

The clear CHMSL (i.e. high mounted stop light) is obviously needed to complement the taillights, but whatever lies above it is a wonderful conversation piece.  The not-uniform diamond pattern is very, very eye-catching but difficult to spot from afar.

What is it? I don’t know, but they did a fantastic job designing it. Perhaps I should grab the press packet that came with this vehic…LULZ, OH WAIT I DON’T GET PRESS CARS, SON!!!

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend.

 

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Reverse The Charge: Car Powers House, Japan Style http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/reverse-the-charge-car-powers-house-japan-style/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/reverse-the-charge-car-powers-house-japan-style/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 13:35:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=446976 In the days and weeks after March 11 2011, when a giant fist wiped out large swaths of Japan’s northeastern coast, and sent the power grid into a near-coma from which the Japanese patient has yet to recover, electric and hybrid vehicles were pressed into a new mission as emergency power supplies. People in the […]

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In the days and weeks after March 11 2011, when a giant fist wiped out large swaths of Japan’s northeastern coast, and sent the power grid into a near-coma from which the Japanese patient has yet to recover, electric and hybrid vehicles were pressed into a new mission as emergency power supplies. People in the stricken areas used the batteries of their Toyota Estima hybrid minivan, or the much bigger battery of the Nissan Leaf, as a power source for cell phones and laptops when the regular power was out.  Ever since, Japanese became infatuated with the idea of rigging a car to a house – to power the house, if needed. One year later, houses are ready to take charge from a car.

Yesterday, Nissan showed an air conditioner-sized charging station for the Leaf that allows to also send the electricity stored in the Leaf’s battery back to the home when needed. The system does not need special rigging, simply insert the CHAdeMO plug in the car and you can go both ways. Normally, the system functions as an intelligent DC charger that can fully charge a Leaf in as little as four hours, approximately half the time required by a normal charger.  When disaster strikes, the Leaf’s lithium-ion batteries can supply an average Japanese household for about two days.

Today, at a Smart Grid Expo in Tokyo, Toyota showed-off its solution. Instead of a $4,200 (installed) Nissan/ Nichicon charger, Toyota will sell you a whole house. Toyota is in the prefab house business and is promoting its “Asuie” smart house.  It comes with a solar roof and brains that allow homeowners to store free or low-priced electricity for use during peak times. The house has a charger for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Instead of using the smallish battery of a plug-in-hybrid, the house comes with its own dedicated battery. A charge-back function (car to house) does not seem to be ready for prime-time, but is “feasible” as we were told today. During prolonged outages, a Prius would have more stamina than a Leaf. Whereas a Leaf’s battery would be flat after two days of home use, a plug-in hybrid Prius with a full tank of gas could keep the lights on at home for 10 days, we had learned last year when a prototype of the house was shown. Either that, or drive away after 5 days of roughing it.

The fledgling home charging industry already spawned its own accessory market. A few booths away from Toyota, Japanese Technos company shows metal armor that protects the charging cord from the machetes used by what must be suicidal criminals.

Also nearby, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan shows a Chevy Volt. Not being connected to any houses or even a fake charging station, the car is being ignored by the public.

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The Exorbitant Cost Of Savings: Don’t Buy A Volt If You Value Your Money http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-exorbitant-cost-of-savings-dont-buy-a-volt-if-you-value-your-money/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/the-exorbitant-cost-of-savings-dont-buy-a-volt-if-you-value-your-money/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 10:33:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=438703 Two years after the Volkswagen Golf was launched, it received a fuel sipping diesel in 1976. I presented the launch campaign in Wolfsburg, and the ground shook. It wasn’t because of my campaign. It was because of the body stamping presses. The offices of the Zentrale Absatzförderung, VW’s advertising department, were two floors above. I […]

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Two years after the Volkswagen Golf was launched, it received a fuel sipping diesel in 1976. I presented the launch campaign in Wolfsburg, and the ground shook. It wasn’t because of my campaign. It was because of the body stamping presses. The offices of the Zentrale Absatzförderung, VW’s advertising department, were two floors above.

I presented a campaign that was all on savings. The Golf D had one of the, if not the best mileage of all compacts. Herr Plamböck, the gentleman who had to vet the campaigns before the big boss would see them, looked at my grand savings plan, and said: “Let’s have lunch.”

Over a Currywurst, Hartmut Plamböck said: “Bertel, did you check the added cost of that engine?” I forgot how much it was, but it was a lot. “You will have to drive 80,000 kilometers to get your money back!” Mr. Plamböck thundered. The plastic forks jumped as Plamböck pounded the table. He looked around, lowered his voice and added: “And then, the engine will fall out of the car.” At that time, Volkswagens had a bit of a corrosion problem.

I was reminded of that story when I came across a story in the New York Times that provides a sanity check on savings at all costs. Rarely does one recoup the added investment into fuel savings. Little has changed since my Wolfsburg Waterloo. Fuel savings come at a price, and you have to decide whether you pay at the pump or to the dealer. Paying at the pump makes more economic sense, but more often than not, emotions trump math.

One of the worst investments, says the New York Times story that uses data compiled by TrueCar, is the Chevrolet Volt. Says the Times:

“The Volt, which costs nearly $40,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, could take up to 27 years to pay off versus a Chevrolet Cruze, assuming it was regularly driven farther than its battery-only range allows. The payback time could drop to about eight years if gas cost $5 a gallon and the driver remained exclusively on battery power.”

Mind you, the 27 year payback time is based on the TrueCar calculated $31,767 price of the Volt. Without the generous government rebate, financed by your tax dollars, the Volt would still be upside down long after it landed in a museum. At full retail, it would take 45 years to get you your money back. Payback is a bitch.

Driven fully on battery power, the Volt would needlessly drag around its heavy range extender machinery, but at least it would compete with Nissan’s LEAF in the ROI race. The Leaf takes 8.7 years to recoup the investment.

According to the study, “eco” upgrades usually are not worth the money. A Ford Fiesta SFE saves you $23 a year at the pump and on average. With these meager savings, the Fiesta actually beats the Volt in the senseless savings discipline. It would take 26.8 years to get you your money back.

As long as fuel saving cars carry huge premiums, you need to pray for higher gas prices, and you need to pray a lot. A survey by Lundberg says that gas prices need to go to $12.50 a gallon for the Volt to break even. The Leaf would be competitive with gas at $8.53 a gallon.

Are there savings that make sense?

If you really want to reconcile eco and economics, the sixth generation descendant of the Golf Diesel, the Jetta TDI,  would recoup the added money before the warranty is up, says the Times. So do the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. Not only is their mileage much better than the comparison model, their price premium is so low that it can be easily recouped. As Toyota’s Satoshi Ogiso demonstrated a few months ago,  savings at no added costs are the true engineering achievement.

(Hat tip to my man in the mountains.)

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Review: A Week In A 2012 Nissan Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-a-week-in-a-2012-nissan-leaf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-a-week-in-a-2012-nissan-leaf/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432115 Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, […]

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Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, this meant a review with only 217 miles under our belt (read our three-part review here: 1 2 3). Now that a few thousand Leafs have found homes in Northern California and I had practiced my “range anxiety” breathing techniques, I was eager to see if the ultimate green ride was also a decent car beyond the batteries.

2012 hasn’t brought any changes to the outside of the Leaf, – it’s still offered only as a hatchback.  While the style can easily be called polarizing, and one friend thought it looked like a miniature hearse, passengers seemed to be split 50/50 on the look. Nissan tells us there is a reason for the chihuahua-lamps; aerodynamics and noise. When you create a car with a nearly silent drivetrain, wind noise becomes more obvious.  The shape of the lamp modules is designed to cut down on this element while in motion. The big-tire crowd will complain about the stock 205-width tires and 16-inch rims, but I didn’t mind the look. The rear lights? They just look cool.

Up to this point, essentially all cars heat the cabin with “waste heat” from the engine. Since the Leaf doesn’t have an engine, and the electric motor generates very little heat, the Leaf uses a 5kW electric heater to heat the cabin (roughly equal to 5 conventional space heaters). 2012 has brought a few welcome changes to combat this power draw:  heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel are now standard. The “luxury” touch of a heated tiller may seem out-of-place, but it takes considerably less power to heat the surfaces you interact with than the air in the cabin. The solution worked well for me, and I didn’t mind turning the cabin heating down to 61 degrees with my seat and steering wheel heating my touch-points on a 35 degree morning. Last time I was in the Leaf, I sacrificed everything in the name of range, but this time I drove it like a normal car.  Should you decide to use the cabin heater, rear passengers will notice some ducting improvements to make it more comfortable in the rear. At 31 inches, rear seat legroom is behind the Camry or Prius (36/38 respectively), but generous headroom all the way around made it possible to comfortably fit six-foot tall humans all the way around. We were also able to squeeze in two rearward facing child seats with two average sized adults up front.


Under the Leaf’s small hood lies an 80kW synchronous AC motor. Throw out most of what you know about engines when it comes to electric cars because they behave quite differently. Because the Leaf has a single-speed transmission and the motor redlines at 10,390RPM, the top speed is 96MPH. This linear relationship is important when thinking about the Leaf’s performance. 107 horsepowers are delivered between 2,730 and 9,800 RPM (25-90 MPH) while peak torque of 207 lb-ft is available right off the line from 0-2730 RPM (0-25 MPH) where it tapers off slightly.

Thanks to the low-end grunt, the Leaf posts a very respectable 2.92 second 0-30MPH time while the 0-60 time stretches out to 8.96 seconds (a considerable improvement over the 10.2 seconds the pre-production Leaf achieved in May). As you would expect with a 1 speed transmission, acceleration is very linear right up to its top speed. Due to some earlier complaints about the battery not charging properly in cold temperatures, Nissan added some basic thermal management in 2012 for the battery pack to keep it from loosing a charge when it is not plugged in and sitting in extremely cold weather.

Unlike your cell phone, the Leaf’s charging circuitry is built-in, and the “charger” is just a smart plug that communicates with the car and supplies the power to the car’s charger. 2011 and 2012 Leafs support three charge modes called Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 (Level 3 is optional on 2011 and 2012 SV models) via it’s internal 3.3kW charger. For those not in the know, Level 1 is 120V AC, Level 2 is 240V AC and Level 3 is 480V DC. Charging the 24kWh battery will take a little over 26 hours at Level 1 via the included “emergency charging cable,” just over 7 hours with a Level 2 charger (available in some public parking lots or installed in your garage at home), or just over 30 minutes if and when 480V quick charge stations become available on our side of the Pacific. Shoppers should note that Nissan confirmed the 2013 leaf will have a 6.6kW charger which would cut Level 2 charging times in half to just over 3.5 hours. The DC quick charge connector was a standalone option in 2011, but with Nissan pushing for DC quick charging infrastructure, they have made it standard on the Leaf’s SL trim for 2012 (still optional on SV). According to EPA tests, the Leaf’s range varies from 138 miles under perfect conditions to 47 miles in heavy stop-and-go traffic. The traffic test cycle was 8 hours long and the A/C was in use for the entire test. I had no problems getting 75 miles out of the Leaf driving it like I would any other vehicle we have tested, with the automatic climate control set to 68 during a mild Northern California winter and mixed driving. Like all battery-powered appliances, your run time will vary.

During our week with the Leaf we noticed considerably wider availability of charging stations than during our first all-electric fling back in May. Among the stations we visited was a “PlugShare” station at the home of Howard Page, who agreed to an interview with us. Expect a more detailed charging story later, but in essence Howard listed his home charging station on PlugShare (there’s a web site and an app) as available for use. To “fill-up”, you SMS message or call the PlugShare host and ask if you can charge. If the host is feeling altruistic, they say yes, give you their address and any instructions about charging at their home. Our Leaf spent 7 hours in Howard’s driveway one day saving me the $2 per hour at my local public parking garage with the Level 2 charger, as well as allowing me to make i home. The concept is novel to say the least; handing out free electrons to similarly minded early adopters hoping it all evens out in the end. At $5 a complete charge, I wonder how long this system will last without some mini-payment system? Sound off in the comment section below if you would share your charging station to those in need, and similarly, how is this different from a gasoline sharing program where you keep a gallon on your doorstep for passers-by?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Last time we had the Leaf, our range anxiety prevented us from really thrashing the Leaf on windy mountain roads, romping the go pedal from a stop and mashing the brake pedal as we would with a normal car. A full week in the electron powered hatch (and careful pre-planned Level 2 charging arrangements) allowed us to do just that. The handling limits of the Leaf are, as one would assume, defined mostly by the 3,400lb curb weight and low rolling resistance tires. With the “40 MPG car” being all the rage lately, more and more cars are being sold with low rolling resistance rubber, so while the Leaf’s handling is unspectacular, so is the competition. The Leaf’s electric power steering takes some getting used to, but since the target market is unlikely to carve corners, it’s probably a non-issue. Whizzing along above 75 MPH is surprisingly easy and eerily quiet thanks to a nearly silent motor. Our last flirtation with the Leaf was fleeting enough that our Leaf was never fully charged, but this time, things were different.

To help extend battery life, hybrid vehicles never fully charge nor discharge their batteries – a luxury an all-electric vehicle cannot afford. This deep-cycling, or even the micro-cycling caused by regenerative braking when the battery is nearly full can shorten the battery’s life. As a result, the Leaf does something interesting, if you’re fully charged; the car won’t employ regenerative braking until the battery is sufficiently discharged. Why is this important? Because the Leaf’s braking is nicely weighted and balanced when regenerative braking, but for those first few miles in the morning when the battery is 100% charged, the mushy brake pedal feel was surprising and disconcerting until I checked in with a Nissan dealer’s mechanic. Again this probably isn’t a problem for the Leaf’s target demographic, but it does perhaps indicate some of the challenges of going all-electric. The suspension is tuned for a moderate ride, neither floaty, nor stiff and the chassis remains composed over a variety of road surfaces from gravel to pot-holed-asphalt.


The Leaf uses a modified version of the infotainment system available in other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles and includes a standard navigation system. iPod and iPhone integration is standard Nissan issue with on-screen access to playlists, songs, etc but no voice command ability ala Ford’s SYNC product. Speaking of voice commands, the Leaf’s navigation system curiously omits the ability to enter a street address via voice command, the only voice “command-able” destinations are saved destinations and the Leaf’s pre-programmed home address. As you would expect, you won’t find a power-sucking high wattage amp in the Leaf. The standard 6-speaker sound system does however have a neutral balance and is fairly competitive with the standard sound systems in the average mid-sized sedan. For those of you who still remember CDs, there’s a single slot located behind the sliding touchscreen which can also be used to update your nav’s map database.

I’d like to talk competition, but let’s be honest, there isn’t any yet. The Volt vs Leaf war is misguided at best because the Volt is not a pure electric car, as much as GM would like to claim otherwise. Ditto the plug-in Prius. Tesla cars will cost a king’s ransom and the i-MiEV sports one less seat, a considerably smaller interior and shorter range. The only real competition will be the 2013 Ford Focus Electric, which (on paper) appears to have the Leaf squarely in its sights. According to Ford, the Focus Electric will trump the Leaf with more gadgetry, a snazzier sound system, a more powerful 130 HP motor and some undeniably gorgeous looks. Ford is touting shorter recharge times versus the Leaf, but don’t be so quick to believe it. Both have similarly sized batteries (the Ford’s is actually 1kWh smaller) and Nissan has confirmed the 2013 Leaf will have a 6.6kW charger just like the Focus, so 2013 charging times will be equal. On the downside, the Focus is heavier, so despite claiming to be more efficient than the Leaf, if hill climbing is in your repertoire, use caution. The Focus is also $3,500 more expensive than the base Leaf and lacks the DC quick-charge port our SL tester was equipped with. Speaking of pricing, the Leaf starts at $35,200 and the SL model rings in at $37,250 (due to the addition of the quick charger, backup camera, auto healamps, fog lights and a cargo cover). If this price blows your mind, you’re not the target shopper. You’ll also need to factor in $1,500 (installed) for a home charging station (Best Buy tells us they cost $500 less than last year.)

Never before has buying an alternative fuel car meant as much of a lifestyle change. Diesel, natural gas, liquid propane and hydrogen vehicles all fill at a rate that is more-or-less the same as the average gasoline vehicle and deliver similar driving ranges. An electric car on the other hand delivers only 1/3 of the fairly standard 300 mile range you’ll find in most vehicles and takes 42 times longer to “fill”. If these drawback don’t bother you, the Leaf is a solid (if expensive) choice in the green car segment, but I’d wait for the 2013 model with the faster charger and perhaps for our review on the Focus Electric whenever we get our hands on one.

 

Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one full charge for our review.

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 2.92 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 8.96 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.96 Seconds at 78.2 MPH

Average economy: 3.7 Miles/kWh over 689 miles

2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging port, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlight, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, heated rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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World Economic Forum: In Davos, Women Sell Leafs While Others Go Naked http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/world-economic-forum-in-davos-women-sell-leafs-while-others-go-naked/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/world-economic-forum-in-davos-women-sell-leafs-while-others-go-naked/#comments Sat, 28 Jan 2012 17:49:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=428427 Patrolling  the interwebs for TTAC-worthy content, we find a woman selling Nissan Leafs on the streets of Davos. Rachel Konrad, formerly spokesperson of Tesla, is now the Communications Director of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Her boss Carlos Ghosn is a fixture at the World Economic Forum, which ends today in Davos. Rachel is using the fact […]

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Patrolling  the interwebs for TTAC-worthy content, we find a woman selling Nissan Leafs on the streets of Davos. Rachel Konrad, formerly spokesperson of Tesla, is now the Communications Director of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Her boss Carlos Ghosn is a fixture at the World Economic Forum, which ends today in Davos. Rachel is using the fact that Davos has received more snow than in the 42 years before to praise the virtues of the Leaf in winter weather. At the same time, three topless women steal her thunder and get arrested.

Ms. Konrad says that the Leaf is perfect on slippery roads, because there is no lag between touching the accelerator and the car getting torque. Also, an electric motor is impervious to the altitude sickness that besets the ICE. Ms. Konrad forgets that people think something else when they see snow and an EV: Won’t running on battery be just awful when it’s cold?

Thankfully, her Japanese colleagues at Nissan just came back from Hokkaido, which is a stone-throw from Siberia. There, they covered that topic. Here is the video.

Back to women of Davos. Three women from the Ukraine demonstrated how easy it is to get attention: They took their tops off. Works all the time. After they climbed a fence and attacked a female police officer, they were arrested.  A massive media contingent then set out to pixelate video and to close-crop photographs. Jobs creation in action!

Nevertheless, in a prude company (or in prude company), watching the following report from snowy Davos may get you in hot water.

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The EV Market In Context: 15 Cars That Are Selling Worse Than The Nissan Leaf (And Chevy Volt) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/the-ev-market-in-context-15-cars-that-are-selling-worse-than-the-nissan-leaf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/the-ev-market-in-context-15-cars-that-are-selling-worse-than-the-nissan-leaf/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 18:56:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414038 Because electric cars represent the first fundamental technological shift for the automobile since its invention, their appearance on the US market has elicited quite a bit of skepticism. And as with any new technology, the first generation of EVs does have some serious downsides. For example, you can charge a Nissan Leaf at any outlet, […]

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Because electric cars represent the first fundamental technological shift for the automobile since its invention, their appearance on the US market has elicited quite a bit of skepticism. And as with any new technology, the first generation of EVs does have some serious downsides. For example, you can charge a Nissan Leaf at any outlet, but it takes 21 hours. Also, the Leaf’s range that was once promised at 100 miles is typically under 70 miles in the real world. Plus, it’s not exactly cheap. In the face of these challenges, you might think the Leaf, the first mass-market pure-EV in the US, would be forever doomed to a small niche of the market. But small compared to what? To give a real-world taste of how America’s first pure EV is selling in the context of the broader market, here are the year-to-date sales numbers for the Leaf and 15 other vehicles that you might not expect to be selling worse than an electric car. Incidentally, all of these models are also selling better than the market’s other pioneering plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt… which now has its own graph in the gallery below. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Slay 'em, Volt... Leaf it to me...

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