A little history on eco-friendly cars…
Remember when the Toyota Echo (now the Yaris) came out. The hatchback looked like a toy and its main selling feature was the great gas mileage when North Americans were panicking about 90 cent per litre gas prices. They even made a Roxy Echo (yes, like the clothing line) for surfer gals to give it that young, hip edge.
Then when Toyota came out with the Prius, we saw cab companies convert like pagans in Constantine’s time. Yellow for cabs, gray for everyone else. The design was back-to-the-future-ish, and not everyone really understood what it was – electric or gas? Ah, both.
In the background electric cars were in their early stages and selling for $100,000…but not impressing anyone. Eventually some one realized there was no market for $100,000 awful cars, so they dropped the price to $40,000. Still too much.
The LEAF is born to surprise…and benefit us all
Who would have thought Nissan would be the company to make the “first mass-market all-electric car”, according to Fast Company?
Most employees at Nissan didn’t think it was going to be feasible, probably much the same way no one imagined we’d be using Internet on our cell phones 10 years ago (remember the TV phone? Silly stunt in history…ok, off topic…).
But we like Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s attitude the way it came across in his interview by Fast Company (March, 2011 issue):
“I didn’t say it was going to be easy or safe. I said it would be a challenge – but if someone could do it, it would be us.”
And he also said, after commenting that the $25,000 price point is still too much for him, “I don’t want to make a niche product.”
That’s the kicker. Too often the hindrance to going green is inaccessibility. If something is financially or physically out of reach for someone, there is no believing that sustainable innovation is going to change the world. People have to be able to adapt to it.
Eco-friendly designer style without the haute couture
We’re not saying that eco-friendly should mean cheap quality. On the contrary, many sustainable products are in fact excellent in quality and give not only a return on investment, but also prestige on investment.
That’s the view taken by reviewers of the LEAF, including John Brandon and Christina DesMarais at Digital Trends, who say:
“Inside, the Leaf looks a bit plain, but well-appointed – which is to say, not cheap.”
However, Nick Chambers, the first person to do a full range test of the vehicle gives a balanced report on other’s findings, saying that “The Nissan LEAF interior has been described alternately as simple, uncluttered, and elegant, as well as boring, drab and plain—reflecting the range of reactions.”
Still, just like the Prius was a weird site at first, but now accepted as a step in the right direction, Chambers says:
“Much like the Prius design is now synonymous with “hybrid,” Nissan hopes the LEAF design will eventually be considered synonymous with “EV.””
Another fact worth mentioning is that many parts of the car are made with recycled materials, giving the purchase another plus for those who can’t sleep at night thinking about methane gasses and non-biodegradable garbage sitting in our massive dumps.
When rubber hits the road
Aside from the look and feel, the question we have to ask before pulling out our wallet is, how practical is it?
According to plugincars.com, there are three ways to charge the car, and the most common way (a “level 2” charging outlet you’ll have to have installed at home) will take 8 hours for about 100 miles of driving. In case you’re wondering, that’s about two days of what most people drive.
However, there are going to be special direct current stations in the cities where the car will launch, which can charge the car to 80% capacity within 30 minutes. A little longer than a quick gas fill up, but if the charging stations become common enough, who knows, suburban business men driving into town for work may be able to charge the car in downtown parking lots (we hope!).
Even cooler is that the car can switch into “echo” mode where it turns off the AC to save energy. It also can be set to charge at certain times using a smart phone – an indication that Nissan really hasn’t forgotten the future in their design.
Things we’ll have to get used to
Driving a fully electric car will definitely take some adjusting, but in a good sense. For example, the car is much quieter than gasoline-run vehicles because, well, it has no engine! That also means it has no gears – you can go forward, back or stay in neutral.
Ah yes, and you’ll have to get used to using a computer screen to give your car instructions!
While the electric car is not a surprise, it sure is a long-awaited option for the eco conscious mass consumer. Finally our world is entering an era where being sustainable is not just for a few niche buyers with the cash (or sensibility) to go green. If electric cars take off faster than expected (which is 10% of the global in 10 years according to Ghosn), the problem of suburbia and rising oil prices will, hopefully, become a lesser problem.
With the LEAF, it’s one down, and lots to go for environmental consumerism!