Nissan’s LEAF electric vehicle (EV) first appeared in showrooms in Japan and the USA in 2010 and was progressively introduced in other countries. As the first high-volume Nissan EV, it made big news and also helped in persuading many people to switch to a zero-emission form of transportation which was not slow nor cramped.
But Nissan, like carmakers all over the world constantly improves its models (a process which the Japanese call ‘kaizen’), even while the same generation is being produced and certainly when the next generation comes along. New technology, new materials and new manufacturing processes all help to increase fuel-efficiency, reduce weight, enhance quality and even increase safety. In the few years that the LEAF has been on sale, there has been much feedback from the thousands of customers around the world, all of which has been studied and considered. There have been running changes to address small issues but for 2013, some 100 changes have been incorporated which make it an even better product than before.
The now-iconic silhouette is unchanged although there are cosmetic updates to freshen the looks. The front end has a subtle redesign and for some markets, there are new body colours to choose from.
The significant changes are under the skin where improvements to the powertrain have increased range – by 13% to 199 kms according to the NEDC test cycle – and marginally quickened acceleration is also claimed. Although the high response AC synchronous motor develops 80-kW as before, it features a number of new elements making it even more environmentally-friendly and efficient. The new motor has had its inertia reduced by 5%, improving the overall efficiency of the unit. As before, the motor is powered by a Nissan-designed 48-module compact lithium-ion battery mounted in a single pack under the cabin area to keep the car’s centre of gravity as low as possible. The battery pack is housed in a strong metal case giving extra protection in a side impact.
In the earlier model, the battery charger with the inverter was housed in the luggage area of the car behind the rear seats. Although comparatively compact, the assembly ran the full width of the cargo area. As well as stealing some luggage space, it meant a completely flat load floor was impossible to achieve. These two items are now in the front of the car and integral with the electric motor itself which not only increases luggage space by 40 litres – about the size of a piece of airline ‘carry-on’ luggage – but also permits a flatter floor than previously when the rear seats are folded.
Greater practicality is also promised by the option of an on board 6.6-kW charger which allows the use of 32A public or home chargers. It is claimed that a 32A recharging point will recharge a depleted battery in half the time of a typical domestic 16A EV socket – 4 hours instead of 8 – but more importantly, it can give a meaningful boost to a partially-used battery even during a short stopover. If a more powerful quick-charging point (50 kW DC supply) is available, battery recharging can be even quicker – 15 minutes to boost a battery from 30% to 80% capacity.
Following feedback from LEAF owners, the car’s on-board charging point has also been modified. The charger lid can now be opened remotely via the key fob or via an electric, rather than mechanical switch, in the cabin, and there’s a small LED lamp within the assembly to help identify the sockets at night or in an underground car park. Security is further enhanced by an electro-mechanical lock which fixes the cable into the socket when the battery is being charged preventing removal by ‘third parties’.
Depending on the market where the LEAF is sold, there are also some chassis improvements available which improve ride comfort over rough roads while also coping better with high average speeds.
The brakes are now more progressive in use and the regenerative aspect improved for better harvesting of braking energy. The system efficiency has been improved by 6% to 94% and the minimum speed at which energy is recovered reduced to 3 km/h from 7 km/h.
A new heat pump has been added to a more efficient heating and ventilation system and reduces electrical consumption when the air-conditioning is in use. Air-source heat pumps have been used in cutting-edge sustainable houses across Europe, but have rarely been seen in an automotive context. The heat pump works by harvesting heat energy that is present in even cold air and distributing it to the cabin. This new system improves the real world driving range, by cutting heater energy consumption by up to 70%.
Other changes boosting the car’s range are more efficient battery and energy management and a reduction in internal friction. There’s also been a program to reduce weight and the new LEAF is between 30 kgs to 50 kgs lighter than before, depending on the version. This has been achieved by redesigning that battery casing and the integration of electrical components, which has reduced the length and number of heavy, high-voltage interconnecting wires.
All versions have a full complement of safety equipment as standard with front side and curtain airbags as well as ABS, EBD and brake assistance. The Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) is also standard. The LEAF gained a full 5-star rating when EuroNCAP tested it shortly after it was launched in Europe and was the first EV to gain this safety rating.
LEAF IN MALAYSIA
Over the past year, Edaran Tan Chong Motor has been running its Journey to Zero Emission campaign to introduce Malaysians to EVs and the future of motoring. Various activities have been carried out including letting groups of consumers live with the LEAF for 6 weeks. Together with its affiliate, FEN, recharging stations have been set up so that when the model is launched (expected to be during the third quarter), there will be places for owners to recharge their vehicles while they are travelling around the Klang Valley.
To know more about the LEAF, visit www.nissan.com.my/vehicles/LEAF