In the decade since it became the world’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf has well and truly secured its place as a trail blazer in EV history. But despite the 500,000 delivery milestone passed in September of last year, it never managed to crack Australia’s notoriously unfriendly market.
This year, Nissan is hoping to change that, with the help of ever-so-gradually building market momentum and a new upgraded model that addresses one of the key barriers to uptake Down Under, range anxiety.
Nissan officially launched its Leaf e+ on the Australian market this week, with a “bigger” 62kWh battery pack – which the Japanese automaker has managed to keep to roughly the same footprint of the battery pack in the standard Leaf variant.
It offers a more than 40% increase in driving range of up to 385km (according to the respected and reasonably accurate WLTP combined mode) on a single battery charge.
That’s an additional 115km over the standard second generation Nissan Leaf, which will continue to offer a 40kWh battery pack. But as The Driven reported here on Thursday, those extra kms and kWh add up to extra $$$ too, driving up the cost of the e+ by more than $A10,000 compared to the 40kWh model to $A60,490 before on-road costs and putting it in the price ballpark of the Tesla Model 3.
Judging by some of the comments under our article yesterday, this move up the EV cost chain doesn’t sit well with some, particularly in light of the two-year lag between the car’s launch in overseas markets and its launch here. (By comparison, in Japan, the base model Nissan Leaf e+ started from ¥4,162,320, which currently converts to just under $50,000 Australian dollars. In Europe it started at €45,500, which converts to nearly $A71,000.)
So, is the e+ worth the higher price tag? Nissan obviously thinks it is and last week invited The Driven along with a bunch of other online journalists – and a few influencers – to take a long and winding drive to showcase the increased range. (Apparently the mainstream media car journos had their day of driving the day before.)
The Driven’s co-pilot for the day – which also involved eating stunning food cooked by Sydney-based chef Guy Turland in the equally stunning setting of the Daylesford Longhouse in regional Victoria – was the extremely knowledgable auto journalist and founding editor of Driven Women Magazine, who had driven a standard variant Leaf before and knew where all the important controls were and how the fancy gear toggle worked.
First impressions of the Leaf e+ were very positive, once you got past the new car smell (or was it the anti-Covid spray?). The dozen or so brand spanking new EVs making up the press convoy had literally arrived on a boat earlier that week, we were told, marking the first in the country.
It’s a nice looking car, outside and in, and very comfortable, too, with a special mention going to the heated seats and heated steering wheel that test-drivers were advised to deploy on what was an icy Melbourne autumn day – not least because they offer a more energy efficient (ie. less of a drain on the battery) way of warming up than the blow heating.
Interestingly, and perhaps even refreshingly, there was nothing notably “other” or “hey, I’m electric” about the interior of the Leaf e+, except for the unfamiliar gear-stick situation. It has all of the conveniences of connectivity and a customisable display that drivers might expect of any new car, rendered in a way that is neither remarkable nor in any way lacking. Automatic windshield wipers also get a special mention, tested nicely by unpredictable Melbourne rain.
With the seats adjusted and warm, our convoy set off on a carefully planned route – that beeped instructions at us from a Tripy GPS stuck to the windshield for the occasion – which took us from Melbourne Airport to Daylesford, a picturesque Victorian town in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, via a scenic detour through Mount Macedon.
It was truly a lovely drive and navigating the winding roads of Mount Macedon was a good way to test out what Nissan says is a newly enhanced e-Pedal, the Leaf’s version of regenerative braking, which in the new models is said to be smoother, better able to slow to a stop, and easier to use in reverse. While all electric vehicle regenerative braking takes time to adjust to when you’re coming from driving without it, it didn’t take long to get the hang of the e-Pedal and put it to good use around bends and in and out of different speed zones.
The two drivers in each car got a turn navigating each of the four legs of the journey, with a swap point half way that brought snacks and a man in a coffee van. This gave the person not driving time to check out the bells and whistles inside the car, and also enjoy the ride as a passenger.
Unfortunately for my co-pilot, one of the Leaf’s safety features of beeping loudly at you and buzzing the steering wheel when you go even slightly outside the white lines (it was a very windy road!) might have compromised her experience as a passenger a little. We couldn’t work out how to turn it off, if indeed there is a way to do so.
To the battery. Our car, the nice red number pictured above, had a charge of 96% when we left the airport car park and 452km on the odometer. When we reached Daylesford after 111km of mixed driving conditions, the battery was displaying 58% charge and 563km on the odometer.
Back at the airport, at the end of the slightly longer return journey, the battery was sitting at 26%, with 669km on the clock – and according to Nissan, 110km of range to spare. Not bad for a long day of winding roads and hilly driving.
So, are the extra $$$ for the extra kWh and the extra kms worth it? This will be something for individual drivers to decide, depending on their taste, their budget, and their driving needs.
But all told it’s a very nice car with everything any driver could really need from any car, without the tailpipe emissions and with Nissan’s legacy of EV making, its big network of local dealers, and its manufacturing muscle.
The bigger e+ battery pack also offers a roughly 25 per cent improvement in energy density to a regular Leaf, which unlocks quicker acceleration and faster charging capability – from 20% to 80% in 45 minutes using a 100kw DC fast charger. Maximum power and torque outputs offer 160kW and 340Nm and 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds.
As an added bonus, all Leafs also come with the capability for bi-directional charging, wherein the energy stored in the car’s battery can be used to power a load, such as your house, if the grid goes down – a feature that has already proven itself in Japan, winning an award for the role it has played in disaster relief.
In Australia, the “vehicle-to-x” (V2X) capabilities of the Nissan Leaf are being used in various trials to test V2G (vehicle-to-grid) and V2H (vehicle-to-home) capabilities, including an AGL trial, an Energy Queensland trial and an ANU trial in Canberra. But the technology is still in its infancy.
At the launch presentation at the Daylesford Longhouse, a Leaf e+ was used to power the TV screens, and Nissan Australia’s national manager for electrification and mobility, Ben Warren, conjured a time in the not-too-distant future when the e+ would come to represent “two to three days worth of [back-up] electricity, parked in your garage.”
Will this help get the Leaf e+ over the line in Australia? Who can say. But The Driven, for one, hopes the new generation Leafs get a welcome reception from Australian consumers, because as Nissan Australia CEO Stephen Lester pointed out at the launch, greater choice of EV models is what Australia’s market so desperately needs.
“It’s really important that we work with the government closely to develop policy goals and objectives to help reach that, that outcome,” Lester said against the backdrop of the pristine Victorian countryside.
“The reality is that we run the risk of having less choice in our market. If we delay and fall further behind than we already are.”