New Electric Car Looks A Bit Normal

The New Nissan Leaf. Looks just like a Nissan.

There’s a new Nissan Leaf coming in February. It looks a bit like a car and not at all like the old Nissan Leaf. The old Nissan Leaf reminded me a little of one of those shinkansen bullet trains in Japan. A little. A very little. This new one looks more like a Nissan. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your view of Nissans.

So, this new Leaf is so normal it even has visible door handles on the rear doors. The Micra has its rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar. I had an Alfa 156 which had the same feature. It confused anyone trying to get into the back seats. They’d stand there for ages waving their hands about and saying “But how do I get in?”

I haven’t checked with Nissan about its wiper motor and whether it’s an especially quiet one like the one on the old Nissan Leaf but that sort of thing is likely. Electric is becoming more normal. There are quite a few Teslas knocking round Cambridge now, if electric cars knock around anywhere. I’ve seen fewer Renault Zoes than I have Teslas but they do pop up from time to time. ne of mu chums has the current Leaf. There may be electric Golfs but since they look just like any other Golf it’s hard to pick them out.

The new one has a more powerful 150PS  motor than the old one and the batteries give you a longer range. Nissan claims 235 miles on the NEDC, if that means anything. It probably doesn’t mean more than it will go quite a bit further than the old one.

Prices are surprisingly low thanks to a government grant of £4,500. They start at £21,990 for the Visia which is only a small increase on the current model for what is a car with a lot more power and a longer range. The top of the range is the Tekna which will cost £27,490 after the grant and there are a couple of steps in between including a special limited launch edition called a 2.ZERO with quite a lot of nice toys. So, still normal.


Nissan Leaf

So, the Nissan Leaf. The price has come down a bit since it was first launched. It was too expensive then and I think it’s still too expensive now but I’m glad it’s here. It was a courageous move to launch a proper electrically-powered family hatch when it did. Apart from assorted Renaults, I don’t think there have been very many other pure electric-drive cars launched.

There’s a Focus which is even more expensive than the Nissan. There are also assorted Germans coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes, none of which are going to be cheap. Better men than I have done sums which show that the cost of running a Renault Zoe including the battery lease offers marginal savings over a diesel hatch like a Clio. I don’t know about that. Diesels have their own issues in the form of their particulate emissions of course and as someone whose nicotine-kippered lungs don’t function quite as well as they should, I am grateful for every reduction in PM10 levels.

BMW i3BMW got in there ahead of the other Germans. Unlike the others, BMW chose to develop unique vehicles to carry their electric drivetrains. Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagen have developed electric versions of the A3, B-Class and Golf respectively and Mercedes has borrowed tech from Tesla. It’s also a bit expensive but it’s a BMW so we sort of expect that. In fact, it’s less expensive than the Focus Electric in its basic spec. The Focus is very well equipped but so is the i3 and just look at it. The Focus is the facelifted version so it looks a little like an Aston Martin but the i3 looks like the future.

I’m smitten with it, very smitten. It’s made from carbon fibre and has suicide rear doors and the interior is probably the most gorgeous I’ve seen on a car in several yonks. It’s odd-looking on the outside, but good-odd. It’s much more to my taste than the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf looks like it’s on its way to a geography lesson. The BMW on the other hand is definitely on its way to a BDSM masterclass.


Meanwhile the Tesla Model S is on its way to mug an XFR, and then steal an M5’s lunch money and sneak up behind an S-Class. I’ve seen a few of these out and about and they glide. It’s a shame that the rumbliest, grumbliest V-twin motorcycles in the world are knows as Electraglides because if ever a product deserved that name, it’s this one. There is a new one which has a second motor driving the front wheels giving it 690hp in total. It’s such a Q-car that it’s really a q-car. It doesn’t even shout about not shouting about its performance. It even has a reasonable range. You can’t get a green one any more which seems a little ironic, but still.

I don’t think electric cars have been this sexy since the days of the Jamais Contente. (The world landspeed record holder in 1899, look it up. It was driven by a famous Belgian and everything.)

There are still people insisting that the power for personal mobility be produced locally using fuel cells and maybe that’s true but I think it’s adding an extra layer of unnecessary complexity to the system. You need to produce the hydrogen, distribute it and then process it on board the car before you generate your electricity. It all seems inefficient compared to plugging in like you do your mobile phone or your laptop.

 Anyway, I’ll have an i3 in orange. You know how I feel about orange cars.

Easily Distracted

I was doing some research earlier today for a book project called Climate Change for the Rest of Us. It’s aimed at those people who sit and fret at dinner parties that they don’t know enough and aren’t doing enough recycling. I had planned to finish writing it last year but I’m easily distracted. Today’s distraction was provided by the Mitsubishi website. I had gone there to get some details of the i-MiEV but thought the Evo X looked more interesting.

It’s a shame. The i-MiEV is a perfectly decent wee car. It looks intriguing, a bit like Smart that’s had a few lessons in practicality and its quoted range of 93 miles is more than enough for it to work as an everyday proposition around town. Robert Llewellyn certainly loved the one he had on loan from Mitsubishi as part of the pilot programme last year. I followed his reports on it in his Fully Charged podcasts. He was so enthusiastic about it I was carried along. I like it more than the Nissan Leaf. It’s smaller, slightly cheaper to buy and has an official range which is only a dozen or so miles shorter than the Nissan.

I don’t like it as much as the Evo X. The FQ-300 would cost more or less the same as the i-MiEV were the tax payer not stumping up five large to each and every early adopter of electric cars. Both the electric car and the petrol-driven insanity ride are conversions. The Mitsubishi i was available for a short period in the UK. It was an unusual choice in comparison with the competition and a little cheap inside. The Evo is a Lancer with all the everyday oily bits taken out and left in a skip and the drivetrain of a rally car put in their place. The service intervals have gone up on the Evo X to 10,000 miles from the rather silly 4,500 miles of earlier generations but that’s still rather short.

I like electric cars. I like what they promise. I don’t like that we as taxpayers are subsidising them quite as much as we are. Most people who want a Leaf or an i-MiEV or its Peugeot or Citroen analogues would buy them without the subsidy. They’ll buy them because they are enthusiasts or ideologues or want the latest fashionable, hot car and electric cars are very hot just now. More people will be able to buy them as the price comes down. The Leaf is over £30,000 before the subsidy. The petrol Mitsubishi i was between a half and a third of the price of the electric i-MiEV and most of the difference is down to the cost of the batteries. Battery manufacturers are ramping up supply in new factories (including one in the North East to supply Nissan when they start building Leafs in Sunderland). Until batteries come down in price, then the cost of electric cars will continue to be prohibitively high.

Silly Little Cars Doing Damage To The Industry?

I read this article on the All Cars Electric site this evening. It’s about some of the more embarrassing electric cars seen at the Geneva show last week. Electric cars can be fun. There is no need whatsoever for them to be poorly designed and shoddily built sheds with plugs attached. Okay, there are a couple of reasons. First that the manufacturers are naive and second that they’re venal. I don’t know which are which and I’m not inclined to find out.

The link drawn in the article between the kit car world and the car industry is good but I disagree. EVs are still very much a niche product, just one in which the major manufacturers are beginning to take an interest. Nissan has recently built its millionth Qashqai. It did that in just over four years. It’s going to build only 50,000 Leafs this year. Production will increase when its US and UK plants come on stream but that’s not going to be for some time yet. I don’t think that Volts will outsell Tahoes in Chevrolet dealers or Amperas do more business for Vauxhall than Astras or Insignias any time soon. It’s not because they’re bad cars but because in spite of the money they’ve invested in developing EVs, they and their dealers would rather sell cars they know to customers who just want to buy a car.

EV customers, or at least the early adopters, are going to know more about EVs than the dealers and will care about them more than the people who build and sell them. It’s an odd situation. The time will come when the enthusiasts have all bought their vehicles, assuming that they can afford them. It’s what will happen then which intrigues me.

Nissan in particular has a problem. A Leaf is an expensive piece of kit. It’s the same price in the UK as a 370Z roadster but it’s not going to attract the same customers at all. Nobody is going to wander into its dealers to buy a Micra, Juke or Qashqai and walk out with a Leaf unless the salesperson is an absolute superstar. The Leaf is a stand-alone product and one which has to establish its own infrastructure of customers and fans. Nissan is working hard to do that with an interesting social media marketing campaign but it can’t call on a body of existing customers.

Ford, GM, Toyota and Renault will all bring cars with plugs to market during 2011 and 2012. In a sense, Nissan will find it easier to sell Leafs to the wider public when it has more competitors. The manufacturers will have to sell the idea of cars you can plug into the wall. When there are more of them doing that, the message will be spread to more people more of the time. When that happens, any damage done by the likes of the execrable G-Wiz will be forgotten.

When Harry Met Sally. (Not Really.)

Because When Ford Sued Ferrari wouldn’t really have worked as a title. Well, I thought about it and then changed my mind. I mean, I wanted to do something about faking a spectacular orgasm but couldn’t work it in neatly enough. There was something about faking a spectacular toy ejection from an over-large perambulator but that doesn’t really work either.


Ummm, Ferrari F150, I think...

Ford is launching a lawsuit to protect its trademarked “F-150” nameplate which gets attached to monstrous pick up trucks against those well-known commercial vehicle builders in Modena, Ferrari.

And this is the Ford F-150, isn't it?

Ferrari has called its 2011 F1 car F150 in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Who wouldn’t want to mark that in some significant way?

Unfortunately, Ferrari’s evident patriotic pride has upset Ford to the point that in order to protect the investment they have made in the F-150 name, Ford is spending money on a lawsuit in a US District Court. The damages they are seeking will probably be less than the amount they have to spend on lawyers. Daftness, if you ask me.

It’s worse than that, in fact. Ford sells thousands of these things in a year and the business is very profitable for them. They will probably sell more of their F-150s in a few minutes than Ferrari will build in the course of the 2011 season, even if Alonso and Massa go on a bit of a banzai bin it spree all year and destroy a chassis each at every race meeting.

If the Ferrari turns out to be a dog this year, then at least we’ll all have a chance for some good pick-up truck jokes.

As with most things in business, there’s a long back story to this. Back in the early 1960s, Ford almost bought Ferrari. They fell out over how much control the Old Man would retain over his beloved racing team and the deal fell through. Ferrari sold a stake in his company to the Agnelli family and FIAT and Ford went on a spending spree to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Ford, or maybe Lola, built the GT and won in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969. Ferrari hasn’t won at Le Mans since. This is an old, old family feud.

Ford has a history of winning but occasionally its lawsuits come unstuck. A British kit car manufacturer called Dutton was producing a faux-roader called a Sierra in the late 1970s. Ford wanted to use that name on its replacement for the Cortina. It sued Dutton and was forced into accepting a compromise; Dutton could continue to use the Sierra name as long as they referred to is as the “Sierra kit car.”

I like the F-150. If I were in the market for an oversized beer-hauler, I’d have one rather than the Dodge or Chevy alternatives. And Ford is a company with some momentum now. The new Focus is in the dealers and, slightly apologetic looks apart, is set for success. There’s an electric version of it coming soon to grab attention from the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf but this week, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Shame.