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The Nissan Leaf

By Bill Nye | Published: August 15, 2010 – 7:43 pm

I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page.

Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small car, it’s quite spacious. This may surprise you. In general, electric drive trains are much more compact than ICE systems. Nissan spread the batteries out low in the unibody; all this leaves more room for you and me.

The Leaf is an all-electric car– no gas cap (no place to put gas). It’s got batteries instead. Keep in mind that electric cars cost much less per mile than gas powered ones. Electricity can be sent right to your house. There’s no need for tanker trucks plying our roads on the way to gas (petrol) stations. Electric motors are well over 90% efficient. An Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is a heat engine. It depends on how hot the gas can burn and how cool it is outside the engine. They can get to around 30%– that’s it.

Electric cars are also very much quieter than cars most of us are used to. When you drive one, it’s magical.

To my eye and to the eyes of other people I test drove and rode with, it has the best instrument panel– what your car-people call the best “driver interface,” of any electric vehicle I’ve seen or driven. It’s easy to figure out. Your speed is presented on a heads-up display at the base of the windshield, visible even in bright sunlight.

It has marvelous features in its navigation system: O yes, it shows you where you are on a good-looking map. But, it also displays a circle on the map, like a target with you at the bull’s eye, indicating your range– how far you can drive from where you are right now given how much charge is left in your battery pack– very cool. When one is new to electric vehicle driving, it’s easy to get what they call “range anxiety.” You worry about your range– about whether or not you’ll be able to get home. After you’re used to running all your errands and completing your commute with plenty of charge in your pack (your battery pack), you don’t much notice the range. Once in while though, it’s important. It’s beautifully displayed and very clear how far you can keep going.

It has five seats. Really, five people can sit inside. My recently returned Mini E (Electric Mini Cooper) that I was able to drive for a year had no such feature: two seats, and just barely those. The trunk could hold a manila folder or so. And the battery cooling system of the Mini E, is like, so totally, 20th Century. The cooling air flows right through the cockpit. Put a bag behind the passenger seat, the batteries overheat, and your car just stops. Not so with the Leaf. Its cooling system has been much more thought through. It’s a real production car. Oh, and the Leaf has a pretty good trunk (boot) for a small vehicle.

I can face it, though. The Leaf is just not as sporty as the Mini E but it’s sporty enough for me. By sporty, I mean the Mini E goes like a bat out of someplace dark and hot… fast. The Leaf is not quite like that, but it’s close enough for me.

This is the future, my friends. An electric car that is built so that it feels very much like a car– like a gas-powered ICE-style car that you might be used to. I hope to get one before 2011 gets underway. I’ll use it for almost all of my driving, and in Los Angeles, one can do a great deal of driving. Where I live it’s often no fun, and it’s only as safe as cars are. That’s about a 100,000th as safe as flying. All things considered though, I drive. I do my best to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to the near silence of an all-electric machine. My commute will get quieter, cheaper, and just more fun.

16 Responses to “The Nissan Leaf”

  1. Tiffany says:

    Hi there Mr. Nye,

    I’m so glad to read about your post here, which I was initially notified about on FB. I’m also glad you have a FB account. I now brag to all my friends that I know you. Down to serious business. I admire your greenie attitude. I would love to be auto petrol independent! What’s the price tag on one of these new Leafs? (hoping that they aren’t only for rich people who want to be earth friendly)

    My children want me to say hi for them! I’d be remiss if I forgot! So Hello from Cristian and Adeah, your two top 9 year old fans in NE Georgia!

  2. Eric K says:

    I guess it still uses energy at red lights, but substantially less?

    Great point about how inefficient ICE engines really are, not to mention of oil spills, small and large.

    People should definitely check out the driver interface ;). It is interesting and smooth looking.

    The car is 32,500, the great USA gov’t offers a $7500 rebate on the first 250K electric cars,well worth the price tag I feel. A little subsidy to the future growth and eventual goal of 300-mile range PHEVs!!

  3. James says:

    Hello Bill Nye,

    I have been interested in buying a car like the leaf and in recent months I have heard of it’s forthcoming release. I Have a few questions for you as you have had a chance to drive a prototype. The first question is about the range. How long were you able to drive the vehicle? I ask because I am picturing you driving it until it conks out(like in that episode of Seinfeld), and because I’m not fully satisfied with Nissan’s claim that it has a 100 Mile range (apparently this varies, but by how much?). The second question is about load capacity. I’d like to know how load affects an electric Motor and what the difference between the affect is between an ICE and an EM if there is one. I did have some other questions but none that Nissan’s Leaf website doesn’t satisfactorily answer. Any reply is appreciated

    a long time fan , James

  4. Sarah L. says:

    I think the Leaf looks pretty sporty. I wish I had a car that cute. I can’t afford an upgrade yet, but I’m hoping my husband and I can get a used Prius when our big old Taurus kicks the bucket. That decision may change by the time we need a new car.

    We have one car between us and we live in the city so that one of us is always using public transit to get to work or class (he’s a student). We hope that we’ll be able to stick with just having one car between us but it’s difficult because of the lack of a combination of good (safe) public transit and affordable housing in so much of this country. Boston has superb transit but has expensive housing. Baltimore is affordable but has severely limited transit. Baltimore also lacks safe bike-ability which I am very bitter about. Sometimes I just want to move to Europe or Japan where trains and subways can get you almost anywhere.

  5. Terry says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have been watching “Who Killed the Electric Car?” over and over again trying to wrap my head around this technology. We have a long way to go, but glad that we are progressing slowly, but surely.

  6. Kyle H. says:

    Hey Bill,

    I just wanted to say that you are the reason that I fell in love with science. When I was growing up, your show fostered in me what has become a passion for all things rational and scientific. Thank you so much for the amazing job you have done over the years, and I wanted to make sure you know that you have definitely created at least 1 future scientist (environmental engineering major).

    Sincerely,
    Kyle H.

  7. Marjie says:

    Hi,
    Electricity to run the Leaf mostly comes from coal burning power plants.
    Would you please discuss the environmental impact of that vs let’s say, a gas/electric Prius? And then, wouldn’t buying a fuel efficient used car really be the MOST energy/environmental efficient thing to do?

  8. Marjie says:

    Hi,
    Electricity to run the Leaf mostly comes from coal burning power plants.
    Would you please discuss the environmental impact of that vs let\’s say, a gas/electric Prius? And then, wouldn\’t buying a fuel efficient used car really be the MOST energy/environmental efficient thing to do?

  9. Fuel Cards says:

    Well, even if you are using coal to generate electricity for recharging an electric car, the use of fossil fuel is secondary in this case. And, Leaf is just a beginning. With rapid advancement in battery technology, we will have better mileage cars.

  10. [...] I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page. Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small Read More > [...]

  11. [...] I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page. Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small Read More > [...]

  12. [...] I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page. Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small Read More > [...]

  13. [...] I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page. Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small Read More > [...]

  14. [...] I recently had a chance to drive a prototype of the Nissan Leaf. I reported about this briefly on my Facebook page. Since then, so many people have asked me about it, I decided to put something here on the home page. Right now, I hope it will be my next car. For a small Read More > [...]

  15. vynncent says:

    could you show more pictures?

  16. danwat1234 says:

    Bill Nye you are awesome I hope to meet you one day.
    I’m glad all the episodes of your TV show are on Youtube, and bittorrent.

    The 2011 Leaf has some flaws.
    Most of which is the resistive heater for the cabin heat. Luckily they now offer a heat pump option that uses far less energy for the same heat output.

    Also, with the HVAC controls, there isn’t any way to fully shut off the heater so it always sucks energy away from driving range! Luckily there is a way to do this, by buying a hacked HVAC control board.

    I hope they change to a liquid based thermal management for the battery pack.
    Other than that it’s a good car.

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