Goodbye Nissan Leaf: the electric pioneer

Nissan has announced it will phase out the current generation of the pioneering and now iconic Nissan Leaf electric car by the mid-2020s. This means 2024 will likely be the last full year it will still be available for sale, after two model generations and 13 years.

Launched to a bemused motoring public, still very skeptical of the notion of driving electric cars back in 2010, the importance of the Nissan Leaf simply cannot be overstated in establishing the widespread acceptability of EVs.

It was the global best-selling electric car from 2011 to 2014 and again in 2016, at one point being Norway’s most-sold car. Priced reasonably, typically at around $25,000, it held the record of the world’s most popular EV until the end of 2019, finally being usurped by the Tesla Model 3 in early 2020. Even so, by 2022, well over half a million Leafs had been delivered.

Nissan unveiled the Leaf when the electric market was still in its infancy. In the annals of automotive history, the compact family-friendly electric pioneer will be a placeholder that signalled a whole new direction in humanity’s motoring endeavours. With the Leaf, Nissan didn’t just launch a car; it launched a challenge to the industry and a message of change to motorists worldwide.

While Tesla first grabbed electric car headlines back in 2008 with the Tesla Roadster, essentially a two-seater Lotus Elise sportscar re-engineered as an EV, that was a novelty offering, with limited appeal and sales potential. Meanwhile, the Leaf was a traditional 5-door hatchback design, that was as usable as any conventional city runabout. The game-changing Tesla Model S, the company’s first mainstream car, didn’t go on sale until June 2012.

Over the years, the Leaf has claimed a bevy of prestigious awards, among them the World Car of the Year in 2011. However, its biggest achievement is its role as the catalyst for the electric vehicle revolution. It was instrumental in dispelling doubts about the viability of EVs, their performance, and their reliability.

Nissan President and CEO Makoto Uchida has announced that every new Nissan launched in Europe will be an EV.

The Leaf’s influence rippled through the industry, not least because it was a vanguard of technological advancements. Its introduction of regenerative braking, sophisticated battery management, and features like remote charging access were revolutionary.

Admittedly, early versions grappled with limited range and battery durability in extreme temperatures, sparking the initial discussions about EV “range anxiety,” which of course endure in conversations around electric cars today.

It’s partly the reason that has seen time called on the legendary Leaf. The first model only had a range of about 100 miles. The current Leaf, which still uses a passive air-cooled system for its batteries putting it at a higher risk of overheating, manages about 225 miles on the larger battery offered.

Meanwhile, Nissan’s second all-electric car, the Ariya, launched in early 2023, claims a range of up to 329 miles. Though that is a larger SUV, and a more up-market offering, commanding prices of $40,000-50,000.

The second generation of the Nissan Leaf, introduced in 2017 and offering more conventional design compared to the first-gen car’s more polarising but streamlined soap-bar styling, did up the range to over 150 miles, as well as providing more torque and performance.

As more legacy carmakers have made the switch to offering EVs, the Leaf has seen its sales falling over the last few years, and reports indicate that the nameplate will not see a replacement when production stops.

With a raft of stunning new electric car concepts revealed by Nissan globally, including the 20-23 Concept, Hyper Urban, Hyper Adventure, Hyper Tourer, and most recently the Nissan GT-R inspired Hyper Force which debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan is embarking on ambitious plans for an exciting new range of EVs. These will build on the foundations established by the Leaf.

Last month in London, Nissan President and CEO Makoto Uchida made the surprise announcement that every new Nissan launched in Europe henceforth would be an EV.

The Leaf also served to prove the durability and viability of EV battery packs. The batteries were guaranteed for eight years or 100,000 miles in the US (five years in Europe). When Nissan introduced the Leaf, it estimated the battery would have a 10-year lifespan with 80% capacity still available after five years of use.

However, the company overestimated battery degradation, with 2019 data from 400,000 Leafs in use in Europe indicating that the battery was actually good for 22 years. In fact, despite naysayers, many first-generation Leafs are still in service after 13 years, having clocked over 150,000 miles on the original battery pack!

Whilst there won’t be an all-new Leaf, the avant-garde Nissan’s trailblazing legacy will remain intact, spawning a generation of new EV Nissans even as it takes its well-deserved retirement in motor museums. The cessation of its production is less a full stop and more an ellipsis leading to the next chapter of electric mobility.

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13 Nov, 2023