Nissan Leaf: the world's best-selling electric car

Jonathan Brown

20 Dec 2018, Blog Post

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NISSAN LEAF – The World’s best-selling Electric Car!

At the end of World War II, oil was scarce. However, electricity supply was plentiful and this reason drove the Japanese government to promote the manufacture of electric vehicles. With this encouragement, Nissan’s first electric vehicle (EV) the "Tama" launched in 1947 with lead-acid batteries delivering a range of around 40 miles and a top speed of 21.8mph. Its main user base was the Tokyo taxi fleet and remained in production until 1950.

Nissan Tama (1947)

Through the 1960s, Nissan became more active in the development of EVs and has since released numerous electric powered cars delivering many industry firsts in the process including.

  • 1997 Nissan Prairie Joy EV, the world’s first EV equipped with a lithium-ion battery
  • 2005 Nissan Pivo, the first vehicle with a compact laminated lithium-ion battery

In 2009, Nissan announced the five person, all-electric hatchback Nissan LEAF with sales starting in Japan and North America in 2011. In 2014, Nissan expanded its zero-emission capability into the Light Commercial Vehicle sector with the launch of the e-NV200.

Nissan LEAF

In 2011, the world knew little about the Nissan LEAF, other than it was a quirky looking Ford Focus sized vehicle. It had no conventional internal combustion engine and had to be plugged-in regularly. This small vehicle is a landmark machine in the development of electric cars. It never creates the same column inches as the likes of Tesla models; however, the LEAF has changed the world’s acceptance of electric cars as being the first truly affordable and viable EV. Today the LEAF is the best-selling electric car of all time.

With a claimed range at launch of approximately 100 miles on a full charge, the Nissan LEAF is a 100% EV, promising zero tailpipe emissions and low running costs. It is the first purpose-designed, mass-produced affordable EV from any major motor manufacturer.

At launch, power came from a Nissan-developed compact electric motor positioned at the front of the car to drive the front wheels. The AC motor developed 80 kW of power and 280 Nm of torque, enough for a maximum speed of 90mph, providing a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience in keeping with consumer expectation from traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

The electric motor is ‘fuelled' by a Nissan-developed laminated lithium-ion battery mounted under the seats and floor. The 24kWh electric vehicle battery consists of air-cooled, stacked laminated lithium-ion batteries. The arrangement of the 192 cells is into 48 modules of four cells each.

In addition to the main battery, the LEAF also has an auxiliary 12-volt lead–acid battery providing power to the car computer systems and accessories. A small optional solar panel on the LEAF rear spoiler can help charge this accessory battery.

In reality, the early cars had a limited range, especially with the heater and air conditioning running or with an enthusiastic driver at the wheel. The range anxiety issue heightened when customers noticed that the LEAF’s on board range calculation system tended to overestimate distance to empty. Nissan put fixes into play, although there was no official recall as there were no safety issues.

Introduced to global markets at the start of 2011, although the US and Japanese markets started with a handful of registrations in late 2010, the Nissan LEAF won the 2010 Green Car Vision Award, the 2011 European Car of the Year, the 2011 World Car of the Year, and the 2011–2012 Car of the Year in Japan.

With the continued development of battery technology, linked to Nissan's innovation the first generation LEAF received more than 100 updates in 2013 aimed at making EV technology accessible to even more European drivers, including an increased claimed driving range of 124 miles and the ability to recharge in half the time of the first-generation LEAF. This change point gave Nissan a suitable date to commence UK production at the Sunderland plant.

Nissan LEAF (2013)

Fast forward to 2018 and despite the relatively low take-up of electric vehicles in the UK, the Nissan LEAF remains the EV of choice with sales in the UK expected to rank third for LEAF sales worldwide in 2018. In 2017, registrations in the UK reached 22,359, a fair distance behind Japan with 97,000 and USA in top position with nearly 115,000. In September 2018, worldwide sales of Nissan’s LEAF totalled more than 350,000, making it the world's all-time best-selling highway-capable electric car.

The second generation LEAF launched at the start of 2018 with new styling and further technical improvements for range, power and charging times with anticipated improvements to sales.

Nissan LEAF (2018)

The LEAF mileage range continues to improve. Real world testing in 2011 showed the likely range to be 73 miles from the 24kWh battery, this improved to 84 miles in 2015. In 2016 with the introduction of a 30kWh battery, range improved to a more acceptable 107 miles. The second-generation model, launched this year with a 40kWh battery, is capable of 151 miles on a full charge finally diminishing the range anxiety felt by drivers.

Nissan LEAF models currently enjoy increased demand in the used market according to Glass’s data, in part due to the low volume available. The average selling price at auction rose from £8,480 twelve months ago to £10,109 In October, despite the average age increasing by nine months and average mileage increasing by more than 4,000 miles. As you would expect, Glass’s trade values have also increased. The following chart shows Glass’s average trade value expressed as a percentage of original cost new price for the Nissan LEAF at three years and 60,000 miles, over the past 12 months.

It may be some time until electric vehicles are commonplace on the UK roads, but the Nissan LEAF has become the leading environmentally friendly and affordable vehicle available for families around the world. As a EV brand already established in the UK, the LEAF is likely to continue to take a large share of EV business for some time to come.

About the author

Jonathan Brown

Jonathan BrownUK Car Editor

Originating from Farnham in Surrey, Jonathan was educated at the Guildford and Farnborough Tech Colleges before he acquired his expertise in manufacturer and dealer network liaison. Jonathan is one of many who has built a colourful and lengthy career with Glass’s having joined the company back in 1989.