Turning Over A New Leaf: The World’s Best-Selling Electric Car Should Be A Shocker – The Lohdown


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I took a spin in our 2017 Car of the Year the other day, and I marveled again at the current state of automotive engineering. I know, I know: Gas prices are low, and car shoppers are flocking to SUVs—while drooling over tire-roasting Raptors and Demons born of Hellcats. If electric vehicles register at all, it’s only with hippie tree huggers or savvy megacity commuters, laser-focused on taking advantage of the HOV lane, right?

You’re still reading, so I’ll wager that you’re in a third, no less cultish sect of vehicular enthusiasts that likes to stay abreast of the latest technology, no matter the origin. If so, drive a Chevrolet Bolt EV if you get the chance. The future is already here with that car, in a package that is surprisingly affordable, anxiety free, and, yes, more than a little fun to drive.

FALL FOLIAGE New Leaf drops after Labor Day.

With any luck, Bolt and others in the EV space will be joined by some new and familiar game changers very soon. We’ve done a ton of reporting on the Model 3—Tesla’s slick and affordable EV sedan for the masses—but don’t sleep on the next-generation Nissan Leaf.

In January of 2017, Nissan sold its 250,000th Leaf—making it not only America’s best-selling electric car but also numero uno in the world. Surprised? That is understandable. The Leaf has been an overnight success, some six years in the making. When it was released in 2011, it had an EPA rating of 99 mpg-e and an estimated range of 73 miles (on the current cycle). That was competitive at the time, but within a couple of years Tesla had outclassed the entire field with its top-dollar, 265-mile max range Model S.

Nissan gradually upped the distance to empty, topping out at 84 miles in 2013, which was still very modest in comparison to Tesla’s poster child. But modesty, both in terms of range and price, is a virtue consumers apparently loved. Leaf sales kept chugging along, and the Leaf became the world’s best-selling EV in 2013 and 2014.

My good friend Rob was one such earlyish adopter. He’s an ex-cop, pathologically concerned with safety, situational awareness, and saving money. He leased a loaded 2013 Leaf SL for schlepping his three boys around Cleveland’s surburbs. “It was good,” he said. “It fit all three kids and their child seats. I leased because, at the time, I was concerned about the new technology.”

Despite range-shortened winter months and a minor sensor issue, three Leaf-y years turned Rob into a bona fide EV convert. When the lease expired, he and his wife, Beri, turned in the Leaf and their long-distance family hauler (a Volvo XC90) and are now a two-Tesla family—a new Model S 60 for her and a used Model S 85 for him.

When I texted Rob that a new Leaf is budding, he was excited. But would he go back? “I did like it, but the competition is stiff with Bolt and the upcoming Model 3,” he thumbed. “It’s tough because you have the Bolt with 238-mile range. I don’t need all that, but it’s nice to have.”

Indeed, the bar is high for the next-generation Leaf. Tesla’s Model 3 and the will-they-or-won’t-they saga to deliver 500,000 vehicles in 2018 has dominated recent EV news, save for the $37,495 bolt of impressive engineering delivered by Chevy. For the new Leaf to steal the spotlight, it’s going to have to have comparable range, much sexier styling than the first generation, a bleeding-edge technology story, or a price that beats ’em all.

That’s a tall order, but don’t count Nissan out. The automaker has a history of big bets paying off; just look at the original 240Z, the trucky Xterra, Carlos Ghosn’s heroic turnaround, the supercar-killing GT-R (our 2009 Car of the Year), and the quietly best-selling Leaf.

A new Leaf is set to drop this fall, and when it does, it should be a shocker.

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