Time to turn over new Leaf
The Leaf will be one of the main players in the drive for an electric car strategy. Campbell Spray looks at this and some very different launches by Nissan
THE lads and lassies from Nissan were in good form last Monday as they outlined a fairly taxing litany of upcoming launches.
However, although these include a brand new Micra, a "baby" Qashqai called -- horribly -- Juke, and a massively powerful 370Z sports car, most of the questions were about the Leaf, the electric saloon that arrives here next year.
The Leaf is going to be one of the main players in the drive for a successful electric car strategy. In less than a month order books will open for delivery in early 2011. The discounted price of nearly €30,000 is still a massive stumbling block, but the total annual running cost of around €232 is hoped to balance out the equation.
The good news for the electric market is that there is far greater acceptance by the public of its reality. A recent poll indicated that nearly half the population could see themselves buying an EV within 10 years. But despite a rigorous countdown timetable for the Leaf, Nissan had a lot more to tell us at the launch in the superb Bellinter House, which is now just minutes from Dublin up the M3 and off at Exit 7.
There was a chance to drive the updated Qashqai, the crossover that executives on Monday called a "lifesaver" for Nissan and which still outsells all its competitors combined. There are even 500 people on a waiting list, and the factory at Sunderland in North-east England is back to three shifts daily to meet demand. The new model is quieter all round and has lots of lighting improvements.
The Qashqai will be joined by its baby sister on September 10. The Juke is expected to be as successful as the Qashqai and will have a lot of styling innovations, including a centre console that owes a lot to fast motorcycles. The Juke hopes to be an "urban jungle" icon, and claims to blend "mechanical precision and dynamic movement", have all the security of a small SUV and all the fun and ability of a lightweight sports car.
The brand new Micra will be much more restrained in its styling than the present model, which seemed to attract only female buyers. It arrives in October and will be far lighter and fuel efficient than the present model, with emissions below 100g/km.
There are still 46,000 Micras on Irish roads, which shows just how powerful it is as a brand and what marque loyalty Nissan can tap into with the right car. The company expects to sell 4,000 of the new Micras in 2011.
At the other end of the scale, only 20 units of the 370Z three-door coupe are likely to be purchased -- despite a very attractive price of under €60,000 for the full-specced model. It is a superbly balanced and powerful car which, according to Nissan, is very much a "halo2" project for the company, reinforcing a lot of the engineering progress it is making. The 370Z has a top speed of 250kmh and will do the 0-100kmh sprint in around 5.5 seconds. It is an iconic car and in better times would have had many more people salivating over it.
As far as the Leaf project is concerned, Nissan says that 31 of its 47 dealers have already signed up for the scheme and that there has been a very big expression of interest. The refundable deposit has been set at €232 to emphasise the running cost advantage. Strong residual values are projected because of the very few moving parts to go wrong. However, the range of the vehicles is always going to be an issue.
It is going to be an exciting time. When my partner bought a small new Hyundai this year, I told her that I reckoned the next car she would buy would be electric. It will be an interesting time. Cleaner, quieter and calmer -- I hope.