Drive

Make like a tree…

By Eric Chin
September 05, 2012

The Leaf, Nissan’s first production all-electric vehicle with no engine but a battery in the boot.The Leaf, Nissan’s first production all-electric vehicle with no engine but a battery in the boot.KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 — Caught a glimpse of a Nissan Leaf last Monday while I was waiting at the traffic lights in Bangsar. As my trusty E39 waited at the lights and arrogantly burned fuel at idle along with 15 other Hondas, Toyotas and Protons — much to the dismay of environmentalists everywhere — an all-electric Leaf glided to a halt right next to me, giving me a chance to check this new-fangled appliance out up close.

For those who’ve missed the memo, the Leaf is Nissan’s first production all-electric vehicle. It is also one of the few all-electric cars being mass-produced anywhere in the world.

This little bulbous car differs quite significantly from the garden-variety hybrid in that it doesn’t have an engine at all. All it has is an electric motor and a couple of hundred pounds of battery in the boot to power it.

Although commercially available in Europe and the US, the Leaf isn’t actually officially on sale in Malaysia. Tan Chong Motors, the local distributors, brought in a few units of these electric golf-karts as a pilot programme to gauge public response to what is a unique motoring solution.

The benefits of an all-electric car is obvious. In the city, where most will spend their time, commuting distances tend to be short. And this is where the Leaf’s 100-plus kilometre range would prove more than sufficient.

In that 100-odd kilometres, a “normal” car would consume between six to 10-litres of fuel, depending on engine capacity and driving style. The Leaf would consume nothing.

And it would belch out zero amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and the entire chemical cocktail so common to burning fossil fuels for propulsion.

Ignore for a second the fact that fuel still needs to be burnt SOMEWHERE to produce the power to charge the Leaf’s batteries. Indulge yourself in the knowledge that save and except for that little dirty deed, a car like the Leaf, if made available to the general public, would present the potential saving of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of C02 per year from major cities. That’s a massive cutback on vehicle pollution, even if it does, admittedly, increase pollution in other more remote ways if extra demands are placed on the national grid.

But still. Sitting there next to my E39, the Leaf looked like something straight out of Star Trek. It was painted in a striking shade of blue, had a beige interior reminiscent of Captain Jean Luc-Picard’s Enterprise-D and had a futuristic centre console that looked like a massive iPad. It just sat there, absolutely silent, and the driver, a young-ish 30-odd-year-old Chinese gentleman, looked for all the world like the spokesperson for Greenpeace.

A car like the Leaf actually makes a lot of sense to drivers like me. My morning commute to work is a measly 5km. If I decide to head out for lunch, that’s possibly another 5km on the odometer. The compulsory trip to the gym after work to maintain a semblance of healthy living adds another 3km to the clock and the subsequent journey home would seldom exceed 10km. That’s a total of 18km per day. And even if I’m being particularly “rajin” and decide to drive to Klang for dinner with my good friend Ms Pee, that’s still well under 50km per day, something that’s well within the Leaf’s all-electric range.

The interior of the Leaf looks pretty savvy and smart. The interior of the Leaf looks pretty savvy and smart. I could easily imagine myself starting this thing up in the morning, going about my daily commute without having to suffer too much from “range anxiety”.

Even after a full day’s commute, I’d likely still have enough juice in the batteries for an impromptu drive to Pudu for a late light snack at my favourite fried chicken stall near Shaw Parade.

I’d come back after a full day’s worth of driving, smug in the knowledge that my car of choice did nothing to melt the polar ice-caps or sink the homes of innocent polar bears. I’d park the car in my condominium parking lot and plug the car in for a cheap overnight recharge at off-peak hour electricity rates.

Brilliant solution, no?

Well, not really. Cos apartment dwellers like me don’t usually have access to plug points in our multi-storey car parks. And even if I did, the building management would unlikely ever agree to let me top up my Leaf for free on the management’s tab.

So, as brilliant as the Leaf is, apartment and condo dwellers like me would unlikely ever have the chance to enjoy a car like the Leaf, no thanks to infrastructure that simply cannot accommodate the electric car.

This means that a large proportion of city dwellers that SHOULD be driving Leafs, simply can’t, because there’s simply no practical way to re-charge these cars. Unless one wants to explore the possibility of throwing a hundred-metre long extension cord out their windows and down into their basement car parks, that is.

And on that note, I selected “drive” on my polar ice-cap melting, polar bear killing E39 and merrily made my way to the nearby Shell for a quick top up.

As I’ve always said, electric may be the car’s future. But the present, and the immediate future, is still very firmly in the hands of the internal combustion engine.

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