Nissan Turns Over New Leaf With Superb E-Pedal

By Lee Pang Seng

ELECTRIC cars are definitely going to be the vehicles of choice in the not too distant future and in Malaysia, it’s a good time to find out more about electric motoring with the new second-generation Nissan Leaf that was launched by Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd (ETCM). This is more so with the Leaf’s new E-pedal that takes driving a car to a new level of simplicity and pleasure, without losing the fun factor.

Nissan has enjoyed reasonably good success with its Leaf, with more than 400,000 of the first generation model being sold worldwide to give it the grand acclaim of the best-selling electric vehicle globally. With the latest generation Leaf, Nissan has addressed many of the initial fears, range anxiety being a major one, helped by the advanced development in battery power.

This is clearly seen in the Formula E races; some three years ago, the drivers had to switch cars mid-race as the battery range became depleted. Now, with the rapid pace in battery development, the race drivers could complete the entire distance of 50 or so laps without the need to change cars mid-way through as the new batteries could provide a much longer range in mileage.

This development is now applied in the current range of road electric vehicles and makes them more appealing for daily motoring. The question of range anxiety in city driving is no longer there and if there is a good network of quick charging points on highways, long distance travel could also be enjoyed.

The latest Leaf is a good example of the electric vehicles to come, either as cars, SUVs (sport utility vehicles) or MPVs (multipurpose vehicles). It now comes with a new e-powertrain that includes a higher power 40kW lithium-ion battery (the previous Leaf had a 24kW lithium-ion battery). The higher power unit delivers 110kW (150PS) and 320Nm of torque.

In performance, that translates to instant acceleration from standstill to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds. This would easily slot it among the sporty range of fuel-powered engine cars. Its top speed is electronically capped at 155km/h but what’s more important is the driving range available. On a full charge, the new Leaf could be driven 311km.

With this higher mileage, ETCM is confident that one could drive the new Leaf to Genting Highlands and back, with plenty of electric power to spare. Likewise, one could drive to Ipoh and have the vehicle charged at ETCM before making the return drive. This also could also be confidently achieved in a drive to Malacca as there is a quick charger in Ayer Keroh.

Of course, if there is a need to drive further, ETCM has a 23-days-per year complimentary offer for Leaf owners. You could book for the use of a Nissan X-Trail, Serena Hybrid or Navara for long distance trips and this is available for 23 days a year. In other words, you could book any of the three cars for two to three times a year as and when the need arises.  
For city or urban use, one would normally cover on average about 20-30km a day commuting to and from work, and much less on casual or weekend motoring. Given that scenario, a fully charged Leaf would provide almost 10 days of commuting mileage before it needs to be ‘juiced’ up again with the battery pack that comes standard with it.

This is a 6.6kW (Type 1) Wall Box Charger that takes about seven hours to fully charge the Leaf. It has become popular for electric car owners to do an overnight charge; just plug in the charger to the car on getting home and the car’s fully charged and ready to go the following morning.

Nissan has taken the pains to develop in-house its battery pack that includes rigorous testing and which has shown an ‘extraordinary’ record of reliability. It is said that there were zero recalls across the combined 10 billion kilometres covered by the previous Leaf sold globally.

The Leaf is also put through some rigorous and durability tests that include a flood test and thunderbolt test. Electric vehicle chargers are described as waterproof and are specifically designed to protect vehicle and humans from electric shock. According to Nissan, this means that charging the new Leaf could be safely performed even in the rain.

Of course, when the need arises, there is the quick charger. With a 50kW CHAdeMO quick charger, the new Leaf could be fully charged in about an hour. Currently, charging could be done free of charge at AB Malaysia Sdn Bhd in Subang Jaya, Nichion (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in Bandar Baru Bangi (office hours only) and PLUS Ayer Keroh R&R Malacca (south bound). There are also 17 ETCM locations nationwide where Leaf owners could enjoy free use of the 6.6kW Wall Box Charger. And plans are underway to have chargers available in more ETCM locations in the future.

However, frequent quick charges are not recommended as they could shorten battery life. According to Chris Tan, Sales & Marketing Director, ETCM, Nissan has set the optimal charging range for the car’s battery at 30 to 80 per cent. In short, when it is indicated that the range is 0 on the instrument panel, it means the car battery still has 30 per cent of charge left. And when it indicates 100 per cent, this means it has 80 per cent charge.

Apparently, batteries in general operate best within this level of charge and would last a lot longer. Based on that, Nissan has set it that way for the charging operation so that the car’s battery is never charged to the maximum. Chris says that the same principle applies to handphone batteries. So, don’t charge your handphone beyond 80 per cent if you want the phone battery to serve for a long time.

The high point of the new Leaf is the world’s first e-Pedal that encourages driving using just one pedal, that of the accelerator. The innovation allows drivers to start, accelerate, decelerate and come to a complete stop using just one pedal or one foot. When the accelerator is fully released, regenerative and friction brakes are automatically applied.

Another interesting note is that the new Leaf is a mobile power source due to its bi-directional charging capabilities. While bi-directional charging is a relatively new technology, Nissan and ETCM are actively working with charging partners, both internationally and locally, as well as various stakeholders in the energy, government and business sectors to realise the benefit of this technology for consumers.

Less electrifying changes include the Leaf’s excellent 0.28 Cd aerodynamics and its ‘cool tech attitude’ that is reflected through the new Diamond inspired holographic grille; Boomerang LED (light emitting diode) daytime running lights, headlamps and rear combination lamps; iconic two-tone ‘floating roof’ and 17-inch Diamond cut ‘Turbine’ alloy wheels.

The driver-centric interior has a sporty flat-bottom leather steering wheel with control switches, 7-inch multi-info display monitor and Alcantara leather seats. The luggage area offers plenty of space at 435 litres and this could be expanded for bigger items to 1176 litres with the rear seatrests folded down.

And the new Leaf is not short of safety features. Apart from the six airbags and being awarded the maximum five-star safety rating in JNCAP (Japan New Car Assessment Programme); it comes with Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, Driver Alertness, Ride Control, Trace Control, Hill Start Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, and more.

Bangi and Putrajaya Experience
Following the launch of the latest Leaf, ETCM arranged for the media to take a drive in 15 electric cars to Bangi for a stopover at Nichicon before proceeding to Putrajaya. With a more powerful battery, strong instant torque is the new Leaf’s forte. And this comes at any point of the drive – from taking off or while cruising - for quick overtaking or picking up speed.

To demonstrate this aspect of the new Leaf, an acceleration comparison exercise was conducted at the Nichicon premises. And what better car to benchmark against than the Nisson 370 Z! This two-door 3.7-litre sports car accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds but the comparison was done at 0-60km/h to show how much quicker off the line the Leaf is with its strong instant torque.

When it came to our turn in the driver’s seat, we were a bit slow in hitting the accelerator pedal but the Leaf still took off first and stay ahead of the 370 Z for the first 60 metres. And in the 30 or so runs (with each member of the media team at the wheel), it was firmly established that the 370 Z could never beat the Leaf in taking off quicker.

By the way, Nichicon is involved in producing EV (electric vehicle) charging products for export to Japan and other countries. It started working with Nissan in 2010 on its EV projects and has continued to develop products that complement the new Leaf, including the Vehicle to Home (V2H) power supply unit. The company was also the first customer for the new Leaf.

A demonstration of that was conducted with which one of the Leaf cars was linked up to the V2H unit to power a host of electrical items such as notebooks and even an ‘ice shaving’ machine, with which many ‘ice kacang’ were made for us to cool down on that hot afternoon.

When we started our drive from the ETCM base in Glenmarie, the Leaf had almost 70 per cent of battery charge or about 203km range. Engaging Econ mode raised that mileage to 217km as the system reduces electrical use elsewhere without making the drive uncomfortable in any way. We could also extend range by selecting ‘B’ from ‘D’ for drive that would lead to earlier battery regeneration when braking.

It was when we selected e-Pedal that the driving experience was taken a step higher. It was a completely new experience as the accelerator pedal feels slightly weighted. We could accelerate normally but the moment we ease off the pedal, we could the feel the car’s speed being retarded. It happened even at part throttle angle.

If we were to lift off the pedal completely, the Leaf would come to a complete stop progressively. And when it did so, the brake lights were activated so that the traffic behind would know we were decelerating or coming to a stop. All this was done without us having to step on the brake pedal. The faster we drove, the stronger the deceleration so that the car could be slowed down quicker on pedal lift-off.

This takes one pedal driving to a whole new level and with good traffic anticipation one could make the entire journey without having to use the brake pedal at all. And we did just that although our co-driver had to hit the brake once as he didn’t anticipate the car in front slowing down quicker than usual. This one pedal driving could be easily applied for both highway and urban driving.

At the end of the drive, the Leaf still had more than 60 per cent of charge and the mileage range was above 160km. For the Leaf that was used in the acceleration comparison exercise, all that ‘full bore’ driving didn’t drain the car’s battery much as it was about two per cent lower than the others. Range anxiety is most definitely no longer an issue or worry.

At RM188,888 on the road without insurance, it comes with three years or 60,000km maintenance service, three years or 100,000km vehicle warranty and eight years or 160,000km lithium-ion battery warranty. ETCM is also offering a ‘Subscription Programme’ with which one could pay and use for three years, paying only RM3500 per month without insurance.

ETCM is realistic and only targeting the well-off, who has a few cars in the garage, with the new Leaf. But with the higher mileage now available, the latest Nissan Leaf might just open the door to more people who are curious about enjoying electric motoring. And with the e-Pedal feature, they might not want to go back to driving their non-electric cars again!