UK PLC should think itself lucky to have been awarded a contract to build the Nissan Leaf.
Although the government has been pressing the industry flesh and waving around the country’s chequebook, the whole plan was nearly torpedoed.
The Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2012 vehicle contract to BMW, de-stabilised the carefully laid industrial plans that would have seen Leaf production announced alongside Nissan winning the Olympic vehicle bid.
I drove the final Leaf prototype in Japan last October and have to say it was very impressive. Very quick, very smooth and the single gear ratio gave the car an unparalleled quality of seamless acceleration.
Have no doubt that the Leaf has been thoroughly and thoughtfully engineered. However, I can’t see the Leaf becoming a runaway hit with private buyers.
It will be relatively expensive, even with a government subsidy. So it’s most likely to be best as a second, commuting car for affluent eco-conscious drivers with a private parking space.
Leaf ownership might make even more sense in central London, where it avoids the Congestion Charge and most parking charges. There are even promises from Mayor Boris Johnson to get ‘thousands’ of charging points installed before the 2012 Olympics.
However, I can’t help hoping that Nissan will follow up the Leaf with another vehicle based on the same electric platform. Something more MPV-like with larger capacity batteries would be ideal for inner-city light delivery, public sector cars and even taxis.
While the compact hatch layout is ideal for the Californian highway commuter, electric power makes the biggest sense in the UK for zero-pollution inner city use. London (and some parts of Oxford and Manchester) have the worst air quality in Europe. And that’s a consequence of using ageing diesel engines in stop-start conditions.
A concerted move towards low- and zero-pollution commercial city traffic should be part of future government planning.
With the Leaf and Leaf’s batteries being made in the UK, UK PLC and Nissan should move to capitalise on the technology and develop an electric car for even more suited to UK demands.