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First Nissan Leaf driven in SA!

2011-11-28 08:13

MAKE LIKE A TREE...: Local media were allowed a chance to explore the Nissan Leaf before it takes up its shuttling duties at COP17 starting Monday.

Author: HAILEY PHILANDER

 
As world leaders discuss climate change in Durban Wheels24 headed to the city to drive Nissan's Leaf electric vehicle and a pre-production Renault Twizy. 

There were rumblings that Nissan was considering bringing its Leaf electric vehicle to South Africa. Rumblings that were given gravity when the EV was given pride of place on the Nissan stand at the recent Johannesburg international auto show. But a chance to drive it, given South Africa's (non-existent) electric car infrastructure?

Imagine my joy, then, when an invitation to experience Nissan’s EV superstar dropped into my mailbox.

WIND-CHEATING QUALITIES

I’d experienced the electric car “thing” in a range of petrol-electric hybrids but nothing like the full-electric experience Nissan promises in its Leaf. I had no idea what to expect...

Seeing the Leaf out in the bright Durban sunlight (rather than in a brightly-lit motor show hall) helped to make the outing more real. Out in the open, Leaf’s wind-cheating qualities became clearer – its headlight clusters, for example, are elevated and shaped to direct air to the side and over the car’s flanks – while its ordinariness as a car was highlighted, too.

It was easily able to blend into the everyday driving environment of the traffic in and around Umhlanga on Durban’s north coast.

Driving it is remarkably simple. Punch the stop/start button, watch and listen as the blue lit instruments dance and the arrival chime sounds and you’re ready to go. Shift the drive mode lever (it’s an electric car, so there’s no gearbox) to the right and down, and you’re ready to go.

WATCH OUT FOR THE BRAKES...

The Leaf uses a lithium ion battery pack to generate its 80kW/280Nm and though the car is designed for city driving it had absolutely no problem getting up to speed and keeping up with freeway traffic. In fact, it was quite eerie travelling at those speeds with only wind and tyre roar to break the silence.

The brakes seemed to have quite a job of slowing down the charging Leaf, so relying on engine braking to shave off some speed at the last minute could prove costly…

The Leaf, which has a range of around 160km, will charge in eight hours on a 200V supply while the occasional quick charge on a 400V supply should take about 30 minutes for a top up.

SMART CAR


Nissan Leaf

INTERACTIVE: The Leaf's touch-screen interface provides running updates of the car's various functions.

It also makes use of a dedicated smart IT system that allows for interactive communications via the owner's smartphone. This enables the owner to perform certain functions remotely (such as, control the aircon or start charging) while also making available a range of real-time on and off-board support features.

Besides the fact that a lack of EV infrastructure in South Africa had the cars thinking they were somewhere in Europe, we could use the system to determine the available range in regular and Eco driving modes or see by how much the brake energy regeneration tops up the battery.

It also provided info detailing how many kilometres would be added to the range if the climate control system was turned off, along with lots of other useful bits of information.

The Eco driving mode adds a chunk of kilometres to the overall range but would probably be best experienced in city and stop/start driving where the drop in performance would not be so noticable.

The Leaf, the current European Car of the Year, was launched in 2010 in main markets in Europe, Japan and the US. Depending on government participation in terms of making available infrastructure and possibly offering customer incentives for electric vehicles, Nissan hopes to bring the Leaf to South Africa in 2013.

The cars will be used to shuttle delegates at the 17th annual Conference of Parties, which opened in Durban on November 28, so locals can expect to see a few more of them on their roads over the next few days.

A Nissan electric light commercial vehicle has also been earmarked for South Africa.

IN A TWIZY


Renault Twizy

TWIZYLICIOUS: Pre-production examples of the pint-sized Twizy were sampled on a course set up at Durban's Sibaya Casino complex.

Alliance member Renault had a little surprise in store for the assembled media.

Perhaps in celebration of its Renault’s Kangoo ZE - a production light commercial vehicle using the same battery pack as the Nissan Leaf but with a 170km range - just receiving the International Van of the Year award, Renault South Africa had arranged for prototypes of its Twizy quadricycle commuter to be available for members of the local motoring press to drive.

A two-seater with the added bonus of boot space, it looks similar to the BMW C1 capsule motorcycle that we used to get in South Africa. Driving around a tight, little course, the Twizy was allowed to show just how good it would be in the confines of a busy city. It’s super cute and capable.

Xavier Gobille, managing director of Renault SA said the company hoped to make its EVs popular and affordable by setting purchase prices on par with internal combustion engine driven alternatives.

The Twizy will be launched at the Geneva auto show in March, 2012, after which it is likely to come to South Africa.

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