Today the Nissan LEAF is the most popular electric car on the planet, yet seven years ago the idea of a car you plugged in rather than took to the petrol station was a novel concept, one that seemed to belong to the future not present day.
Indeed, when the original LEAF went on sale in 2000, most people still didn’t know what an EV was or how it worked. But Elinor Chalmers, an orthodontist from Dundee in Scotland, and Fabrizia Gianì, a Corporate Sales Manager who lives in Rome, Italy, both decided to take the plunge shortly after the car was launched.
Elinor and Fabrizia were part of the first wave of the EV revolution, drawn to the fact that the Nissan LEAF was neither expensive to buy nor to maintain – LEAF, after all, is an acronym for ‘Leading Environmentally-Friendly Affordable Family car’.
Here was an EV for the masses, and as the years passed, 300,000 people would join Elinor and Fabrizia in owning one, clocking up a collective total of 3.4billion kilometres.
So, what was it like for early adopters like Elinor and Fabrizia, and what were their motivations for choosing an EV in the first place? More importantly, what do they think of EVs now, and how has owning one changed how they feel about the environment and sustainability?
Thinking about the planet
Elinor and Fabrizia were initially curious about the Nissan LEAF because of their commitment to environmental issues. “I believe it is imperative that we leave behind a better world for our children,” says Fabrizia. “Choosing a mode of transport that does not cause pollution – including acoustic pollution – is very important to me. Also, I’ve always been an early adopter, and the Nissan LEAF gave me the opportunity to use an innovative tool.”
Elinor’s interest stems from learning about environmental issues at school. “I’ve been interested in climate change and green living ever since,” she says. “My first encounter with the Nissan LEAF was seeing them form part of a taxi fleet in Dundee when the car was first launched.
“Driving a combustion engine car has always been a dark cloud on my conscience, so seeing an EV in action and learning how affordable it was, I decided to go for it. Besides, I love knowing that my car is running on electrons from the sun or from wind power. Living in Scotland we are fortunate to have a strong renewable energy sector and my energy supplier only sources green electricity.”
Getting plugged in
Back in 2010, the assumptions about EVs were mainly negative: there weren’t enough charging stations, they took too long to charge, they couldn’t travel very far on one charge.
Elinor acknowledges as much: “I was slightly anxious when I got my LEAF’s keys, as my very first journey was going to be 90 miles to get home! But I had done my research and had planned where to charge, so once I was on the road my nerves disappeared. What’s more, a Nissan dealership had allowed me to test drive a LEAF for four days, so that gave me a valuable insight into running an EV.”
Since 2010, the number of chargers has increased enormously. For example, in the UK, there were only a few hundred public charging points when Elinor first bought her LEAF. Now there are 4,100. Based on current trends, electrical charge points will outnumber traditional fuel stations by 2020. As Elinor says, “For people like me who don’t have a home charger, the expansion of the public charging network is making owning an EV even simpler.”
But what of driving the car? What made it different from a diesel or petrol vehicle?
“It’s a completely different experience,” says Fabrizia. “The first time I drove it, the silence of the engine was the most exciting thing. The Nissan LEAF is a much easier car to drive given it has automatic transmission, and the acceleration is superior to a combustion engine car, much more fluid.”
Elinor agrees. “The 100% torque is fantastic. That feeling of instantaneous acceleration never gets old. It’s so easy to drive as I rarely need to use the brake because the regenerative braking slows you down as you ease off the accelerator.”
What struck Elinor first, though, was the design. “It was like getting into something from Star Trek,” she says, “what with the futuristic display and the fun greeting sound as you turn the car on. The silence of the car is one of the first things my friends notice when I give them a lift. It enhances the tranquillity of the drive or allows me to listen to my favourite music without the interference of engine noise.”
Living with an EV every day
Once they’d got used to their Nissan LEAFs, other advantages came to the fore. For Fabrizia, it’s being able to drive in Rome’s historical centre at any time and use parking spaces exclusively designated for EVs. Then there’s the fact that they are exempt from levies like congestion charges and road tax.
“I make a substantial financial saving,” says Elinor. “As well as no road tax, servicing costs are low because there are minimal moving parts in an electric car. Plus, the majority of public chargers in Scotland are free to use and the Dundee City Council allows EVs to use their car parks for free. My energy supplier even gives me a discount on my bills for having an electric car.”
Go electric and you won’t go back
Given the advantages an EV offers, neither Fabrizia nor Elinor has any intention of driving anything else in the future. “I will only ever choose to drive electric going forward,” says Fabrizia. Elinor feels the same way. “I still have my original 24KW Nissan LEAF,” she says, “but I am very tempted to upgrade to the new model. I can’t wait to test drive one.”
Since they first purchased their Nissan LEAFs, both Fabrizia and Elinor have noticed a growing interest in the car and EVs generally. “I frequently get asked by passers-by about my vehicle and many are surprised when I tell them the range and how low the running costs are,” says Elinor. “And my cousin has recently bought a Nissan LEAF and other family and friends are seriously considering it for their next car.”
So, it’s clear these early adopters of the original EV have no regrets. Moreover, the world seems to be coming around to their way of thinking.
As Fabrizia puts it, “Since I bought the Nissan LEAF, various colleague and friends have embraced the electric car revolution. Let’s hope many more will follow.”
And who can argue with the people who first put faith in a vehicle that would become the best-selling EV of all time?