Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

The Nissan Leaf. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
The Nissan Leaf. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

What Car?

Don't rush out to buy an electric car Add to ...

Nissan has started running ads about the Leaf electric car and I'm thinking about buying one; the idea of no more gas stations appeals. At my age, I also want to do something for the planet. I'm 71 and this could be my last car. So am I thinking straight? Is this a good decision? Tell me why I shouldn't buy the Leaf, okay? And if not the Leaf, then what?

More Related to this Story

- Vince



Paris abuzz with smaller, greener vehicles

A Renault Twizy Zero Emission electric concept car
At the world's oldest auto show, the debate continues about how cars will be powered in the future. Click here for photos and the full story from Paris

Cato: Vince, if you want to buy a Leaf in Canada, you'll be waiting until some time later next year. Nissan's battery car may go on sale in the United States in a few weeks, but not here.

Vaughan: Cato, Vince sounds like he's suffering from something of a guilty conscience. A reformed muscle car owner, perhaps? A high-horsepower, climate-change denier?

Cato: You, always with the amateur psychology. Now, Vince, let me get to the essence of this: you shouldn't buy a Leaf if it will be your only car. Nissan's battery car, it strikes me, is the perfect second car, the ideal Monday-to-Friday commuter for people who have another car for the run to the cottage or other long trips.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Vaughan: That's why I am predicting that Chevrolet's Volt electric car with the on-board gas engine/generator will do better with buyers than the Leaf. Owning a Leaf presents a driving lifetime of worrying about how long you're going to sit in traffic, how cold it will be, how many long hills between here and there. Range anxiety, that's what they're calling it.

Cato: I'm surprised that a penny-pincher like you hasn't bothered to make the economic case for the Leaf. In the United States, Nissan says its battery buggy should cost about $400 to run as far as you'd go on $1,800 worth of $3-a-gallon gas.

Vaughan: You're right. Nothing will sell these things like high gas prices. And to ease your anxiety, the Leaf has a "driving range" readout that, with the push of a button, brings up a circle in the navigation screen to tell you how much juice and range is left.

Vince, we've driven early Nissan prototypes and can tell you it looks and drives like a real car. In the U.S., it will sell for just under $33,000 but the Yanks get a $7,500 U.S. Government tax credit and an additional $5,000 subsidy in California.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle).

Cato: The Leaf Vince, is a purpose-built EV, unlike another competitor in the battery car race, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Vaughan: The Mitsu is a battery conversion of a regular gasoline mini-car sold in Japan and elsewhere. Vince, Cato and I just drove one in Vancouver as part of a big electric vehicle conference.

Cato: Mitsu forecasts a Canadian price in the mid- to high-$30,000s and the company says it will go ahead selling a version of the i-MiEV regardless of government subsidies.

Frankly, the i-MiEV is a tough sell at that price. Sure, the egg-like appearance is cute and the tall roofline provides plenty of cabin headroom. The car's nimble because the drivetrain is in the back, just ahead of the rear wheels. But it's a tight fit inside. Four adults can make it, but it's a squeeze.

Toyota Prius Hybrid

Vaughan: You have another option if the pure EV doesn't suit you - the Volt, as I mentioned, or Toyota's Prius plug-in hybrid. A real, production version of this Toyota will go on sale in 2012 or 2013. This Prius can go on battery power alone for about 20 km, then the gas motor takes over.

Cato: We drove one of these in Vancouver, too. The Prius is a decently large hatchback but Toyota Canada can't or won't say how much the plug-in Prius will cost. Figure mid-$30,000s. Price aside, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine - the same engine standard with the regular Prius hybrid - means Toyota's plug-in will never give you range anxiety.

Vaughan: But it is impossible to put aside price. So Vince, until we can give you a definitive price for all three, we suggest you wait. Be patient and watch what happens with battery cars in the U.S. before they come to Canada.

Cato: Vince, the Prius comes from a car maker with plenty of smarts about hybrids and EVs. If you have the slightest worry about owning an EV, the Prius plug-in surely is your safest bet best. There, I just told you why not to buy the Leaf.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

How much does that new car cost?

Use Globe Drive's New Car Search to find car prices, features, specs and more.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2011 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

2011 Nissan Leaf

Wheelbase (mm)

2,550

2,700

2,700

Length (mm)

3,404

4,460

4,445

Width (mm)

1,470

1,745

1,770

Height (mm)

1,600

1,490

1,549

Engine

Electric motor with 330-volt battery pack

1.8-litre four-cylinder and electric motor

Electric motor

Horsepower/Torque

63 hp/133 lb-ft

97 hp/142 lb-ft for gas engine; 79 hp/207 lb-ft for electric motor

107 hp/206 lb-ft

Drive

Rear-wheel

Front-wheel

Front-wheel

Transmission

CVT

CVT

Single-speed

Curb Weight (kg)

1,080

1,400 (estimated)

Not available

Fuel economy (litres.100 km)

Not available

1.75 combined city/highway

Not available

Base price (MSRP)

$35,000 (estimated)

$38,000 (estimated)

$33,000 (estimated)



Source: Car manufacturers

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories