Nissan Leaf and other green car options

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Turning over a new Leaf?

Nissan became the first major car manufacturer to release a mass produced all electric vehicle earlier this year when it made the Nissan Leaf available world wide.

Powered by an 110bhp electric motor, the Leaf is capable of completing 100 miles between charges and has a top speed of 92mph. Thanks to these impressive statistics, the Leaf has been heralded as the beginning of a new era in automotive design; but is it a case of too little, too soon?

Possible cost savings

The increasing running costs required as a result of car ownership are becoming a major headache for all motorists. In a survey conducted by UK based price comparison company MoneySupermarket.com, 65% of drivers admit that they will take running costs into account when they purchase their next vehicle; with 5% claimed that they had already been forced off the road altogether.

Nissan’s Leaf model has therefore been presented as the answer to motorists’ problems, with the average driver completing 12,000 miles annually standing to save approximately £1,600 per year on fuel alone. A basic 1.6 litre Ford Focus which is capable of 40mpg will cost the average driver almost £1,900 per year in fuel costs to complete 12,000 miles. In comparison, it would cost just £300 to charge up the Leaf with mains electricity in order to complete the same mileage.

In addition, a number of insurance companies will now offer discounts of up to 5% for owners of environmental cars. With the average driver now paying £892 for insurance each year; this equates to an annual saving of £44.60. This may not sound much, but accompanied with the fact that the Leaf is exempt from road tax charging results in a combined additional saving of about £200.

otorists therefore stand to save approximately £1,800 every single year by buying a Nissan Leaf over a standard petrol version of the popular Ford Focus model.

The obstacles

The potential £1,800 annual cost saving is mouth watering but doesn’t really show the whole picture; with the Nissan Leaf costing £25,990 to buy from new. This is almost £10,000 more expensive than a brand new petrol version of the Ford Focus.

With a annual running cost saving of £1,800 over the Focus if prices remain at their current rates, it would take over five years to recover the additional cost of buying the Leaf before the owner started to benefit from a cost saving.

Additionally, the Leaf is far more impractical than the Focus. While it would take just a couple of minutes to fill the tank of the Focus with fuel; even with its quick recharge function enabled, it would take 30 minutes to recharge the Leaf’s battery to 80% of its total capacity (i.e. an additional 80 miles before another recharge is required). This is obviously an inconvenience, particular when the lack of availability of recharging stations around the country is considered.

While the impracticalities would be tolerable for someone with a daily commuting distance of less than 100 miles, the time it takes to recover the cost difference between buying a brand new Leaf over a Focus can perhaps be considered to be the final nail in the coffin.

Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is the most obvious green car alternative, being as it is perhaps the most famous green car on the road. Introduced in 1996, it has become the car of choice for supporters of the green movement who are keen to show off their allegiance.

Capable of 65.7 mpg, the Prius would cost the average driver doing 12,000 miles per year just £1,140 per year in fuel costs. This is on top of the fact that it is exempt from road tax and will also be eligible for the 5% discount offered by some car insurance companies. This equates into a possible saving of almost £1,000 per year over the running costs required with a Ford Focus.

However, the Prius suffers from the same problem as the Leaf as it is over £4,000 more expensive than the Focus. It would therefore take four years to recover the additional costs required to buy the Prius before cost savings were experienced.

Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion

The Polo Bluemotion is a new hybrid which has been launched by Volkswagen which uses diesel fuel. It is capable of 80.7 mpg, and although diesel costs more per litre than petrol, the improved mpg still means that it cheaper to run then the Prius, costing the average driver doing 12,000 miles per year about £950 per year in fuel alone. Like the Prius and Leaf, it is also exempt from road tax and eligible for the 5% insurance discount. All of this combined opens the possibility to a possible saving of £1,200 compared to the running costs of a basic Ford Focus.

emarkably the Polo Bluemotion is available from just £14,860 to buy from new; this is over £1,000 cheaper than the less fuel friendly Ford Focus. It also beats the Leaf when it comes to practicality, with the Polo being no different to run than a conventional petrol motor.

However, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. The 74bhp 1.2 litre diesel engine is very underpowered and requires quite a lot of revving to get moving; a feature which isn’t awful good for your fuel consumption.

Time to go green?

Fuel costs are out of control, as demonstrated by the fact that 65% of motorists admitting being forced to consider alternatives to next time they purchase a vehicle. When motorists reach this stage, there will be three main alternatives.

The Nissan Leaf can effectively be ruled out; not only is it incredibly impractical, but it is also very expensive. This obviously justifies the incredibly technological advancement made with the vehicle, but simply negates the running cost savings available and hence makes the vehicles unaffordable for the majority of motorists. Toyota’s Prius model suffers from a similar problem, because if fuel prices remain at their current rate it will take 4 years to recover the additional cost of buying the model before running cost savings become available.

Volkswagen’s hybrid Polo is therefore presented as the answer to this problem, with its low initial purchase costs finally heralding the introduction of a hybrid which is available to the masses. However this does come at a price; with the power available from the engine being rather lacklustre. This reduction in available power would likely be acceptable to someone who already owns a car with a 1.2 litre engine or less, but would come as a spectacular shock to someone with a 1.6 engine or bigger.

It looks like the car manufacturers have a lot of work to do before environmental vehicles are adopted by the majority of motorists.

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