Text and photos by Vernon B. Sarne
IF you’re waking up just now from a coma, be warned that watching the news will make you feel like you are trapped in a holocaust movie. Demented world leaders are firmly ensconced in halls of power. Nuclear nations are engaged in a pissing contest, threatening each other with a hydrogen bomb. Hurricanes are racing each other to flood cities and flatten buildings. And Imelda Marcos is alive and kicking.
It’s the end of the world as we know it. If it’s any consolation, the good guys are still fighting the good fight, courageously pushing back the imminent and tenaciously delaying the inevitable. I met a bunch of them last week, at the global reveal of the all-new, second-generation Nissan Leaf in Tokyo, Japan.
When we touched down in Narita, I wondered whether visiting a territory whose airspace was being used by Kim Jong-un to test his missiles was worth it — all for the introduction of an electric car. But now I realize this wasn’t just any other car launch. This was one automotive company leading the charge to save the planet. In a time when the leader of the most powerful country ignorantly denies the science behind global warming and gleefully withdraws his government from the Paris climate accord, it was heartwarming to witness Nissan’s lionhearted effort to position its green EV in the spotlight and force people to appreciate it.
The Leaf — a fully electric car that first hit global markets in 2011 — is the best-selling EV on earth, the first model having sold nearly 300,000 units despite looking like a toad. While Toyota focused on hybrid propulsion, Nissan concentrated on electrics. A bet that is increasingly looking like the right call, considering that American EV manufacturer Tesla overtook both General Motors and Ford earlier this year in terms of market valuation. Today, Nissan claims that the Leaf model alone has logged a total of 3.5 billion kilometers with minimal fuss.
The new Leaf is so much better-looking now, with tighter lines and sleeker curves that wouldn’t look out of place on a European hatchback (it does call to mind certain elements of Volvo and Peugeot). If the previous iteration resembled a frog and still sold well, imagine how the sexy new version will fare on the showroom floor starting on Oct. 2, when the Japanese market receives it first. Unfortunately, the Leaf won’t see the light of day in the Philippines any time soon (read my accompanying column for why this is so).
After the new Leaf catches your eye, it will impress your inner car guy. This ride is loaded with all the latest tech Nissan has to offer. The electric motor with a 40-kWh battery is a huge improvement from the one that powered the first Leaf. Power jumps 38% to 148hp, while torque goes up 26% to 320Nm. And that’s not the best part. Driving range from a single full charge is a Sagada-conquering 400 kilometers, more than doubling the outgoing model’s 160-kilometer reach. All that without a drop of fossil fuel. Normal charging takes 8-16 hours, depending on the source output, while quick charging (up to 80%) takes just 40 minutes.
Nissan is most proud about the new Leaf’s ProPilot autonomous drive technology. This EV can parallel-park itself and stay in a single lane on the highway. It also boasts the so-called e-Pedal, which allows the use of just the accelerator pedal in cruising, decelerating and stopping. Short of enabling the Leaf to drive itself, this suite of features makes for convenient and stress-free motoring.
The Japanese automaker likes to call the advanced technology found in the new Leaf “Nissan Intelligent Mobility.” This is no longer just a car that brings you to Starbucks to take an Instagram photo of a P100 coffee that tastes just like the one you have back home. This is a car capable of inspiring you to do more useful, more practical, more prudent things. With its Nissan Connect system, this car supposedly connects its driver and passengers to other similarly equipped vehicles and even communities. Visualize a place populated by interlinked Leaf cars. Then picture an emergency situation in which everyone pulls to the side of the road and gives way to a speeding unit that is rushing an injured person to the hospital.
Yes, these technologies aren’t exactly new. We’ve all heard about them before. But nowhere are all three — electrification, autonomous driving and connectivity — this accessible in a single automobile that people can buy today.
Okay, maybe not in the Philippines just yet, but we all have something to look forward to. Nissan Philippines president and managing director Ramesh Narasimhan acknowledged that even markets that couldn’t avail of the Leaf at the moment can learn a thing or two about its very existence. “Nissan challenges governments to do what’s best for the environment, and this car is one way to do it,” he said.
I don’t know if we have another year to live. World War III could break out next month. An earthquake could split the island apart next week and swallow us whole. But that doesn’t mean we should cease trying. Thankfully, the guys at Nissan’s Oppama manufacturing facility have no such plans and are rushing to beat delivery deadlines.
The new Leaf is here. That’s Nissan raising a stiff middle finger at Donald Trump and all those who refuse to save our planet.