Turn over a new Leaf

2011-12-16 12:32

Driving an electric-powered car is no longer that far-off pipe dream it once was.

South Africans have to wait only until 2013 for the first of the electric cars to arrive.

COP17 provided green motor junkies with an opportunity to sample the world’s bestselling electric car, the Nissan Leaf, and its French sister, the Renault Fluence.

The Leaf is only a year old, but has already sold more than 20?000 cars on three continents. And it boasts the title of World Car of the Year 2011.

At the moment, the Leaf is also the cheapest commercially manufactured electric car at about $27?000 (about R216?000) after tax breaks.

Leaf has a Japanese personality and lots of gizmos and gadgets that encourage you to become the ultimate green driver.

Electric cars are very much plug and play. You park the car and plug it into the nearest electric socket and leave it to charge for about eight to­ nine hours.

This will give you a range of about 170km before it needs another charge.

If you take the open road, you can stop at a service station for a quick 30-minute charge that will load the battery up to 80%. That is, if the infrastructure exists.

In South Africa, Nissan and Renault are still negotiating with government to set up the necessary infrastructure to accommodate electric cars, including the charge spots at service stations.

The price of the car is about 20% more expensive than a normal car, according to Nissan, but the secret lies in the
tax breaks.

Included in the government negotiations is a plan to give South Africans who opt for electric cars significant
breaks.

In other words, you will be rewarded for driving a green car.

Obviously, you still have to pay for the electricity needed to power the cars. And with Eskom providing 80% of South Africa’s power, it is Medupi, Kusile and their older-cousin power plants that will have to provide the energy.

This begs the question of how green the electric car actually is.

Simple, says Nissan – its electric car is eight times more “fuel efficient” than its petrol and diesel counterparts.

If you do the quick calculations, it is just under R20 for 160km.

A normal fuel-efficient petrol model would be closer to R180 for the same distance.

The scientific breakthrough that has made the Leaf possible is its 340-Volt battery, which powers its 80-kilowatt electric-drive motor.

Three years ago, electric cars had to do with batteries that could hardly provide enough juice for a drive around the block, but this is changing fast and is bound to only improve in future.

It is ultimately better batteries that will power the electric-vehicle revolution.

With a 170km range, long trips will be difficult, and even with the proper infrastructure the initial costs will be higher than any comparatively normal car.

But with most South Africans only commuting between work and home, the zippy electric cars can work – and help ease your environmental conscience at the same time.


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