A NEW LEAF

Elec­tric ve­hi­cles are ev­ery­where in Nor­way — among them, the Nis­san headed our way

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN CAREY

O n Oslo’s wa­ter­front there is a whitetiled opera house, the sig­na­ture sight of this fjord-fac­ing city. Ex­cept for this sim­i­lar­ity to Syd­ney, Nor­way is noth­ing like Aus­tralia. One of the big­gest dif­fer­ences is the mix of cars. Elec­tric ve­hi­cles are rare in Aus­tralia. In Nor­way, they are ev­ery­where.

More than a quar­ter of the new cars sold in Nor­way to­day are EVs. Top­ping the charts since go­ing on sale in Fe­bru­ary is the new Nis­san Leaf.

This bat­tery-pow­ered five-seat hatch­back is headed for Aus­tralia. “Avail­able Soon” says the Nis­san Aus­tralia web­site, though the com­pany can’t say ex­actly when. Nor can it con­firm tech spec­i­fi­ca­tions, equip­ment lev­els or prices.

The new Leaf, like the old one, is made in Ja­pan, the US and the UK. Since the first­gen­er­a­tion Leaf launched in 2010, the three fac­to­ries have pro­duced more than 300,000 ex­am­ples, mak­ing the purely plug-in Nis­san the world’s best-sell­ing EV.

Nis­san Aus­tralia knows for sure its Leafs will come from the same fac­tory in the north-east of Eng­land that builds those sold in Nor­way. Strong de­mand for the new Leaf, es­pe­cially in Nor­way, is out­strip­ping the Sun­der­land plant’s pro­duc­tion.

“We’re strug­gling to get enough vol­ume,” says Nis­san Nor­way man­ager An­ders Ma­menLund. Other brands have the same sup­ply dif­fi­cul­ties, he adds.

It’s tough for the car busi­ness to keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in Nor­way, ac­cord­ing to Ma­men-Lund. “The changes we have had now for the last five years are more dra­matic than what you have seen in the in­dus­try for the last 100 years.”

The Leaf’s run­away suc­cess could ex­plain Nis­san Aus­tralia’s in­abil­ity to give lo­cal launch de­tails. It makes sense for the UK plant to keep ship­ping to nearby Nor­way, where EVem­brac­ing cus­tomers are queu­ing, be­fore shift­ing fo­cus to Aus­tralia, where de­mand is neg­li­gi­ble.

Last year EVs ac­counted for only 0.1 per cent of new ve­hi­cle sales in Aus­tralia, with a pop­u­la­tion five times the size of Nor­way. But five mil­lion Nor­we­gians buy more EVs in a week than 25 mil­lion Aussies do in a year.

This hasn’t hap­pened by chance. For years Nor­way has en­cour­aged its cit­i­zens to choose EVs, with poli­cies that make them pricecom­pet­i­tive.

Nor­mal cars were al­ways heav­ily taxed in Nor­way and they still are. But EV buy­ers side­step sub­stan­tial taxes based on CO2 emis­sions, in­tro­duced in 2006, and weight, plus a hefty 25 per cent GST.

The re­sult? “The price of the Leaf, you can com­pare it to the Nis­san Juke,” says Ma­menLund. “It’s a bit cheaper than a Qashqai, a bit more ex­pen­sive than the cheap­est Mi­cra.”

Nor­we­gian EV buy­ers get other ben­e­fits, such as not pay­ing an­nual road taxes while also get­ting free use or heavy dis­counts on toll roads, ferry and park­ing sta­tion fees and the right to legally use bus lanes.

“The politi­cians didn’t do this to be nice to EV own­ers,” says Ma­rina Maneas Bakkum, Nis­san Nordic Europe com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

“They have signed in­ter­na­tional agree­ments on CO2 emis­sion reductions. They have found out that this is ac­tu­ally the eas­i­est and cheap­est way to get it, to take if from the trans­port sec­tor.” Pro-EV poli­cies, she says, are sup­ported by all the par­ties in Nor­way’s par­lia­ment.

It’s clear that Nor­way is EV-owner heaven. But what makes the Leaf so pop­u­lar with the na­tion’s EV-savvy new car buy­ers?

To find out, we re­cently spent some time driv­ing the Leaf, in Oslo and the fir-forested coun­try­side around the cap­i­tal.

Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous model, the Leaf is bet­ter look­ing and more pow­er­ful. It’s quick, quiet and very smooth, partly be­cause the Nis­san never needs to change gears. It has only one ra­tio.

Its new 40kWh bat­tery pack (the first Leaf launched with a 24kWh pack, later up­graded to 30kWh) de­liv­ers a longer driv­ing range be­tween recharges; 270km ac­cord­ing to the lat­est and more re­al­is­tic en­ergy con­sump­tion test, known as WLTP.

The Leaf is also sur­pris­ing fun to drive, es­pe­cially in e-Pedal mode. Se­lect­ing this boosts the strength of the car’s bat­tery-fill­ing re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing. Ease right off the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal and the Leaf slows sig­nif­i­cantly. This makes driv­ing in stop-start traf­fic eas­ier than a nor­mal car. And e-Pedal also works re­ally well on wind­ing coun­try roads.

There’s good space in­side for four adults (a hump in the cen­tre of the floor lim­its the use­ful­ness of the rear bench seat’s mid­dle place). The boot is large at about 400L.

In top Tekna grade, the most pop­u­lar with Nor­we­gians, the Leaf is well-equipped and brim­ming with tech­nol­ogy. Driver-as­sist fea­tures such as the au­to­matic lane-keep­ing steer­ing and trac­tion con­trol feel clumsy com­pared to the best Euro brands — on the other hand, the Leaf’s An­droid Auto was flaw­less.

Nor­way it­self also makes the Leaf easy to like, and to use. Our ho­tel in cen­tral Oslo valet parked the Nis­san each night. It wasn’t cheap but for EVs the price in­cludes an overnight recharge for no ex­tra cost. This isn’t un­usual. Free recharg­ing is com­mon in Nor­way at shop­ping cen­tres and pay car parks.

Nor­we­gian EV driv­ers most fre­quently recharge at home, tap­ping into the coun­try’s cheap AC elec­tric­ity for ev­ery­day driv­ing. Mak­ing longer trips means pay­ing more to use the coun­try’s ex­ten­sive and grow­ing net­work of fast DC charg­ers.

After half a day ex­plor­ing the lakes and forests out­side Oslo, the Leaf had cov­ered 170km. There was 18 per cent charge re­main­ing in its bat­tery, not enough to get to our next des­ti­na­tion.

The sat­nav guided us to a pair of 50kW fast charg­ers at a mo­tor­way ser­vice sta­tion en route. Its op­er­a­tor, Cir­cle K, made Nor­we­gian his­tory re­cently by can­ning plans to build a new ser­vice sta­tion — cit­ing mar­ket un­cer­tainty caused by the rapid up­take of EVs.

Plug the fast-charger ca­ble into the se­cond socket in the Leaf’s nose and it takes 45 min­utes to get to 85 per cent charged.

Most of the 1500 or so DC fast charg­ers in Nor­way are 50kW but faster 150kW ex­am­ples are be­ing in­stalled in some lo­ca­tions.

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