NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Nov. 29, 2010) — Nissan North America Inc.'s electric Leaf sedan will display a fuel economy rating of 99 mpg when it goes on sale next month, even though the car uses no “gallons” and, indeed, no fuel in the traditional sense.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the rating after months of research into how to compare a battery-powered electric to a traditional gas-burning car for the sake of consumer comparisons.
The battery-powered Leaf uses no gas or oil, and has no combustion engine or fuel tank.
The EPA also surprised Nissan officials by anointing the Leaf “best in class” for mid-sized vehicles, while saying the car's range is less than Nissan has stated.
Until now, Nissan has been presenting the Leaf as a compact vehicle. But the EPA measurement of the new model's passenger and trunk space bumped it into the mid-size category.
“We're happy to be considered a mid-sized car,” says Mark Perry, the Nissan North America product planning director for the Leaf. The larger segment means the electric Leaf will show up in shopping comparisons against more expensive competitor models, including the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
But the EPA's new data, which must be displayed on its Monroney vehicle window sticker, also indicates that the Leaf's battery range is lower than Nissan officials have been claiming publicly.
Nissan has said for more than a year that the Leaf will get up to 100 miles of driving on a full charge of its lithium-ion battery. But EPA testing has put the range at only 73 miles.
Mr. Perry said Nissan stands by its 80-100 mile battery range claims, and said he did not believe the EPA calculation will chill consumer enthusiasm for the car.
He said that battery range varies depending on driving conditions. High-speed highway driving and cold weather driving with a heater turned on drain the battery faster than low-speed driving in temperate climates.
He said the EPA test is biased toward highway driving and higher speeds, while the Leaf will be marketed more heavily to consumers for city commuting use. Nissan arrived at its own 80-100 mile range based on testing that used the so-called LA4 driving cycle test. That test is biased toward urban driving conditions and lower speeds.
Mr. Perry said that Leafs will feature a second window sticker from the Federal Trade Commission, which other alternative-power vehicles also display. The FTC sticker will tell consumers that the battery range is 96-110 miles.
“There is a range of ranges, based on driving behavior, temperature, speed and other issues,” Mr. Perry said of the difference between the FTC and EPA estimates.
“The car does 100 miles on the LA4 test. Nothing has changed. There are just different drive cycles. The challenge is get one repeatable cycle to represent the average driver, and that's hard.”
The Leaf goes on sale next month in five states. The announced retail price is $25,280, after a federal tax refund of $7,500 is figured into the purchase.
Nissan expects to expand the launch nationwide over the next six months.
This report appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.