2011 Nissan Leaf: GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy 2011

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It’s been a long time coming. More than 80 years, in fact, since viable electric cars were offered to U.S. car buyers.

Now, finally, at long last, it’s happened. The 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first practical, five-seat electric car—a full plug-in, running solely off grid electricity—that you have been able to buy since the late 1920s.

Sure, there was the General Motors EV1, subject of the much-discussed Who Killed the Electric Car? Sure, a handful of early-2000s Toyota RAV4 EV crossovers are still whirring around after almost a decade.

Green Car Reports 2011 Best Car to Buy Award

Green Car Reports 2011 Best Car to Buy Award

A real electric car

They no longer matter. They’re now incremental steps along the road. The next new thing is here, produced by a none-of-the-above carmaker. It’s really, truly, absolutely, positively a real car.

A real electric car.

The 2011 Nissan Leaf is our GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy for 2011 because it is the sole vehicle offered to U.S. buyers (this model year, by an established global automaker) that uses absolutely no gasoline.

There will be many more coming, but this year, the 2011 Leaf is the one and only.

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

Enlarge Photo

The lowest carbon footprint

And, no matter how you run the numbers, it is the vehicle with the lowest carbon footprint of any new car sold today.

Just to be clear—because this question comes up often, as it should—even if you run your 2011 Leaf on the dirtiest coal-fired power grid in the U.S., its overall “wells-to-wheels” carbon footprint is significantly lower than any 25-mpg car in the market.

ND, WV, yeah, OK

There are a very few states—North Dakota, we’re talkin’ to you—where the grid power is so dirty that a 50-mpg vehicle is slightly better on carbon.

If you live in ND or WV or a few other states, you should buy a 50-MPG 2011 Toyota Prius rather than a 2011 Nissan Leaf if you want your transportation to have the lowest possible carbon footprint.

Except that you don’t have a choice, since Nissan isn’t selling the Leaf in your states during 2011. (So buy that Prius, and lobby your elected officials to clean up the local grid and require more renewable power.)

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Enlarge Photo

For everyone else—all of you buyers in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Los Angeles basin; Portland and Seattle; Austin, Texas; selected parts of the Northeast; and of course Nissan’s home state of Tennessee—the Leaf will roll out over the next year or so.

Your power is clean enough that buying a 2011 Leaf automatically lowers your carbon footprint far below those of your Prius-driving counterparts.

90 percent of your needs … is enough

No, the 2011 Leaf isn’t the answer to every family’s every need. But, again, that doesn’t matter.

Just as General Motors will tell you that more than 70 percent of U.S. vehicles do less than 40 miles a day, Nissan frequently points out that more than 90 percent of U.S. vehicles do less than the Leaf’s range of 100 miles per day.

Will the Leaf be right for every American household? Of course not. Neither the Toyota Prius hybrid nor the late and unlamented HUMMER H2 are right for every household.

But it will be right for more than 90 percent of most households’ needs.

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

Enlarge Photo

Yep, a Leaf is a second car

So the Leaf is right for the millions of drivers and families who own more than one vehicle—the average U.S. household now owns more than two—and want to cut at least one car’s gasoline consumption to, ummmm, zero.

Replace your subcompact or your beater third car with a Leaf and, after you get used to it, all you’ll notice is how much nicer it is to drive. And how cheap it is to fuel up.

Plugging it in will become second nature. If you forget, the Leaf will remind you—politely—over your mobile phone.

But why not the Volt?

We anticipate a lot of questions about why we didn’t choose the 2011 Chevrolet Volt as our GreenCarReports 2011 Best Car To Buy.

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Comments (24)
  1. Between the two Volt or Leaf. I (being single and would have only one car unless I win the lottery would go with the Volt) However, I agree with your decision. Most household in the US have multiple cars and anyone with a feasible charging location should seriously consider getting the car.

  2. Between the two Volt or Leaf. I (being single and would have only one car unless I win the lottery would go with the Volt) However, I agree with your decision. Most household in the US have multiple cars and anyone with a feasible charging location should seriously consider getting the car.

  3. Had my Leaf test drive a few weeks ago, and think the car is a winner. I've been driving a Prius for years and before that a Porsche. The Leaf is a fun car and I will enjoy charging it up with my solar array at home.

  4. "After all: Would you have expected General Motors, just five years ago, to offer a car like the 2011 Volt for sale? Of course not."
    5 years ago not, but 10 years ago, maybe... I mean after EV1 that would be logical.
    So GM now deserves not to be in Fist place.

  5. The Volt team has nothing to be ashamed of? Were shall I start? The Volt Dance? the 230 MPG claim, using 10.8 KWH of the battery pack rather than the 8 KWH they claimed, the overweight 3800 lbs car, the fact that motor connects directly to the wheels unlike what they have been telling us for years, the low MPG is CS mode. Shall I go on?

  6. On the facts alone, this is in error. The natural gas powered Civic GX has been doing daily duty in the hands of regular customers for six years now!! And the LEAF's "well to wheel" coal-powered carbon footprint is not superior to a high-mileage (40mpg or more) hybrid car that costs thousands less, has a 200-mile plus driving range and can be refueled in minutes not hours. And that's why EVs won't capture even 1% of the market in the next five years.

  7. @Dandybydo: I suppose the Civic GX is a minor footnote to the "no-gasoline" claim. However, Honda has sold about 2,000 per year for the last decade, so if even half the projected 20,000 Leafs are sold in Year One, that equals all the Civic GXes.
    And according to data from the EPRI-NRDC report and the U.S. DoE on the carbon footprint of different states, you are in error on the carbon footprint of a 40-MPG hybrid. In only one or two edge-case states (the very dirtiest), does that even come close to parity with a plug-in. In all other states, a mile driven on grid power is clearly lower-carbon. Not that people will buy electric cars because of carbon footprint, IMHO.

  8. ..You Morons! The Chevy VOLT is a REAL CAR--FOR real People! Wait to you 2-car owners forget to buy YOUR Chinese "organic" Veggies and have to 'run' out again!!??OOPPSS!! 40 miles-MAYBE! MAYBE 37. 38, 39...42 MAYBE 34, if Cold and ICY?? Always a 0 Footprint, heh!? The ultimate game of Organic-Chicken?

  9. First of all John V, it is a LEAF, not leaf...it's an acronym. Secondly, for whatever reason, you left out AZ (Phoenix Area) as one of the first five roll out states.
    Dave Bailey, you're the only one on here sounding like a moron. ROFLMAO...the Volt is a real car? It's JUST another hybrid, and a complicated,expensive one too! Let's get REAL here: LEAF= 100 miles or more,Zero emissions/footprint when charged with renewable sources like many people do with PVs. Volt = BIG OIL,Monies to foreign countries, and Terrorist support.

  10. Jeesh, Bill3 and the others - we should applaud any electric car, plug-in hybrid, or heck, any vehicle that is getting better than 45 MPG! If we can get any measurable amount of market penetration by any of these vehicles, it is a start to reducing dependence on foreign oil and slowing global change.

  11. @Used Equipments The LEAF is $33,000 -$7,500 federal tax credit (assuming you can get it).
    @John Voelcker So is the real problem with the Civic GX the fact that it did not sell? Should there have been $7500 federal tax credit? Or did that lack of infrastructure doom natural gas vehicles. This always seemed like such a great solution.

  12. Personally, the Leaf would not work for me since I drive at least 40 miles every day (20 miles to work and back) and if I run errands on the way home it will be more than that. A car which needs to be charged at around every 100 miles would be extremely unpractical for me.
    I am single person and only need one car. I think 41k for the Volt is reasonable; my current Benz cost more (23 mpg on the fwy I think but hey, it's a Benz!). I wouldn't want to be one of the Volt's first customers though, I'd rather wait until they iron their kinks/growing pains out.

  13. VOLT - practical. LEAF - not. End of story.

  14. Here's a thought: LEAF and Volt have both stirred up a great deal of excitement in the marketplace. They both reduce the carbon footprint, help reduce the dependence on foreign oil, look great, drive well, and are right for some people in some situations. LEAF won Green Car Journal Best Car to Buy 2011, but they're both winners.

  15. Oops, my bad. I meant to credit Green Car Reports in my previous post.

  16. Calling the LEAF 'practical' is a stretch, considering it requires much more owner attention than a standard car or even a Volt, and faces inadequate support from public infrastructure. Sorry, but in five years, the LEAF will be little more than a footnote in automotive history while the Volt will be going strong, credited with being the first PRACTICAL electric powered car, and serving as the cornerstone for an enduring market segment of vehicles powered by electricity. The Volt may not be perfect, but because of its combination of green capabilities with extended range, it will be the Volt which will impact America's car culture to the extent that people will more and more be looking forward to a greener future.

  17. I think the electric drive platform has allot going for it. Compared to fuel cells, there is no comparison, elect infrastructure is here now! As far as how much coal it takes, that is a worst case supply scenario. I could say how many lives, how many wars, how many gallons in the gulf of Mexico, or Alaskan waters, not to mention oil drips on every inch of road that migrate to streams and lakes with the rains. Internal Combustion Engines are complicated, messy, difficult to clean up the emissions, and they get worse over time. My nose runs when I get behind a diesel bus or pick up. There are many fuels that can make electricity. We are even turning Russian Nukes into fuel rods, over 15,000 warheads so far. Now is the time for change.

  18. Adn what do you do when your trup is more than 100 miles roundtrip, or the temp was 110 and the AC was on all the time? You just went by that BP battery swap station, and you could not swap your battery because its hard-wired into the car, something you would not tolerate in a cell-phone or a camera, or a rechargeable drill. It makes no sense to buy a car where half of the price is tied to a component whose future is inevitable deterioration

  19. The Chevrolet Volt creates jobs for Americans. I know it's old-fashioned to care about American jobs but I can dream that it might catch on some day.

  20. Please look at the facts about the LEAF
    If you want a quality EV you need to buy American.

  21. John, you stated: "...its overall “wells-to-wheels” carbon footprint is significantly lower than any 25-mpg car in the market."
    Do you have any numbers to back your statement? Exactly how much is considered significant?

  22. @Bob: Yes, the gold standard in my view is the two-volume 2007 analysis jointly issued by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It looks at total wells-to-wheels carbon impact, and if you use their data and combine it with the DoE's summmaries of the carbon emissions per kilowatt-hour of electric power in each of the 50 states, you find that even on the very dirtiest grid (N Dakota, maybe?), a mile driven electrically has a lower carbon impact than one driven in a 25-mpg car. When you compare to 50 mpg (e.g. 2011 Toyota Prius), that electric mile from the dirtiest grid is now slightly worse. But California, where the bulk of plug-ins will be sold and which has a fairly low-carbon grid, requires you to get to something like 80 or 100 mpg before there's parity.

  23. Now this is WWW.GREENAGENEWS.com Its about time... AIR WATER !!!!!!!!!!!

  24. I so love this car. I got mine from Midway Nissan last year and I'm enjoying driving it. It is so economical for me.

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