Is The 2011 Nissan Leaf The Truly Invisible Electric Car?

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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After three weeks of using our new 2011 Nissan Leaf for most of our local commuting, it has a valued and important place in our two-car family.  We appreciate the driving economy and features of the car.

But it has been shocking how little notice the car has received.  

As one of the first half-dozen Leafs in the greater Sacramento area, I would have expected it to draw more attention--but I can testify that it has been almost invisible.

Synonyms for the Leaf? Bland, nondescript, innocuous, tepid, Q-ship, subtle, plain, banal, blah, boring, dull, flat, flavorless, ho-hum, insipid, tame, unexciting, uninspiring, unstimulating, vanilla, vapid, zero, Leaf.

I wish I could say otherwise, but maybe this is what Nissan wanted?  The car simply “is,” and it makes no public statement of its presence.  To my neighbors, it is just another small hatchback.

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

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However, was this really what Nissan expected of the Leaf design?  I believe that such cutting-edge technology should be presented with more distinctive introductory visual cues.

The Toyota Prius hybrid has brand cachet because of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system, and because it makes a strong and obvious visual statement of its presence.  Every Prius sold is a visual advertisement that lets potential buyers notice that the car is available, that others are driving it already.  

The Leaf is simply not being seen, even when it has a prominent place in the mall parking lot.  It is simply too generic a design for a product that almost single-handed is creating the new battery-electric vehicle segment.

What do you think about the Nissan Leaf's exterior design: generic, or genuine?

Give us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (10)
  1. Well, I will take your word for it George. I am surprised to hear that it goes unnoticed. The styling does not seem bland to me.
    In particular, the nose of the LEAF seems to be (let's be kind) different. But perhaps that angle is not very visible.
    Its style seems distinctive enough that perhaps with time it will get the recognition that it deserves.

  2. Did we inadvertently get what we wanted? An electric car that is just normal - no fins or wings?
    Perhaps you should park it with the charge cable left in - even if it's not plugged in to anything!

  3. To me this is a critical part of the acceptance of EVs as mainstream vehicles. You need both though. On one end we need the Teslas and the ESFLOWs of this world to impress people with their 'wow!' factor but at the same time you need something that the average person will accept as a mainstream car. Whilst the Leaf's styling is not too conventional it still isn't strikingly odd or different. That will shake off the image of Electric cars being strange little golf carts. I think Nissan hit the spot with this vehicle. They went for undramatic and the achieved it in my opinion.

  4. I kind of agree with you George. But perhaps not with the same level of vehemence you express. LOL!

  5. If the Leaf is really invisible like Mr. Parrott claims than the design is essentially a failure. Design is also about communication and a car like the Leaf needs to communicate that it's something completely new but not to the point that it scares people away. It's a delicate balance and Mr.Parrott's experience may indicate that Nissan may have kept the Leaf's design just to bland out of fear of putting people off. That's not going to help sales because people buying a car like this will probably want to sent a message that they invested a lot of money in a social responsible choice. What they don't want is nobody to notice, like Mr. Parrott's obvious frustration proves.

  6. @Chris O
    I didn't mean to appear "frustrated." But I totally agree with your analysis and that is the essential point, relative to Nissan's later sales promotion, that I was trying to suggest....and to draw out as many comments and reactions as possible.

  7. I thought the headline was referring to the fact that Nissan has delivered so few Leafs that the car is truly invisible.

  8. @Douglas
    The lack of deliveries is another dimension to the story of the Leaf in America, but that seems about to change with 600 Leaf vehicles arriving late March for U.S. customers. It would appear that Nissan, just before the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan, had caught up with their Japanese domestic distribution needs, so it is likely that U.S. Leaf volume will soon take off.

  9. I am going to pickup my Leaf tomorrow. It is one of the 600 that left Japan just in time. I saw it yesterday at the dealer with all the protective covers for shipping still in place. I remember going through this 10 years ago when I picked up my Prius in December 2000, after waiting 4 and a half months for the car to arrive from Japan. I am still driving that Prius and happy that I bought it then. I hope 10 years from now I can say that about the Leaf.

  10. The Leaf is a relative newcomer compared to the 13 year old Prius. Also, the Leaf doesn't really stand out from the rest of Nissan's lineup. It sort of looks like the Versa hatch at quick glance. The Prius stands out of Toyota's lineup IMO.

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