2013 Nissan LeafEnlarge Photo
In America, if you want a new electric car, you go to a dealer and buy one. You might have to wait a bit of course, but generally your money gets you access to both the car and its batteries.
In Europe, things are a little different. If you're Renault, you sell people a car and offer its batteries only on a lease. It alleviates the stress of potential catastrophic battery failure, they say (though they don't use exactly that turn of phrase).
Nissan is now taking the same route, with its freshly-launched 2013 Leaf.
In essence, the Leaf you buy in Europe is very similar to the Leaf you'll buy in the U.S. It even now has its own factory--just as Nissan now builds American Leafs in Tennessee, Nissan Europe now builds them in Sunderland, England.
There are three trim lines, more imaginatively-named than those in the U.S, but the concept is the same--a cheaper option (Visia), a mid-grade car (Acenta), and a fully-loaded Leaf (Tekna).
Where the car deviates from the U.S. Leaf is in how you're able to buy it.
You can still walk into a European Nissan dealer and buy a Leaf outright. In the UK, with the benefit of a $7,700 plug-in car grant from Her Majesty's government, an entry-level Leaf starts at $32,300 or so. This rises to $39,275 for a top-end car.
But rent the batteries, for $108 per month (over 36 months, with annual mileage of 7,500) and the price of entry drops to $24,600.
If you haven't a calculator handy, that's a saving of $7,700.
For a customer keeping the car for just those three years, it could prove good value. 36 months multiplied by $108 per month works out at $3,888, so for those three years a Leaf owner would save over $3,800. Or another three years of driving, safe in the knowledge Nissan will swap in a new battery in the event yours dies or drops any significant range.
They'd have to pay electricity costs on top of that of course, and they'd also be restricted to 7,500 miles per year against a UK average of 10,000-12,000 a year for a car of the Leaf's size.
But really it's about the purchase price. $24,600 slots neatly into the low end of the compact car market--only a token few Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golfs and others cost less in Europe, often with basic equipment levels and engines you'd not select if price wasn't a constraint.
Like the smaller Zoe from Nissan's partner Renault, battery leasing and aggressive pricing has put electric cars on a high-profile par with more conventional vehicles.
And whether you're a fan of battery leasing or not (and we know many of our readers aren't), it's an intriguing strategy. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.