We'd had electric cars before the Nissan LEAF first made landfall in summer 2011 but they were rather half-baked things; quadricycles that didn't pass mass manufacturer safety legislation and converted citycars with little in the way of design flair. The LEAF was the first pure electric car developed from the ground up by a major manufacturer and it surprised more than a few people with the way it drove and the way it was marketed. Despite many industry commentators predicting it to be the thick end of £40,000 at launch, the asking price of £23,350 undercut many more prosaic diesel hatchbacks and brought electric motoring within the reach of many. To understand quite what a breakthrough this was, consider that this undercut the tiny Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the converted kei-car that was previously the state of the EV art.
The LEAF was massively more sophisticated. For a start, it could seat five in comfort with a decent-sized boot. Its styling was modern, but it didn't look like something from toy town. It was based on the EV-11 electric car prototype which was in turn developed from the Nissan Tiida, but the LEAF was very much its own thing. The first wave of customers were the predictable contenders of organisations and local authorities looking to make a green statement, but after that a more diverse set of buyers started looking to the LEAF. Sales were hardly massive, with less than 1,500 cars shifted in the first two years on sale. The reasons were easy to identify. Although it was well priced for a specific EV, it was too expensive to compete with similarly-sized cars and the range of the car in real world conditions rarely matched up to Nissan's claims. The payback period over a petrol model was so long that unlike a Toyota Prius hybrid, the LEAF could rarely, if ever, be bought as a hard-nosed financial decision. Still, Nissan listened and brought out a substantially improved model in 2013. This had a better range, revised styling, more luggage space and better equipment provision. It drove better than ever too.