Price war likely to speed up Kiwis' sluggish switch to electric cars

By Mathew Dearnaley

Nissan will slash $30,000 off new Leafs; Mitsubishi and BMW models finding fans.

Nissan Leaf.
Nissan Leaf.

Electric cars are on the brink of a price war, as more new models become available and secondhand Japanese imports sell for as little as $25,000.

That's what little-used 2011 electric Nissan Leaf cars have been sold for on Trade Me, as well as directly to power companies keen on using renewable energy to give polluting fossil fuels the boot.

Nissan is also poised to slash its price for new Leafs by a whopping $30,000 - to just under $40,000 - once it prepares more dealers and technicians for a surge of extra custom.

Although the Leaf is the world's top-selling electric car, with almost 115,000 on the road, Nissan has been disappointed only 23 New Zealanders have bought them new for just under $70,000 since they arrived in 2012.

The Herald has spoken to two agents who have sold about the same number of secondhand Leafs for between $24,500 and $32,000 after importing them from Japan.

Alexandra-based Terry Stewart, who says he has supplied 18 Leafs with odometer readings of 8000km to 12,000km, mainly to electricity companies such as Whangarei-based Northpower, does not see why New Zealanders should not benefit from a Japanese Government subsidy of almost $9000.

Aucklander David Lees - who has sold three 2011 Leafs on Trade Me - acknowledges he cannot offer warranties for their batteries but says a Nissan guarantee in the United States indicates the company expects them to last at least eight years.

He also drives a 10-year-old unplugged Toyota Prius petrol-electric car in which the battery "is still going strong".


Toyota Prius.

Mitsubishi introduced the country's first plug-in hybrid electric sports utility in April and has already sold more than 70.

It has another 35 demonstration models around its dealer network, meaning the Mitsubishi plug-in Outlanders now account for more than a third of the country's small fleet of about 250 plug-in electric cars.

Mitsubishi acknowledges $60,000 for basic models and $67,000 for those with the latest navigation and safety technology is $10,000 higher than for equivalent diesel Outlanders.

But the Government's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority calculates a premium of that order will be repaid by fuel savings for anyone driving more than 10,000 kilometres a year.

And the new BMW i3 plug-in hybrid hatchback will appear here in October after receiving sight-unseen deposits from 10 customers undeterred by its $83,500 price.

Two Tesla Roadster electric supercars have been imported privately from the United States for around $200,000 each.

Two eco cars

Reporter Steve Deane test drives the Nissan Leaf and a Toyota Prius.

Nissan Leaf

The brakes on the Leaf are pretty darn good. We find that out when a bird, oblivious to our silent approach, sits happily in the middle of the road. It makes you wonder how domestic pets and other wildlife might fare if the electronic car revolution becomes a reality. There is a built-in safeguard to help protect people, with the Leaf emitting a low whine whenever it travels under 30km/h. It accelerates nicely from a standing start and there is plenty of power to nip about in Auckland's motorway traffic. As a driving experience, it's vastly superior to the Herald's 1500cc Suzuki pool car but not a patch on the 3l Toyota Altezza I somehow convinced the wife would make a great family car. Economy is the Leaf's obvious strength and range (between 100km and 140km per charge) its weakness.

Toyota Prius

Give me a Leaf any day. The 10-year-old Prius I take for a quick scoot handles much the same as any non-eco car in its class. I'm no Formula 1 test driver, but the Prius feels a little heavier up front. That's possibly due to the requirement to have batteries and a combustion engine on board. It's significantly cheaper to run than a standard car but the Prius can't compete with the Leaf in terms of economy. On the upside, though, it's not limited in terms of range, so there's no reason not to use it as a primary car. Until the Leaf's range picks up it's really only going to serve as a way of zipping around town or completing a short to medium-range commute.

- NZ Herald

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