Will Nissan PH take that ‘Leaf’ of faith?


Chiba, Japan—As this contingent of motoring media from the Philippines arrived in this city yesterday to witness the launch of the re-designed, next-generation Nissan Leaf on Sept. 6 at the Makuhari Messe (simultaneously in Las Vegas), this author couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of longing.

Without a doubt, the Leaf has become the world’s bestselling electric vehicle (EV), selling 281,000 units since its introduction in 2010.

With the introduction of the new Leaf, Nissan is set to defend its title over EV Tesla’s new Model 3 and General Motors’ Chevrolet Bolt.

It remains to be seen if the next-generation Leaf can maintain its status as the world’s best selling car.

For a media contingent like ours, coming from a country with an almost non-existent population of EVs and hybrids, arriving in a city that embraces EVs like their lives depended on it, the difference between us and them in terms of car culture and environmental awareness is as clear as night from day.

Among Japan’s auto manufacturers, it is Nissan that has pioneered in the EV race. Its marketing pitch “Amaze Your Senses” isn’t just an empty copy, either.

The Leaf dominated the Japanese automotive market over the years, while the e-powered Note, launched in Japan last November, beat the Prius in the Japanese market in January.

And this is where the “longing” part kicks in for this writer. Imagine how much of an impact the Leaf, or even the e-Note, would have if it were made available in the Philippines, together with well-established charging infrastructure.

Despite Nissan’s global successes with EVs, and even as a new Leaf has just been introduced in Japan, it is unclear whether Nissan Philippines will decide to bring into the local market the Leaf or e-Note.

We’d love to know if Nissan can do a Toyota in the Philippines when the latter brought in the Prius in 2009 (albeit in limited numbers), throwing sales caution to the winds.

One automotive industry observer, who is also an EV advocate, sees the presence of the Philippine media in the world premier of the new Leaf as an indication that, perhaps, something promising will blow our way soon.

“I think that the Philippines must be in the radar of the major car companies when (it comes to plans of) introducing their EVs to the Asean region,” Rommel Juan, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines, said.

“We are in a good position now that the new excise tax law (is poised to) exempt EVs, and that charging infrastructure groups are aggressively rolling out. The 1st Asean Electric Vehicle Summit was an indication that the formal automotive players are now convinced that the Philippines is ready,” affirmed Juan.

If Nissan does intend to bring in its EVs in the country, no less than the iconic Leaf would mark this move most appropriately.

The Leaf represents Nissan’s evolving vision for EVs. According to Michael Boxwell, author of “The Electric Car Guide: Nissan Leaf,” the tiny, four-seater Tama electric car, the precursor of the Leaf, was launched in 1947, and had a top speed of just 35 kph and a range of 96 km. It found its niche as a city taxi.

Afterwards, Nissan went on to develop more EV prototypes, concepts and limited production test vehicles at various times between the 1970s and the 1990s. Boxwell wrote that EVs remained an obscure niche until the mid-2000s.

Boxwell further wrote that in 2007, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan and Renault, boldly “committed more than $5 billion into a development plan to create an entire lineup of electric cars.”

According to Leaf owner Cynthia Shahan of the news and analysis site CleanTechnica, the next-generation Leaf “is a significant step beyond the first-generation Leaf’s marketing, which was focused on being green and not using gas.”

Shahan added that “the company has clearly shifted to an approach that brands the Leaf as high-tech, amazing, and peaceful to drive.”

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