The Nissan LEAF grabbed a bunch of free press recently for breaking speed records – while being driven in reverse [check out the picture above, or the video clip below].
Now, Nissan might have thought this all would help the LEAF and electric cars.
I’m not so convinced.
First – and, yes, I know this is hardly original, although I have yet to see it mentioned once in any of the standard automotive media coverage of the LEAF reverse record I’ve seen so far – the reverse speed record for a mile comes at the very same time that LEAF sales in the U.S. are themselves shifting into reverse.
Fewer LEAFs sold Thus far, Nissan’s sold fewer LEAFs in the first six months of 2012 (3,148) than it did during first six months of 2011 (3,875).
Maybe it’s just me, but pictures of stunt driver Terry Green getting a neck cramp while driving the LEAF at an average of 55 mph around the Goodwood hill-climb course at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK got me to thinking about the LEAF’s nose diving sales in the U.S. even more than I otherwise would have.
Second – and this is far more damaging than a reverse record standing in metaphorically for declining LEAF sales in the U.S. – seeing an electric car set a bizarre record, and, clearly, driving a car in reverse at speeds of more than 50 mph is rather bizarre, simply feeds into the popular image of electric cars as freak cars.
Who needs to drive at breakneck speeds in reverse? Who needs to drive fast in reverse in any normal driving setting? And who buys a car based on how fast it can go — in reverse?
EVs inferior? Equally damaging is the way in which the LEAF’s bizarre reverse record feeds into popular ideas of EVs as inferior to gasoline cars.
Yeah, sure it’s kind of cool that the LEAF’s single speed transmission means it can go backwards at an excellent clip, but put it up against a comparable gasoline car in the direction that really matters, meaning forwards, around the same 1.16-mile track and see who spends more time looking at whose auto hindquarters, the EV or the gas car – or so the standard thinking goes.
Now, I’m not saying that the LEAF reverse record isn’t cool in some ways — the YouTube video below sure is, thanks in part to the perfect music it’s set too. The record is, after all, pretty darn novel. Nissan gets lots of points for that.
But the novelty plus becomes a novelty minus when you look at the big picture. That big picture is still very much one in which EVs such as the LEAF are viewed by large majorities in the U.S. as simply not up to snuff. This is particularly true of the type of person who’s turned on by speed records, the 18 to 40-year old male auto buff demographic, that’s more than likely going to be thinking pretty much what I’ve been putting down on paper here.