Ten years later: The impact of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt
05.07.2020 - by Silvia Gonzalez
Ten years later: The impact of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt

Ten years ago, the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF hit showroom floors, making 2010 an influential year for mass-produced electric vehicles (EVs). The Tesla Roadster, the first of the new generation of EVs, came out two years earlier, but the Volt and the LEAF were mainstream models from established automakers. 

At the time, the LEAF was the only moderately-priced all-electric vehicle. With an electric range of 73 miles, the LEAF started to shift people’s views of electric cars. They are quiet, comfortable, spacious, and have great performance. When EV advocate Tom Saxton got his LEAF, he wrote in a 2012 Plug In America blog post that he was excited about the driving experience of electric.

“The accelerator pedal on the LEAF gives an instant, smooth response: you push, it takes off,” said Saxton. “There’s no waiting for a gear shift, and no slow climb to full acceleration the way you have to wait for a gas car to rev up the engine speed to maximum torque, then have to shift gears and repeat. It’s just smooth, rapid acceleration all the way.”

Other EV advocates were excited about the LEAF as well. Paul Scott, one of the founders of Plug In America, became a Nissan salesperson at Santa Monica Nissan for the sole purpose of selling the LEAF and only the LEAF, recalled Dency Nelson, fellow co-founder. Nelson even took delivery of his 2011 Nissan LEAF (number 715) from Scott and still has it in his driveway today! 

In the first year alone, the LEAF sold 9,693 models, and, to date, over 140,000 vehicles have been sold in the United States. For many years, the LEAF was the leading moderately-priced all-electric vehicle, but today, it faces greater competition from the Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt, and others.

It’s not a surprise that early EV adopters were excited about the all-electric Nissan LEAF, but how did the Chevy Volt compare? The Chevy Volt was a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and many people were skeptical. 

“I thought it would take away the value from the development of all-electric vehicles,” said Nelson. 

However, it proved to be the exact opposite, especially for EV-curious shoppers. Range anxiety was a deterring factor, but having gas as a back-up eased their minds. With 40 miles of electric range, many Volt drivers noticed that they very rarely used the gas, except on longer trips. The Volt allowed EV-curious people to experience electric without fully going electric. 

Despite selling more than 157,000 vehicles, GM discontinued the Chevy Volt in 2019 as more automakers have begun turning their attention from plug-in hybrids to long-range all-electric vehicles. In March, GM unveiled 10 new all-electric models that will be released in the coming years.

Without a doubt, these mass-produced electric vehicles showed Americans how easy it was to switch to electric. 

These cars launched the new era of EVs,” said Jennifer Krill, president of Plug In America. “They enabled people everywhere to envision a world in which electric vehicles will replace the internal combustion engine.”

The world has to at least acknowledge that the electric car is real,” said Nelson. “EVs are in the driveways of people all over the world. It is because of these cars!”

21 comments on “Ten years later: The impact of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt”
  1. Jon Moulding says:

    I own a 2019 Volt and previously owned a 2017 Volt. As others have commented, I love this car and was hugely disappointed that GM discontinued it, Over 80% of our driving miles are on battery, but as a one-car family, an all electric car would not suit us because we take annual vacation trips from Cape Cod MA to northern New England where there is an insufficient charging infrastructure. On such trips we get close to 50 mpg on the range-extending gas engine, providing a 450 mile range per fill-up. We easily get 70 miles of battery range in the warm season and no less than 60 miles in the cold season during the rest of the time with common sense driving practices. The Voltec propulsion system seamlessly integrates the battery and gas use in hybrid mode and makes the car such a pleasure to drive. If GM would offer that system in a mid-size model like the Malibu, I think it would be a winner.

  2. Paula M. says:

    Highly recommend the Toyota Prius Prime Premium (mine a 2017)- `a plug-in hybrid EV. Surprised that more people aren’t joining in and getting EV’s! Prices are comparable (30k new for mine) to gas-guzzling pickup trucks, etc. Keep spreading the word!

  3. Paula M. says:

    I am puzzled why there isn’t more talk about Toyota Prius’s. I bought a new 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Premium (I still get the name wrong at times) in 2018- an EV plug-in hybrid and love it for my needs- about 25. mi. or less a day without gas. Would like longer range but this is great for now. MPG are still good if need to drive further- better than 54 mpg. Comfortable, sporty look, smooth ride, great pick-up, etc. I’m so disappointed at how few electric cars there are. Keep spreading the word!

  4. Kai Ponte says:

    I so loved the idea of the Volt. Great styling (first gen) and wonderful range. Only problem was that it is a two-seater with barely enough room for me and a passenger. If they’d only made the Volt bigger I would be driving one today.

  5. OceanDragon says:

    My first dabble into electric cars was this year after seeing a BMW i3 at our local EV fair. I had never really seen one up close before then. I like the unique appearance and the BMW level build quality. The carbon fiber plastic was amazing as well as all the technology it possessed. But the price tag of $50k was prohibitive. I located a used vehicle with 20k miles for $17k. I love this car and will probably get a Tesla as my next car. The BMW isn’t perfect, but suits my needs.

  6. Bill Bugbee says:

    The gen-1 Volt is a classic in the annuals of EV history, a ground breaking car for its time with tech details and design that still stands up to the passing of time.

    When announced, I read everything I could my hands on the Volt, waiting anxiously for one to show up at our local dealer for a test drive. In the meantime, I also drove the 2011 Leaf (never a fan of the Leaf’s styling). My test drive take away of the Leaf – just another EV golf cart designed to meet CAFE requirements.

    GM’s piss poor public education and marketing of the car was apparent from the start, not even the motoring press understood the car, often comparing it to a Prius – owned one those too before the Volt, apples and oranges by comparison.

    Eight and 1/2 years ago we bought a new Volt 2012, fully loaded, which still fulfills our local driving needs nicely, averaging 34 miles range on the initial battery pack charge and before the extended range gas generator kicks in. It’s parked in our garage (when not being driven) and in like-new condition and will always have a place there,, parked next our Tesla Model S, another EV classic.

    Planning someday, once the Volt’s OEM LG batteries are done, to modify it to an all battery drivetrain for another 10 years of driving – it’s still turns heads and is a kick to drive after all these years.

  7. barry says:

    oops …that 100 % torque from 0 RPM’s

  8. barry says:

    I started with a Chevy Spark electric , then a Bolt ,then another Bolt and now a Tesla S 85 . I suppose it’s too bad that the general public will take so long to catch on to the greatness that is driving electric . I always tell people that it is how cars should have always been motivated . 100% torque is like a religion for us car people .

  9. William Ashburn says:

    I leased a 2013 Leaf to find if I liked the vehicle. Loved the car but not so much the look and range. When I turned car in the salesman that I used told me of future increase in range and body style changes. This time bought a 2019 with 67kw battery and easily get 220 miles range running AC. LOVE THE LEAF!

  10. Thomas McNeely says:

    We just bought a Model 3, it is the car we take on long trips using the Supercharger network, still have a Nissan Leaf for commuting and errands, we now have no ICE cars in our family, no range anxiety either.

  11. S. Hughes says:

    I wanted a Volt but unavailable. The Bolt was surprisingly uncomfortable so I went with the Honda Clarity plugin hybrid. It worked perfectly in Paradise. Hope it works as well in Redding–need more public charge stations here.

  12. Larry Ware says:

    I’ve always had an interest in electric cars. When “Who Killed the Electric Car?” came out I was hooked. Nissan did a great service to their cause when they came out with the all-electric LEAF in 2010. I couldn’t wait to get one, but they were out of my price range until 3 years ago when I snagged a used 2011. Love the car! EVs are here to stay. And I hope to always own one. Thanks for this wonderful look back to some of the beginnings.

  13. Michael Teply says:

    I bought a leaf in 2011 and I love it. I wish it had a little more range but for my purpose it’s great.

  14. Paula M. says:

    How about mentioning the Prius Prime Plus? I have a 2017 and it’s great for me living in Portland, Maine where I drive less than 25 miles daily most of the time so I plug it in every evening and I’m ready to go, no gas needed. But if I drive further, it will use some gas but it uses little- I love the car, too as far as looks and comfort, size, etc. It doesn’t look at all like the standard Prius’s that are everywhere . More sporty.

  15. Tedmac says:

    Still driving our 2011 Leaf, #761. Have never had to buy electricity to charge it. Solar panels and free chargers in the SF bay area took care of my needs. I wish I could upgrade the batteries to the latest technology. Most of our daily driving is within 10 miles, so it still goes where we want to go.

  16. Dennis McLerran says:

    The plug in hybrid was a great gateway vehicle for me until the Tesla Model 3 came along and better met my work travel needs with range long enough for my frequent trips. We still have a Chrysler Pacifica plug in hybrid as our vacation vehicle for hauling bikes and camping. Having both choices to reduce carbon footprints is great and it inspired putting more solar on our roof as well.

  17. Paul Terwilliger says:

    We have driven a Volt for 3 years and a Cadillac ELR for 2 more. These are charged off our solar panels. The annual mileage has ranged from 220 to over 1k per year actual and over 5 years averaging around 550. Zero problems but the 2014 ELR now has some battery decline but still under warranty. Going fully electric with a Tesla Cybertruck or Rivian when available and the ELR will be used for short trips only. We will never go back to any ICE as they are obsolete, especially when compared to some of the many all electric choices available and soon to be available. Tesla holds their value, but other used PHEV and EV can be bargains for a limited budget, especially the Volt and Leaf. Keep advocating for electric and more high speed charging stations, especially those from fully green renewables. EVs are both the present and a future.

  18. Tim Shevlin says:

    EV progress will eventually obsolete the Volt, but for now, my ’16 (still) meets my particular needs perfectly. GM EV plans are flaky. Surprise me, GM!

  19. Kelli Butler says:

    I love, love, love my 2017 Chevy Volt (and don’t need AWD because I live in Calif). It’s so distressing that GM discontinued the Volt—it’s the perfect city car with great pick up, and gets me to work and back (50 miles RT) on electric, no problem. I am very worried that when I’m ready to buy another vehicle, the only environmental choice will be an all-electric. I have family in places well over 100 miles away that occasionally, I need to get to quickly, and taking 5 minutes to fill the tank with gas is very convenient. I think a plug-in hybrid, marketed correctly, is the best practical (and fairly inexpensive) car for the general public who will probably always have some sort of range anxiety.

  20. Ruby MacDonald says:

    My husband and I have had a Bolt for 3 years, which suits us fine. Not sure why it’s necessary to ding other people’s choices just because they don’t suit your particular needs or tastes. Thanks.

  21. Denns McLain says:

    The Volt was almost the ideal vehicle for my needs in 2011; electric mode great for up to 5 months of local driving without gas, extended range for my 650-mile trip to New England, and very low maintenance cost. The one thing it did not offer was all-wheel drive for Maine winters. BUT, GM did an absolutely horrible job of marketing.For all the endless ads for pickups and SUV’s, I am not sure I ever saw a single TV ad for the Volt. Even a study by Yale MBA students went unheeded by GM.
    https://www.brandchannel.com/2015/04/21/yale-chevy-volt-042115/
    I still get emails from Chevrolet, to buy a Bolt. No thanks. The forthcoming Rav4 Prime is the car I need, and fills in that missing piece: AWD. A Hummer EV? Is that a bad joke? A $75,000 Cadillac Lyriq EV SUV? That’s about 2x my budget.

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