Turning a New LEAF?

This blog first appeared on the website of think tank and strategy consultancy SustainAbility

History may record Monday 29th November 2010 as a date of uncommon significance.  Not because the UNFCCC COP-16 opened in Cancun with barely a murmur, in stark contrast to the media circus that engulfed Copenhagen twelve months previously.  Not because of the embarrassing disclosure of the US embassy cables, and their broader implications for international diplomacy.  And not because – in a deliciously ironic twist of fate – the USA was drawn to open its campaign against North Korea in next year’s football World Cup (women’s edition).  

On Monday 29th November 2010, the European motoring press announced its Car of Year for 2011.  The Nissan LEAF is a family-sized battery electric car that will travel 100 miles on a charge.  It goes on sale early next year, and is billed as the world’s first affordable, mass produced zero emission car.  The LEAF – a jumbled acronym meaning “Leading Environmentally Friendly Affordable” – beat forty internal combustion engined vehicles to claim the annual accolade, the first time in 46 years that an electric car has won the award.  Previous winners include the Porsche 928 – hardly a paragon of fuel efficiency – and in more recent years the more frugal Toyota Prius.  

A pivotal moment in the 100+ year history of the automotive industry?  Time will tell.  At the Detroit Auto Show in January, the winner of the North American Car of the Year will be announced.  On the short list is the eagerly-awaited Chevrolet Volt, an extended range electric vehicle with the potential to transform Motown and the notoriously inefficient US market.  If it wins, it could spark the revolution.