Op-Ed: Is the Nissan Leaf Really Ugly?
I want to address one of the most perplexing phenomenon I’ve ever seen. Anytime there is an article about the Nissan Leaf, whether it is on a general news website, automotive website, or even a website devoted to plug-in cars, I always see comments like this:
- I wouldn’t buy one because they are so ugly.
- Why do they have to be so ugly?
- Wouldn’t be caught dead in such an fugly car.
- Its uglier than a Prius.
I was even sitting in my Leaf one day at the Nissan dealer where I had just picked up some new wiper blades. I was answering some texts on my phone while sitting in my car. Two Nissan employees walked behind my car, not realizing I was still inside of it, and commented how butt-ugly they thought the car was.
Now, I realize everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I also realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I also realize there is not a car in existence that somebody doesn’t think is ugly. Heck, I’ve even been known to express my personal opinion about cars I feel are ugly. (The i-Miev, for example) Keeping that in mind, however, I don’t see other cars getting the amount of flack that the Leaf does.
Having said that, there is another part of this mystery. In my lifetime, I have owned a Pontiac Firebird, a Ford Probe, several Saturns, Mitsubishi Eclipse,Honda Insight, several different generations of Prius, and currently we have a Leaf and a Volt. In all of that time, I have never received compliments in parking lots about the appearance of any of those cars except for the Leaf. I have had at least 20 people over the last 3 years come up to me in parking lots and ask me about the Leaf when getting out of it. The conversation almost always goes something like this:
“Wow! That is a really cute car! What kind of gas mileage does it get?”
And that usually leads into a conversation about the drive train being electric. The point is, these people didn’t even realize it was an electric car, and they still thought it was attractive. In fact, attractive enough to walk over and say something about it.
Another interesting statistic is that probably 80% or more of these compliments have come from women. My wife has mentioned encountering the same phenomenon when she is driving it.
I’d also like to point out that we live in Texas, home of the giant SUV, Hummer, the 4×4, and dually pickup. And if people come out of the woodwork around here and go out of their way to tell me my car is cute, then I have to say that obviously not everyone thinks the Leaf is ugly.
Second thing I want to point out. If you look at the Leaf compared to the Toyota Matrix and the Mazda 3, you’ll see they are very similar looking. In fact, they share essentially the same body features. Yet, I do not see these other cars constantly bombarded with insults about their appearance. I realize the headlights on the Leaf are an unusual sight, but you have to be in front of the car to even realize it. From the side you don’t really see how much they bulge out.
Now I’m going to throw in my personal opinion. When I put down my $100 deposit on a Leaf back in 2010, I wasn’t really all that fond of the Leaf’s appearance either. In fact, I remember saying to my wife that I thought it was a bit ugly.
But I still wanted it because it was the only electric option available at the time. And when I flew to San Francisco later that year to attend the Green Drive Expo and saw the Leaf in person for the first time, it seemed to look better in person than in the pictures I’d seen online. But it still had an unusual look to it.
However, after owning it for well over 3 years, the look has grown on me a lot. In fact, now I actually find it attractive. I think one of the distinguishing features is how sloped the front nose of the car is, since it doesn’t have a traditional grille.
And so I have begun to wonder if is not that the Leaf is ugly, but rather it is different?
I can’t help but think of a similar scenario. I remember going to the state fair back in 1993 and seeing the new Dodge RAM on display. I remarked to my girlfriend that it was ugly and looked like a SEMI tractor and there were plenty of people around making similar remarks. The reason was because of the way the headlights droop down beside the grill. Nevertheless, the design caught on and has sold well. Now people don’t give it a second look. Now it’s normal.
I also can’t help but look at the evolution of vehicle exterior designs over the last century. Especially over the last two decades I’ve seen cars being reshaped to be more and more aerodynamic.
Some of the cars we drive now actually look similar to cars that were considered futuristic concept cars back in the 1980’s. You can imagine driving around in a 2014 Toyota Camry or Honda Civic back in 1984 would have probably gotten some strange looks. Some people might have even called them ugly. As such, I’m convinced at this point that cars like the Prius and the Leaf are a glimpse of the future.
Not that every car will look like them, but I suspect a lot of cars will. More and more cars will eventually have no use of a front grille, and will most likely adopt shapes similar to the Leaf. After a while people will get used to seeing it, and eventually cars like the Leaf will be considered normal.
So if anything can be said for sure about the appearance of the Leaf is that it is polarizing. Lots of people love it, and lots of people hate it. If anything, that at least means the car gets noticed – for good or bad, which I think overall is a good thing for Nissan.