It’s Electric and Automatic

I,ve been teaching in automatic cars since 2006 and moving to the Nissan Leaf electric car I find it has much in common with my previous automatics. Learners notice no difference in driving it and lessons are the same as in a fossil fuelled car, except for the wonderful smooth silence you get with electric cars.

Electric cars are automatic, aren’t they?

The Leaf has things you’d expect from any automatic car. On the drive selector there’s Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive as you would find in any automatic car. Selecting Drive or Reverse makes the car creep along when you release the footbrake. So no rolling back on hills or having to master clutch control as you would in a manual car. Hill starts are a thing of the past.

Conventional Behaviour

Electric cars behave just like a conventional automatic car. They are designed this way for familiarity, however, electric cars have no gearbox. Yes, you heard correctly, no gearbox. Electric motors are so powerful they’re connected directly to the car’s wheels. An electric motor will deliver full power the moment it’s turned on. Unlike a piston engine that sucks in air and fuel, ignites it to make a small explosion, coughs out fumes to build up to full power. It then peaks and needs another gear to continue.

With no gearbox in an electric vehicle there’s no need to manufacture a manual electric car. The instant power of an electric motor makes the car quick to move from a standstill. Electric motors are reasonably simple devices and only have one moving part compared to a fossil fuelled engine and gearbox with about 800 moving parts plus oil and coolant. Consequently there’s little to maintain on an electric car.

Automatic driving lessons in the Nissan Leaf are much like any other automatic lessons. The car, while behaving like any other automatic, is an elegantly simple piece of engineering.