It has recently come to my attention that used Nissan Leafs are tremendously cheap. Insanely cheap. Ridiculously cheap. So cheap that there are couples currently browsing the aisles at Bed Bath & Beyond, saying to one another: “Honey, should we get these hand towels? Or a used Nissan Leaf?”
Today I’ve decided to thoroughly address this situation from top to bottom. To do so, I will ask all the tough questions: How did it start? What happens next? And what will we do when our nation’s used car lots are bogged down with electric Nissans that cost as much as an adult llama?
But first, a little proof that the Leaf is as cheap as I say it is.
For those of you who weren’t with us back in late 2010 when the Leaf first came out for the 2011 model year, it’s important to note that the Leaf’s original base price was $34,570 with shipping. This seems like a lot of money now, and it certainly seemed like a lot of money back then. But people were excited to pay it so they could drive around in an electric Nissan for approximately 45 minutes before becoming paralyzed with fear that they would run out of power in some exotic, faraway location, like a Costco parking lot.
These days, prices have changed a bit. What I mean by this is that the average asking price of a 2011 Nissan Leaf on Autotrader, five years later, is just $10,724. In other words: after five years, the Leaf has retained only 31 percent of its original value.
So how does this stack up to a normal car? Well, the average asking price for a new 2011 Honda Accord model was $25,648, compared to an average asking price today of about $14,370. The result is that the Accord has retained around 56 percent of its value, or nearly double the Leaf’s figure.
But the Accord is a proven midsize car that’s celebrated for its impressive, long-lasting durability. What happens when we pit the Leaf up against a known depreciation disaster such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class? This, I figured, would be an excellent comparison, since Tavarish is always reminding us that you can buy a used S-Class for the price of a half-eaten Almond Joy and a bottle of dishwashing soap.
So how does the Leaf stack up? It turns out that after a starting MSRP of around $95,000, the average asking price for a 2011 Mercedes-Benz S550 is currently $41,719 on Autotrader. In other words: the S550 has retained 43.9 percent of its value over five years. In other other words: the Nissan Leaf depreciates faster than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Frankly, the Leaf’s depreciation isn’t even comparable to an automobile at this point. It’s comparable to a pack of Sharpies left out in the sun with their caps off.
And this leads me to my major question today, which is: How the hell did this happen? Fortunately, I have some answers for this one. Four answers, specifically, which I will enumerate with bold type like an ESPN alert that some famous athlete has just divorced a Kardashian.
REASON NUMBER ONE: Nobody actually paid the full sticker price for a Nissan Leaf. I mean, oh, sure, Roger Early Adopter may have paid the asking price when he sold his 2001 Honda Insight in order to pick up Leaf number six way back in late 2010. But the truth is that the vast majority of Leaf owners bought the car with some kind of major incentive, like a $199 per month lease deal, or an enormous cash back offer usually only seen when Chrysler is trying to sell Town & Countrys to Enterprise at the end of an especially slow month. And then, on top of Nissan’s incentives, there were the federal tax incentives for buying an electric vehicle, which made the Leaf even more artificially desirable.
Which leads us to reason number two, namely…
REASON NUMBER TWO: Nissan flooded the market with these things. And I mean flooded the market. When it comes to the Nissan Leaf, Nissan was Hurricane Sandy, and the car market was that roller coaster that looked like it was placed in the middle of the ocean to be used by thrill-seeking manatees.
The problem was this: thanks to such amazing purchase incentives and lease deals, coupled with the excellent federal government tax credit, an enormous number of people chose to buy a Nissan Leaf when it was new. But all this artificial demand caused by incentives, deals, and tax credits has ended up hurting the Leaf four years down the line, as the market is now stuck with too many Leafs and not enough people interested in buying them.
And then there are other problems, like…
REASON NUMBER THREE: They’re losing battery capacity. Here’s the thing about batteries: eventually, they lose their ability to hold a charge. I know this because when it finally came time to upgrade my last iPhone, the thing couldn’t go more than 90 seconds without shutting itself off. Eventually, I was stuck using it like a corded phone from the 1990s, except this particular corded phone could a) send text messages, and b) tell me the weather in Cupertino.
This fate is also going to eventually reach all the Nissan Leafs, if it hasn’t already. First, they’ll only be able to hold “most” of their original charge. Then, half of their original charge. Then, a quarter of their original charge. The next thing you know, you’ll be searching for a three-mile extension cord so you can plug in your Leaf in order to cruise down to Target.
REASON NUMBER FOUR: A cheaper model eventually came out a few years later. Acquiescing to demand for an entry-level Leaf, Nissan eventually debuted a Leaf “S,” which came out for the 2013 model year with a starting price of around $30,000. The problem was that this, too, exerted a downward force on Leaf prices, since you could suddenly buy a new model for the same price as many slightly used ones — and that meant slightly used Leafs had to adjust their prices accordingly.
The result of all this is that there are now thousands of used Leafs available all across the country, and they’re getting cheaper by the second. So what do we do about it?
Unfortunately, this question is one I cannot answer. But I do know that Nissan Leaf prices continue to be in freefall, while adult llama prices are holding steady at about $1,500 per llama, or maybe two grand if you find a really, really attractive llama; sort of the Brian Williams of llamas.
This begs the question: In a comparison test between a Leaf and a llama, which is more comfortable? Which has more range? Which produces more emissions? I expect Consumer Reports to tackle these challenging questions any day now.