Based on its small size and limited range, the Nissan Leaf would usually be one of the last vehicles you'd choose for driving thousands of miles through remote areas of the world. But the electric vehicle advocates at Plug In Adventures are about to do just that. They've specially prepared the Nissan Leaf All Terrain Electric Vehicle for the 10,000-mile (16,000-km) Mongol Rally, where it will be competing against many more of the last vehicles you'd usually choose for driving thousands of miles through remote areas of the world.
Founded in 2011, Plug In Adventures works to make electric vehicles and open-road adventure intersect, advocating and educating along the way. Over the years, it has been working its way up to one, insane undertaking: 10,000 miles of pure-electric driving over road and dirt, from the UK, through the mountains, desert and steppe of Eurasia, including the heart of Mongolia, and onward to Ulan Ude, Russia. The rally doesn't follow any specific route between start and end points (teams are encouraged to be creative and invite the unexpected) and offers no support or backup along the way, beyond that which teams can cajole from the locals.
The Plug In team has done some trips around the UK to prepare, including the 1,650-mile (2,655-km) there-and-back between John O'Groats and Land's End, but this latest endeavor will be a whole different beast with a much bigger appetite. And PIA will be the first team to attempt it in an electric vehicle.
"The Mongol Rally is our most challenging electric vehicle drive to date, but it's one we've been planning for a number of years," says PIA founder Chris Ramsey. "Not only will we face a dwindling number of EV chargers the farther east we go, the terrain also becomes more difficult to navigate."
The Leaf AT-EV won't be fitted with any type of fancy micro-turbine range extender or generator trailer, either. It's based on a standard 30-kWh Nissan Leaf Acenta that tops out around 155 miles (250 km), according to the generous NEDC (107 miles/172 km by the US EPA's reckoning).
That's not to say that it hasn't been upgraded for the trip. With help from the engineers at RML Group, PIA has outfitted the Leaf with a host of upgrades aimed at the rough, remote travel of the rally. Underbody protection and braided brake lines will help fend off mechanical damage, while the Speedline SL2 Marmora wheel and Maxsport RB3 narrow tire setup will help the car manage rough roads.
Besides its special livery, the Leaf AT-EV looks the part thanks to its large roof rack, mud flaps and Lazer Triple-R 16 LED light bar. That LED strip will blow up the darker, more remote stretches of the trip with 16,400 lumens of low-voltage light.
Inside, the rear seating has been removed to add space while contributing to a 70.5-lb (32-kg) weight loss. A fire extinguisher and medical kit have been added to the trunk and rubber floor mats dropped below the driver's and passenger's feet.
Because the Mongol Rally isn't about finish time and isn't limited to a specific route, PIA will be able to adjust its trip around charging needs without worrying about running off course or losing critical time. It plans to document its uncharted charging location finds on What3Words.com, helping future EV drivers that pass through the same areas. It will also be talking with local residents about the benefits of electric vehicles.
"Using a Nissan LEAF for this was an obvious decision," says Ramsey. "I'm very familiar with the car; it's always been reliable and dependable for me; and it has the largest network of rapid charging options in Europe. As it will also accept a 240V Commando connection even in the remote areas when my fast-charge options are gone, I can still charge the battery and keep moving."
The Leaf AT-EV might seem like it's at a great disadvantage, but only if you don't know the Mongol Rally. Electric range and charging will be unique challenges, but the Leaf AT-EV is bound to be one of the zippier, more modern vehicles in a rally that invites contestants to compete in "the shittest rolling turd of a car you can find" and limits engine size to 1.2 liters (an amendment to the 1.0-liter requirement that's become difficult to enforce because of the dwindling availability of 1-liter cars).
This year, the organizers of the Mongol, The Adventurists, got behind the idea of the Leaf AT-EV running as the rally's first all-electric vehicle. It certainly won't be the shittest rolling turd out there, and it'll be wearing some mods that are "genuinely useful" – usually frowned upon by organizers – but it'll have its own business to handle in making the finish line.
We'll keep our eye out for the Leaf AT-EV when the Mongol Rally begins on July 16.