Nissan Turns Over An Electric Leaf
- By Chuck Squatriglia
- August 2, 2009 |
- 12:00 am |
- Categories: EVs and Hybrids
After teasing us for months with prototypes and promises, Nissan unveiled a sleek five-passenger electric hatchback with a claimed range of 100 miles. It’s called the Leaf, and Nissan says it will be here next year.
Nissan pulled the sheet off the Leaf tonight at the company’s new headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, where CEO Carlos Ghosn promised to usher in the auto industry’s electric era. All of the major automakers are rushing to bring mainstream EVs to market in the next few years, but Japan’s No. 3 automaker has been among the most aggressive. Ghosn has made it clear he believes EVs are the future and he wants Nissan to lead the way
“We have been working tirelessly to make this day a reality — the unveiling of a real-world car that has zero, not simply reduced, emissions,” Ghosn said in a statement. “It’s the first step in what is sure to be an exciting journey – for people all over the world, for Nissan and for the industry.”
Nissan isn’t saying what the Leaf will cost — look for a price in the $25,000 to $30,000 range — but promises it will be the first affordable, practical electric car when it goes on sale in the U.S., Japan and Europe by the end of 2010.
Nissan has focused most of its eco-friendlier efforts on building more fuel-efficient gasoline cars. The company has essentially skipped the hybrid party — its one gas-electric model, the Altima Hybrid, uses a drivetrain licensed from Toyota. But Ghosn has emerged as one of the industry’s loudest EV evangelists. Nissan’s parent, Renault, is working closely with Better Place and Shai Agassi to bring electric vehicles to the masses, and Ghosn has on many occasions unequivocally stated that electric cars are the future.
The Leaf — sorry, Nissan, we’re not going to use the all-caps spelling — is the first of what Nissan says will be a family of electric cars that will follow the Leaf in quick succession.
“We celebrate today the start of a new chapter of our company’s life,” Ghosn said.
The Leaf draws power from a 24 kilowatt-hour battery pack comprised of 192 lithium-manganese cells. The pack, developed with NEC, is laid out flat beneath the floor to maximize interior room. Nissan claims the car has a range of 100 miles, but one EV expert we spoke to tonight said 70 is probably more realistic given the size of the pack.
Nissan says the battery recharges in four hours when you plug it into a 220-volt line — the same kind your dryer runs on. Plug it into a standard 110-volt and you’re looking at twice that long. The car has a quick-charge capability that will let you get up to 80 percent charge in less than 30 minutes, but Nissan didn’t say what kind of power you’ll need. We’re guessing 480 volts at 100 amps.
When we drove the prototype last spring, Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, said the cost per mile is 4 cents if you figure gas is four bucks a gallon, electricity is 14 cents a kilowatt hour and you drive 15,000 miles a year. Compare that to the 13 cents a mile you’ll pay in a car that gets 30 mpg. Perry says the car will cost about 90 cents to charge if you plug it in off-peak.
The pack provides juice to an AC motor that produces 80 kilowatts (107 horsepower) — roughly what the Honda Fit puts down. The motor also cranks out 207 pound-feet of torque — impressive, given that the 3.5-liter V6 available in the Altima produces 258. The prototype we drove was snappy off the line, so the Leaf should be no slouch in traffic. Top speed is limited to 90 mph.
People will either love the styling or hate it. The car is about the size of the Versa and draws styling cues from the Murano and the Japanese-market March Micra. We see a bit of the Versa and Renault Megane in there along with hints of the the Fit and the Toyota Prius. Nissan wanted to create a car that was distinctive and readily identifiable as an electric vehicle, but not unusual.
“From the beginning, we did not want to make the car very strange, because one of the perceptions of the EV (is) people think that EVs are toys, or cheap… that you cannot drive high-speed, that EV means ‘not (a) real car,’” Nissan styling chief Shiro Nakamura told Autoblog. “But the car we have is a real car – you can drive it at 140 kilometers, you can sit four or five passengers comfortably.”
The design also is dictated in large part by the drivetrain. Electric cars demand aerodynamic efficiency to maximize range and minimize wind noise — imperative in a car with an almost silent drivetrain. Nakamura isn’t disclosing the Leaf’s drag coefficient but said, “It is very good.”
Range anxiety — the fear of being stranded by a dead battery — remains one impediment to the mass adoption of electric cars, and Nissan hopes to alleviate such worries with a car that tells you when and where to charge up. Nissan calls it “EV-IT” and says it will work with the car’s navigation system to:
- Show the driving radius within range under the current state of charge.
- Calculate whether the vehicle is within range of a pre-set destination like your home or office.
- Provide information about charging stations within the current driving range and provide info about them.
Drivers also can monitor the state of charge of their vehicle online and by cell phone. For example, when your battery is fully charged, you can get a text message.
“The IT system is a critical advantage,” Tooru Abe, Nissan’s chief pro
duct specialist, said in a statement. “We wanted this vehicle to be a partner for the driver and an enhancement for the passengers. We also wanted this vehicle to help create a zero-emission community, and these IT features will help make that possible.”
The first cars will be built in Japan, but Nissan recently received a $1.6 billion loan from the Department of Energy to refurbish a plant at its headquarters in Smyrna, Tennessee to build electric vehicles and batteries.
So what’s with the name? Nissan says, “the Leaf name is a significant statement about the car itself. Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so Nissan Leaf purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience.”
At the tailpipe, anyway.
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