Nissan finally showed off the first of several new electric vehicles this morning at the opening of its new global headquarters in Yokohama. Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, a longtime skeptic on hybrids, is betting that the Leaf and other EVs, will quickly become mass market hits, and even suggested that fully electric models could account for 10% of all car sales by 2020.
Key to its success will be bringing down the cost of the batteries, which currently cost around $10,000 per car to make. Sensibly, Nissan plans to lease the batteries to customers rather than try to sell the car at an inflated price. Initially, the carmaker will share the burden by taking advantage of government subsidies and cheap loans to ensure sales are profitable from day one. The challenge will be to get costs down to a sufficient level by the time governments begin scaling back incentives. Mass production should help. Ghosn, once again emphasizing the importance of affordability, said that the cost of leasing the batteries, plus the electricity used to charge them, will be less than what customers spend on gasoline for regular cars.
The five-seat, electric-blue Leaf hatchback is to be launched in select U.S. and Japanese markets next year to begin what Nissan hopes will become an era of global leadership for the company in a growing EV market.
Leadership shouldn’t be evasive if the Leaf lives up to its performance billing. A top speed of 90 mph, a range of 100 miles per charge with a 30-minute recharge where quick-charging stations are available (6 hours with a 220-volt current) and seat cushion-compressing acceleration that will launch it from zero to 30 mph faster than an Infiniti G37, thanks to 207 pound-feet of torque from its 80 kilowatt (107 horsepower) electric motor are all part of the package.
The Leaf uses a front-mounted electric motor driving the wheels, powered by a 24kW·h/90 kW lithium ion battery pack. The expected cruising range is the same as the EV-11 prototype, as is the motor. The battery pack is made of air-cooled stacked modules.
Nissan claims that the car has a top speed of over 140 km/h (87 mph).
The battery can be charged with 480 Volt, 220 Volt and 110 Volt sources. With 480 Volts, it can be charged to 80% capacity in about 30 minutes with a special quick charger that sends 480 volt 125 amp direct current to the battery.With 220 Volt, it can be charged in 4 hours, and in North America and Japan using standard household 110 Volt outlets it can be charged in 16 hours.
Powered by a unique array of thin, laminated lithium ion cells capable of delivering over 90 kW of power, the Leaf’s front-mounted electric motor delivers 80 kW (107 horsepower) and a healthy 280 Nm of torque (208 pound-feet), and it promises brisk and silent off-the-line power, with acceleration from a stop comparable to that of the company’s Infiniti G35. And as Nakamura-san noted, the Leaf has a top speed of over 140 km/h (87 mph).
Perhaps more important than the Leaf’s top speed are its battery’s charging characteristics. In this regard, the car’s under-floor mounted assembly of 48 lithium ion modules (each laptop-sized module is comprised of four magazine-sized cells) offers a number of charging strategies. To yield a full charge, a 200-volt, single-phase AC charger takes less than eight hours, and topping off the battery from a 100 volt single-phase standard home wall outlet will take somewhere around twice that time, so prospective Leafmakers would do well to get 220 volt hookup like their clothes dryer uses out in their garage.
Nissan Leaf will employ an advanced IT system. Connected to a global data center, the system provides support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day. The dash-mounted monitor displays the Leaf’s remaining power, in addition to showing a selection of nearby charging stations.
Users’ mobile phones can be used to turn on air-conditioning, the heater and re-set charging functions even when the vehicle is powered down. An on-board remote-controlled timer can also be pre-programmed to recharge batteries.
While Nissan promises to deliver the Leaf to its first American customers in late 2010, it isn’t immediately clear where it will be made available, to whom, and how. By that we mean the zero-emissions vehicle will likely be marketed in select stateside cities that have already committed to building some of the necessary infrastructure to support electric vehicles, and the Leaf likely won’t be available for purchase, it will probably be a lease-only proposition – at least initially.
Officials are still working out the specifics on a global market-by-market basis, but in the U.S., at least, they are aiming for a cost similar to their midsize Altima offering – presumably after all local and federal government incentives for ZEV are factored in. Initial allotments of the Leaf will probably be leased, with the batteries also being a leased proposition, minimizing consumers’ up-front risks for adopting this new style of vehicle and allowing for easier, more cost-effective upgrades as technology improves. As has been done with other automakers’ alternative energy pilot programs in the past, the Leaf will probably be distributed to fleets and very select customers at first – a more widespread commercial push isn’t expected until 2012.
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