Two years ago Nissan electric cars weren't a major player in the field. Now the company has moved to the head of the class and will mass produce an all-electric car for the masses, making it available in 2011. The price will be a reasonable $33,000 before federal electric car tax credits.
Most of the people in the general population may have forgotten the name Nissan because they have become so familiar with such automotive companies as Toyota, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and the U.S. car companies that are surviving. But Nissan recently hooked up with a major university to study the future of electric vehicles. Carnegie Mellon University is well known for its engineering, technology and business research so the cooperative effort with Nissan makes a lot of sense.
Students, professors and company management personnel are focusing on the development of electric cars in the next five years. According to information from Nissan, the goal is to develop electric vehicles for the real world.
But readers shouldn't get the idea that Nissan is behind in the electric car field. In fact, the company has established five states as preliminary markets in which to launch the Leaf electric vehicle. The San Jose, California company Nissan North America is offering the Leaf for test drives and public introduction in four western states (Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona), as well as in Tennessee. Part of this launch effort involves government funding to establish charging stations along one of the major interstate highways.
Obviously, Nissan is well established in the industry already yet is setting its sights on knowing more about the market opportunities. One review of the Leaf (Jerry Garrett, New York Times) stated that the car returned to base after a 12-mile test drive with more miles on the range indicator than when the test started!
The review asked if it was possible for an electric car to run so efficiently that it would actually "drive forever". This may be a quirk in this small test so Nissan probably won't take it as an indication of what their cars will do on a long-term basis. But the 107-horsepower Leaf can travel 100 miles before needing to recharge. Some tests have shown that the car will travel 130 miles or more on a charge, while others report as little as 60 miles. Of course, the differences are due to driving conditions, weather, traffic etc.
Inspecting the Leaf
This car is a five-passenger model that runs only on electricity (not a hybrid). The car will require a 240-volt, 30-amp home charger. Information from Nissan states that overnight charging will cost about $3 for a 100-mile range.
Nissan electric car - model "Leaf"
The company advertises this five-passenger, five-door electric vehicle as capable of speeds up to 90 miles per hour. The electric car motor is 80 kilowatt AC "synchronous electric motor" powered by lithium-ion batteries. The Leaf is designed to carry a 3.3 kilowatt, on-board charger.
Going to Tennessee
Nissan has indicated that the Leaf is being built in Japan for the first two years. Car and battery production will then move to Smyrna, Tennessee. The company held a groundbreaking ceremony in May and started construction of the manufacturing facility.
Nissan will produce the lithium-ion batteries in Tennessee in the first phase of production and will begin Leaf assembly at the site in 2012. Production jobs will number well over 1,000, with as many as 1,300 jobs available when full production level is reached. The company states that the site will be capable of producing 200,000 batteries per year. When the plant is in full operation workers will be able to produce up to 150,000 electric cars annually.
Company executives hope to "radically transform the automotive experience for consumers" with the Leaf and future Nissan vehicles. Company figures indicate that Nissan invested about $2 billion, with a large portion of that coming from the United States Department of Energy.
Nissan has also partnered with French automaker Renault to produce lithium-ion batteries in Portugal and in the United Kingdom. Renault will also make the batteries in its plant in France.
Nissan Electric Cars - The Big Picture
People who have been watching the electric car industry for the past decade are surprised at how quickly Nissan has moved to the head of the pack!
A couple of years ago Nissan wasn't involved in the field in a big way. Now they may be offering the first mass-produced, affordable electric car.
While a few of these observers have asked questions about the passively cooled battery back (as opposed to a temperature-control system specific to the battery), the general view of Nissan's electric car efforts has been positive. If the Leaf delivers reliable transportation to the masses, the company may continue to lead the way in the world of electric cars.