Monday, August 3, 2009

Nissan LEAF EV

Nissan Motors recently unveiled the Nissan LEAF. The LEAF is a medium-size hatchback electric car.

100% Electric, Zero Emission!

Don't confuse the LEAF with a hybrid (HEV) or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). It is a pure battery powered electric vehicle (EV). The LEAF does not have a built in generator like the Chevy Volt, so there is *no* tailpipe at all.

It's slated for launch in late 2010 in the United States, Europe, and Japan. In the US it will first be sold in select markets (CA, OR, WA, AZ, TN, NC) with the rest of the country soon following.

Here are the vital quick facts:
  • Range is 100 miles in standard driving conditions – some highway, some city
  • Targeted top speed of 85-90MPH
  • Price will be in the range of a typical family sedan
  • Recharge rate is ~13MPH from 220/240V outlet (8 hour for full charge)
  • No published 0-60 time yet, but Nissan claims it accelerates like a V6
  • 90 kW lithium-ion battery pack
  • 80 kW electric motor with 280 Nm (equal to 107 HP and 206 lb-ft of Torque)
  • Buy/lease of battery pack is not finalized
  • Even in its dirtiest form, the grid is 60% cleaner than gas and it will get cleaner over time
  • Comfortably seats 5 adults with a wheelbase of over 106 inches
  • Innovative "connected car" features
As you can see, many of the details are still not published. Vital facts like the price, final top speed, & battery ownership model and life are still not public. Nissan has a countdown to the next announcement on Aug 6th that may answer some of these questions.

Nissan has said that pricing information will not be released until closer to start of sales in late 2010; however, the company expects the car to be competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle. Additionally, the LEAF is expected to qualify for state and federal tax breaks and incentives. With no oil changes or gas fill-ups, the LEAF is designed to be friendly on your wallet as well as the environment.

The "affordable" cost of the car is likely to mean that the batteries are not going to be included. Rather, they can be leased at a price that is less than you would pay for gasoline each month. This has the advantage that after the lease is up, you can just lease a new battery pack and not have to worry about battery longevity. And if the technology continues to advance, five years later you should be able to lease a new pack that gets 150 miles of range.

"Nissan LEAF is a tremendous accomplishment - one in which all Nissan employees can take great pride," said Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn. "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. 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 is heavily marketing the car as zero emission. It is true that there is no tailpipe. But the source of the electricity cannot be ignored, the so-called "long tailpipe" back to the smokestack. It should be no surprise that this blog promotes the use of renewable energy to 'fuel' EVs. A solar PV system and an EV are a great combination. However, even if you don't have solar panels or a wind turbine, EV charging can still be done such that it does not burden the grid.

Consumer research demonstrates that 100 miles satisfies the daily driving requirements of more than 70% of worldwide consumers' daily driving needs. The LEAF can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger. Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours - ample time to enable an overnight refresh for consumer and car alike.

The feature that I find most innovative is that the LEAF is an "online car". You can connect to your car from a PC, iPhone, or any browser and turn on the environmental system. Great for hot or cold days to get your car ready to go before you have to get in. And if you pre-heat or cool the car while it is plugged in, that is less work that the batteries will have to do once the car is on the road.

The online system can also tell you the charge state of the batteries at anytime. It also keeps the network of charging stations up to date. This is going to be important over the next few years as thousands of charging stations will be installed all around the world.

The car can also be programmed to charge at specified times. This is a great feature for overnight charging if you have on-peak vs off-peak electricity rates. You can plug it in when you get home and it will wait till 10PM to start charging.

"The IT system is a critical advantage," says Tooru ABE, Chief Product Specialist. "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."

I was lucky enough to get to meet the LEAF's program manager and a few Nissan VPs last year. The feature that I recommended was charging station information integrated into the navigation system. They have done this and more by showing the "reachable area" and nearby charging stations. This will make it clear to see if your destination is within the "reachable area" and if not, where you can juice-up.

For some consumers, the LEAF will be the perfect match, and the only car they will need. For others, the LEAF will be a logical addition to the family fleet - the optimal choice for the daily commuting and errands, for example. EV driving can also be supplemented with car club membership like Zip Car or rental if longer range is only occasionally needed. The savings on gas, insurance and maintenance can more than cover the additional cost of membership or rental.

The LEAF is the first in Nissan's forthcoming line of EVs. Nissan expects to be selling several EV models by 2012. The LEAF will be manufactured at Oppama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for Smyrna, Tennessee. The batteries are being produced in Zama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for the USA, the UK, Portugal, and potentially other sites.



  1. I suspect that if they intend to lease the batts, that many EV minded folks will look elsewhere. Given the results of the leasing of GM EV1 and Toyota Rav4 EV, I know that most will not be interested in the price plus the lease, plus the risk of having the batts yanked at the whim of Nissan.

  2. John, you make a very good point. I said the same thing to Nissan last year. People will be 'once bitten twice shy' and any lease must have a "buy" option too so people don't feel like the rug could be yanked out from under them, making what was once a car into a big paperweight. Even if the batts are coming from Better Place, they are a start-up so some assurances are needed.

    On the other side of the argument, the electric mini coopers are lease-only and expensive, yet they are being snatched up. Given the nascent state of the industry, there are advantages to leasing. It is too bad that GM has tainted this path. It puts trailblazing companies like Nissan in a tough spot.

    I am also curious about how the incentives will apply if you buy the car but lease the batteries. Do you still get the federal $7500? Anyone know? Maybe I'll look into this and blog it.


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