Nissan turns a new, electric 'Leaf'


Nissan and Renault Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn has taken a big gamble on battery-powered electric cars, pushing the automobile manufacturer to become the world leader in new technologies and industry.

On Nov. 13, the company unveiled the groundbreaking 2011 Nissan Leaf electric five-passenger hatchback in Los Angeles before launching a road show called the Nissan Leaf Zero Emission Tour to visit 22 cities and 11 states. The Leaf will be on display in the Palazzo's Celebrity Car showroom from Jan. 5-6 before traveling through the Midwest to its ultimate destination in New York City on Feb. 14.

The Leaf will have a range of 100 miles. Its lithium-ion battery pack will be rechargeable within four to eight hours from a home 220-volt AC system. Public quick-charge stations equipped with higher power capabilities can replenish the lithium-manganese battery cells to about 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. The five-passenger car will have a curb weight of 3,400 pounds. Acceleration from the front-wheel drive system is estimated at zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds with a top speed exceeding 90 mph. The electric AC motor can generate 208 pounds-feet of torque from a standing start.

If a Nissan Leaf owner carries a mobile cell phone, Nissan's global center can send e-mail updates about the state of the vehicle charge while that person is shopping or working during the day. The owner can also use the mobile phone to remotely switch on the car's internal electric air conditioner or heater just before departing and detaching the vehicle from the charging station in order to conserve battery life.

The price for the vehicle is yet to be announced, but Ghosn says the company plans to sell the car at about 2 percent greater than the cost of comparable gas-powered vehicles. The Nissan Leaf will also be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit if purchased before the end of 2010. Nissan will begin taking customer orders in spring 2010.

Ghosn is partnering with entrepreneur Shai Agassi, founder of Project Better Place. Agassi is developing regional infrastructure for public recharging stations compatible with the Nissan Leaf and future Nissan-Renault electric car offerings within the countries of Israel, Denmark,and Australia, as well as U.S. regions like the state of Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay area in Northern California.

Agassi's infrastructure model also includes plans with Nissan-Renault to build electric cars that can have battery packs with "quick-change" features that will swap packs through a robotic service station system in about one minute, faster than a gasoline car can refuel its tank. The automated battery pack swapping system changes the battery pack by dropping it out of the bottom of the car and replacing it with a new one while pulling the car along on a track, similar to an automated car wash. This leads to an interesting idea to actually integrate these two automated services into one complete battery swap/car wash service station. It is projected that the Renault Fluence ZE will be the first battery-powered electric vehicle on the international market compatible with this automated battery swap system.

Agassi's radical business plan is to sell the Nissan-Renault vehicles to consumers relatively cheaply without a battery pack but charge a subscription fee for battery pack recharging and swapping services, similar to the cell phone industry. Instead of a "minutes per month" subscription plan for cell phone usage, the business model would employ different "miles per month" battery pack rental plans.

Better Place is developing the AutOS (pronounced "autos") software operating system that will link this infrastructure together. Nissan electric cars will connect to this recharging infrastructure through dashboard telematics that use GPS-based communication systems linked to a global data center. The onboard vehicle sensors can detect the state of the onboard battery pack, indicate the closest recharging stations, and monitor for potential mechanical breakdowns or accidents.

For more information about the Nissan Leaf Zero Emissions Tour, go to www.nissanusa.com.

Stan Hanel has worked in the electronics industry for more than 30 years and is a long-time member of the Electric Auto Association and the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association. Hanel writes and edits for EAA's "Current Events" and LVEVA's "Watts Happening" newletters. Contact him at stanhanel@aol.com.

 

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