All Electric Nissan Leaf Unveiled

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Nissan has just released details of (what they claim) to be the first practical affordable all electric car, the Leaf, when it goes on sale in 2010 in Europe, Japan and North America. Wired.com report the car is powered by 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 and is claimed to deliver 100 miles between charges. The report suggests 70 miles may be more likely given the pack size but Nissan says the battery recharges in four hours when you plug it into a 220-volt line as used in Europe. 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. The article is suggesting 480 volts at 100 amps, so special semi industrial power supplies would be required.

Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, is quoted in the article as saying 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. Of course gas isn’t four bucks a gallon anymore but that illustrates the sensitivity of electric cars to competition from fluctuating fuel process. Perry says the car will cost about 90 cents to charge if you plug it in off-peak. Power is similar to a Honda Fit and top speed is limited to 90 mph, sufficient for what will be essentially a town car. Early vehicles will be made in Japan but Nissan has been awarded a $1.6bn loan to refurbish a plant at its headquarters in Smyrna, Tennessee to build electric vehicles and batteries where future models will be produced.

CEO Carlos Ghosn claims the Leaf is the first real-world car that has zero, not simply reduced, emissions. We would challenge that statement. Let’s not forget a lot of carbon is released in the production of electricity at the generating power station but this report suggests that even coal fired power stations release 60% less carbon than the equivalent energy needed if derived from petrol engines. So although the Leaf is not going to usher in a future of zero emissions, it will allow those willing to accept the short range limitations of the car to significantly reduce their carbon footprint. At $25,000-30,000, the Leaf is more affordable than other green vehicles but it will still be a buying choice based more on environmental considerations than practicality. Nissan is probably expecting that future legislation may encourage the switch by introducing tax breaks and subsidies. To break into the mainstream this is almost certainly what will be required.

–Stuart Burns

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