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Nissan: Make like a tree and LEAF

Nissan LEAFIt has been a drawn-out process for electric vehicles (EV’s) to be seriously taken up by motoring manufacturers — mainly because of technological constraints – but Nissan seems to be the first major company to get out of the EV starting blocks.

With last month’s unveiling of the Nissan LEAF, the world’s first affordable zero-emissions car, the mass market could be whizzing around the streets on electricity by late 2010.

Andy Palmer, Senior Vice President of Nissan and Head of Zero Emissions, makes it very clear that Nissan’s direction for zero-emissions cars is to capture the mass market.

“Our [Nissan’s] intention is not to position zero emissions as niche,” Palmer says. “Our point is to put them in the middle of the mass-market sector and to try and create economies of scale.”

He continues, “Producing zero-emissions vehicles where hardware can be shared, it will give us the mass to bring down the cost so we can make the prices economical.”

Head of EV’s at Nissan, Andy Palmer, speaks to Greenbang from Green Bang on Vimeo.

The LEAF, the first of three zero-emissions vehicles by Nissan, is set to compete against Ford’s Focus and Volkswagen’s Golf. Under the environmental name lies an acronym: “Leading,
Environmentally Friendly, Affordable, Family Car.”

Cast in a stylish, but slightly platypus-like body shape, the LEAF is an electric car which is meant to provide an easy transition from traditional internal combustion motoring. It does this by offering all of the conveniences of a traditional car, while also featuring the addition of a zero-emission stamps and the appeal of driving something new and intriguing.

Under the floorpan lies a laminated lithium-ion battery which gives a range of 100 miles. That might not sound like a lot, but when you consider the average driver drives less than about 60 miles on a daily basis, it is more than enough.

The driving experience is in no way undermined by driving an electric-powered car, as 100 per cent of the motor’s torque is available all the time. This means that you have a lot more power than you would in a normal car at slower speeds, making it more agile and nippier around

“New cars typically cost somewhere is the region of $300-500 million and EV’s are certainly up and above that because of the R&D investment,” Palmer says. “We are positioning EV’s not as niche but as mass-market products. It is the only way to make the economics work.”

To that end, Nissan has had to come up with a new way of selling the cars, as the batteries cost $100,000 each.

“Our model is to sell the vehicles and lease the batteries to make it simpler for the customer and to give them no reason for rejection,” Palmer explains.

This means that you would purchase the LEAF for the same amount as a well-specced Focus, and then lease the battery on either a monthly or yearly deal. This takes the risk out of the consumer’s hands, but also gives them cheaper motoring when compared to traditional combustion

Nissan has also tried to entice people out of their dirty cars and into the LEAF with a sleek interior packed with the latest technology to match the tech driving the wheels.

Inside, an advanced telematics system means you can control a lot of the car’s functions from your mobile phone. For instance, on a cold winter’s day, you can turn on the car’s heater remotely, so you don’t have to struggle outside in your dressing gown and get a chill.

The car also has a 3G connection so the main console continually updates with new charging stations; that way, it will always point you in the right direction to make sure you don’t run out of juice.

In fact, the only problem with the LEAF is the charging, and it is largely out of Nissan’s control. To run an electric car effectively, you need an infrastructure to support it. With charging times from a conventional plug taking just under eight hours, there is a call for more and more “fast chargers,” which charge the car in 25 minutes with the help of three-phase

electric power.

England is one of the emerging countries which is embracing the electric revolution, but it is still behind countries such as Portugal, where charging points are now a requirement in building regulations.

Even though Palmer is Head of Zero Emissions at Nissan, he does not declare himself a treehugger:

“Our most important obligation is our obligation to our children and the future generations to come, to preserve this planet’s environment and its fragile ecosystem. I can’t look at my

children and think I haven’t tried to give them the best possible future.”

In a carbon-stressed world, EV’s — and the LEAF in particular — offer a solution to the environmental problems looming over us. In the next 40 years, there are set to be 2.5 billion more cars on the planet. The only way to do that in a less damaging way is to have zero-emissions motoring readily available and to make the whole motoring process cleaner.

The LEAF helps to do this in an easy transition. With technology now snowballing and more governmental support, I don’t think it will be long before we are all starting the heaters in our electric cars from bed.


  • Jess
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Or do what top gear did and put a generator in it so you can charge it as you go

  • James from Wirral
    Posted April 11, 2010 at 8:54 am

    They say the Leaf travels 100 miles on one charge. But what if the driver uses any of the onboard electronic gadgets, of which the Leaf has many? And unless you get your charge from a wind farm or tidal power installation, you’re better off buying a hybrid. They’ve got a longer range for a start.

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