Japanese vehicle manufacturer Nissan last week unveiled its first mass-produced electric vehicle, due for launch in Japan and the US next year.
The five-door hatchback, named the Leaf, will have a range of 160 km before it will need recharging, says Nissan South Africa product engineering division vehicle test group manager Paul Gurney.
Consumer research demonstrates that this range satisfies the daily driving requirements of more than 70% of the world’s car users.
The zero-emission Leaf is scheduled for its European debut in 2011, with suitable global markets to follow in 2012.
Nissan considers the vehicle’s name a strong statement about the car itself: “Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so the Nissan Leaf purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience”.
As electric vehicles are much more expensive than the traditional internal combustion engine, which has been around for a hundred years, the price of the Leaf is a matter of much interest.
Nissan says, though, that pricing details will only be announced closer to the start of sales in late 2010, but notes that it expects the car to be competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle. However, the battery, the most expensive component on the car, will only be leased to customers.
The Leaf is powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate power output of over 90 kW, while its electric motor delivers 80 kW/280 Nm.
The vehicle makes use of an on-board computer to advise the driver on remaining driving range, as well as on the location of the nearest recharge station.
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 200-V outlet is estimated to take about eight hours.
Gurney says Japanese fuel costs for a comparable internal combustion vehicle will come to around R600/month for a 1 000-km drive distance, with the electric vehicle offering a recharge bill of roughly R120/month for the same distance.
The first Leafs will be manufactured at Oppama, Japan, at around 50 000 units a year, with additional capacity planned for Smyrna, Tennessee, US.
Meanwhile, the lithium-ion batteries are being produced in Zama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for the US, the UK and Portugal, and other sites around the world under investigation.
Gurney says the emphasis has been on deve- loping a “valid vehicle” delivering a solid performance, with sales not necessarily driven by an environmental agenda, even though it is a zero-emissions vehicle.
And What About South Africa?
Nissan South Africa brand and corporate communications GM Pat Senne notes that South Africa may only receive the Nissan electric vehicle once certain measures are in place, including recharging infrastructure, incentives, and once consumers have been educated on the use of such vehicles, which spells a radical shift from checking a fuel gauge.
The 2010 Japan launch will go hand in hand with government incentives, such as tax reductions, which will enable the introduction of the more expensive electric vehicle at an economically viable and competitive pricing structure.
“Nissan South Africa is busy working with the Department of Trade and Industry on the concept of zero-emissions vehicles,” says Senne, unwilling to divulge more information.
Nissan has already signed partnership agreements with around 30 government bodies for the introduction of its electric vehicle world- wide. South Africa is not included in this figure.
These agreements set the framework for the incentives necessary to make the launch of the electric vehicle feasible.
Signatories include Singapore, Israel, Portugal, the US state of Tennessee, Denmark and China.
Nissan South Africa product engineering division GM Fumio Uchiyama says the cost of the electric vehicle should reduce once economies of scale kick in, and once battery technology improves.
Nissan has a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from its vehicles by 90% by 2050.