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Nissan Sheds New Light On its EV Future

By KBB.com Editors on April 15, 2009 3:07 PM
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As part of an ongoing cross-country road show-and-tell, Nissan gave us the most comprehensive look yet at the current state of its rapidly-progressing electric vehicle (EV) program. While the most interesting aspect of the presentation was a brief stint behind the wheel of one of two existing EV-02 prototypes, Mark Perry, director of Product Planning and Strategy for Nissan Americas, used the wide-ranging backgrounder to put a few more pieces of the firm's EV puzzle into place.

What we can say for sure now is that the production version of Nissan's upcoming electric vehicle will be a uniquely-styled front-drive compact five-door hatch based on a purpose-modified version of the firm's new C-platform that underlies the Sentra and Rogue, among others. It will seat five, offer premium amenities, comprehensive safety systems and have its advanced Lithium-ion manganese battery pack centrally located below the floor. To ensure operational ease, this plug-in electric will boast a 100-mile range, and be rechargeable using either an overnight-style 110-volt home system, 220-volt home/commercial setup that does the job in four hours or an industrial-strength 480-volt zapper capable of delivering an 80-percent refill in 26 minutes.

Perry noted that Nissan is aiming the car at a $22,000-$33,000 "sweet spot" in the market, and that the goal is to have it be directly cost competitive with a comparable vehicle that uses a conventional internal combustion engine. According to Nissan, this EV package gets a 367-mpg equivalent rating under the existing Electric Vehicle Department of Energy MPG evaluation formula and would have and hold an operating cost edge even if the price of gasoline dropped to $1.10 per gallon. The first 200,000 units also will qualify for a hefty $7,500 federal income tax credit. What remains up in the air is whether buyers will own or merely lease the battery pack, which is a proprietary Nissan design that's being mass produced by AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation) a joint venture between Nissan Motor and NEC Electronics.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to pop the hood on the EV-02 mule. However, Perry did confirm that the motor, battery pack and controller in this prototype were production-spec pieces. Although our test driving was confined to a short loop in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, even that brief encounter brought out a couple of salient points that bode well for its future. Acceleration to about 40 mph easily matches any of its conventionally-powered peers, and Nissan's R&D team has managed to virtually eliminate the annoying controller "whine" that has been known to plague some other EV offerings. Obviously, no critical handling evaluation was possible, but the centralized placement of the battery pack should help optimize overall vehicle dynamics no matter how Nissan elects to tune the suspension.

Rollout schedule for Nissan's first EV commences in late 2010 when it will go into limited commercial fleet service in an anticipated 12-15 regional markets here in America as well as in Japan. Currently, those U.S. areas include the states of Oregon and Tennessee, the San Diego and Sonoma, California areas and Tucson, Arizona, where partnerships are already in place. Other locations will be chosen on the basis of both their demographics and environmental mindsets as well as on the amount of public/private support offered and the willingness of local power companies to cooperate on developing suitable infrastructure. Under a best-case scenario, Nissan hopes that some individual private sales might begin in late 2010 as well, but the likely timing of any true mass-market efforts remains 2012.

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