Sitting inside Nissan's Smart House perched above the automaker's booth here at the Tokyo Motor Show was a fitting setting to talk about Nissan's plans for future electric vehicles. The mock building was being powered by a Leaf, with the EV parked below and connected through the Leaf-to-Home system. Within a few minutes of starting my interview with Hideaki Watanabe, Nissan's corporate VP of the Zero Emissions Business Unit, the lights flickered on and the ceiling fan began to spin. For a country just beginning to recover from the March 11th tsunami, being able to pull extra energy from an EV during a blackout would be indispensable. But that's not why I'm sitting down with Mr. Watanabe.

I want to know about performance EVs.

Seeing a Nismo version of the Leaf sharing the stage with Ghosn implies that Nissan is at least exploring the possibility of a sports-oriented EV.

Nissan is committed to a zero-emissions future. Carlos Ghosn, Nissan's President and CEO, maintains that 10 percent of the global automotive market will be comprised of electric vehicles in 10 years. And Nissan is helping to lead the way with the Leaf and two forthcoming EVs: a small commercial vehicle and an electric city car, both due to arrive in the next few years.

But more often than not, zero emissions means zero fun. So seeing a Nismo version of the Leaf sharing the stage with Ghosn implies that Nissan is at least exploring the possibility of a sports-oriented EV. And even Ghosn hinted at the idea when speaking about Nissan's dual (or is that dueling?) roles as both performance brand and alt-powertrain champions.

But after speaking with Watanabe, we're still a ways off. "It's about [EV] volume," Watanabe tells me, making it clear that first comes widespread electric vehicle adoption followed by component costs coming down. Once that happens, Nissan can justify production of an electron-powered sports car. So when is that going to happen? Three to five years seems like a reasonable guesstimate, but more importantly, what form will it take?

The Nismo Leaf Nismo (above) is just a concept and it's nothing more than a body kit to provide additional downforce and a new set of wheels – a bit ridiculous for a glorified commuter. The Leaf RC – with it's dramatic weight loss and race-spec hardware – may pack the performance, but it's far too hardened to be considered for production. So what's likely to happen first is some kind of hybrid sports coupe from Infiniti, followed by a full EV (see Esflow) that can justify the price premium, ala the Tesla Roadster. But an electric performance vehicle from a major automaker is definitely in the cards; it's just a matter of waiting to see who pulls it off first.
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NISMO CONCEPT REVEALS A DIFFERENT SIDE TO NISSAN LEAF

Nissan's motorsports division gives the world's best-selling zero emission vehicle the fast road car treatment

Nismo Concept shows the sporty side of LEAF

Full body kit enhances style and...
... increases downforce for road hugging performance

LED front lighting accentuates sense of motion
Second Nismo Concept, following Nissan Juke Nismo Concept
Tokyo, Japan (30 November 2011) - Nismo, the renowned motorsports arm of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., has revealed its second road car concept at this years Tokyo Motor Show. This time it's the award-winning, game-changing, Nissan Leaf EV that has come under the Nismo spotlight.

With 20,000 examples sold globally since the end of 2010 and with two international awards to its name, the Nissan LEAF has proved zero emission mobility is a practical reality. Now comes the Nissan LEAF Nismo Concept to show that electric vehicles can appeal to the heart just as much as to the head.

Central to the Concept is the stylish body kit, which gives LEAF a purposeful new look. But the modifications have been made with more than just fashion in mind - they play a significant aerodynamic role, generating extra downforce at speed to enhance LEAF's handling and grip.

The major elements of the kit are the front aero bumper, rear under protector, rear diffuser, extended side sills and 18-inch alloy wheels. The front bumper incorporates LED lighting which is arranged transversely to accentuate a sense of motion.

The body kit has been created as an extension of the `smart fluidity' concept that shaped the standard LEAF. It harmonises with LEAF's sophisticated design, which endows the car with advanced aerodynamic and acoustic properties, and takes advantage of the design freedoms of the EV layout: with no conventional engine to cover, the hood line is much lower and more streamlined.

Extended side sills and the deeper bumpers front and rear emphasise LEAF's low centre of gravity - made possible by the siting of the car's lithium-ion batteries beneath the passenger compartment - as well as managing air flow over the body for the extra downforce. Unlike the standard car, which runs on 16-inch wheels, The Nissan LEAF Nismo Concept has 18-inch rims with lower profile tyres for added grip.

Nismo has left LEAF's electric drivetrain untouched. One of the features of the potent 80kW AC motor is the instant supply of full torque (280Nm)... and that provides acceleration that is genuinely electrifying. It reaches 100 km/h in less than 7 seconds and can sprint on to a top speed of 145 km/h.

LEAF's lithium-ion battery, which comprises 48 modules, provides a potential range of 175km (NEDC mode) and can be recharged to full capacity overnight from a domestic electricity supply. It can also be charged to 80 per cent capacity in just 30 minutes, using a Quick Charger.

"Nissan LEAF has shown that zero emission mobility is no longer a dream but a reality. The Nismo Concept not only proves the hidden potential of Nissan LEAF but also adds even more excitement and energy to LEAF, delivering a guilt-free yet exhilarating driving experience that can be enjoyed by every car enthusiast," said Hideaki Watanabe, Corporate Vice President, Nissan Motor Company and head of the company's electric vehicle business unit.

• The Concept is not the first LEAF produced by Nismo. In April 2010, Nissan revealed the LEAF Nismo RC, an out and-out electric racing car, at the New York Motor Show. Although sharing a similar silhouette to the standard road car, the LEAF Nismo RC has a three-piece carbon fibre bodywork with removable front and rear sections attached to a central monocoque tub.

The chassis has double wishbone suspension front and rear, while its racing credentials are underlined by the large wing bolted to the back.

Lower, shorter and lighter than the standard car and with rear- rather than front-wheel drive, the LEAF Nismo RC does, however, share two important components with both LEAF and LEAF Nismo Concept - the standard 80kW electric motor and the complete lack of a tailpipe.