It would be easy to paint Nissan as late to the burgeoning U.S. green party, as the company essentially only counts the Altima Hybrid to sell among its alt-fuel offerings – and that sedan utilizes technology borrowed from Toyota, and it's only sold in a few states in small volumes. While that may be the case, Nissan says their near-term prospects are really quite different. While the company has admittedly been cautious in marketing alt-fuel vehicles in North America, they have been hard at work developing electric vehicles – as well as the advanced lithium-ion batteries to support them – since 1992. What's more, officials say they are now singularly well-placed to leapfrog "transitional" powertrain solutions like gas-electric hybrids in favor of genuine zero-emissions vehicles, and they are promising that their first pure-electric car will reach U.S. shores late next year.
That car, the Nissan Leaf shown here, is the reason we find ourselves in the company's brand-new Yokohama headquarters today. Designed as a four-to-five seat, front-drive C-segment hatchback, Nissan says the Leaf is not just for use as a specialty urban runabout, but rather, it was designed as an everyday vehicle – a "real car" whose 160-kilometer+ (100 mile) range meets the needs of 70% of the world's motorists. In the case of U.S. consumers, Nissan says that fully 80% of drivers travel less than 100km per day (62 miles), making the Leaf a solid fit for America's motoring majority, even taking into account power-sapping external factors like hilly terrain, accessory draw, and extreme temperatures.
We were afforded an advance look at the Leaf ahead of the car's unveiling today, and while it was a hands-off affair, we did have the chance to formulate some in-the-metal first impressions and take a deep dive into the car's technology. Click through to the jump to learn all about it.
As we noted, it would be fair to say that in North America, at least, Nissan has been something of a laggard in publicly promulgating and promoting an alternative fuel strategy. Instead, in recent years, the Japanese automaker has seemingly focused on burnishing its performance image, bringing powerhouse offerings like the GT-R and the 370Z to market –not to mention augmenting their lineup with accomplished new crossovers and luxurious Infiniti vehicles. Not that we're complaining, mind, but the company's apparent focus on these segments has had us wondering about how the automaker views its long-term energy responsibilities and prospects.
During that same time period, Nissan's fellow countrymen at Toyota and Honda have made very public strides in not only offering hybrid vehicles, but also marketing the lifestyle and successfully positioning themselves as benevolent, eco-friendly corporations. Similarly, European automakers like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have invested heavily and openly in clean-diesel technology, and American automakers have produced a startling number of keenly fuel-efficient gasoline-engined models, not to mention hybrids and scads of E85-capable vehicles - all while publicly priming us for extended-range offerings like the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt. Nissan says they have a lot of alternative propulsion vehicles in the pipeline for America – including hybrids – but the Leaf is the first concrete evidence we have of that commitment.
A Question of Style
Interestingly, unlike the current alt-fuel darlings from Toyota and Honda, Nissan has purposefully eschewed a fastback shape for a more formal five-door appearance. Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's senior vice president and chief creative officer (read: styling director) admits he wanted the car to be unique, but not so bizarre as to be off-putting to most car buyers:
By that measure, the more upright yet unique Leaf is a success – it is a slippery shape with real passenger space, yet it doesn't resort to visually polarizing aerodynamic tricks like faired-in wheel housings and to maximize aero. Instead, it has a smooth face (secreting two charging ports hiding beneath the Nissan logo), strangely prominent blue-tinted headlamps that manage airflow as much as they do nighttime vision, and a roofline whose rearmost pillar reminds us of another Nissan – the Murano. The Leaf has an almost Gallic rump that recalls that of the Versa, a design that in turn reminds us of offerings from Nissan's European partner, Renault.
Underbody aero management has also been a clear priority, as the Leaf looks to have a nearly smooth belly thanks to the flat battery-pack subframe, and there are functional diffuser elements beneath the rear bumper cap to detach air from the car. It might have been wishful thinking, but we also couldn't help noticing that the alloy wheel pattern we were shown reminds us of those employed on many Nineties-era 300ZX models. At the end of the day, we wouldn't call the Leaf's exterior pretty, but neither would we call it offensive – not unlike the Prius and Insight, then.
The interior is at once handsome and spacious, with what appears to be plenty of room both front and rear for real-sized adults, and the cargo area is very deep, as it is unencumbered by a gas tank assembly (the batteries are mounted beneath the seats within the wheelbase). The center stack is production and looks slick, but its smooth finish flush buttons may also be hard to operate by feel on-the move. The digital instrument cluster display and the drive controller (we can't really call it a gearshift in an EV now, can we?) are also production pieces, and they look well finished inviting, as does the interior as a whole.
While there will probably be a few discreet changes to the Leaf (non-showcar paint, slightly different interior fabrics, etc.), this isn't a concept vehicle – Nissan assured us that you are looking at the Real McCoy, the vehicle headed for select American, Japanese, and European showrooms next year.
Lithium Ion Becomes a Reality:
Powered by a unique array of thin, laminated lithium ion cells capable of delivering over 90 kW of power, the Leaf's front-mounted electric motor delivers 80 kW (107 horsepower) and a healthy 280 Nm of torque (208 pound-feet), and it promises brisk and silent off-the-line power, with acceleration from a stop comparable to that of the company's Infiniti G35. And as Nakamura-san noted, the Leaf has a top speed of over 140 km/h (87 mph).
Perhaps more important than the Leaf's top speed are its battery's charging characteristics. In this regard, the car's under-floor mounted assembly of 48 lithium ion modules (each laptop-sized module is comprised of four magazine-sized cells) offers a number of charging strategies. To yield a full charge, a 200-volt, single-phase AC charger takes less than eight hours, and topping off the battery from a 100 volt single-phase standard home wall outlet will take somewhere around twice that time, so prospective Leafmakers would do well to get 220 volt hookup like their clothes dryer uses out in their garage.
More impressive is the battery pack's 50 kW DC fast-charge capability, which is capable of accepting an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes, or an extra 50 km (31 miles) worth of range in about 10 minutes. For that, though, you'll need access to a special dedicated (and at around $45,000 – expensive) three-phase charger, which various cities around the globe have begun installing as part of their own greening strategies. The executives we spoke with says they are working with local governments in the States and around the world to help build supporting infrastructure, but they admit the automaker has no plans to financially support the networks themselves, and fast chargers like the one we experienced in Yokohama are clearly cost-prohibitive for private ownership.
Make no mistake, though, as despite clever construction methods, the Leaf's batteries remain heavy, at around 200 kg per car (over 440 pounds). Despite this, Nissan projects that the car's total weight will be similar to that of a comparable gas car because the electric motor is lighter than a traditional internal-combustion engine and because there is no need for a conventional transmission. Of course, there is the added bulk of a power inverter, but on the whole, Nissan believes the car's center-of-gravity will be lower than an I.C. car, so handling might actually be better than the aforementioned Versa.
Nissan sees the capability for dramatic user cost-savings versus a traditional internal-combustion equivalent. Using typical Japanese market figures as a starting point, the automaker says an equivalent internal-combustion vehicle's fuel consumption figure of 20 km/liter (47.5 mpg U.S.) over 1,000 km/month (620 miles) costs about 6,000 yen per month – about $63 U.S. dollars. Conversely, assuming the same operating parameters for the Leaf (using a charge cycle using cheaper nighttime energy rates), Nissan sees an operating cost for its ZEV of just 1,200 yen per month ¬– less than $13. Of course, American drivers will likely pile on far more miles per month on average, and our energy costs differ, but the point is clear – the automaker sees the Leaf as having real money-saving potential.
Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?
While Nissan promises to deliver the Leaf to its first American customers in late 2010, it isn't immediately clear where it will be made available, to whom, and how. By that we mean the zero-emissions vehicle will likely be marketed in select stateside cities that have already committed to building some of the necessary infrastructure to support electric vehicles, and the Leaf likely won't be available for purchase, it will probably be a lease-only proposition – at least initially.
Officials are still working out the specifics on a global market-by-market basis, but in the U.S., at least, they are aiming for a cost similar to their midsize Altima offering – presumably after all local and federal government incentives for ZEV are factored in. Initial allotments of the Leaf will probably be leased, with the batteries also being a leased proposition, minimizing consumers' up-front risks for adopting this new style of vehicle and allowing for easier, more cost-effective upgrades as technology improves. As has been done with other automakers' alternative energy pilot programs in the past, the Leaf will probably be distributed to fleets and very select customers at first – a more widespread commercial push isn't expected until 2012.
As stated earlier, the Leaf will probably be initially marketed in those U.S. cities that have committed to building the necessary infrastructure to support EVs – places like Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona; San Diego and Sonoma County in California; Raleigh, North Carolina; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Seattle, Washington. Nissan says it has established 27 partnerships with local governments around the world, and more are on the way. If you're outside of such areas, Nissan says it won't discourage you from becoming an owner/lessee, but obviously home charging will need to be sufficient.
How will Leaf drivers find these public charging stations? Every example will be equipped with an integrated computer system that is connected to a GPS system and global data center, allowing the Leaf to display its "reachable area" on its sat-nav screen, as well as the location of nearby charging stations. That same advanced IT system can also communicate with the owner's smart phone, sending them emails to let them know their vehicle's state of charge, allow users to pre-cool or pre-warm the Leaf while it's charging (thus drawing power from the grid and not depleting the onboard batteries), and the system can even be programmed to charge in the middle-of-the-night to take advantage of lower energy costs. When we asked, Nissan officials said they did not know if the car's communications system will require a monthly service fee along with it, or if that will simply be rolled into the cost of the vehicle.
Batteries Not Included?
While it hasn't committed to anything yet, Nissan officials say they are shooting for similar warranty coverage to that of their more conventional offerings. Those vehicles come standard with three years/36,000 mile coverage, and powertrain coverage of five years/60,000 miles, and it will be interesting to see if Nissan can match those figures for the vehicle, it's electronic motor, and the expensive battery pack (estimated replacement cost: $10,000).
For our driving enthusiast audience, perhaps the biggest question is: How will these cars perform? We were afforded a very brief test-drive in the company's latest prototype EV, a Versa-bodied model that is said to be representative of the 2010 production car's capabilities, and we'll have a more detailed report for you shortly. At first glance, we're impressed and cautiously optimistic that Nissan has done their homework. However, the biggest hurdle to an electrified motoring experience – infrastructure – is almost entirely out of the automaker's hands. Will America's cash-strapped governments be able to make electric vehicle ownership a viabile proposition for most of the nation's citizens? Only time will tell. While you stew on that nugget, be sure to check out the official press releases and our gallery of high-res images below.
NISSAN UNVEILS "LEAF" – THE WORLD'S FIRST ELECTRIC CAR DESIGNED FOR AFFORDABILITY
AND REAL-WORLD REQUIREMENTS
Event ushers in a new era for Nissan and a new era for mobility
YOKOHAMA, (Aug. 2, 2009) - Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. today unveiled Nissan LEAF, the world's first affordable, zero-emission car. Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, Nissan LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that comfortably seats five adults and has a range of more than 160km (100 miles) to satisfy real-world consumer requirements.
Slated for launch in late 2010 in Japan, the United States, and Europe, Nissan LEAF ushers in a new era of mobility – the zero-emission era. The car is the embodiment of Nissan's radical, transformative vision for the future and the culmination of decades of investment and research.
"Nissan LEAF is a tremendous accomplishment – one in which all Nissan employees can take great pride," said Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn. "We have been working tirelessly to make this day a reality – the unveiling of a real-world car that has zero – not simply reduced – emissions. It's the first step in what is sure to be an exciting journey – for people all over the world, for Nissan and for the industry."
Key characteristics of the LEAF include:
1) Zero-emission power train and platform
2) Affordable pricing
3) Distinctive design
4) Real-world range autonomy – 160km (100 miles)
5) Connected Mobility: Advanced intelligent transportation (IT) system
The "LEAF" name is a significant statement about the car itself. Just as leaves purify the air in nature, so Nissan LEAF purifies mobility by taking emissions out of the driving experience. Pricing details will be announced closer to start of sales in late 2010; however, the company expects the car to be competitively priced in the range of a well-equipped C-segment vehicle. Additionally, Nissan LEAF is expected to qualify for an array of significant local, regional and national tax breaks and incentives in markets around the world. As an added benefit, because the vehicle has less mechanical complexity than a traditional gasoline-powered car, Nissan LEAF is designed to be friendly to the wallet as well as to the environment.
Nissan LEAF is powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm. This ensures a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience that is in keeping with what consumers have come to expect from traditional, gasoline-powered automobiles.
Unlike internal-combustion engine (ICE) equipped vehicles, Nissan LEAF's power train has no tail pipe, and thus no emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases. A combination of Nissan LEAF's regenerative braking system and innovative lithium-ion battery packs enables the car to deliver a driving range of more than 160km (100 miles) on one full charge*. (*US LA4 mode)
Extensive consumer research demonstrates that this range satisfies the daily driving requirements of more than 70% of the world's consumers who drive cars.
And, Nissan's approach makes charging easy and convenient. Nissan 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 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours – ample time to enable an overnight refresh for consumer and car alike.
The engineers and designers behind Nissan LEAF worked to create a competitively priced real-world car that would enable Nissan to lead mobility into the zero-emission era. To ensure comfort, spaciousness and cargo capacity, Nissan LEAF employs a completely new chassis and body layout.
"Our car had to be the world's first, medium-size, practical EV that motorists could afford and would want to use every day. And that's what we've created. The styling will identify not only Nissan LEAF but also the owner as a participant in the new era of zero-emission mobility," said Masato INOUE, Product Chief Designer.
Even the smallest details can yield tremendous effect.
Nissan LEAF's frontal styling is characterized by a sharp, upright V-shaped design featuring long, up-slanting light-emitting diode (LED) headlights that employ a blue internal reflective design that announces, "This car is special." But the headlights do more than make a statement. They are also designed to cleverly split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors, thus reducing wind noise and drag. And, the headlights provide yet one more benefit in that they consume just 10 percent of the electricity of conventional lamps, which helps Nissan LEAF to achieve its world-class range autonomy.
Through bright trim colors inside, Nissan LEAF creates a pleasing and stylish cabin environment. An environmentally friendly "blue earth" color theme originates from the Aqua Globe body color of Nissan LEAF's introductory model. This theme is carried into the interior through blue dashboard highlights and instrument illumination.
CONNECTED MOBILITY IT SYSTEM
Nissan LEAF employs an exclusive advanced IT system. Connected to a global data center, the system can provide support, information, and entertainment for drivers 24 hours a day.
The dash-mounted monitor displays Nissan LEAF's remaining power – or "reachable area" – in addition to showing a selection of nearby charging stations.
Another state-of-the-art feature is the ability to use mobile phones to turn on air-conditioning and set charging functions – even when Nissan LEAF is powered down. An on-board remote-controlled timer can also be pre-programmed to recharge batteries.
"The IT system is a critical advantage," says Tooru ABE, Chief Product Specialist. "We wanted this vehicle to be a partner for the driver and an enhancement for the passengers. We also wanted this vehicle to help create a zero-emission community, and these IT features will help make that possible."
HOLISTIC APPROACH TO ZERO-EMISSION MOBILITY AND ECO-FRIENDLY INNOVATION
Nissan LEAF is a critical first step in establishing the era of zero-emission mobility; however, Nissan recognizes that internal-combustion engine (ICE) technologies will play a vital role in global transportation for decades to come. Because of this, Nissan is implementing its zero-emission vision through a holistic approach, which provides consumers a comprehensive range of eco-friendly technologies from which to choose.
For some consumers, Nissan LEAF will be the perfect match, and the only car they will ever need. For others, Nissan LEAF will be a logical addition to the family fleet – the optimal choice for the daily commute, for example.
While zero-emission is the ultimate goal, the company is committed to ongoing innovation in eco-friendly technologies that increase efficiency and reduce emissions. As a result, Nissan offers a comprehensive suite of automotive technologies, including CVT, Idle Stop, HEV, Clean Diesel, and ongoing research and investment in FCV technology.
Zero-emission mobility programs under the banner of the Renault-Nissan Alliance include partnerships with countries such as the UK and Portugal, local governments in the Japan and the USA, and other sectors, for a total of nearly 30 partnerships worldwide.
In these partnerships major efforts focus on three areas:
1) Development of a comprehensive charging infrastructure through public and private investment,
2) Incentives and subsidies from local, regional, and national governments, and
3) Public education on the individual and societal benefits of zero-emissions mobility.
ZERO-EMISSION VEHICLE PRODUCTION
Nissan LEAF is the first in the company's forthcoming line of EVs and is a major milestone in the realization of the Renault-Nissan Alliance's vision for zero-emission mobility. The first of Nissan's EVs will be manufactured at Oppama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for Smyrna, Tennessee, USA. Meanwhile, lithium-ion batteries are being produced in Zama, Japan, with additional capacity planned for the USA, the UK and Portugal, and other sites for investment are under study around the world.
ABOUT NISSAN MOTOR CO., LTD.
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. is a global automotive company with vehicle sales of 3.411 million in 2008. Nissan is present in all major auto markets worldwide, selling a comprehensive range of cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, and light commercial vehicles.
NISSAN BLUE CITIZENSHIP
Nissan is committed to making a better world through its commitment to corporate social responsibility. This includes programs that focus on technological innovations that focus on people and care for the planet. Our vision for zero-emission mobility is an outgrowth of our CSR approach, which we call Blue Citizenship. Together, we are working with our Alliance partner, Renault, to make a better world through zero-emission mobility.
For more information, please visit the Nissan Zero-Emission website:
NISSAN LEAF Specs
Length: 4445 mm / 175.0 in.
Width: 1770 mm / 69.7 in.
Height : 1550 mm / 61.0 in.
Wheelbase: 2700 mm / 106.3 in.
Driving range over: 160km/100miles (US LA4 mode)
Max speed (km/h): over 140km/h (over 87 mph)
Type: AC motor
Max power (kW): 80kW
Max torque (Nm): 280Nm
Type: laminated lithium-ion battery
Total capacity (kWh): 24
Power output (kW): over 90
Energy density (Wh/kg): 140
Power density (kW/kg): 2.5
Number of modules: 48
Charging times: quick charger DC 50kW (0 to 80%): less than 30 min; home-use AC200V charger: less than 8 hrs
Battery layout: Under seat & floor