Nissan Leaf Comes StatesidePosted on January 4th, 2010
Nissan promotes electric car with a 22-city tour
By Nina Russin
Electric cars have been around almost as long as the internal combustion engine. But they’ve never gained widespread popularity for two reasons: limited driving range, and the lack of a recharging infrastructure.
Nissan hopes to bring electric cars into the mainstream with the Leaf: a pure electric production car that arrives in dealerships at the end of this year. The four-door hatchback holds up to five passengers, and has a driving range of about 100 miles on a full charge. Top speed is 90 miles-per-hour.
Lithium-ion batteries similar to those used in personal computers provide the energy for the Leaf. They are significantly less bulky than the lead-acid batteries used in most automotive starting and charging systems. Recharging the Leaf takes about eight hours on a 220-volt household line.
eTec partnership paves the way for a charging infrastructure
eTec, a subsidiary of ECOtality Inc. signed a contract with the US Department of Energy in October, 2009 to develop an electric vehicle charging infrastructure. A $99.8 million dollar federal grant funds infrastructure development in five states: Arizona, California, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington.
The electric vehicle project includes the deployment of 10,950 220-volt chargers, 260 fast chargers, and 4700 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles. The fast chargers, located in shopping malls and other public places, can charge the car in under 30 minutes.
A true zero-emissions vehicle
Unlike gasoline-electric hybrids, the Leaf has no exhaust, making it a true zero-emissions vehicle. Because they leverage sustainable energy, electric cars are one solution to personal transportation in a future with limited oil resources.
While it is possible to recycle all types of batteries, lithium-ion technology has some advantages. In addition to being smaller than lead-acid batteries, the electrolyte solution is not a liquid, making the units easier and safer to transport. And unlike nickel cadmium, the lithium-ion batteries contain no toxic metals.
Leaf test drive in Phoenix
I had a chance to get behind the wheel of the new Leaf during the tour’s stop in Phoenix this week. Because Nissan is limited to one display car and one test mule, the drive route was short: around the parking lot next to the University of Phoenix stadium. Still, the experience gave me a feel for the Leaf’s interior and performance capabilities.
The Leaf’s wheelbase is just over 106-inches, giving a footprint similar to the Nissan Sentra. Since the battery pack fits under the floor, there is no intrusion into either the passenger compartment or cargo bay.
The plug-in outlets are located at the front of the car, in place of the grille. Since the Leaf has no internal combustion engine, its cooling needs are minimal. Aerodynamic LED headlamps direct airflow away from the side mirrors to improve the Leaf’s coefficient of drag. The LED technology uses about half the energy of conventional halogen headlamps.
Inside, a dash monitor displays the amount of remaining charge. The car’s IT system is connected to a global data center, providing passengers with support and entertainment. The energy monitor also displays recharging stations in the car’s vicinity.
Drivers can use their cell phones to turn on the air conditioning or program a timer in the car to recharge the battery pack.
An electronic parking brake is smaller and lighter than a mechanical device. A small lever to the right of the driver’s seat releases it. The driver uses a joystick to shift the electronic transmission between park, drive and reverse.
As with all electric cars, the Leaf is completely quiet. Endurance athletes such as myself who drive to races or trailheads in the pre-dawn hours will appreciate the goodwill a quiet car can create with the neighbors.
I didn’t have enough time behind the wheel to evaluate the Leaf’s steering feedback or suspension. But the car certainly seems capable of fulfilling the transportation needs of commuters in some urban areas. The car’s small wheels and low ground clearance limit its practicality in northern climates with severe winters.
Nissan has yet to announce pricing for the Leaf. Product specialists anticipate that the cost will be comparable to a mid-sized sedan. For more information, visit Nissan’s web site.
2 responses to “Nissan Leaf Comes Stateside”
I’m surprised you were able to test drive, I assume your drive was the test mule (consisting the Leaf powertrain fitted into a production car). I saw the Leaf when it rolled through Portland, http://cleanfuture.us/czm, looking forward to when it will become available for sale in test markets in late 2010 and nationwide in 2012.
So excited to see some automakers taking initiative on pollution issues. They will certainly lead the charge in changing the face of our global climate issues and be heroes for it. I will be doing my part by patronizing my local St. Louis Nissan Dealer for sure.
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