Turning over new Leaf
Nissan is pushing the electric sell, writes MARKHINCHLIFFE
BATTERIES are not included when you buy the new Nissan Leaf electric car. The 95 per cent productionready electric vehicle was unveiled at the official opening of the company’s global headquarters in Yokohama on Sunday.
Nissan product planning chief Andy Palmer says the Leaf will cost the same as a similar C-segment car, plus the cost of the battery.
‘‘We haven’t decided on the final price,’’ he says. ‘‘We will lease the battery, but the cost of operating the vehicle will be less than that of a similar C-segment vehicle.’’
Nissan Australia senior corporate communications manager Jeffrey Fisher says the Nissan EV will go into production next year and be available in Australia in 2012.
It will not be the first all-electric vehicle available in Australia; that honour is expected to go to the Mitsubishi’s iMiEV.
‘‘Being first isn’t as important as being best,’’ Fisher says. ‘‘We’ve leapfrogged hybrid technology with our holistic electric-vehicle strategy.’’
He said the vehicle was 95 per cent production-ready, so most of its exterior design and interior computer instruments will be retained in the production version.
The Leaf bristles with technology, yet looks like any five-door small family hatchback, and is even less radical than the Toyota Prius hybrid.
Nissan chief designer Shiro Nakamura describes it as ‘‘a real car’’ which people on normal incomes could afford, but it does not look like a Prius.
‘‘The proportions are close to those of traditional cars,’’ he says. ‘‘We didn’t want to go for a typical aero shape. It was important that it not look like a Prius.’’
The only design feature that points to the car’s electric powertrain is the blank-looking front, because there is no radiator grille, only a small air dam.
It doesn’t need a large air intake because the electric motor has fewer cooling requirements than an internal combustion engine. However, air is directed toward the battery pack under the floor.
The Leaf is powered by a frontmounted synchronous AC electric motor designed and developed inhouse and delivering 80kW of power and 280Nm of torque.
The 24kW-capacity, laminated, compact lithium-ion battery pack is housed under the floor so it doesn’t compromise cabin or cargo space.
It consists of 48 slimline modules comprising four flat-cell batteries, rather than conventional cylindrical batteries, for more efficient cooling.
The car’s range is about 160km on the open road without airconditioning, and about 20 per cent less in the city.
It can be recharged from 240-volt mains in eight hours, or 80 per cent charged on special quick-charge ‘‘pumps’’ in about 30 minutes.
A small pop-up section of the nose underneath the Nissan badge has two sockets for the mains or quickcharge plugs. Three blue lights on the dashboard indicate charging progress; all three light up when full.
Nissan battery pack design chief Sadao Miki says the lithium-ion batteries developed by Nissan are light, compact, cheap and reliable, and have a long life.
The batteries are made in Japan by Automotive Energy Supply Company, which is a joint initiative established in 2007 with NEC.
Nissan EV spokesman Toshimi Abo says the Leaf will be backed by a global data centre that integrates satellite navigation and the internet to ensure the car is always charged and available for use.
This includes a display on the car’s satnav map that shows the maximum range of the vehicle for the current state of battery charge and the location of recharging stations within range.
A timer function will start the car’s airconditioner or battery charging.
Charging can be set to start at a specified time at night to take advantage of cheaper electricity rates and can be programmed and monitored by mobile phone or the internet. A text message can be sent to the driver when the battery is charged and the vehicle ready for use.
Nissan Motor Company Australia managing director Dan Thompson says discussions have already been held with all levels of government about incentives to help convince motorists to go electric.
‘‘The states have been the most receptive,’’ he says. ‘‘Three years (before the electric car arrives) seems a long time, but not for getting the infrastructure in place.’’
Thompson says Nissan will also talk to shopping centres, cinema chains, fast-food outlets and service stations about installing batterycharging infrastructure. JOURNALISTS were given a onelap drive around the company’s Yokohama testing ground in an electric Tiida test vehicle that has the same drivetrain platform as the new electric vehicle.
The little hatch was noticeably quieter, though, in the absence of engine rumble, our attention was drawn to wind noise.
Nakamura says Nissan avoided the traditional aerodynamic shape for the Leaf, but paid a lot of attention to reducing wind noise.
‘‘Wind noise is more obvious because there is no engine noise, so we worked to reduce it,’’ he says.
The Tiida electric car feels smoother and more torquey than the petrol model.
It doesn’t pull as smartly off the line as some hybrids, but it has a linear power delivery.
The general manager of the global zero emissions business unit, Hideaki Watanabe, says the power delivery is programmed to avoid a necksnapping launch, which most electric motors provide because maximum torque is instantly available.
‘‘We have managed the power so it isn’t too sudden, as if you have turned on a switch,’’ he says.
Steering feels heavy and the car turns in a little slowly, thanks to the 150kg extra weight.
That weight, which is mostly due to the 300kg battery, is low and central. With the lighter motor (than the petrol engine) up front, it provides an almost 50-50 weight balance.
There is no engine-compression effect, so it doesn’t slow when you take your foot off the accelerator. It therefore requires extra braking when coming into corners.
Blown away: there’s no engine noise, just the sound of the wind in a Tiida fitted with a Leaf electric-vehicle platform.