Turn­ing over new Leaf

Nis­san is push­ing the elec­tric sell, writes MARKHINCHLIFFE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Nissan Leaf -

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.

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