Nissan's national tour of their new electric vehicle offering, the LEAF, recently completed its last stop at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Nissan representatives were on hand answering questions about the car and their plans to bring it to market, and I was able to collect a lot of good information which the Slashdot community might find interesting and useful. Below is a fact-dense summary of everything I was able to tease out of them.
The LEAF is a 5 passenger, 4-door hatchback bearing a striking resemblance to the currently available Versa, although once you see it in person it becomes obvious that the car is an entirely new platform designed specifically as an electric car, rather than a tweak of an existing vehicle. First impressions, shared by other visitors I met, was the vehicle was much bigger than the phrase "electric car" brings to mind.
The LEAF's technical specifications are no less impressive, though still somewhat tentative as production is not scheduled to begin until this fall:
80kW (107.3 HP) synchronous AC motor producing 380 ft-lbs (280Nm) torque. 24kWh worth of air-cooled, modular (48 modules, 192 cells total), laminated lithium-magnesium batteries located under the floor and rear seats giving a listed driving range of 100 miles (as tested under LA4 methods, aka "the city test") and a max speed of over 90MPH (144KPH). Curb weight is approximately 3300 pounds (1500 kg) including the 480 pound (217 kg) main battery pack. The main battery is rated for full capacity from -30ÂF to +100ÂF (-34ÂC to +38ÂC) and has a life expectancy of 7 to 10 years, with "end of life" defined as capacity degraded to 70% of the original. The LEAF comes with four wheel disc brakes and two stage regenerative braking which can recover up to 30% of the vehicle's kinetic energy in most situations. Brakes are hydraulic (w/ electric booster) and steering is drive-by-wire. A cable operated parking brake is also included.
Power from the main battery is cut in the event of an accident for safety. It is not known if a separate kill switch for disconnecting the battery manually will be provided.
The LEAF is capable of three charging options: it comes standard with a 110v outlet charging cord, allowing you to plug your car into any 15 amp outlet for charging via the charger incorporated into the vehicle itself. Charge time for 0% to 100% is estimated at 16 hours using 110v. Alternatively, you can charge the car using 208v using a required "charging station" in about 8 hours from 0% to 100%. Both of these methods use the same J1772 socket, recently made a standard by SAE International, meaning this and all other vehicles that plug in to charge will use the same connectors.
The 208v "charging station" is, I was told, simply a surge protector and over-current protection device which must be professionally installed and certified for code compliance and liability issues. While Nissan plans to offer Nissan-brand charging stations, you will not be obligated to buy one as the 110v charging cord is supplied with the car. Charging stations may also become available from third party manufacturers since they do not contain anything proprietary, and like the J1772 connector should be compatible with any plug-in car on the market.
The third "quick charge" option uses 480v connection through a second, dedicated socket and connector and can charge a dead battery to 80% in just under 30 minutes. Quick charging is halted at 80% to prevent damage to the battery. There are no plans to offer quick charging stations to the general public since very few houses have 480v electric service available. Nissan is working with private companies to install both 208v and 480v public charging stations for general use.
The LEAF includes, as standard equipment, an integrated GPS navigation system which helps you plan routes that pass near by public charging stations. Monthly updates to the navigation system will be provided for free. Also included is 3G communications which allow the on-board computer to send and receive data via the internet. The computer can be configured to send e-mail status updates, and various features such as charging schedules and heat/air conditioning operation can be done remotely via internet connected PC or cell phone. When asked about privacy concerns, the reps said that Nissan plans to collect usage data via an opt-in program only from their initial test users. There are no long-term plans to monitor driving and charging habits.
Other standard features include heated seats and steering wheel, air conditioning, power locks and windows, AM-FM/CD stereo with aux input for portable players, keyless entry/startup and 24/7 roadside assistance. All vehicle lights are LED. Features that are not offered include power seats, sun roof and spare tire.
The "ignition" is a large power button located just below and to the right of the steering column. The rep said there is no delay turning off - meaning you don't have to hold the button - but she never tried it "at speed" so it is unclear exactly what will happen if you turn the vehicle off while driving.
There is no set price yet, but I was given a target range of $28,000 to $33,000 before rebates and incentives. Official pricing is due to be announced in April. At present, the LEAF qualifies for $7,500 in federal tax rebates, along with 50% of the install cost for the 208v charging station (up to $4,000). Additional rebates and incentives may be available from your state government as well. Nissan plans to offer buy and lease options, but they can not offer battery-only leases due to federal laws. The federal government considers the battery to be part of the drive train, and it is illegal to sell a car without a functioning drive train.
Production is scheduled to start in Japan this fall, with a portion of those vehicles being imported to the US for test markets and early adopters. Official announcements are scheduled for December of this year. By 2012 Nissan plans to have a vehicle and battery manufacturing plant operating in Tennessee with a capacity of 150,000 vehicles and 200,000 battery packs per year.