Sunday, November 15, 2009

Plug-In America Meets the LEAF

Founders of Plug-in America get their first look at Nissan LEAF electric car

Open Access Article Originally Published: November 14, 2009
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault/Nissan, was on hand to introduce the new Nissan Leaf electric car this morning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. A large crowd of media and EV enthusiasts were on hand to drive the Nissan Versa test vehicle sporting the electric drive train of the Leaf.

The Versa is very close in size and weight of the Leaf, so the driving characteristics are pretty much what you'll see in the Leaf itself when Nissan brings it to market next fall.

Acceleration was quite good even when going uphill with the weight of three adults. Nissan's Larry Dominique says 0-60 is under 10 seconds, quick enough for most folks. Regenerative braking will be automatic with two levels, a very mild deceleration similar to what you feel when you lift your foot from a gas pedal in an internal combustion car, and a slightly stronger regen you can employ by moving a lever. It wasn't clear if the car will be enabled to "freewheel" like my RAV. For hypermilers such as myself, freewheeling is very important. I assume they'll incorporate it eventually if it's not already there.

I found the car to be a bit more attractive in person than in the photos. It's distinctive without being bizarre. The lines are clearly drawn with a low drag coefficient in mind and this accounts for the ability to average about 4 miles per kWh.

The car comes equipped with a lithium manganese battery pack made by Nissan partner, NEC. The capacity is a mere 24 kWh, 3 less than my RAV's NiMH battery holds.

The first model year comes equipped with a 3.3 kW charger that will upgrade to a 6.6 kW charger in the next model year. I confirmed that you will be able to upgrade the 3.3 to a 6.6 charger should you want to (trust me, you will want the faster charger). The Leaf will also be able to charge from a 50 kW DC charger as well. Nissan intends to install 50 of these fast chargers throughout California next year in anticipation of the cars coming to market. Fast charging will allow you to greatly extend your range without having to wait for a long charge.

This picture shows the two charge ports located under the Nissan badge in the front of the car. Level 1&2 charging will happen with the plug on the right, and level 3 fast charging with the plug on the left.

Ghosn confirmed rumors that Nissan would sell the car, but lease the battery. This initially troubled me given the problems we had a few years back when GM, Toyota and others recalled the leased EVs to destroy them, but the logic of leasing the battery works in this case.

Nissan expects to sell the car for about what a comparable gas burner would cost, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30K (this price is before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any applicable state tax credits). The gas burner would, of course, need gas, oil changes, tune ups and smog checks, so you need to add those operational costs to the total lifetime cost of ownership. With the Leaf, you pay about the same for the car, but the battery lease payment, combined with the kWh you buy to charge the battery, will be about the same or slightly less than the gas costs for the internal combustion car. You also get numerous other privileges with the Leaf, such as never spending a single minute at a gas station, no tune ups or oil changes - and the big one - you get to drive without guilt.

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