August 12, 2008 What will the electric car ownership experience be like? Nissan has given us a glimpse of what early adopters are letting themselves in for - rather than bundling expensive, consumable battery packs into the price of the car, Nissan plans to sell its 2010 mass-market battery-electric car for around the same price as a standard petrol car, and lease the battery pack to the buyer on a monthly fee. And the battery lease plus electricity charges should still end up cheaper than a petrol bill. Don't worry, it won't look anything like the test vehicle pictured!
In an encouraging auto industry trend, more and more major players are committing to launching hybrid, hydrogen and battery-electric cars in the next few years. Nissan is the latest to outline its plans, which will include a production-model lithium-ion plug-in electric car by 2010. There's also a clever high-tech hybrid on the way, and Nissan has also announced a cheaper way of building a high-power density hydrogen fuel cell stack.
But it's the imminent battery-electric vehicle (BEV) that offers the most immediate chance for car buyers to get away from gas stations and look into green motoring. And while no details have yet been officially released about range, charging time, body shape or power, Nissan has clarified that its first mass-market BEV will use a lithium-ion battery pack from partner AESC - an expensive option, but the cost (and eventual replacement cost) will be spread out over a lease plan.
"Without the battery," said Nissan President and CEO, Carlos Chosn at a June shareholders' meeting, "the cost of the electric car should be comparable to that of a similar-sized car today. The lease of the battery plus the electricity cost should be lower than the cost of gasoline. If oil prices continue to stay at a high level, as expected, the electric car will become that much more attractive. "
The BEV will hit American and Japanese shores in 2010, with Israel and Denmark following in 2011 and a broader global roll-out in 2012.
"Some people have the impression that electric cars are or will be boring and ugly," Chosn continued, "but we want to prove the contrary. We will not bring only one product; we will offer a range of high-quality products that are reliable, well engineered, attractive and fun to drive. "
Our lead image shows the current-generation test vehicle Nissan is using to prototype its electric car - it's a front-wheel-drive making around 80kW, and the laminated battery packs are stored under the floor, leaving plenty of cabin space. The final car isn't expected to look anything like the prototype, which is probably for the best - but when Popular Mechanics took the EV-02 for a test drive, they found the mule "surprisingly quick," and were impressed by the 15-minute quick charge, while also managing to get a very rough range figure for the production model - somewhere between 100 and 150 miles per charge.
The price and practicality of the model will determine whether Nissan hits its million-unit sales targets, but the electric Nissan looks like a viable commuter option and the company's serious investment in the area is encouraging for those of us looking to move past the combustion engine.
Progress on the Hybrid
Nissan has also been working on a hybrid to bridge the gap to a cleaner and more efficient vehicle. The company's first rear-wheel-drive hybrid, it employs an energy-optimising double clutch system to manage the crossover points between its parallel powertrains.
The four-mode hybrid system will operate as follows:
- Idle-stop: The battery is used to power the motor to save on fuel.
- Regular driving: The engine is used to power the motor as well as regenerate the battery.
- Acceleration: Both the engine and battery (power assist) is used to power the motor to achieve smooth acceleration.
- Deceleration: Energy from braking is conserved and re-routed back to regenerate the battery.
Progress on the Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle
Hydrogen isn't first on Nissan's list: "Fuel cell vehicles are promising for the future – and Nissan continues to invest in their development," said Ghosn, "but the production and distribution of hydrogen is yet much more problematic than electricity or batteries." Nonetheless, the company has showcased some interesting advancements in fuel cell design.
The company's latest fuel cell stack is superior in several ways to the previous generation unit:
- It offers twice the power density, thanks to revised cell structure and improved condictivity of its electrolyte layers
- Total power output is up 40%, from 90kW to 130kW
- The cell is now 25% smaller, going from 90L down to 68L, making it easier to position within a vehicle
- Reduced use of platinum in the design has led to a 35% cost reduction per unit
Test units incorporating the new fuel cell stacks will be in operation from the end of this year.