by Joe LaMuraglia
I had the opportunity to drive a powertrain last week. Yes, I said a powertrain and not a vehicle. That cute little panda-like ride you see above is a beard for Nissan’s new electric vehicle (EV) and while it looks cute in its two-tone paint job, it is what lies beneath that is important.
Electric vehicles are not new for Nissan. In fact, they introduced their first electric car in 1998 and then offered a micro car called the Hypermini for limited lease in 2000. Nissan’s executives spoke to this fact a few times during the presentation – perhaps to overcome the doubt that Nissan is serious about launching a EV next year in limited markets and then globally in 2012.
Back to the powertrain; it consists of a battery pack, electric drive motor, and inverter. The real differentiator for all electric vehicles is the battery technology. It dictates the amount of charge they can hold, how quickly the batteries can recharge and how long they will last. Nissan has decided that this technology is too important to trust to a vendor and has formed a joint venture to develop their own battery packs.
Nissan says that a full charge using a standard 110 Volt plug will take “less than a night’s sleep”. It will also be able to be charged using a 220-Volt power source (think your dryer plug) in about 4 hours. The vehicle will travel up to 100 miles on a full charge which while satisfy 98% of American’s daily mileage requirements during a typical day. Cost to “refuel” the EV will be about $.90 and Nissan claims that it will still make economic sense if gasoline drops to $1.10/gallon.
In a brief spin around a parking lot in the prototype vehicle, I can say that like all electric vehicles, the instant torque of the motor provides excellent acceleration and power. I was able to spin the wheels when accelerating during a turn. To be honest, none of that was a surprise to me. What really blew me away was the complete lack of noise coming from the electric motor. Other vehicles with electric motors, modern hybrids included, emit a electric whine when in motion. I didn’t hear it from the Nissan EV. Nissan also claims the EV will be able to get a speeding ticket in every state which indicates a top speed of at least 75 MPH.
Nissan promises that what we drove is close to production spec and will be placed in a 5-passenger vehicle that will be available with all the standard and optional features consumers have come to expect. Pricing for the Nissan EV has not been announced but the company’s spokesperson insists it will be inline with current Midsized sedans. It will also be eligible for a $7,500 tax credit plus any additional state or local incentives.
It looks like Nissan is serious about zero tailpipe emissions mobility. The powertrain we drove was very impressive but it is difficult to pass judgment on a prototype. If they can hit their price target and if it performs to their specs, there should be plenty of commuters out there that will be fine with the 100 mile limit on a charge. This technology won’t be a good fit for people that don’t have fixed routes or like to go on spontaneous road trips but for a large chunk of people that do the same commute every day, it may be a viable option.
We look forward to the final product from Nissan. For the record though, we think the Panda Cube is cute.
by Joe LaMuraglia