Nissan Leaf: Affordable Electric Cars Are Almost Here

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The all-electric Nissan Leaf, coming in late 2010, could be the first of what we hope will be many other affordable electric cars.

In the race to build affordable electric cars, Nissan may finish first among the major automakers. The five-passenger, sedan/hatchback and all-electric Nissan Leaf is scheduled to go on sale in “select markets” in December, with nationwide availability in 2011. (Where those “select markets” will be is unknown at this point, but you can count on California being one of them; maybe some cities on the East Coast as well.) Nissan says the Leaf’s top speed will be 76 mph and it will have a cruising range of about 100 miles before a recharge is necessary — plenty for many people’s daily commutes and errands.

What may set the Leaf apart from other forthcoming electric cars is its price. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $32,780, but a $7,500 federal tax credit lowers the cost to $25,280. Additional incentives in some states could make the Leaf even more affordable — California and Georgia residents are eligible for $5,000 tax credits and Oregon residents are eligible for $1,500 tax credits. Nissan says the Leaf will be less expensive to operate than a comparable gasoline car, costing less than $3 to recharge.

To learn more about the Leaf’s pricing and to add your name to the growing reservation list, click the “Sign Up” button on Nissan’s LEAF Electric Car website.

Lithium-Ion Batteries

The primary challenge in making any electric car affordable is the batteries, but Nissan is looking at ways to take that cost out of the equation. One scenario is that a Leaf driver would own the car, but lease the batteries. This would lower the upfront cost of the car, plus give the driver confidence that Nissan would cover any maintenance, updates or replacements. It would also ensure that the batteries would be properly recycled when they meet their eventual end.

The Leaf’s 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack sits under the floor, placing the battery mass low in the vehicle where it won’t intrude on interior space. The batteries’ placement will also give the car better handling than if they were placed in the rear. Nissan says the battery pack can be recharged in about eight hours on 220-volt household current. Or, an optional quick charger will bring it up to 80 percent capacity in just 30 minutes.

Manufactured in-house by Nissan, the Leaf’s electric motor produces 107 horsepower (80 kilowatts) and more than 200 pounds-feet of torque.

Driving the Leaf Electric Car

To make the electric car experience more convenient, Nissan has developed an information system for the Leaf called EV-IT. At the touch of a button, the driver can see the car’s maximum range. A GPS map system shows the radius the car can travel and whether a preset destination is within range. A satellite link also provides information on charging stations along the route. And EV-IT has a remote function that allows you to monitor the car’s charge level from a computer or mobile phone.

Emissions From the Leaf Electric Car

Tailpipe emissions are virtually nonexistent for the Leaf, because there is no fuel combustion in an electric vehicle. Of course, depending on the power source, there may be emissions associated with the electricity that charges the batteries. The best scenario would be that the Leaf, and electric cars like it, recharge via renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydro. Imagine a Leaf in your garage and solar panels on your roof, or a wind turbine in the neighborhood.

While Nissan was never enthusiastic about gasoline-electric hybrid cars, the automaker has been involved in electric car development for more than 15 years. If Nissan makes good on its stated goals for the Leaf, it will be a huge step forward for electric cars.

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