With San Diego as “Ground Zero,” Nissan Targets Pragmatic Car Buyers With Leaf EV—and We Take It for A Test Hum

7/8/10Follow @bvbigelow

In the fall of 2008, I was green with cleantech envy when my colleague Greg Huang got to test drive a prototype Tesla Roadster, the luxury, all-electric sports car made by Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA), which became a public company just last week.

But yesterday I turned over a new Leaf—and then I took it for a test drive through La Jolla.

As Greg was with the Tesla, I was struck by how eerily quiet Nissan’s compact, 100-percent electric vehicle (EV) is when it accelerates. It is so silent that there is little sense of speed; no engine revving, no whining RPMs. Even starting the Leaf can be deceiving. No engine cranking. Just push a button and it’s on.

Bruce Bigelow on test drive

Bruce Bigelow on test drive

The early production model of Nissan’s zero-emission Leaf EV arrived this week at Nissan Design America (the Japanese carmaker’s San Diego design center), the first stop in a cross-country media tour. Nissan plans to begin production of the compact hatchback EV in Japan later this year, and the first U.S. deliveries are expected here by December.

“San Diego is going to be ground zero for our launch,” says Nissan’s Mark Perry. “The whole country is going to be looking at what happens here.”

Mark Perry

Mark Perry

Perry, who is director of product planning and advanced technology strategy for Nissan North America, says Nissan made San Diego its beachhead for reasons that include strong consumer demand, a supportive local utility (SDG&E), and support from state and local government.

As I explained last month, San Diego has emerged as a testbed for new EVs and the necessary electric charging infrastructure. It is among 11 metro areas slated to … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Jerry Jeff

    Real-life driving range per charge will be a big hurdle for me. If it’s only 50 miles on a winter day that could be a deal breaker. But I totally applaud Nissan for this effort. Next, who’s going to clean up our power plants?

  • Lawrence Weisdorn

    This is a giant step in the right direction. Drop in a hydrogen fuel cell and you won’t be range challenged any more.

  • John A.

    Man, this is so long overdue! Our grandchildren will scarcely believe we put up with anything so frighteningly problematic as gasoline-powered automobiles!

  • gondwanalon

    How long does the battery last? How much will a replacement battery cost?

  • Dave in Detroit

    The LEAF design is interesting compared to other EV’s on the drawing board and Nissan deserves credit for launching first. But for any EV, don’t plan on using the AirCon much if you need range.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/bbigelow/ Bruce V. Bigelow

    Thanks for the great comments and questions.

    Nissan’s Mark Perry told me the Leaf’s laminated lithium ion battery back, which is under the floor, is designed to last 10 years and still operate at 70-80 percent of original capacity. Nissan says it has been developing its own battery for the past 18 years or so. The carmaker also has plans to develop a secondary market for used Leaf batteries, most likely for use in backup energy storage for electric utilities and in cell phone networks. The question I didn’t think to ask is whether a Leaf owner would be able to sell the battery, or how this resale market would work.