Nissan turns over a new LEAF

Joseph Cabadas - CAP staff
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Published on November 19, 2010

An EV for the whole family, the LEAF is very practical. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Are electric vehicles the answer? (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Silent, efficient and it requires little maintenance. No wonder automakers are finally buying into the EV. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Can the grid handle all the extra power usage? (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

LEAF production is under way. (Photo: Nissan)

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High style and premium quality makes sure buyers will be happy with their EV purchase for years to come. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

An electric in every driveway? That's not the plan. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Zero is pretty clean. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Nissan is turning over a new LEAF as the new leader in electric vehicles. (Photo: Nissan)

Published on November 19, 2010

Published on November 19, 2010

Published on November 19, 2010

Published on November 19, 2010

Published on November 19, 2010

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Published on November 19, 2010

Published on November 19, 2010

The automotive industry has had several flings with electric vehicles – from the early battery powered vehicles of the 20th century to efforts to meet California's aborted zero emission vehicle (ZEV) standards more than a decade ago. All these efforts eventually met with failure due to the electric vehicle's limited range, greater weight and costs compared to an internal combustion engine car.

That dynamic is changing, noted Nissan Americas Chairman Carlos Taveres when he spoke in November 2010 to the Automotive Press Association at the Detroit Athletic Club about the automaker's 2011 Nissan LEAF. By 2014 the Japanese company also plans to introduce an all-electric commercial vehicle (the Nissan E-LCV) and an Infiniti electric vehicle – the first luxury EV from a mainstream manufacturer (the Tesla Model S may beat the Infiniti EV to market if it meets its production target as it is expected to go into production sometime during the third quarter of 2011, with initial deliveries commencing in early 2012).

Nissan's sales have grown during the past 18 months thanks to a number of refreshed or new products for its namesake and Infiniti brands, including the new Nissan Juke, a small crossover vehicle.

Zero Emissions Mobility

Nissan's electric vehicle strategy – targeting zero emissions mobility – is aimed at addressing concerns over the environment, energy independence, government regulations, and reshaping consumer perceptions, priorities and demands, Taveres said.

"Today there are 600 million vehicles worldwide and by 2050 statistics show that there may be up to 2.5 billion," he stated. "Therefore Nissan has made a corporate commitment to reduce global CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions by 90 percent through 2050… Vehicles like the Nissan LEAF, those that especially emit zero tailpipe emissions, are an important part of this plan."

The LEAF, the world's only all-electric vehicle, will go on sale in December 2010. Instead of a special vehicle only available for corporate fleet customers, it will be sold on the mass market, but intended primarily for California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Tennessee, with more regions to follow. Some 20,000 consumers have already reserved some of the first LEAFs.

Initially the car will be produced in Japan, but by the end of 2012, Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant will be capable of producing 150,000 Nissan LEAFs and 200,000 lithium-ion battery packs. "Additional (manufacturing) capacity for both Nissan LEAF and battery packs will be installed at all Nissan factories around the world," Taveres added. "We believe the advent of the zero emissions society is a once in a lifetime opportunity for (us to) change the industry, the way consumers drive, and how vehicles are brought to market."

A Limited Market for EVs?

A recent J.D. Power and Associates survey (among others) forecasted that hybrid and all-electric vehicles would comprise 7.3 percent of the global market by 2020. The same study indicated that sales of new battery-powered EVs, such as the LEAF, would only account for about 100,000 units in the U.S. by the end of the decade, because of a number of factors including slow technological breakthroughs, consumer worries about limited range and charging times, plus a lack of a coordinated government strategy to help push the technology.

"You won't be surprised that we disagree with every one of these points and are a bit more bullish on the future for electric vehicles," Taveres said. "We believe that electric vehicles will comprise (6.5 percent in the U.S. and) 10 percent of the worldwide mobility market by 2020."

The LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that can sit five adults. With its lithium ion battery pack under the floor, the car has a range of 100 miles (about 160 kilometers) on one full charge and can provide 20 kW of power. It is backed by an eight-year, 160,000-km warranty.

"According to U.S. Census data, an average 90 percent of the U.S. population drives less than 100 miles [160 km] a day and over 72 percent drive less than 50 miles [80 km] per day, so the LEAF meets the needs of most drivers," Taveres said.

The car not only has a distance to empty meter to update drivers on their range, but this information can be displayed on the built-in navigation system along with the location of nearby charging stations. Nissan has also created an iPhone application – with others in development for other popular cell phones – to provide that information.

"Lastly, we are working with countless partners to build out the charging infrastructure to make battery powered vehicles a reality for hundreds of thousands of American citizens," he said.

Clean Energy = Clean Cars

The LEAF's batteries can be recharged by plugging it into a 240-Volt outlet at home – Nissan expects 80 percent of EV owners will recharge their cars overnight when power usage is less  – or at a public fast-charge station that can charge the car from a fairly discharged state to 80 percent capacity in under 30 minutes.

Although battery-powered EVs don't have tailpipe emissions, there has been an ongoing concern that the pollution generated is shifted "upstream" to power plants – many of which in the U.S. burn coal, oil or natural gas. Thus, there is no net benefit for the environment or energy independence. Taveres had a different view.

"Most of the societies in which we live nowadays are pushing in the direction of clean energy and mostly renewable energy," he said. "That is a dynamic moving in the same direction as the zero emission vehicle... both of them are going to impact each other to create a much better overall result."

Countries such as Canada and Brazil, for example, obtain a huge amount of their electrical needs from hydroelectric powerplants, Taveres noted. Denmark and Portugal are pushing to increase their renewable energy production while France gets most of its electricity from nuclear powerplants.

"I think it is fair to say that our responsibility for the mobility device (i.e. vehicle) is a zero emission one," he said. "The Nissan LEAF is more than just a new product. It is the beginning of a new era of mobility. With no tailpipe and no gas."

Success with Incentives?

Zero emissions products will be successful if three key enablers drive the transformation, Taveres said, including battery technology advancements, improvements in vehicle information technology systems, and building out of the charging infrastructure network. Another key driver are government incentive programs – which he said were necessary – to entice buyers to purchase EVs.

To foster electrical infrastructure improvements, Nissan has more than 80 global partnerships, including about 55 in the Americas. By 2012, there will be more than 13,000 public charging stations in the U.S. and that number is expected to grow significantly by 2020.

Charging stations are being installed at Nissan dealers in the first five launch markets for the LEAF – California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Tennessee. Each Nissan dealer will have four charging stations – two of which will be open to the public.

In the U.S., the Nissan Leaf will cost the consumer $25,280 USD after the application of the $7,500 federal tax credit (prices haven't been announced in Canada but are expected in the $35,000 to $40,000 CAD range, with some provinces offering incentives – $8,500 in Ontario). Also, the costs of operating the EV are expected to be 25 percent of a similar size gasoline powered car, while maintenance costs will be half of a conventional vehicle due to less mechanical complexity.

"Thanks to state tax incentives in many places it will cost consumers even less than that for a no-compromise package at an affordable price," Taveres said. "An interesting fact. If you happen to be an employee of Sony and living in Fresno, Calif., you can have multiple incentives to get the Nissan LEAF for under $12,500 [USD]."

Asked when taxpayers should expect to stop subsidizing electric vehicle technology he added, "It is fair to say that if you really want to bring our society toward zero emission world – to a low carbon footprint – you need to create this motion. There is a big inertia in our history. To create this motion it is fair to ask for some support... Once we achieve a certain size and a certain point and time we won't need support anymore... We will be generating productivity... at a low price."

Nissan on a Roll

The LEAF is just one of Nissan's success stories as the automaker has enjoyed double-digit sales growth in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and throughout the Latin American markets, with vehicles including the Altima, Sentra, Versa and Rogue.

In Canada, Nissan posted its best October selling 6,134 units with 12 out of 14 models seeing an increase including the 2010 Nissan Altima. The Versa and GT-R saw sales fall, however. Year-to-date, Nissan Canada's sales are up 4.2 percent when compared to 2009, though its market share has slipped from 5 percent to 4.9 percent.

In the U.S., Nissan and Infiniti sales are up a combined 16.1 percent year to date for a market share gain of 0.4 percent and both brands recorded double-digit sales increases for October. Nissan Division sales were up 15.2 percent for the month, and sales of Infiniti vehicles rose 22.9 percent over a year before. Infiniti year to date sales in the U.S. are up at least 25 percent led by the all-new Infiniti M sedans and QX56 luxury SUV.

In Mexico, Nissan has put together 16 consecutive months of sales and is the country's No. 1 best selling brand with a 23 percent market share. In Latin America, from Argentina to Columbia, the Japanese automaker has gained 1.2 points of market share. Combined, Nissan in the Americas has improved its market share by 7.1 percent versus 6.6 percent in 2009.

Since arriving at Nissan North America 20 months ago, Taveres has been working to unite the automaker's many American operations into one single business unit.

"Today we are a company on the move... and seen a 13 percent increase in vehicle sales this year," he said. "Nissan falls in the top 100 companies in revenue on the Fortune 500, among players like Delta Airlines and Coca Cola.

"Innovation for all is helping Nissan to post significant gains – 25 percent or more in favourability for purchase consideration and purchase intention from American consumers. Showroom traffic is up and for the first time since the crisis, consumers have a clear understanding of what the Nissan brand stands for."

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, EV, Nissan, 2011, Leaf, $30,000 - $39,999,

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