Friday, November 13, 2009

Nissan's Leaf falls gently to Earth in LA


Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault/Nissan, was on hand to introduce the new Nissan Leaf electric car this morning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. A large crowd of media and EV enthusiasts were on hand to drive the Nissan Versa test vehicle sporting the electric drive train of the Leaf.

The Versa is very close in size and weight of the Leaf, so the driving characteristics are pretty much what you'll see in the Leaf itself when Nissan brings it to market next fall.

Acceleration was quite good even when going uphill with the weight of three adults. Nissan's Larry Dominique says 0-60 is under 10 seconds, quick enough for most folks. Regenerative braking will be automatic with two levels, a very mild deceleration similar to what you feel when you lift your foot from a gas pedal in an internal combustion car, and a slightly stronger regen you can employ by moving a lever. It wasn't clear if the car will be enabled to "freewheel" like my RAV. For hypermilers such as myself, freewheeling is very important. I assume they'll incorporate it eventually if it's not already there.

I found the car to be a bit more attractive in person than in the photos. It's distinctive without being bizarre. The lines are clearly drawn with a low drag coefficient in mind and this accounts for the ability to average about 4 miles per kWh.

The car comes equipped with a lithium manganese battery pack made by Nissan partner, NEC. The capacity is a mere 24 kWh, 3 less than my RAV's NiMH battery holds.

The first model year comes equipped with a 3.3 kW charger that will upgrade to a 6.6 kW charger in the next model year. I confirmed that you will be able to upgrade the 3.3 to a 6.6 charger should you want to (trust me, you will want the faster charger). The Leaf will also be able to charge from a 50 kW DC charger as well. Nissan intends to install 50 of these fast chargers throughout California next year in anticipation of the cars coming to market. Fast charging will allow you to greatly extend your range without having to wait for a long charge.

This picture shows the two charge ports located under the Nissan badge in the front of the car. Level 1&2 charging will happen with the plug on the right, and level 3 fast charging with the plug on the left.

Ghosn confirmed rumors that Nissan would sell the car, but lease the battery. This initially troubled me given the problems we had a few years back when GM, Toyota and others recalled the leased EVs to destroy them, but the logic of leasing the battery works in this case.

Nissan expects to sell the car for about what a comparable gas burner would cost, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30K (this price is before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any applicable state tax credits). The gas burner would, of course, need gas, oil changes, tune ups and smog checks, so you need to add those operational costs to the total lifetime cost of ownership. With the Leaf, you pay about the same for the car, but the battery lease payment, combined with the kWh you buy to charge the battery, will be about the same or slightly less than the gas costs for the internal combustion car. You also get numerous other privileges with the Leaf, such as never spending a single minute at a gas station, no tune ups or oil changes - and the big one - you get to drive without guilt.

Ghosn is the first CEO of a major car maker to mention the guilt line. That's because he's the first to offer a car that can be driven on 100% renewable electricity. One of the journalists in attendance offered that he had coined a great marketing tag with his comment about guilt-free driving. I expect we'll see that in the ad campaign once they get it cranked up.

I have to say, this was a very satisfying event. Instead of Plug In America showing up with protest signs like we used to do, we now get to come to these great events where progressive companies like Nissan are making high quality electric vehicles and rushing to get them to market. I heard a rumor that Nissan will start taking reservations in February. You'd be smart to go to their website and give them your name now.

Lots of Plug In America members were there. In this picture, we see PIA documentarian, Stefano Paris, Director, Chris Paine, political gadfly extraordinaire, Dency Nelson, myself and the one and only Chelsea Sexton. Chelsea, by the way, was THE hot interview of the day. Virtually all the media wanted her opinion of the Leaf. From what I heard, she liked it every bit as much as I.

Paul
*****

23 comments:

  1. Cool, Paul... We're going to see it in person in Glendale on Sunday. Melody wants to trade up her 2009 Versa for a Leaf...

    If she gets it before I get my Aptera it could get ugly! Ha ha!

    ReplyDelete
  2. ... and according to the Nissan Leaf web site they are apparently taking reservations starting in Spring 2010.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am drooling with envy, Paul! I was wondering if anyone would get the actually test drive the vehicle, and am glad to see that the event was not limited to "look, but not touch." Did you, Chelsea, or Stefano get any time behind the wheel, or only in a passenger seat? Sure wish I could see it up close, but --as usual-- they won't be showing it off anywhere near me. Sigh....

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yanquetino,

    Yes, both Chelsea and I got to drive the Versa mule. I'm not sure about Stef. The car is quite peppy. Way quicker than the RAV. I'd buy one for sure. We're waiting to hear what the final price is going to be, and of course, the lease price of the battery.

    These guys are serious and they've got a winner of a car.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sounds like a great event. They will be here in Portland next month. Can't wait.

    "drive without guilt"

    In general, guilt based marketing is a bad idea. Fun & Patriotic (off foreign oil) would be a much better way to go IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great Paul. I feel that Nissan's honest and straight-forward approach to the launch of this car makes it something very new. No BS, all the cards on the table. A real turning point. I can't wait to see their marketing campaign. Full speed ahead Nissan!

    Jeff

    ReplyDelete
  7. Paul, Nice piece. Thank you. To be honest, though, I'm bummed out about the battery leasing.

    To me, it feels like having a car payment -- even at $23k for the car after credits -- it'll be a big monthly car payment for average income folks like us. And, on top of the car payment, you're looking at a battery lease of, what, $130 per month?

    And, presumably, that battery lease cost lasts for as long as you have the car.

    Let's see, I've had my 1992 Acura Integra for about 18 years, and paid it off after four. That's 14 years with no car payments.

    When I think about 10, 15, 20 years of $130 per month -- or more -- for a battery lease, that doesn't sound very good to me, it feels like a ball-and-chain.

    I know, many people -- too many in my opinion -- keep a car 3 to 5 years. But for those of long-termers (it's far better for the environment not to buy a new car that you don't need every few years), that battery lease doesn't look so good.

    Funny, too, that Nissan doesn't mention how much the battery lease is going to cost -- I didn't see it your piece, or the Autopia piece from Wired.

    I'm definitely going to blog on this battery lease on SolarChargedDriving.Com. I suspect you'll blog on it again too.

    Thanks again for the nice piece.

    --Christof D-H
    Editor & Founder, SolarChargedDriving.Com

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting that the journalist thought he/she was originating the concept of guiltfree driving as a marketing concept. It's been around a long time. In fact, back in July, I bought several domain names based on this concept.

    DriveGuiltFreeNow.Com
    GuiltFreeDriving.Info

    And a couple of others, which I now have pointed at SolarChargedDriving.Com.

    Couldn't get "driveguiltfree.com" someone had already bought it back in July. So, they're definitely quite a few folks thinking along these lines.

    For instance, someone's bought -- "cleanmiles.com" and has a Flash page up at that domain name.

    --Christof

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  9. Christof,

    When I went to the Nissan event yesterday, I was under the impression that leasing the battery wasn't a good idea. I am now convinced that leasing the battery could be a good thing, at least initially.

    First of all, Nissan is serious about making fully electric cars. I got to speak with Carlos Ghosn last night at a reception for the Leaf in Santa Monica. I asked him when and why he became a fan of plug-ins as I'd heard a few years ago that he wasn't a fan of hybrids and extrapolated that to mean he didn't like plug-ins. He said he had liked the idea of battery electrics for a long time, but thought making hybrids was too complex to pencil out.

    Talking to another Nissan official, I found out that when Ghosn was brought in to help save Nissan back in the 90's, he was ruthless for cutting programs throughout the company to save money and make the company profitable again. But, when it came to a small battery division, he said to keep it going because, even back then, he saw promise in the BEV.

    As for leasing the battery, their logic goes like this: They want to sell the car for about the same as an equivalent gas car. When you buy a gas car, you get it cheap, but then you have to buy gas to drive it. This can be represented as a monthly payment that will rise or fall depending on how far you drive. Most people drive approximately the same month to month, and therefore their cost of operation can be represented by a set amount.

    Nissan plans to make the battery lease, plus the cost of kWh, about the same as one would pay for gas each month. Of course, this number is not yet known. They will keep crunching numbers till they come up with a price that's comparable to probably 10,000-12,000 miles a month buying gas at today's prices. This means you get to buy the car for a low price and the monthly cost will be comparable to that of driving a gas car.

    Since the cycle life and calendar life of LiIon is not well known yet, this will eliminate any concern that the battery will not last long enough to pencil out for someone who bought the battery pack. Eventually, as these cycle lives are better known, they will probably then bundle the car and battery together for purchase since one could presumedly know for certain that if they kept the car for X number of years, it's total cost of ownership will be the same or better than an equivalent gas car.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Paul,
    Thank you for the follow-up.I understand Nissan's rationale, and I see merit in beginning with a battery lease and then moving to selling the entire package -- if and when li-ion proves itself.

    But I have to say that leasing the battery lowers the appeal in some ways for me -- because the battery lease costs amount to the same as gas costs for a gas-powered car. I thought one of the big attractions of an EV was very low or no monthly fueling costs. The battery lease = a fueling cost, in my view.

    And for those of us who want to drive a 100-percent solar-charged EV, with a lease, it doesn't really feel like we're escaping the fueling charge in the same way it would if we owned the battery.

    --Christof

    p.s. -- I just added your blog to the EV resources page on SolarChargedDriving.Com.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Paul,

    You mentioned that you were not sure whether the Leaf could "freewheel". The Leaf will have a neutral shift position "N", the same as any other car. To "freewheel" it would be possible to select "N" or to tip into the accelerator pedal just a smidge to null-out the power gauge. The is no power gauge in the Versa mule, but there is on the Leaf. It is right in the middle of the meter. LED's light up to the right as power is expended, and LED's light to the left as energy is regenerated.

    Best regards,
    Barry Koval
    Senior Project Engineer
    Nissan Technical Center North America

    ReplyDelete
  12. I could definitely see the upside of not having to worry about the battery a few years down the line. I'd think the battery would not perform as well (or not hold as much charge) after 5+ years, at which point you can probably go the your local Nissan dealer and swap it for a lease on a new one. I think it's also a good business move by Nissan, since it would create a recurring income stream for the company which could help counter the auto inudstry's notorious cyclicality - i.e. help avert bankrupcy during a downturn.

    Also, I'd bet that there will eventually be a competitive secondary battery market. At some point in the future you will probably be able to buy or lease a battery from a 3rd party supplier - likely at a lower price.

    ReplyDelete
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