Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nissan Announces Affordable Price for the Leaf

Well, the gauntlet is down.

This morning, Nissan announced a price of $32,780 for the Leaf, a price that no doubt sent shivers down the spines of Toyota and Honda, not to mention GM execs. They now have to compete at a much lower price point if they want to play the game in which Nissan is writing the rules.

Keeping in mind the federal tax credit of $7,500, the price drops to a very affordable $25,280. Then, to top it off, several states throw in inducements of their own with CA providing an additional $5,000 rebate. We now have a base price of a mere $20,280, and the damn thing runs on sunlight!

It surprised me that Nissan was willing to divulge the price so early, but given the storm of interest the announcement has created, it was clearly a good idea.

Nissan won't be able to keep up with demand for at least the first two years. Word-of-mouth will be unlike any consumer product since the iPod. When each happy customer brings a Leaf home to display in their driveway, all their neighbors, family and friends will be clamoring for rides, and once given, they'll be sold that electric drive is the way to go.

This is not to say other plug-in vehicles won't sell just as well (we want you ALL to succeed), but Nissan will certainly grab the low hanging fruit that's been ripening for a long time. I imagine the Volt will do well, too, but we need to see their price before predicting much.

The federal tax credits are good for the first 200,000 units from each manufacturer. California's rebates only total $4.1 million, so they'll go fast, although there's a decent chance we'll add more to the kitty next year.

Other states offer incentives, too. See Plug In America's compilation here.

To get in line for a Leaf, you need to go to their website starting 4/20 through 5/15 and register by putting down a $99 fully refundable deposit. That gets you in line. Some time in August, you'll actually get to tell Nissan what goodies you want on the car and place your order. Deliveries to selected markets start in December and roll out across the country in 2011 and globally in 2012.

It is confirmed that you'll have the choice of buying the car or leasing, although the trial balloon of buying the car and leasing the battery is no longer on the table.

A $2,200 charging station will be installed and 50% of that is returned as an additional federal tax credit.

Nissan's willingness to lock in the price at such an early date has made the wait for the car easier in a way. With the benchmark made real, we can all plan for the day when the Leaf, or some other plug-in car, is ours to keep.

Old Walt here has turned into a grumpy puppy waiting for his owner to get an EV. Pretty soon, I hope to see him smile again:~)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Zero Motorcycles gets Schwarzenegger nod

Gov. Schwarzenegger famously rides his Harley up the Pacific Coast Highway on weekends with his buddies, but yesterday, he took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the benefits of zero-emission bikes when he showed off several Zero Motorcycles outside the capitol in Sacramento.

Zero seems to be gaining ground in this burgeoning market of quiet, yet powerful 2-wheel scooters and motorcycles. Several companies are vying for the upper end of electric motorcycle world, Mission Motors, Brammo and Honda among others. Zero, however, has been selling their super quick dirt bike for over a year now and have added a road version to entice commuters wanting some excitement in their ride to and from work.

I had the opportunity to ride the Zero a while back at Santa Monica's AltCar Expo and was thoroughly impressed. As a rider of the super smooth Vectrix Maxi Scooter, I was ready for some quick acceleration, but what I got was way more than I was prepared for. The 0-30 was a scary quick 2 seconds! I know, I know, we usually hear 0-60 times, but you have to experience this off-the-line speed on a virtually silent bike that weighs a mere 172 lbs to understand how cool that is. By comparison, my Vectrix hits 30 in about 4 seconds and weighs in at a hefty 465 lbs.

I'm looking forward to trying the Zero road bike next. Maybe I'll check them out at Hollywood Electrics, a new store specializing in electric bikes of all kinds.

For those who live in big cities in warm climates, the electric two-wheeler is a great option for getting from point A to point B with a minimum of energy or effort. Now, I'm gonna take a quick ride down to the beach for the sunset!

On the far right is Plug In America's super-effective legislative director, Jay Friedland. When you finally go to pick up your shiny new EV at the the showroom of GM, Ford, Nissan, Volvo, Mercedes or any other OEMs making them, say a little thank you to Jay for the $7,500 federal tax credit and the $5,000 CA state tax credit ($1,500 for motorcycles:~). Jay was instrumental in making those happen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Volt may be ahead of schedule

Jim Motavalli reports on BNET that the first production models of GM's Chevy Volt are close to rolling off the Hamtramck assembly line in Detroit. No specific date was given, nor did the story say whether the cars would go on sale sooner than the oft-stated November time line. However, it's becoming clear that GM has been aggressively pushing their EV team to be the first major OEM to release a plug-in car to the public to get ahead of the competition.

Nissan is scheduled to bring their 100% electric Leaf to market by December. The battle for market share between the plug-in hybrid vs. pure battery electric will commence shortly.

Photo is of the battery pack being installed at the Hamtamck assembly plant.

Monday, March 15, 2010

“Let’s have a tea while charging”

The big topic these days is charging infrastructure, a rather dry sounding term, but something with which everyone will soon be very familiar. It's what gets the kWh into your battery.

This is a very good article on the joining of five of Japan's strongest companies in the auto and electric power business forming a group to, among other things, set a standard for fast charging electric vehicles.

To recap... there are three levels of charging a plug-in vehicle.

Level 1 is your standard household current (120Volt) and charges at a rate of 4-6 miles per hour of charging.

Level 2 is like a dryer plug and charges at 240V 30 amps up to 90A. That's a range of from 18 miles to as much as 80 miles per hour of charge.

Level 1 & 2 have been standardized in the U.S. under something called SAE J1772. Level 3 has not been standardized.

Level 3 is what we're talking about here. It is 480V starting at 125A and going up to over 1,000A. This is serious power, not anything that you'd get at home. Level 3 charging is defined in this story as less than 30 minutes for a full charge.

Level 3 charging will allow for intercity driving with an EV and it'll allow for apartment and condo dwellers who may not have a place to park at night near electricity, to charge while at the coffee shop on the way to work.

"Each of these companies has some skin in the electric car game, and the firms announced a partnership this morning dubbed the CHAdeMO Association. As explained in today’s release, CHAdeMO (an abbreviation of “charge for moving,” as well as a pun translated to, “Let’s have a tea while charging”) is also the trade name for the quick-charging system that the group is proposing as a global industry standard."

As engineers will tell you, efficiency is king and standards promote efficiency.

I like the part about it being a global standard. The U.S., Asia and Europe have different standards for Level 1 & 2, but we'll all be better served by making Level 3 a global standard.

This group currently consists of only Japanese companies, but I hope that all the world's carmakers and charging infrastructure companies join to help create a single standard that all can use.