In a tour around the country, Nissan is revealing more details about its 2011 Leaf electric car. Nissan plans traditional sales and leases of the Leaf starting next December. (There had been some speculation that the company might only lease the Leaf, or sell or lease the batteries separately from the car.)
The Leaf will use an 80 kW (107-hp) electric motor, which will give it a top speed of about 90 mph. The interior is well finished and looks roomy enough, though the company would not let us sit in the car. Glossy buttons on the center console are big, but may be hard to distinguish without looking. The large battery pack under the floor creates a large box that sticks out a little from the seats, which could be awkward. We’ll have to wait for further opportunities to drive the car to find out.
The five-passenger car will have a 24 kwh lithium-ion battery capable of a 100-mile range. As a purely battery-electric vehicle, it will not have a gas engine to extend the range like the Chevrolet Volt. Nissan still has not announced a price, but says the compact Leaf will sell for the price of a midsized sedan. Ownership costs are claimed to be in line with compact gas-powered cars, after accounting for fuel costs. At national average electric rates, it should cost about $2.80 to fully charge the Leaf, or an average of about $450 a year, Nissan says.
Although consumers will buy the Leaf complete with its batteries, they will likely have to buy the charger separately. The Leaf can be charged off of a 110-volt outlet, but that will take about 16 hours, limiting practicality. A faster 220-volt charger, made by Aerovironment, would charge the vehicle in about eight hours. It will be sold through Nissan dealers, though no price has yet been announced, and a consumer will have to pay for that charger to be installed in their home. Nissan is also working with cities and businesses to install 400-volt public charging stations, which will be able to give the Leaf an 80 percent charge in a half hour.
A timer on board will be able to set different times to start and stop charging. Drivers will be able to connect to the plugged-in Leaf using a Web site to tell the car to pre-heat or cool the interior to save battery power once on the road. Should the charge be interrupted for some reason, a text message will be sent to the owner’s cell phone.
Nissan plans to sell the Leaf primarily to suburbanites with relatively short commutes and families who can use it as a second or third car. Initially, the Leaf will be rolled out in Seattle; Oregon; Tennessee; Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; and San Diego, where it expects to sell a little less than 5,000 cars. Other markets that may launch a little later include San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Massachusetts; Raleigh, N.C., Sonoma County, Calif.; and Vancouver, Canada. Nissan said it will have the capacity to sell more than 150,000 Leafs (Leaves?) a year by 2012, when its own lithium ion battery factory is expected to open in Tennessee. The company also announced a partnership with Hertz to carry the electric Leaf in its rental fleet.—Eric Evarts