Nissan makes a major impact in the green car market with its rollout of the world’s first zero-emission car with a real viable chance at mass market appeal—the Nissan LEAF.
The 2011 Nissan LEAF sports medium-sized hatchback styling that should accommodate five adults comfortably. Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, the Nissan LEAF attempts to answer the biggest issue with all-electric cars getting beyond a block from home without the need for a recharge by delivering a range of 100 miles on a single charge.
That’s not a bad trade-off.Nissan LEAF Has Plenty of Go
Here’s how it works: The newly designed Nissan LEAF gets power from 48 laminated compact lithium-ion battery modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that provides 107 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. That should make for a highly responsive and fun driving experience, geared toward satisfying the needs of consumers used to enjoying their zippy, conventional gas-powered vehicles.Seriously, No Tailpipe on the Nissan LEAF
If you’re familiar with electric vehicles, you won’t be surprised to learn that unlike internal-combustion engine-equipped automobiles, the Nissan LEAF’s power train can say goodbye completely to a tailpipe, achieving absolutely zero emissions from CO
One of the biggest worries with early model electric cars was the time needed to charge between drives and the distance the car could go on a full charge. The Nissan LEAF will go to 80 percent of full capacity in only a half hour of charging if equipped with the optional “quickcharge” port and utilizing a DC fast charger. More conventional means of charging through a 220V outlet found at home will take you about eight hours or about an overnight’s wait. You’ll find the battery pack comes with a decent warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles, making it industry- competitive.
In what it calls “smart fluidity,” Nissan has attempted to bring some sophisticated appeal to aerodynamic styling of the LEAF. Its exterior look is punctuated by sharp, upright V-shaped design highlighted by long, upward-slanting LED headlights sporting a blue internal reflective appearance. In an interesting styling move, Nissan has the headlights split and redirect airflow away from the door mirrors in an effort to reduce both drag and noise, while a newly designed roof-mounted antenna and windshield wiper system reduce wind and operating noise as well.
The headlights are also expected to consume about half the electricity of conventional styling. Nissan gave the LEAF a slim LED taillight design and sharp corners that fit well with the aerodynamic rear bumper that yes, is muffler-less. A rear diffuser coupled with a flat underbody helps bring the coefficient of drag down to a mere 0.29. Add a low, compact hood and large rear spoiler, and Nissan may have made the mark on style, although LEAF’s look probably isn’t going to please consumers looking for a sleeker, sportier outline. Still, as commuter vehicles go, LEAF holds its own in the looks department.High-Tech Nissan LEAF Interior
Nissan aimed for and mostly achieves a high-tech look for the interior of the LEAF. It boasts a wide, contemporary-styled instrument panel design dominated by a twin combination meter display of the driver and a center “floating” piano black C-stack with a 7-inch information display. Not too shabby. It also gives a digital “eyebrow” style display at the top of the instrument panel for ease of visibility of the Eco indicator and speedometer. The lower liquid crystal meter is home to the power meter, battery temperature gauge, multi-function display, remaining energy gauge, capacity level gauge and distance-to-empty display.
Nissan LEAF has a standard navigation system with color monitor and also offers an optional rearview monitor. This display is also the driver's avenue to the CARWINGS telematics system and the Nissan LEAF comes with a free subscription for the first 36 months. This subscriber system allows the driver to remotely set climate controls and charging functions, even while the vehicle is powered down, a nice add-on feature. The system also provides a selection of nearby charging stations and monitors available drive distance. Nissan LEAF’s on-board remote-controlled time can be programmed to recharge the batteries.
Center console, advanced air bag system, seat belt and child restraint equipment, traction control system and the three-spoke steering wheel are fairly typical, but nice, and do the job. The only interior color currently offered is grey, although it works fine with all offered exteriors.
The Nissan LEAF has comfortable front bucket seating and 60/40 split folding rear seat with seat fabric of partially recycled materials rounds out the interior offerings. You’ll also find green touches in the trim, door panels and carpeting, all of which make use of recycled material.Innovative Battery Design for Nissan LEAF
Nissan claims an innovative battery design that utilizes an all-new dedicated EV platform with batteries housed in the floor. A rigid-mounted battery frame helps provide greater body rigidity compared to the crash-resistance of a conventional compact car, a nice advantage. The battery is made up of 48 compact modules of four cells each, allowing a high degree of packaging flexibility. They are designed to maximize drive time and minimize charging time, a no-brainer goal for the electric car sector. Automotive Energy Supply Corporation designed the new battery as a joint venture of Nissan and NEC. The thin, compacted laminated cells are expected to offer more flexibility in design applications than was seen with earlier battery designs. The newly designed battery powers an 80kW AC synchronous motor, rated at 107 hp and 207 lb.-ft of torque.
The Nissan LEAF has a 106.3 in. wheelbase with 175.0-in. overall length, 69.7-in. width and 61.0 height. Drivers of conventional cars will notice that unlike its combustion-engine counterparts, the LEAF is able to deliver 100 percent of its torque from the offset, making for an unusually smooth and consistent acceleration. Although rated at 100 miles per charge, Nissan notes that battery capacity does decrease with time and use. It will also be affected by driving habits and road conditions. Charging options are varied and include the 220V charge port at the front body and port for the portable trickle charge cable for 110V. The available Quick Charge Port allows charging to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes at public charging stations. There’s also an available photovoltaic solar panel spoiler, which supports charging of the 12-volt battery for car accessories.
Not surprisingly, LEAF’s standard regenerative braking system helps increase range. By applying the brakes or reducing speed by easing off the accelerator, the electric motor acts like an electric generator, converting energy that would otherwise be wasted into battery energy. To increase regenerative braking, there’s a driver-controlled Eco mode setting, which can also be used to reduce air conditioning and thus improve driving range when driving in urban areas.
If you’ve followed the recent legislation passed by Congress regarding the need for noise from hybrids and electric cars, you won’t be surprised to learn that because Nissan LEAF does not have an internal combustion engine, Nissan has incorporated an “Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” system, which is designed to alert pedestrians that a vehicle is approaching.Bottom Line for Nissan LEAF
Nissan claims LEAF will offer a lower total cost of ownership than comparable internal combustion engine-equipped vehicles. With less complexity (due to no engine, transmission or exhaust system), maintenance costs are projected to be lower and those predictions are certainly justified. In addition, the cost-per-mile of electric vehicles is projected to be about 20 to 30 percent of the cost of fuel (based on 15,000 miles, $3/gallon fuel and $0.11 kWh for electricity for similarly sized vehicles, U.S. Energy Information Administration figures for cents per kWh).
The 2011 Nissan LEAF was rolled out in December 2010 in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee. Texas and Hawaii are slated for January 2011, spring 2011 for North Carolina, Florida, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Georgia, followed by the rest of the country in late 2011.
Initial production is sourced from Oppama, Japan, with battery production at Zama, Japan. But construction is underway for new electric vehicle assembly and battery production facilities in Smyrna, Tennessee, with production slated to begin in 2012. Nissan says the plants will have an eventual annual production capacity of 150,000 electric vehicles.
In delivering the first LEAF to a California customer earlier this month, Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA), explained the company’s focus on the LE. “To reach a larger audience, beyond the early adopters and green-intenders, we must get the right product. Consumers do not want to compromise on space, driving enjoyment or technology features,” he added. “So, we’ve developed the Nissan LEAF to offer stimulating acceleration performance and a quiet, refined interior with the latest amenities and room for five adults while still carrying cargo – all in a vehicle that is totally electric, produces zero carbon emissions while driving and has 100 miles of range.”