Nissan has fallen behind domestic rivals like Honda and Toyota in the green stakes. Both have hybrids on sale in the UK but Nissan has nothing. To match the pair Nissan has decided to make a fully electric vehicle (EV) the main pillar of its eco strategy, with plans to have an EV in production by 2010. Luckily Nissan’s had its fingers in the electric pies since 1996. with a lithium-ion Prairie concept. Ugly on the top, but with clear futuristic thinking beneath.
But this EV looks like the Nissan Cube.
Ignore the current-shape Cube body – it’s merely the guinea pig for the platform hidden underneath. It houses a bank of lithium-ion batteries and promises to drive and act like a proper car. That's why we've just jetted to Nissan’s Oppama Plant test track in Japan to go for a silent spin…
Will the final EV car be based on something from the existing range?
Definitely not, according to Nissan’s senior vice president Minoru Shinohara. The EV will have a totally unique platform and body, which will probably start life as one style and then multiply into mini-MPV and coupe variants. It will be a B-segment (Cube-sized) or C-segment car though, and its looks will be key to drawing in electric sceptics.
Click 'Next' below to find out how the Nissan EV drives
Cut to the chase then. How does it drive?
Turn the key and a dash light saying 'ready' illuminates. There is a voltage gauge and the whoosh of air conditioning, but no other sound. Press the right pedal and the EV pulls strongly. Squeeze the throttle hard and the thing positively takes off. The joy of electricity means there is maximum torque on tap from the word go, but there's no need for a gearbox. The silence is eerie but adds to the excitement.
This is an EV that can match Nissan’s Infiniti G35 3.5 V6 in the torque stakes, and level peg it to 30mph. Plus it can reach 80 percent charge in 30-60 minutes, but there’s no emissions and no noise. Well, there is some noise if you really shove it into corners. It is almost impossible not to be impressed. Transitions from hard braking to hard throttle can be jerky, but this will easily be remedied between now and 2010.
This work-in-progress EV has an 80kW (107bhp) motor and will knock out 62mph in 13 seconds, topping out around 90mph - although we'd swear Nissan’s bods are being conservative. The acceleration surge tails off after 60mph but it feels swift, with no gear shift pauses because it doesn’t have a gearbox. According to EV project manager Satoshi Komiya the finished machine should reach 62mph in under five seconds. This thing will scorch hot hatches off the line...
The EV Cube we drove had a battery range of 100-120 km (depending on how you drive it and how much you use the air-con and other electric items) but the 2010 production target is at least 100 miles between charges. A full charge is obtained in 6-8 hours.
Click 'Next' below to read about the battery technology in Nissan's EV
What about the batteries? Will it need 3000 to last longer than five minutes?
Batteries are getting smaller and more powerful by the year. Nissan’s EV uses the latest laminated (to disperse heat) lithium-ion modules, which are about the size of a small (closed) laptop or TV dinner. Twenty four of these modules fit inside a special case, which weighs 100kg, and there are three cases in the EV we tested.
Where have the batteries come from?
Nissan has joined forces with NEC to create AESC (Automotive Energy Supply Corporation). This means Nissan has its own dedicated battery R&D facility and will produce its own lithium-ion cells. It also means Nissan can provide sister companies like Renault with this technology or sell to anyone it likes.
And before you ask, the life expectancy of the 2010 Nissan EV batteries are ten years. In addition, general manager Kazuhiro Doi assures CAR that the cells can then be re-used (as opposed to recycled) in applications like wind farm energy storage.
Doi also exclusively revealed to CAR that solar roof panels were being considered for trickle charging the electric Nissan when it finally hits the showroom. By that time let’s hope there will be charging infrastructures in place and tax incentives.
It feels alien to experience speed and agility in a ghostly silence but get used to it. Nissan's EV proves that a small electric car can provide thrills, smugness (zero emissions) and potentially live outside the big bad cities. Roll on 2011, when Brits will finally get it.