By Derek Mau
We received an invitation to take quick spin in Nissan’s new zero-emission electric vehicle (EV), the Nissan Leaf. Want to know what it Nissan is doing towards moving us away from fossil-fuel burning cars? Read on and I’ll fill you in on some of the details.
Nissan is ready to introduce one of the first 100% electric vehicles produced by a major carmaker in late 2010. The Nissan Leaf is a sub-compact, 5 passenger car that is driven solely by an electric motor powered by a Lithium-ion battery stack. The electric motor cranks out 80kW and 280 Nm of torque. The stack of Li-ion batteries, comprised of 48 modules, has a capacity of 24kW and produces over 90kW of power. For comparison purposes, the gas and electric motors of the 2010 Prius have a combined power output of 100kW (134 hp).
Cruising range for this serenely quiet EV is approximately 100 miles on a single charge and has a top speed of 90 mph. A depleted battery takes about 8 hours to recharge on a 220V home-charging unit. Much less if you can recharge at a super-recharging station or top off a partially discharged battery.
We guesstimate the market price will be in the neighborhood of a nicely appointed Prius after you receive a US government energy tax credit (up to $7500). Eco-warriors watching their pennies may be consoled by the prospect of fewer trips to the gas pump and no additional hydrocarbons added to the environment from the tailpipe the Leaf. If you look closely, the Leaf does not have an exhaust pipe.
Living the green lifestyle isn’t cheap and neither is the technology. A major part of the cost inherent in EV cars is going to be the Lithium-ion batteries. Developing the Li-ion batteries for automotive purposes has its own challenges and the science behind getting these batteries to run cooler, last longer, and produce enough power to move 1 1/2 tons of glass and steel is a major achievement.
The test mule we drove was a modified Versa chassis that was built on top of the Leaf’s EV drivetrain. The Li-ion batteries are stored under the floor of the car for a couple of good reasons.
1) Location of the batteries allows for maximum passenger and cargo capacity
2) Better weight distribution under the floorpan distributes the weight more evenly
3) Lower center of gravity
4) More neutral handling
Drives Like a Car, Shifts Like a Car, Stops Like a Car
Even though our ride was super short and could have been timed with a stopwatch, we didn’t bring our G-Tech meter to measure the Leaf’s performance. According to Nissan, unofficial 0-60 mph is approximately 9 seconds and can reach its top speed of 90 mph in the 14 second range. Basically, the accelerator response of the Leaf is very similar to a compact car with a normally aspirated 4-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE). Off-the-line performance, as judged by my butt-meter, is really good considering vehicle weight is in the neighborhood of 2,500 – 3,000 pounds. The Lithium-ion battery stack accounts for 500 pounds of the Leaf’s curb weight.
Turn-in response was a little on the heavy side, but having the batteries under the floorpan helped keep the nose out of the cones. Zipping through the slalom section of the course was done without drama and minimal body lean. Dashing from stoplight to stoplight could be fun because response from the accelerator pedal was almost instantaneous. There was no lag or delay that you get with an ICE or turbocharged car.
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