Driving Nissan's Electric Future

Nissan formally announced on August 6, 2008, that it will begin selling two all-new alternative-fuel cars - a front-wheel-drive full-electric vehicle and a V-6-powered, rear-wheel-drive hybrid - sometime in the 2010 fiscal year.


The Japanese automaker will launch up to a few thousand electric vehicles (EV) for fleet use in Japan and the United States in 2010, with full-fledged consumer production coming online in 2012. A body for the car hasn't yet been revealed, but Nissan told us at a preview event at the GRANDRIVE Proving Ground in Opama, Japan, that its initial EV will look like no other existing Nissan product (nor will it look like a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight). A full lineup of related EVs of differing body styles will follow.

Nissan senior vice president Minoru Shinohara promises that the EV will be "very attractive in performance" and not boring. Based on our brief drive of EV-01, a Nissan Cube prototype mule with the EV powertrain, we certainly believe him. From behind the wheel, EV-01 was highly impressive, with lots of smooth torque readily available for standing starts, passing maneuvers, and steady cruising. The EV's brakes are regenerative - although not to the extent of a conventional hybrid's - but they felt relatively normal, and the overall driving experience felt much more Real Car than Overgrown Golf Cart. In fact, eliminating tire and wind noise likely will be among the biggest hurdles for the production car, given that the 107-hp (80-kW) motor/inverter powertrain is nearly silent.

According to Kazuhiro Doi, a general manager in Nissan's technology department, the production EV will have a range of about 100 miles, which is respectable but remains less than half the claimed range of the exotic Tesla Roadster (220 miles). Still, Nissan's EV surely will be much more affordable and attainable, making it a closer competitor to the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in gasoline/electric hybrid also due in 2010.

Nissan hasn't marketed a completely electric car since the tres-cool, J-cool Hyper Mini, which was built from 2000-2003.

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