Nissan – Leading the Electric Car Charge

Electric cars have been around for a long time, but until recently, they have been more of a novelty than a serious mass-produced machine. Gas prices of over $4 per gallon are still a recent painful memory for most Americans, and no doubt have contributed heavily to the momentum of electric car development. Virtually all of the major auto makers have jumped on board the EV (electric vehicle) wagon.

General Motors will soon be producing the much anticipated Chevy Volt, BMW is testing a new electric minivan design. Lesser known Tesla Motors has just raised the curtain on its new electric sedan. Ford will enter the ring with its own EV based on the Fusion or Fiesta. There are rumors that Chrysler is working on its own electric car. However, although all of these vehicles are scheduled to hit production sometime between 2010 and 2012, Nissan appears to be the closest to realizing world-wide deployment with its 100 mile range, all-electric “Leaf”.

This past weekend, Nissan displayed a prototype Little Rock of its new design at their headquarters in Yokohama. The styling is not as futuristic and edgy as one might expect, but rather has been intentionally created to resemble a normal automobile. Under the hood is an advanced lithium-ion battery system capable of powering the vehicle for 100 miles on a single charge. Speaking of which, although charging times will vary depending on the voltage available, it is possible to achieve an 80% charge in 26 minutes (that’s with a 440 volt power source). A typical residential charge time will be about 8 hours. The economics also vary a bit depending on the cost of electricity and gasoline, but one could expect to pay about 4 cents per mile to operate the Leaf versus about 8 to 10 cents per mile for a 30 mpg gasoline powered car.

The Leaf is slated to be available as a fleet vehicle in 2010, and if all goes well, will be deployed to worldwide consumers in 2012. Great, so you won’t have to wait too much longer to get one, but how much is it going to drain from your bank account? Not as much as you might think. Nissan says that the Leaf is targeted for volume as opposed to the more pricey hybrids currently available. The leaf should be offered at around the same price as a Nissan Altima or Maxima. The Altima currently starts around $20,000 while the Maxima is about $30,000. It also qualifies for a $7,500 federal electric car tax credit.

It looks like the electric car is finally going to be a reality for the average consumer, and as gas prices are creeping back up above $2.50 per gallon at the pumps, you can bet that demand for these vehicles is only going to increase. Nissan’s aggressive development and marketing of the Leaf is only going to accelerate this trend. Look for electric cars to grab significant automobile market share over the next 3 years.