We Drive Nissan's Electric Car, and It's Sweet
The prototype of Nissan's forthcoming electric car may look like a breadbox, but the technology beneath that boxy body could propel the Japanese automaker to the front of the EV pack when the car hits the road next year.
Nissan may be a small player compared to the likes of General Motors, Toyota and Honda, but it's probably the most committed to EVs. CEO Carlos Ghosn has said in no uncertain terms that cars with cords are the future of the automobile. And he's backed that up with an all-in bet on a practical, affordable hatchback with decent range, reasonable recharge time and room for five people. Oh - and Nissan says it'll cost about 90 cents to charge.
"It's a real car with 100-mile range," said Mark Perry, Nissan's director of product planning. "We may not be the first to market with an EV, but we'll be the first to mass-market an EV."
Forget hydrogen and ethanol. Electricity is the next big thing in cars. Just about everyone has jumped on the EV bandwagon, and most of the major automakers promise to have one on the road between 2010 and 2012. General Motors has garnered the most attention for the Chevrolet Volt, a range-extended EV we'll see by the end of 2010. But GM is hardly alone. BMW is deploying a test fleet of electric Minis. Daimler is working on an electric Smart city car. Tesla Motors recently unveiled its gorgeous sedan. Ford is working on an electric car based on the Fusion or Fiesta, and even Chrysler is getting in on the act with cars we might see in a year or two if it's still in business.
Every one of them could end up following Nissan to the party.
"Nissan could end up being the come-from-behind leader in the EV space because Carlos Ghosn has pushed them so aggressively," said Darryl Siry, an electric car expert and clean tech analyst at Peppercom. "Nissan is making moves that could make it the major mass-market EV player among the established automakers."
Nissan brought the prototype to San Francisco and let us take it for a spin.
The car we'll see in showrooms by the end of 2010 won't look like the prototype, which is a Cube city car fitted with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The as-yet-unnamed car slated for production will be a five-door hatchback based on a "heavily modified" Versa chassis. Perry wouldn't give us any hints about what the production model will look like, but he promised it will be distinctive — yet restrained.
"We want it to be iconic," he said. "We want people to look at it and know it's an EV. But we want it to be a real car. It can't be strange."
Our test drive was limited to a half-mile loop around a big parking lot near San Francisco Bay, so we can't offer a definitive assessment. But we can tell you the drivetrain offered brisk acceleration — a hallmark of electric motors, which offer great torque — and the car felt nimble. Everything about it felt like we'd just driven it off the showroom floor.