Nissan shows "mule" of all-electric car

  • 19-May-2009 10:33 EDT
­A previous-generation Cube is the "mule" that holds the lithium-ion battery pack, electric motor drive, and accessories for the all-electric hatchback that Nissan will introduce in late 2010.­

The all-electric car that Nissan will introduce late next year will be a well-equipped five-passenger model with a 100-mi (160-km) range and a price tag equal to that of a comparable gasoline-engine vehicle. The promise was made by Mark Perry, Nissan Americas Director of Product Planning/sedans and minivans. The price estimate, he said, is separate from any U.S. Federal or state credits—the former being up to $7500 for the first 200,000 by an OEM.

He spoke at a press demonstration program in Bear Mountain, NY, which included brief test drives of a "mule," a previous-generation Cube equipped with the electric-drive system. The forthcoming all-electric car will be on a new front-drive hatchback platform with a "sandwich" floorpan to hold a lithium-ion battery pack. The press consensus at the program was that the performance would be close to a four-cylinder compact sedan.

Although he declined to disclose total energy density of the lithium-ion pack, Perry said the batteries are rated at 140 W·h/kg, and the 100-mi range is for at least five years or 60,000 mi (100,000 km). When a battery pack no longer delivers satisfactory in-car performance, it will be replaced.

Although the lithium-ion battery's life presently may be substantially shorter than that for the nickel-metal hydride type used in gasoline-electric hybrids, the lower weight and greater power density is what makes the all-electric vehicle construction feasible, and Nissan anticipates gradual product improvement.

Further, "although the pack's performance will deteriorate, it will still have value," Perry told the press conference. He said Nissan is hoping to "rent" the packs to individuals or utilities that generate power during off-peak periods, such as wind power at night, and need energy storage to supply daytime loads. Eventually he said, the packs would be retrieved from that service and recycled.

The all-electric Nissan, using a U.S. Department of Energy formula, will deliver the equivalent of 367 mpg. Possible replacement of a battery pack aside, the cost is $0.04/mi ($0.024/km) based on $0.14 kW·h vs. $0.13/mi ($0.078/km) for a car operating on $4.00/gal fuel. Gasoline would have to drop to $1.10/gal to equal the all-electric, Perry said. Even if a coal-fired plant generates the electricity, he added, the total carbon emissions are 60% lower than a comparable gasoline-engine car.

The car will come with a built-in charger for a simple connection to a 120-volt household outlet for overnight recharging. An owner also may choose to have a special module wired to the household's 240-volt terminals, with which the full recharge time is reduced to four hours. Commercially installed 480-volt recharging stations, such as at fast-food outlets, could recharge up to 80% in 26 minutes, Perry added.

Although he would cite no price estimate for a replacement battery pack, Perry said that Nissan has vehicle manufacturing cost advantages for the pack because the technology is its own—manganese positive electrode, graphite negative electrode, and nano-level electrode design. Automotive Energy Supply Corp., a joint venture with NEC, Nissan holding 51%, will manufacture the batteries for a "smaller supplier markup," Perry said.

The battery packs are the rectangular laminated-cell type, which are half the size and run much cooler than the cylindrical cell packs under consideration by other manufacturers. The cooler running means they suffer less of a temperature increase at higher energy densities, which improves overall performance. The battery control system manages charge of individual cells and can disconnect individually in case of a failure.

The "no-price premium" promise is based on battery pack cost advantages, plus deletion of a range-extending engine, or in a full hybrid the engine, transmission, and axles, Perry said. The car will be equipped with PTC (positive temperature coefficient) resistance heaters and a variable-speed electric-motor-drive air conditioning compressor, minimizing A/C operation with a computer-controlled algorithm based on cooling load. The LA-04 drive cycle was used to confirm the 100-mi range, and that includes some heating and A/C cooling, Perry said. Cruise control, power steering, audio and navigation system, and a complement of air bags also will be standard, he added.

Although the possible cost of a replacement battery pack is not now a resolved issue, Perry noted that the all-electric car eliminates the expense for engine oil and filter changes and some other powertrain maintenance.

Sales will begin in up to 15 markets, starting along the U.S. west coast and in Arizona, Perry said. Although early distribution (leasing and sales) will be primarily for fleet/commercial use in 2010 and 2011, Nissan also will sell to individuals if the local infrastructure is ready. Mass-marketing to individuals is expected by 2012, and the all-electric is expected to reach 10% of Nissan sales within five years.

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