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Nissan is reportedly taking its first official orders on Tuesday for the all-electric LEAF, which will basically be the first mass-produced mainstream-targeted electric vehicle on the market. GM’s Volt, which is an extended range electric vehicle (has a small gas engine to extend its range) will come out later this year and Coda’s all-electric sedan will be delivered to customers in December. So finally starts the rebirth of competition and innovation around the electric car — this week history is made.
But now comes the hard part for consumers — figuring out which, if any, of the electric vehicles are good options for you. Here’s what you need to know about the LEAF:
1). Low Cost: It’s pretty much the lowest cost mass-produced, highway legal, 4-wheel, mainstream all electric vehicle that will hit that market in the next two years. At $32,000 before federal and state subsidies, and with subsidies a potential price of $25,000, the LEAF has undercut most of its competitors, including the Volt, and likely the Coda sedan (thought that pricing will be announced soon).
2). Limited Availability for Awhile: If you don’t have a reservation already, fuggedaboutit — at least for the next six to nine months. There’s been some speculative reports that Nissan shifted thousands of its available LEAFs to sell in Japan, and will only make several thousand LEAFs available for the U.S. market until the end of the first quarter of 2011. Whatever the numbers, though, expect to wait out of the gate for this car.
3). Range Issues?: At least two CEOs of electric vehicle competitors — Tesla and Coda — have said that the Nissan LEAF has an unsophisticated battery thermal management system, which means the LEAF’s range could fluctuate dramatically over its published 100 miles. Extreme hot and cold weather could cut its range under certain conditions to 40 miles, said Coda CEO Kevin Czinger, and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk said that the battery could just flat out stop working under extreme enough temperatures.
4). Connected Car: Nissan’s LEAF will have one of the more sophisticated networked car services out there called EV-IT. Nissan’s Director of Product Planing for North America, Mark Perry, told us that the car giant is working with AT&T to provide a connection for digital services for the car, like battery charge monitoring and being able to find the nearest charging station. EV-IT’s services include being able to see the radius that the car can drive with the current battery state of charge, as well as being able to identify the closest available electric vehicle charger on a map. The car also has a dedicated iPhone application and LEAF-owners will be able to remotely monitor the state of charge of the battery, and can pre-heat or pre-cool the car. Nissan also plans to roll the Internet, smart phone connectivity and advanced navigation into the base price of the LEAF.
5). Profitable Only With Ramp Up: While the automaker has previously described the model as being priced for profitability from the get-go, Nissan then said that it expects to initially lose money on the vehicle, at least until it fires up high volume production at a U.S. plant in 2013. “Over the course of the vehicle life, it is profitable — in year three,” Nissan’s U.S. sales and marketing director Brian Carolin tells the Wall Street Journal.
6). Battery Costs Coming Down: The battery is the most expensive part of electric vehicles and according to a Bloomberg interview with Masahiko Otsuka, president of Nissan’s battery-making joint venture with NEC Corp, Nissan has the ambitious target of bringing the cost per kilowatt-hour for its battery pack to less than $370 per kilowatt-hour. That’s down from an estimated $472 per kilowatt-hour for its batteries today, and is one of the most low cost batteries out there.
7). Not Read to Buy? Lease It: Nissan also plans to offer an option to lease the LEAF for $349 per month, which is a fraction of the lease payment for a Tesla Roadster, but on the high end compared to leasing offers available cars like the conventional Civic. Nissan said late last year that it plans to provide the financing for most or all of the LEAF sedans in its initial rollout, as part of an effort to keep upfront costs down for customers. If Nissan is the one issuing the lease contract, the reasoning goes, then it gets to set the residual value (the car’s projected worth at the end of the lease). In general, while other factors also come into play, the higher the residual value is set — based on more optimistic estimates of long-term vehicle value and potential after-vehicle applications for the battery — the lower the monthly lease payments will be.
8). Saving on Gas? Not So Much: One reason consumers might want to be an early adopter of an EV is to cut out the gas visits and fees. Paying for electricity instead of gas, EV drivers can end up seeing lower costs over time compared to conventional vehicles. But according to TheTruthAboutCars, LEAF owners would actually save just $361 after six years of ownership. Ouch.
9). 8 Year Warranty: Shortly after GM announced that it would offer an 8-year 100,000 mile warranty for its Volt, Nissan ponied up with the same metric for the Nissan LEAF.
10). MPG Buster: Beyond the Nissan LEAF, Nissan plans to offer 5 MPG-busting technologies coming out this year. These technologies include a hybrid system with an electronically controlled clutch and a lithium-ion battery supplied by AESC, a new 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, turbocharged direct injection gas engine, a pair of technologies for models rolling out this month in Japan, including the Nissan March (aka Micra) powertrain, and the latest automatic transmission X-Trail model. Then there’s the “clean diesel” engine. Expect Nissan to incorporate any of these innovations where available into the LEAF.
Here’s our test drive of the Nissan LEAF and below it the latest commercial for the Nissan LEAF: