Nissan LEAF Arriving in 2012 With Affordable Price Tag

If you were at Westfield Bondi Junction anytime this week, you may have seen a sky blue car sitting in centre court, right next to Borders. That blue car? It's called the LEAF, and it's Nissan's new zero emission, electric vehicle prototype that's about to become a reality in Australia.

I sat down with Nissan's team this week to discuss their delivery of what they describe as "the world’s first competitively priced, mass-produced electric vehicle". The LEAF is a five-seater hatchback, reminiscent in size and shape to the moderately successful Tiida, runs on a 200kg lithium-ion battery that sits under the seats, and puts out 80kW of engine power and 290Nm of torque to deliver speeds of up to 140km/h - and all with no tailpipe emissions.

Japan, the States and selected European markets will get the LEAF first in late 2010, with Australian deliveries expected to begin in 2012.

Below is an edited transcript of my interview with Kazuhiro Doi, GM of Nissan's Technology Marketing and Planning and Advanced Engineering, and Michael Hayes, Regional EV Manager Australia and New Zealand.

What has been the biggest challenge in the LEAF's development? Doi: The biggest challenge is, of course, the cost. Especially the cost of the battery. But the performance of the EV is not only dependent on the battery itself - how we control the battery is key. For example, one difficulty stems from deterioration of the battery. In the case of the LEAF, after 10 years, battery capacity will decrease 20 or 30 per cent. If we don't know how to control the battery, it's gonna be worse. Now we are trying to reduce the cost through volume.

How does the LEAF compare with other EVS like the Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Subaru Stella? Do you see them as competitors? Doi: No. Their markets are different, because they are small cars and very expensive. We are compact but big enough for five people, so the customer base is different. Nissan's biggest advantage is the volume of the vehicle. We aim to sell a lot of EVs so the LEAF price will be competitive. I've yet to see this kind of competitive price in the EV market. Now I can say that we have no competitors. But soon, many companies will join this competition, like Toyota and Honda. Korean makers are also potential competitors because Korea has very strong electronics companies like LG or Samsung. LG is also making lithium-ion batteries, so they can supply the battery to the Korean makers, but so far no Korean makers seem to have an interest in the EV. I don't know why, I don't know when, but they are potential competitors.

What sort of price can we expect to see on the LEAF? Doi: We're aiming for a total cost of ownership equivalent to the Tiida in Australia. Of course, the EV has extra value. Even if we can realise a total cost of ownership similar to a petrol vehicle, the initial cost is still higher for the customer.

Hayes: That's why we definitely need some incentives from the government. Some of them will be financial, some of them non-financial. In the US, for example, you get to use the express lane on freeways. We're lobbying with governments that the consumer shouldn't have to bear that cost on their own. We're currently working with governments at state levels and federal levels to provide incentives for Australia.

What does the mechanical upkeep involve compared to a conventional car? How is it serviced and how much does it cost? Doi: There is less "water stuff" in the EV. Petrol engines require coolants to cool the engine, and EVs require much less oil. In that sense, EV is more close to maintenance-free. But still, EVs use a similar type of brakes and other mechanical parts like the steering wheel or the suspension. So the customer still needs to do an inspection at the dealers. But if we make the electronics parts well, the chance of breaking down is less than gasoline cars. Dealers will need special training. From the viewpoint of the safety of the people who work at the dealers, they have to know about high voltage, because EVs use very, very high voltage.

Hayes: Vehicle technicians will have to do additional training specific to an EV, then they would undergo vehicle specific training which would be done by the manufacturer, just like we currently do training for Tiida and Maxima and Murano as well. There would certainly be an additional requirement to have certification on electric vehicles.

How does the LEAF perform at freeway speeds? Doi: On the highway, I think it's similar to a conventional petrol vehicle. It's very, very quiet, much more quiet than a luxury vehicle because there is no engine. Also on the highway, most of the noise comes from the wind. In the case of the LEAF, we are trying to control the air flow to avoid the wind hitting the door mirror. That means from low speed to high speed, the LEAF is definitely quiet. In terms of driving performance, it's equivalent to a similar-sized vehicle, at least not less.

How many do you expect to sell in Australia? Hayes: Lots. Everything we can get! We're working through the business plan at the moment. Obviously it's slightly different inasmuch as the electric vehicle market doesn't exist per se in Australia, there's a lot of work we have to do over and above what we usually do, so we're working through that at the moment. Our goal is to treat this vehicle as a mass market vehicle, not a niche vehicle, we're not really trying to sell 50 cars a year, we want to be considerably more than that. Our ability to do that will depend to a certain extent on governments coming and helping in reducing the total ownership cost of the vehicle. Running costs will be reduced because electricity is cheaper per kilometre than petrol, maintenance costs we believe will be reduced also because there's less placement parts for every service - there's no oil, air filters, spark plugs, so again those things aren't going to landfill anywhere. They just don't get replaced. But there's a high upfront cost, so we're looking particularly towards state and federal governments to assist consumers getting into those vehicles. If we can do that and make the buy-in price closer and ownership cost in parity to a petrol vehicle, then we'll be able to sell a good deal more. Without a high level of government involvement in that, perhaps we'll sell less because the upfront cost is more expensive. Demand for this vehicle is going to be very high, globally, and we'll be sending vehicle to countries where the support mechanisms are well established, so that might mean I get less cars if the government incentives aren't on parity with the other nations, or I might get a lot more cars if Australia is doing the same as US, Europe and Japan. Our goal is to make it a mass-market car.

Doi: The number of sales will be limited by the production capacity. We will start from 50,000 units globally.

Hayes: Certainly battery and vehicle capacity will be limited in the first 12-18 months, but once the US comes online and starts generating 150,000 cars a year, that's going to broaden the availability, but still there'll be a ramp-up period. Australia intended start of sales is 2012 which coincides roughly with when the US factory will start to come online, so very soon after our initial start of sales period, the US production will move to the US and that will free up more production.

Are you confident that you'll get the government support you need? Hayes: We've been dealing with the Victorian and NSW governments closely for almost a year now, governments do tend to take their time in making sure they've got everything just so before they make any announcements. But certainly, we haven't received a blanket no, so we take that as an encouraging sign that there's a lot of work happening behind the scenes at government level. Certainly we are very hopeful that we'll get the level of incentive from Australian and state governments.

Can you be a bit more specific about these incentives? Hayes: When a vehicle comes to Australia, it pays 5 per cent import duty. When a car is sold at dealership there's 10 per cent GST and 3 per cent stamp duty that's levied by the state government. Then there's a $500-$600 registration fee every year that's also levied by the state government. So you start to add those numbers up, depending on the initial import price of your car, you're anywhere between $6000-$10,000 worth of federal and state taxes. What we would put to the government is "feebate" during the early adoption phase: give back via subsidy part of or all of those taxes that you've taken out of the vehicle. We're not talking about thousands and thousands of vehicles, we would estimate that from 2012 probably for the first five years, there'll be about 5000 fully battery EVs - maximum - coming into Australia. We believe by 2018/2020, there won't be a requirement for subsidies to assist the vehicle; any subsidies that continue on from that time will be supporting government objectives and government agenda items.

Recharging stations are obviously critical to the success of the LEAF. What are your plans for deployment of those once the vehicle arrives? Hayes: There are three infrastructure companies already established in Australia, Better Place, ChargePoint and ECOtality. Their whole business model is to basically supply all of that infrastructure. That can stretch from the home to the workplace to Westfield to street corners. They're going to invest in that, but that's going to be their profit. So they're setting up their business to be sustainable all the way through to 2070, 2080 and beyond because as vehicles move towards this, they're going to be the new versions of petrol stations - they're the energy suppliers now. We're a car company first and foremost, we're not really interested in becoming an infrastructure supply company. Somebody else has expertise in that and we'll let them do that. We're going to make the batteries and the cars, but we will obviously work with them to ensure that the networking system setup is appropriate for the vehicles that are coming and also for the market that we're in. And those discussions are happening now on a weekly basis, because we all need to work together to make the whole thing sustainable going forward. And there really is a lot of people working on this, it's just not out there in the open.

How much electricity does it use? Hayes: If you were to get in a car that uses 7L/100km, which is pretty much a standard small hatch, at $1.50 - we're talking 2012 prices - that would cost you 11c/km to drive. An EV would cost you 2-3c/km in energy costs. That's charging off peak but paying a premium for green energy. The premium's about 4.9-5.5c/kW-hour depending on which retailer you use, but off peak electricity rates which are about 9c or 10c, so 15c per kW-hour you're using about 2c per km to drive. Add 50 per cent to cover the possible emission trading scheme, and it's 3c. So basically it's less than a quarter of the cost per kilometre in energy.

Why do you think the LEAF will appeal to Australians? Doi: Nowadays, global warming, or CO2, is common interest for the customer. LEAF is also interesting to drive. We are the makers of the Nissan GTR - we never make a boring car. Our engineering team is focusing on an electric vehicle, but their DNA is "fun to drive". The acceleration of the LEAF is almost the same as that of a 3.7L petrol car. The handling is also very interesting. In the case of the gasoline car, the heaviest stuff is the engine, and usually, the engine is at the front of the vehicle. In the case of the LEAF, the heaviest part is the battery which is in the middle of the vehicle. The handling feels very close to a sports car, and the centre of gravity is very low. Such motion makes the drivers feel more stable, and it's more fun to drive.



    I find it difficult to believe an electric vehicle will go like my GTR but I will hold my judgment......

      Electric cars have huge Torque 100% of it available instantly. Within a few years they will be making electric sports cars that can beat a GTR. In fact Nissan will probably make an electric GTR. Already the Tesla roaster (100% electric) can do 0-100kph in 4 secs. So wont be long now before the Japanese car makers will be working on electric sports cars. All they need is a big enough electric motor and enough lit-ion batteries.

      The problem will be the purchase price in Oz.
      For instance the top of the range Tesla costs around US$105,000 in the US but over here costs over A$225,000 !!!
      With $ parity someone's ripping us off..

    Still pretty dorky looking. Why can't they have a little style? I would like just for once that cars get produced along the lines of some of the futuristic prototypes. You never, ever see any of those body styles making it into production.

      At least they seem to made an effort on the interior.

      The whole style thing is their new infinti car, sounds sort of pompous but at least it will look better.

    How many klm's out of a single charge? Seems like this question in your article was purposely dodged!

      I didn't dodge the question! :P
      It was on plain view at the exhibition that it runs 160km on a single charge. I only included about half of the interview here...

        It being in plain view in the exhibition doesn't help readers of your artice. It would have been nice to include it as it is pretty important.

      160km per charge - that's more than what 90% of us use per day. At quick charge stations you can recharge to 80% in under 30 mins if you ever needed to. If you need to make a long journey a few times a year, borrow or rent a car. The rest of the year you'll be Petrol free.

    Well, the obvious comment is that it's not "zero emission" - that electricity has to come from somewhere, and for Australia that pretty much means coal. There's just not enough green energy to supply demand, at the moment, sadly.

    But it is "zero emission" in terms of air quality in cities, so that's a good thing, and it sets the stage for phasing out oil use for vehicles, which is also good. We just need to come up with a truly clean source of energy on a massive scale, so those coal-fired stations can be shut down (particularly the brown coal ones).

      Even if it is not 0 emissions, it is still very efficient in terms of power consumption compared to a petrol engine which has 25% efficiency. A coal Plant has about 60% efficiency, loss due to power grid is about 10% and recharging of the leaf is about 1% loss, all in all it will have a significant lower emission over a petrol.

      That said there are technologies that are not foreseen and one such is the BLOOM BOX, this is just one part of a solution and Nissan has definitely started in the right direction. Governments will move to have cleaner and more efficient power solutions in the future.

        Why use coal to power your transport? Oversize your solar PV on your roof, add solar hot wayer, solar assisted a/c and use the balance of power generate to either feed your EV, or to provide income to pay off the investment in your own power plant. Any night-time charging can be offset with green power.

      Even when powered with coal-generated electricity, EVs output only about 50% of the CO2 generated by a petro vehicle.

      @Bern, I think you will find that if someone is willing to pay a premium to purchase a 100% Battery Electric car they are also likely to be paying the premium for 100% Green energy. People will be buying LEAFS to support their Environmental idealogogy as they will understand that helping to save a planet is going to cost money.

    I think I want one....

      what a brown coal fired power station? me too!

    I like the look of the interior but the body is sure ugly.

    Great article.

    It is good to see that Nissan is moving forward with EV's, but I struggle to see why they need incentives from the Australia Governments (State and Federal).

    In essence they are asking for a $6-10K subsidy for each vehicle at a total cost of between $30M to $50M.

    I don't remember Toyota or Honda receiving similar subsidies when hybrids were first introduced in Australia???

    Very good interview. I look forward to seeing what the price is when they get to Australia. And wow 3c per km!!

      The world needs to move to electric cars so a subsidy is the minimum the government should do. Its not the same with hybrids as they still burn fuel. Electric cars dont burn fuel and will help clean up the planet. Even if the electricity comes from coal plants it still burns less than 30% of petrol cars (or less) So the government should back this up and give as many incentives as possible so in the next 5-10 years all cars use electric or other clean fuels.

    It sounds more interesting than the others I've seen about, but the proof is in driving reviews.

      I asked to test drive it. They said no lol.

    Yeha agree with the others here, body = Ugly as sin.

    interior looks good though.

    Not sure i can get excited about a car that may or may not come on sale in australia in 2 years time though.....

    I am no genius but renewable energy to me is also on par with advancement activity. Now do the math (not my strong point) . Solar cells are increasing conversion rates approximately a multiplier of X4 (as technology advancements also reported often in Gizmag, even higher.) So by 2020 - based on these reports - all you would need to do in the nearish future is incorporate solar cells and for electric vehicles the electric, fuel business model really is not so "forward" in thinking - So if they are setting up their business to be sustainable all the way through to 2070, 2080 - do they really think there is a need for "the new versions of petrol stations". Looking that far forward? I hope not - lets think greener... and greener...

      Regardless of solar cell capabilities, there will be time with bad weather, and what about night driving? you can't just make the street light as powerful as the sun. so solar powered car will still needs batteries to store energies when there is bad weather and night.

    I cannot wait -
    no more que-ing for overpriced fuel that never seems to equate to our currency and world oil prices.
    This will be great plug and play option and green too

    I am on the wait list for 2012

    By the way brilliant article.

      Harry! How did you get on the wait list! I'm looking forward to owning one asap!

      I too would like to know how to get onto the "Wait List".

      This is an exciting concept for me. I want to be free of the rip-off merchants, the oil barons, who have us all dancing an expensive ongoing jig to their greedy ducks-and-drakes petrol prices tune!!

    Personally, I'm all for the flashy interior and the hi-tech stuff, but a lot of people aren't. Most of the people I know (and their age range from 8 to 80) don't want that. They want a car that looks like a car from the year 2010 or earlier. No unnecessary blue lights, no gauges that look good but make it difficult to understand information. They just want a car that goes and looks MODERN, not futuristic on the inside.

    But to hell with those people. Give me unnecessary blue lights and weird gauges. And hackability. It should be easier to wire a goddamn PC into these sorts of cars.

    Storing power in a battery for future use about triples the cost of the power based on the life / replacement cost of the battery. So triple the 3 c/km and you're right back to ICE cost but now with 1/3 the range and many multiples the "refueling time". Not to mention govs. gasoline tax structure is being undermined and so to recoup that the 3 c/km is not very real.

    Just immagine EV's in all major cities: commuters can recharge while they work; much less traffic noise, much cleaner air. Great public health benefits = less costs to the government.

    And plenty more dead pedestrians, who did not hear it coming.

      Most electric car buyers have a high level of environmental awareness and are therefore likely to be buying 100% Green power. So people like me will finally be able to drive an emissions free vehicle.

      BTW Gizmondo why didnt you mention the fact that the worlds largest manufacturer of laptop batteries now makes an electric car that could land in Australia before the Leaf? The BYD E6 has higher specs than the Leaf but will probably cost at least 25% more.

    More to the point oil will run out eventually - we need alternatives & this is just the beginning. Also I'd rather have my transport costs going to electricity retailers here, rather than to the OPEC "pushers" who will use it to build palaces & ski-slopes in the desert!

    There are three fundamental points the hoons and greenies of the world need to grasp.

    Would you rather walk or drive?
    Oil is a FINITE resource and it's running out fast. (Thankfully)
    NUCLEAR (fission or fusion) is the only future. (thankfully again)

    Don't believe a word of what the Governments of the world tell you. This is the future. Period.

    All the solar panels and wind mills in the world covering every square meter of our planet would barely produce enough electricity to run a handful of cities. Bio fuel is a laugh. Do you know how much land you would have to use to produce enough and even then you would be driving such small little cars you may as well go electric. (and what are you going to eat?)Coal burning generators produce dangerous emissions into our atmosphere all the time of INFINITE life. Nuclear, only if there is an accident and it's NOT of infinite life. The problem is oil companies and coal companies are very rich so as long as there is oil or coal in the ground they will keep paying the Greenies and the other idiots to tell you how bad nuclear is until they have sold there last barrel and bought up all the uranium mining companies. I am truly disheartened with cretans of the world today whose sole contribution is "yeah mate but my GTR is faster" Beam me up Scotty. There is no intelligent life down here.

    Interesting car but Ill wait ten years until the range is far greater, the cars are cheaper and the recharge stations are built. Until then its strictly an inner city runabout.

    I'm conducting some research on the place that Electric Vehicles will occupy in our daily lives and need the thoughts of those with an interest in EV's. If you're interested you can click on the link below and register your interest. Your opinions will directly influence the makers of business decisions within the motoring industry. This is genuine research, not a sales pitch. We'd love to hear from you.

    I keep hearing and reading that some are complaining that as a car is electric it will not be heard approaching and could therefore be dangerous to pedestrians. Unless a modern car (diesels excepted) is accelerating or gradient climbing, the motor cannot be easily heard. The noise that is heard from an approaching vehicle is the sound of the tyres running along the road surface. It is even quite difficult to hear a modern car's engine when it is idling and motionless.

    I drive 20kms a day round trip. This car is perfect and I'll definitely get one. Some of the comments above are downright scary. The concept we all need to get used to is simple. Petrol is a finite resource. It will keep going up in price and eventually run out. People really need to grasp the concept that petrol cars are like dead men walking. They dead they just don't know it. Good riddance to. As for power torque etc. Ha ha. Your GTR hoon mobile doesn't stand a chance. Instant torque delivery, no gear changing and they have already got proptotype batteries that charge in minutes not hours. Virtually zero maintenance required which is why Toyota etc, don't make them yet. Thats where the real money is!! Ask any car dealer. As for co2. Well it's all a crock. co2 is a natural inconsequential gas. I'm worried about real pollution. Eventually we will have to face facts and go nuclear. Medium to long term there is no other option. Renewables are a joke.

    Don't forget there are other green aspects of this car that make it attractive e.g. No oil changes, no filters, no spark plugs.... The business model needs to change for car makers to move away from generating income from servicing cars and petrol stations can become cafes with 30mins charge. Long distance driving could become more chilled out. I hope people get into EVs in a big way.

    I'm concerned that CO2 issues will eclipse our basic rights in so far as the Nissan rep. is advocating that EVs do not pay their way in the form of import duties, GST, Stamp Duty & Registration fees.

    The principle of user pays for roads and transport infrastructure is being replaced with financial concessions to Multinational Auto manufacturers who cant get their act together and
    produce an Electric Car that can stand on its own four wheels.This is a capitalist system and Auto manufacturers above all others should realise that.

    Once tax concessions are given, a select few can
    own and drive these EVs at the expense of those who cannot afford a new car let alone an expensive EV.

    Multinational Auto Manufacturers who locally assemble cars get a few billion a year taxpayers' funds and tax concessions which is bad enough. Now add foreign manufactured EVs and this corporate welfare becomes ridiculous.

    B Lynch

    PS: I have worked all my life but I have never been able to afford a new car.

    I've planned to convert my little Suzuki hatch into electric vehicle and spend at least $30 grand on it, but when I learned about this Nissan Leaf coming to Australia in 2012, I will shelve my initial plan and just pork out a few more dollars to get this new EV car.

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