The Nissan Leaf: It's ready for fast charging. (Nissan photo)
What do a parking garage in New Haven, Connecticut, a McDonald's in Cary, North Carolina and a Starwood hotel in Lexington, Massachusetts have in common? Give up? They all have electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The EV revolution is on, and soon it will be behind the times to open a new business, christen a new apartment building or build a new home without making EV charging part of the built-in package.
On Saturday night, Nissan finally unveiled its long-awaited plug-in battery car, and it's a five-passenger hatchback called the Leaf (100-mile range, eight-hour charge at 220 volts, 90 mph top speed). I think it's really cool looking, though the styling is fairly restrained and doesn't shout "eco-car." Nissan didn't reveal a price yet, but it does say that the car will be in the same ballpark as a well-equipped mid-sized car, which presumably means under $20,000. If so, the company will likely take a big bath on every sale, because the battery pack alone costs as much as $10,000. It will be an incredible deal for consumers, though, not least because charging -- the big hurdle for EVs -- is likely to be pretty convenient.
Here's what the Leaf looks like on video:
Here's a scenario, constructed with help from Nissan spokesman Mark Perry. Bob (not his real name) comes home at 6 p.m. and angles his Leaf into the garage. He plugs it into the wall charger, but nothing happens right away, because Bob has set the car's charging timer to 11 p.m., when the electric rates go down. At around 6 a.m., the car sends an email and an alert to Bob's cell phone indicating that the car is fully charged.
At 8 a.m. Bob gets into his car for the 20-mile journey to the wind energy company where he works (Bob is green). At work, with the battery about a fifth depleted, Bob plugs into the charging station in the parking lot. Fully charged again, he heads back home at 5 p.m., stopping at a Wal-Mart near his home for a solar panel. Again, he plugs in because Wal-Mart by now offers free EV fast charging. By the time he emerges in 15 minutes, his car is again fully charged. When Bob finally does get home, he doesn't even bother to plug in because the Leaf is fully charged.
This is not a distant fantasy, but pretty short-term reality for EVs. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is actually an EV charging leader, competing directly with such entities as Coulomb, ECOtality and Better Place. According to Perry, the company's goal is to have 10 to 15 charging partners -- either states or cities -- in the U.S. when the Leaf first becomes available in late 2010 (it will simultaneously go on sale in Europe and Japan). Oregon and Tennessee are on board, as are such cities as San Diego, Raleigh, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and both Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona.
Perry said Nissan will produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide in the first year, but it is gearing up for much more -- as many as 150,000 produced in its new Smyrna, Tennessee facility (for which it received a $1.6 billion Department of Energy loan) by 2012. The battery plant in Smyrna will have the capacity for 200,000 packs annually, and that's the goal for worldwide Leaf production by 2012.
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