2011 Nissan Leaf Preview
By Jeff Youngs, December 31, 2010
- All-new model for 2011
- Nissan's first zero-emission vehicle
- All-electric plug-in powerplant
- Lithium-ion battery technology
- Range of more than 100 miles
- 5-passenger midsize hatchback
- Available in the latter part of 2010
Nissan's just-announced Leaf electronic vehicle (EV) isn't just the first production all-electric vehicle from the automaker-it's the company's first big push towards capitalizing on the mass-market EV revolution. Until now, Nissan's sole entry into the "green" marketplace has been the Altima Hybrid. Introduced in 2007, the midsize sedan borrowed leased hybrid technology from Toyota, as Nissan's own alternative energy program wasn't completely up to speed.
The Nissan Leaf EV dispels any question about the automaker's alternative-energy direction. The announcement pushes Japan's third-largest carmaker in front of the spotlight and into the lead of the race for a high-volume EV designed for day-to-day consumer use. According to Nissan, the Leaf is set for introduction to the North American market in the latter part of 2010.
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According to Nissan, the 2011 Leaf will be a 4- to 5-passenger midsize vehicle built on a 5-door hatchback platform. With strong French-flavored Nissan styling cues, the overall exterior appearance looks similar to the Nissan Versa, with the C-pillar treatment reminiscent of the Nissan Murano. However, closer inspection reveals a much more aerodynamic profile with a smaller hood (electric motors are more compact than their gasoline-fed counterparts) and headlight lenses that extend nearly to the base of the windshield. The electric "plug-in" port for re-charging the Leaf is on the nose, in a panel under the hood emblem.
The interior design is also rather conventional. The cabin is open and spacious, with light colors adding to the airy feel. Individual driver and passenger seats are split by a multi-function transmission/gear console, while the rear passengers sit on a wide bench. The rear cargo area (accessed by the rear one-piece hatch) is large and deep, thanks to the lack of a conventional space-robbing fuel tank. For additional cargo capacity, the rear seats split 60/40 and fold forward.
The driver sits behind a thick steering wheel with three primary instrument clusters. Quick-reference information (vehicle speed, efficiency and a clock) are placed in a slot located above the traditional cluster, which is viewed through the steering wheel and home to the power meter and battery level gauge. The navigation, audio and climate control systems are located in a centrally-mounted flat-panel screen in the center of the dashboard.
The motivation for Nissan's first EV is 192 lithium-manganese battery cells that are positioned flat beneath the Leaf's floor. The 24-kilowatt-hour battery packs were designed in a manner to help lower the vehicle's center of gravity and optimize weight distribution-improving handling in the process, the company says. The power is sent to the front wheels through an 80-kilowatt (about 107 horsepower) AC motor. Electric motors are known for their abundant low-end torque, and the Leaf doesn't disappoint as it offers 207 lb.-ft. of torque immediately off the line (better than many gasoline engines). Official acceleration times have not been released, but according to Nissan the Leaf will accelerate "like a V-6" and have a top speed of more than 85 mph.
Its range of 100-plus miles should meet the needs of 70 percent of the world's motorists, Nissan claims. Even then, the Leaf may be fully recharged in as little as 30 minutes at special quick-charge stations, the company adds. At home, the process takes about six hours through a conventional 220-volt outlet.
In an effort to dispel any anxiety consumers may have about electric vehicles "running out of electricity" and leaving them stranded, Nissan has integrated EV technology into the Leaf's navigation system. Nissan calls it the "EV-IT" range-monitoring system. In a nutshell, it continuously monitors the vehicle's battery level and tells the driver when, and where, to recharge. While utilizing the system, the operator will always be able to determine the Leaf's driving radius before setting out, and if the vehicle is using more or less power than initially anticipated. If power runs low, the EV-IT system will provide map-based information about available charging stations within the vehicle's range.
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