With the newly unveiled Nissan LEAF, the company seems confident that the traditional nemesis of electric vehicles, lack of a battery with enough energy density to compete with liquid fuels, has finally been overcome. Or if not overcome, at least wrestled to the ground with sufficient authority that the tide is now turning in favor of electric cars. Like Toyota and GM with their next generation of hybrids and Tesla with it's up-market EVs, Nissan is betting that Lithium Ion battery chemistry is now ready for prime-time.
The Leaf will be powered by an array of thin, laminated Lithium Ion cells housed in a flat assembly beneath the floor. The forty-eight separate modules, each consisting of four magazine-sized sub-units, will be able to deliver a maximum of 90 KW to the electric motors, with a total storage capacity of 24 KWH. No mention has been made of any accommodation for "swapping out" batteries (as in the system being pioneered by Better Place, which actually uses a Nissan vehicle in their promotional video). Instead, the LEAF's battery is intended to accept several rapid charging scenarios including a 50KW "fast charge" which gives 80% charge in thirty minutes, or a five minute fast-charge which delivers an additional 31 miles of range. These rapid recharge modes will require a special three-phase charger, which at $45,000.00 per unit, is most likely to be owned by commercial or governmental entities in distributed charging stations. In cities which do have rapid charging stations available, the LEAF's Nav/sat GPS screen will be able to direct drivers to the nearest recharge locations, as well as generally indicating "reachable area" based on the battery's level of charge. Homeowners who don't have a spare fifty-thousand kicking around may prefer to have a common, single-phase 220v hook-up wired into their garages, allowing full recharge in just under eight hours. Alternatively, a standard American 110v wall outlet will also do the job, but will require almost twice as much time.
At 440 pounds, the battery pack isn't light, but thanks to weight savings created by the car's full EV architecture the battery will provide enough power for the LEAF to achieve a top speed of 87 mph and a range estimated by Nissan at 100 miles (in US LA4 mode). Chief executive Carlos Ghosn has suggested that the battery may be leased by customers rather than purchased outright, as a way of keeping the price of the car on par with the gas-powered competition.
Nissan battery-plant ventures are going forward in Sunderland, England, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, and Smyrna Tennessee , with the first two alone expected to produce 125,000 units a year by 2011, so it's clear that Nissan is serious about both being in the battery business and about the future of the electric car.