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Getting Charged Up With the Nissan Leaf, Part 1

Automotive is an important market for semiconductor vendors. In turn, the chip industry has enabled car manufacturers to make major improvements in safety and performance — and move toward more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Even though the number of vehicles manufactured grows by low single digits, the amount of electronics per vehicle keeps increasing. In 2008 and 2009 the automotive industry suffered severe losses, but in 2010 this market has seen a strong resurgence. {complink 7526|Semico Research Corp.} believes this momentum will drive automotive semiconductor growth for the next few years.

The next stage in the evolution of the automobile is the renewable energy source. Concerns about air pollution and the increasing cost of fossil fuel are driving this. Both Nissan and Chevrolet have major programs that they are launching in late 2010 and 2011 — the Leaf and the Volt, respectively. The Leaf is all electric plug-in while the Volt is an electric plug-in with additional electricity generation from an in-vehicle, gas-powered generator.

On Dec. 4 I had the opportunity to test drive the Nissan Leaf. The company has mounted a demonstration tour across the US, and there was an event in Tempe, Ariz., during an arts festival. My wife and I had reservations, but there was also a steady stream of people walking in to test drive. See the introduction to the test drive below:

My family is familiar with new automotive technology. In 2001 we bought one of the first Toyota Priuses in Arizona. My daughter is still driving it. We liked it so much we bought another Prius in 2008.

My wife and I have put off buying another vehicle until we could try out the Leaf. We have been waiting since the rollout took a little longer than was first anticipated. The Leaf will not be available for delivery in Arizona for another few months.

Driving the Nissan Leaf was smooth and pleasant. I could not detect any difference between it and any other car. It was very responsive and quiet. Unfortunately they did not let us take it out on a highway. However, there was a section of road through Tempe that had little traffic and was pretty wide open. I was able to accelerate quickly and smoothly to 50 mph. There was no loud VAROOOM! Instead there was a low-level HMMMMM as I sped up. The car was very quiet, so much so that the turn signal sounded loud and obnoxious.

See the test drive below:

There is plenty of leg room and head room. It feels like any other car and not some tiny concept car for sci-fi geeks willing to suffer for the future. OK, I am a sci-fi geek but I want to be comfortable.

One is always concerned with running out of juice while on the road. There are a few charging stations scattered around Phoenix and Tucson at this time. Some of these are at locations for the local power companies.

I spoke with a representative for one of the companies making the chargers, and she explained that more public charging stations are coming. They are in discussions with BP and Arco to install at their stations. She said that within a year there will be stations every 30 to 40 miles along I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. This is a heavily trafficked highway. It is about 125 miles from downtown Phoenix to downtown Tucson.

In the second part in the series we will review the charging mechanism and battery system in the Nissan Leaf and explore requirements for charging the vehicle at home and in the office.

9 comments on “Getting Charged Up With the Nissan Leaf, Part 1

  1. elctrnx_lyf
    December 17, 2010

    Thanks for posting these videos. I'm looking forward to see more such electric cars from all the car manufacturing companies. The battery charging stations will be easily accessed if the number of cars goes up. I've also came across a technology mentioned in eetimes, this is actually called as In wheel drive where all the four wheels have separate motors and controlled individually to improve the efficiency. So we will see much more in the next year!!!

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 17, 2010

    Tony–thanks for the consumer as well as analyst perspective. Sometimes the technology is beside the point–“will the thing work?” is paramount to consumers. Especially on big-ticket items such as cars.

  3. Anna Young
    December 17, 2010

    Barbara, The consumer will have to decide whether any of this will work or who would win. The government is helping, though, by offering incentives that have greased the wheel. But we need to remember that these may not be enough if the product does not meet consumers ever-changing demand.

    Remember the Hummer? It sold very well despite its outrageous price and gas consumption until consumers got fed up as crude oil prices soared. If the automotive companies really want these vehicles to sell, they would need to pay attention to all of the metrics consumers care about, including cost, gas efficiency, road performance, comfort level, etc. The consumer is always right, people say, but sometimes the customer can be a hard task master.

  4. Taimoor Zubar
    December 18, 2010

    @Barbara: I agree with you. Consumers would be interested in the reliability factor. No matter how good the design may seem to be on paper, it's always important that the car proves its worth in real.

    @Tony: I am interested in knowing about the cost-factor for the electric cars, and in particular about Leaf. How does it compare to other electric-cars, and to the cars using conventional energy sources?

     

  5. mfbertozzi
    December 20, 2010

    @TaimooZ: well, it seems Leaf is 20% cheaper than rivals and few papers reported within electric car segment in US could start a sort of “price war” to gain asap market share.

    Based on my experience and an extensive travel activity, possible critical point should be on “power recharge”. In South America it's not easy to find a recharge station and I think in the near future car industry could adopt mechanisms doable to save energy.

    Racing technology supported a lot the research & development, it could be feasible the introduction of a “KERS” system for example in overtaken situation, in order to avoid to much energy consumption?

  6. Ashu001
    December 21, 2010

    mfbertozzi, I was thinking of exactly the same thing in Asia.We have extremely frequent Power cuts throughout large parts of Asia(as the Grid is ill-equipped to take massively growing demand[As a matter of fact the similar issue now arises in US as well..US Electrical grid is very,very much antiquated and needs massive upgrades;only issue is where is this money gonna come from???] Regards Ashish.

  7. Ashu001
    December 21, 2010

    Tony,

    This is an amazing introduction into the World of the Nissan Leaf!!! Sounds like a swell Car for sure… I can't wait for Part 2 of your series…

    Ashish.

  8. mfbertozzi
    January 19, 2011

    Vertrek SUV, presented recently in Detroit from Ford, introduces recovery energy system while car is slowing down

    [ 12/20/10: Racing technology supported a lot the research & development, it could be feasible the introduction of a “KERS” system for example in overtaken situation, in order to avoid to much energy consumption? ]

  9. Damilare
    January 31, 2011

    This is a very cool car. not sure if its going to make big sales in the UK though. Uk sales of Nissan Leaf start March 2011.

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