By on December 7, 2010

Unimpressed by BYD’s aborting of the pure plug-in EV, Nissan is betting the farm on us plugging in instead of gassing up. A few days ago, Nissan officially introduced the Leaf, the world’s first mass-produced EV in the standard passenger class, seating five. It won’t totally replace the internal combustion engine, at least not at the plant where it is made.

When the Leaf went “offline” a few days ago (this is one of the many quirks in the industry: offline good, online bad), reporters had a chance to marvel at the engineering. The Nikkei [sub] reports that “Leaf assembly was taking place on the same line as Nissan’s popular Juke mini-SUV and other compacts. At the station where gasoline-powered cars receive their fuel tanks, the Leaf gets its lithium-ion battery pack, and at the engine-mounting station it receives its electric motor.” At the Nissan’s Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Leafs and other cars share the same line, all they needed was a special lift for the battery packs, which weigh several hundred kilograms.

Nissan has big plans  for the Leaf. Using the Oppama principle to build various models on the same line simultaneously, Nissan will start mass-producing the Leaf at its Smyrna Plant in the U.S. in late 2012 and at its Sunderland Plant in the U.K. in early 2013. Once that is all in motion, Nissan will have an annual capacity of 250,000 EVs worldwide.

The also will produce lots of batteries, and they hope to “gradually compress the cost of mass-producing batteries by having both Nissan and Renault produce EVs,” said Corporate Vice President Hideaki Watanabe.

Nissan’s dream? To become for EVs what Toyota became for hybrids. “Today, hybrid technology is almost synonymous with Toyota,” says the Nikkei. Ghosn says the Prius has been more significant to Toyota as a brand-booster than as a contributor to sales, and he hopes the Leaf will similarly electrify the perception of Nissan.

Likewise, should the Leaf turn into compost, it could bring Nissan down. Betting the farm is risky. You could end up with two farms. Or as a homeless.

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6 Comments on “Nissan Bets The Farm On A Leaf...”

  • avatar

    It is a neat idea, but using the batteries to warm/cool the passenger compartment is very inefficient, when compared to a fueled engine.  Good luck Carlos, but I’m not buying!

    • 0 avatar

      Wow, I bet the thousands of highly skilled engineers in the world working on EVs had never thought of that problem.  Thanks for pointing it out!  We should call them up and school them on heaters…

      In the mean time: it was actually quite cold during our Leaf test drive and the heating system seemed to function quite fine and didn’t actually reduce our range all that much!  Although you are correct, it *does* suck up some juice, that is true…  Each buyer will need to make an informed decision based on their usage.  EVs may be much more practical in areas with more moderate climates and maybe not so much in Minnesota or Wisconsin…

      I know that my diesel vehicles get slightly reduced mileage in the cold winter months…  They still work well though, all things considered.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    The beauty of designing the vehicle so that it can be built on the same line as other models is that you have production volume flexibility. If sales of electric cars tank (or if they spike with initial demand and *then* tank, which I consider to be fairly likely) then all they’ve lost is the cost of tooling up that model; the production line carries on with conventional models as normal.

  • avatar

    Nissan is hardly “betting the farm” on the Leaf.  They have lots of other excellent, profitable products.
    But I would say that the EV market is betting the farm on the Leaf.  The failure of a well-engineered product from a Tier 1 manufacturer would doom the EV market for a decade.
    However, I think the Leaf will succeed in its intended niche market.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” At the Nissan’s Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Leafs and other cars share the same line, all they needed was a special lift for the battery packs, which weigh several hundred kilograms.”
    This isn’t a bet the farm operation at all. Betting the farm is when you go all in for a proposition. Nissan is indeed making a significant investment in electric cars, but the very fact that they are building the Leaf in a flex-factory mixed in with other products shows that Nissan is not betting the farm.
    What fraction of Nissan’s capital budget is being spent on electric car specific equipment? I doubt it is over 10%.

  • avatar

    The public perception of the Prius name is of a new look alternative propelled car which will hold even for an all electric Prius.
    While autophiles make the distinction between hybrid vs all electric, the Prius name is more like Apple in that the design can change and improve but its alterna cred persists.

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