Batteries Not Included

It's no joke, but Nissan engineers as well as their boss Carlos Ghosn have hinted that it'll be "Batteries Not Included." Or more precisely, you'll buy the (as yet unnamed) Nissan EV, but lease its lithium battery pack.

There are several reasons why this makes business sense. First, the EV buyer/battery lessee puts out rather less cash and a bit less angst. Recall that these days a battery pack makes up roughly half the total EV cost (see "Eclectic Electrics," March 2009 and archived at roadandtrack.com). Thus, by leasing it, you get more battery for the buck. Also, what with battery technology improving (though hardly at Moore's Law pace), you'll not be stuck

with today's technology for the life of the car. It's foreseen that an upgraded lease, no doubt at an upgraded price, could supply your EV with the latest battery technology. Also, of course, a lease would transfer to the next owner of the car.

There's a third aspect of this business model involving a second life of the battery. In time, perhaps 10 years, the pack will have lost its optimal recharging capability to the point that it's no longer acceptable in an EV. Ah, but your local utility could still bundle it together with other aged packs and use them for off-peak storage of electricity. This is seen as a cost-effective strategy for electric companies to accomplish what's called "load leveling." It's also essential if these companies are to exploit renewable sources that are inherently intermittent; wind and solar, to name two. Having the battery packs leased will simplify carrying out this second-life option.

It's not clear what consumers will think of all this, however. Nor has price been disclosed, though Nissan says it's aiming for the bell-curve peak of the car market. I'm guessing high $20s/ low $30s—plus batteries, of course.

DRIVING NISSAN'S EV

As for the driving, consumers will find the 2010 Nissan to be a state-of-the-art EV, about Sentra size with unique EV styling. Its AC motor propelling the front wheels will have torque aplenty, enough to chirp the tires off the line if you insist. Its range will be around 100 miles based on the LA4 urban simulation (which includes lots of stop and go and even a quick dash onto the 101 freeway). Like any EV, though, don't expect 100 miles if you do much of that tire chirping.

The car uses an innovative lithium battery developed jointly by Nissan and NEC, the latter now having manufacturing responsibilities. The basic cells use advanced manganese electrodes chosen for thermal stability. These cells are fabricated as laminations, not as conventional cylindrical cell shapes. This gives a packaging advantage when they're combined into modules and ultimately into the final battery pack.

There'll be three recharging options: a typical overnight recharge using 110-volt house current; a 4-hour recharge through a 220-volt/40-amp line, the sort of thing supporting a home clothes dryer; or a super-quick 20-minute topping off requiring a 3-phase 480-volt/70-amp industrial-grade hookup. Nissan is devising home units of the 4-hour variety costing perhaps $400 plus installation.

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