NISSAN EV-02 Test Car
Bear Mountain State Park, New York
May 11th 2009

Bear Mountain Park in New York is an hour's drive from my house in Connecticut, right across the bridge from Camp Smith in Courtland Manor, on the other side of the Hudson river near the Indian Point nuclear power plant. I didn't find out about the media ride and drive organized by Nissan until the last minute. I got a call from a colleague who told me Nissan had installed an electric drive train into a Cube, very reminiscent of what ACPropulsion has been doing with the eBox.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity, jumped unshaven into my own trusted Scion xB, the one we drove down Route 66, used up all my carbon credits, made it to the church in time. It was well worth it. Bill Moore of EV World was there. Jim Motavalli of The Daily Green. Seth Leitman of Planet Green. Editors from Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics.

Nissan representatives were timid on details of actual components used, would not let us look under the hood. We did learn they are sharing the platform with their new French partner Renault. Sadly no plans to introduce an EV version of the popular Cube. Nissan only used the body as a test bed for the drive train.

Nissan battery chief Toshiyuki Motohashi was quoted saying Nissan partner NEC have opted for a 35 kWh manganate-doped lithium-ion battery. The Nissan-NEC partnership Automotive Energy Supply Corporation has produced a flat, or laminate battery, rather than conventional small cylindrical laptop cells hooked in series. A 220V circuit takes 3-4 hours to charge. High-voltage charger will provide 80-percent in 15 minutes. The car is equipped with a SAE standard J1772 connector. Nissan is looking at battery swapping.

Acceleration from a standing start for this right hand drive Nissan EV test Cube seemed quite sluggish to me. Top speed is 85 mph but 0-62 a slow 13 seconds. The range isn't great either, so far only 100 miles. I'm wondering where Nissan has been since they took back their leased HyperMini featured in the movie Sleepover and stripped them. Tesla, ACP and many other independent EV builders have set the bar very high for pure EVs. I expect a lot more from such a major automaker.

Nissan has taken the EV-02 test car all around the country, forging alliances with many local Energy Utilities and EV organizations, such as EcoTality in Arizona. This seems to be following the recent Renault Trucks use of Route 66 (video) for promotional purposes, paving the way for an expanded partnership with Better Place.

The reservation I have with this scenario, although we welcome the forging of an EV infrastructure, is any possible role the French nuclear utility EDF (not to be confused with the Environmental Defense Fund) might be playing in the evolution of EV markets in America. Tesla Motors has made it very clear they do not support nuclear power. Renault on the other hand is partner with the French nuclear company Areva which has recently acquired majority share of the US nuclear power company Constellation Energy.

Nissan has the edge over Toyota with the Cube right now, because Toyota made the strategic decision of discontinuing the original xB design (nicknamed the Box or Toaster) in favor of a slick SUV shape. The shrunken van dimension of the original xB became the economy vehicle of choice for delivery services. The elevated seats are also a favorite of the 50 and over crowd which has a hard time getting in and out of lower cars.

I suspect Nissan is holding a lot back. The speed and range of the vehicle could easily be improved with a better control box. EVs are perfect for short suburban and city trips, commuting, deliveries. The Cube is the ideal design, ultra popular in Japan. Both Nissan and Toyota should commit to it, start offering two seaters with sliding back bay for tool boxes and carrying trays. America needs a heavy duty miniature alternative to the Ford van!

Formula One racing is successfully introducing flywheels electrical storage with KERS while many racing car drivers are becoming outspoken advocates of alternative fuels. The newly emerging electric vehicle divisions of major auto makers can draw on the National Electric Drag Racing Association for technical excellence and innovative approach to increased range and speed, as well as EV celebrity spokespeople.

Knowing what we know today about the potential performance of electric drive trains, with the global realization that our environment is in desperate need of a pollution break, automakers need to again draw on good ol'American ingenuity, start reintroducing a pioneering spirit of research and development. High schools and universities are finding new and better ways to yield amazing results. Mechanism are not yet in place to gravitate these discoveries directly to insulated corporate structures. The Department of Defense often gets first choice, preventing immediate commercialization of technologies considered too sensitive or destabilizing.

The Nissan EV-02 Test Car should already do 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds, with at least a 150 miles range. Anything short of that, EV fans will go elsewhere to get their instant torque. So unless Nissan can deliver their EV for much less than the estimated sticker price of around $30.000, I suspect many independent EV builders will be offering much better conversion deals by the time Nissan's EV comes to market in 2010.

ET webed
(text and pictures)

24 minutes video ~ Mark Fulmer from The Auto Channel

  Thanks to the NISSAN EV-02 Test Car Team