Photo: Gil Dawson
Plugged into the small-paddle charger beside us when we returned to LAX yesterday was an electric Nissan… What a wonderful car! It appeared to be a four-door station wagon with a huge luggage area in the back. At 60 cents per gallon-equivalent for electric propulsion, that’s the kind of car that would really sell today… Wow. They sure don’t make ‘em like that any more… This one had the most interesting decal in the lower left corner of the back window: Li-ion Batteries.
As previously noted, Nissan developed electric vehicles in the 1990s; they ceased development when “problems of high production costs and limited range could not be overcome.” Recently, they have been making noise, e.g., with the Pivo, about the possibility of an electric vehicle renaissance. At the same time, they are taking a page from the GM play book.
And, speaking of renaissance or lack therof, today Google News was rift with stories about the possibility of a joint venture between General Motors – Renault – Nissan. In a Friday Detroit Free Press editorial conceded that “GM has to seriously consider” the proposal from impatient GM minority investor Kirk Kerkorian.
Green Car Congress recently queried whether a version of the Chevrolet Matiz / Spark, a very popular minicar in the Asian market, would be the vehicle to be launched by GM India during the first half of 2007? GM and Nissan have been successful in Asian markets.
All three potential partners have extensive experience with the production of small cars and all three have experience with electric cars. Could their combined expertise become an impetus for a clean, cheap, electric city car available in all the major markets? Would it be sufficient incentive if such EVs were available and ran on less expensive, PLI / LiPo batteries that can lessen the specific energy (Wh/kg) difference between 1) an internal combustion and 2) battery powered vehicle when than difference is, at best, still 30 times less?
Following one of the links in the discussion, partially answered the rhetorical question and elicited a “Dang! They Are Doing It.”
Tom Dowling directs the reader to EV Charger News to learn more about paddle chargers at public charging stations, such as the ones at which Nissan electric cars were seen:
And, photovoltaics are only one example of how, in suitable areas, renewable energy could be used to charge a group of electric vehicles. Too bad that as technology is making such approaches more and more practical, we lack the gridable vehicles to make use of such advances.
Gil Dawson also had noted a bunch of questions that popped into his mind when he saw that Nissan had made electric cars. He asked, “Does anybody know…
- How many were made?
- When was the last one made?
- How many are on the road today?
- What happened to the others?
- How is the electric Nissan story different from the GM EV-1 story or the Toyota RAV4-EV story?
- What is its range?
- What’s it like to drive?
- What’s it like to own?
- Can it use an LPI charger?
Tom Dowling answered that approximately 200 Nissan Altras were made beginning in 1998; the last ones were 2001 or 2002 models. They had Li ion batteries, including those made way back in 1998. All of the newer electric Nissan cars (including all those in Vacaville, California*) used small-paddle chargers, whereas the original ones used large-paddle chargers.
Sad to say, all these Nissan Altras are being returned to Nissan, or
have recently been returned. I’m not sure what their fate is.
* BTW: Dowling reports, “Vacaville replaced their 10 (or so) Nissan Altras with an approximately equal number of RAV4 EVs. Ed Huestis can tell you more, since he managed the Vacaville program.”
In the next digest came addition information from Larry Paul…
It is the Nissan Altra EV.
In the press release (below) they were discussing product being sold to the public by 2000. This did not happen.
To the best of my recollection, they built around 50 to 125 vehicles in total between 1999 and 2002. Most I suspect are off the road, but I still see a few from time to time and are still in service in fleet lease use.
None were ever available to the public. The fact that any are on the road still bodes well for the design of the vehicle and Nissan’s implementation of Lithium Ion batteries.
Several years ago I saw Roger Mahoney, the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles on the Harbor Freeway driving one while heading into downtown LA.
See below for some links and to the press release…
All-New Nissan Altra EV: A Friendly, High-Tech Electric Vehicle for Everyday
29 December 1997
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 29 — Nissan kicks off the new year with the introduction of a revolutionary new electric vehicle, the Nissan Altra EV — making its North American public debut January 2-11 at the 1998 Los Angeles International Auto Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Altra EV represents the beginning of a new era of clean, quiet and pollution-free automobiles being developed by Nissan for the United States.
The stylish, four-passenger minivan is the first production EV in the United States to use Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, the same superior power source used in high-end notebook computers and video recorders. The lightweight, energy-efficient Li-ion batteries extend the Altra EV’s maximum driving range to 120 miles — the longest range (combined city and highway) of any EV currently available in the United States.
“The Altra EV is a significant step forward in bringing an emissions-free transportation solution to American consumers,” said Tom Eastwood, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division. “The Altra EV is a sophisticated real-world solution for today’s environmentally conscious consumer.”
The Altra EV is being manufactured on an all-new platform at Nissan’s high-quality Atsugi assembly plant in Japan. Based on an agreement with the California Air Resources Board, Nissan will provide a demonstration fleet of 30 Altra EVs to a select number of California fleet users in 1998. An additional 90 demonstration units will be available to fleet users in 1999, with retail sales beginning in 2000.
Altra EV Concept and Styling
The Altra EV is a purpose-built vehicle which offers a clean, quiet and versatile concept for both consumer and commercial use. Altra EV was engineered at the Nissan Technical Center in Tochigi, Japan and designed to combine the refinement and versatility of a minivan with the ease-of-use and pollution-free benefits of an EV.
The vehicle’s styling, like its name, projects a sophisticated, stylish image, while conveying the EV’s distinctive alternative energy theme. The Altra EV’s smooth, aerodynamic styling establishes a futuristic, yet functional, presence — featuring body-color front and rear fascias and gentle curves from front to rear. Altra EV will be available in three exterior colors: white, silver and green.
Beneath its sleek exterior, Altra EV offers a high level of comfort and utility. With seating for four adults and 221 pounds of cargo capacity, Altra EV offers a spacious transportation solution for fleets and consumers.
A unique titanium-colored digital instrument panel provides a user- friendly presentation of performance and charge status — creating a futuristic cockpit feel.
Battery / Charging Technology
The advanced Li-ion battery of the Altra EV, which was jointly developed by Nissan and Sony Corporation, offers superior energy density, delivering a greater energy charge from a smaller, lighter battery pack. As a result, these batteries achieve the high level of 90 watt-hours per kilogram — about three times the energy density of conventional lead-acid batteries and more than 150 percent that of nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries.
The new Li-ion batteries consist of a module of eight cells connected in a series. The battery pack for the Altra EV, which weighs approximately 800 pounds, contains twelve modules or 96 cells. Each cell measures 2.6 inches in diameter and 16 inches in length.
The Altra EV uses an inductive charging system, the same system used by General Motors. Primary benefits of this platform and the Li-ion battery include a five-hour charge period and accurate state-of-charge (SOC) measurement, without the “memory effects” of lead-acid and Ni-MH batteries.
The inductive charging system allows the Altra EV to be recharged through electromagnetic induction rather than through direct contact. This provides a safe and consumer-friendly alternative to the traditional conductive charging platform.
The Altra EV is equipped with a permanent magnet synchronous motor and a new 32-bit high-speed RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) motor controller processor. The motor features a compact design, yet it generates maximum power of 62 kilowatts or 83 horsepower, and maximum torque of 117 ft-lbs.
The unique magnetic circuitry and lightweight design (approximately 85 pounds) of the Altra EV motor make it possible to achieve a high overall energy efficiency of approximately 90 percent under ordinary driving conditions. And, because the motor is capable of operating at an ultra-high speed of 13,000 rpm, it was possible to reduce the motor weight 40 percent compared to conventional induction motors.
Comfort and Safety
The Altra EV offers numerous standard features, including AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo with four speakers; power mirrors, windows and lock switches; pre-programmable air conditioning and a 1.0 kW portable charging unit. For driver convenience, the Altra EV is also equipped with a keyless remote entry and state-of-charge (SOC) control system.
For driver safety, the Altra EV is designed with a solid lineup of standard safety equipment. Nissan’s EV meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and is equipped with standard dual air bags, 3-point front seat belts with height-adjustable upper anchors for user comfort, pipe-style steel side-door guard beams and 4-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) with energy-producing regenerative braking technology.
In addition to the Altra EV’s conventional safety features, the battery pack is mounted below the vehicle floor, minimizing impact-related battery damage. A high-voltage power source circuit breaker provides additional safety benefits in the event that one or more of the vehicle’s batteries is disturbed.
SOURCE Nissan North America, Inc.