What& s It Like to Drive Nissan& s Electric Car? [Pics] …

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What’s It Like to Drive Nissan’s Electric Car? [Pics]

On Tuesday, I took Nissan’s first and only electric vehicle, the EV-02, for a test-drive. The car—the only EV prototype Nissan has built to date—should be available to the public sometime in 2010, according to Nissan’s North American Director of EV, Mark Perry. So how’s the drive?

The EV-02 is zippy, and feels eerily familiar. From the inside, you quickly realize that most of what you hear in today’s gasoline cars is nothing more than road noise and air turbulence; the EV-02 is almost the same to drive as most compact cars (although the driver’s side on this prototype is on the right, and the nav system is in Japanese). The only difference: switching the key to the on position doesn’t make any sound—not even so much as a water pump groaning—and shifting into drive doesn’t make that familiar transmission clunk.

Once in gear, you just hit the accelerator and lurch forward. The squarish body is a little ungainly in the corners, but the car feels peppy, responsive, and appropriately torqued all the way into cruising speeds.

From the outside, watching the EV-02 is a bizarre experience. The car makes a quiet beep as its motor engages, which quickly turns into a muted whine that sounds almost like the liftoff of a jet airplane from far, far away. The final version will have a push-button starting system akin to Nissan’s current high-end cars, says Perry, and will get at least 100 miles to a charge.

The goal of the EV-02, whose production version has yet to be named, is to eliminate two things: emissions and hybrid payback. The first part everyone’s familiar with, but the latter is the term industry insiders use to describe the length of time before a hybrid saves enough money on gas to justify its increased cost. With the EV-02, the payback is zero, Perry says.

Even if gas dipped below $1 a gallon, running the fully-electric car would still be cheaper than a gasoline-powered car.

The EV-02 is built on a heavily-modified chassis belonging to the Denki Cube, a compact SUV the company sells in Japan. The modifications are necessary because of the placement of the lithium-ion battery, a long, narrow, several-inch-thick plank that weighs about 500 pounds and sits under the passenger compartment. Under the hood is the electric motor, differential, equipment for the regenerative braking system, and some of the usual stuff—power steering and braking hydraulics, electronics and so on.

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Even though the car lacks an engine block and a transmission, Perry says, the weight of the battery brings the total weight of the vehicle to about the equivalent of its gas-powered cousin. About 30 minutes charging will get the battery to 80% capacity using a standard household 220-volt circuit. (The plug itself will look something like today’s gas pump nozzles, according to the SAE standard recently established, and pictured below.)

This is our mass market car, says Perry of the EV-02, though he notes that Nissan engineers are working on making a smaller, lighter compact electric car as well. He says the battery pack inside the vehicle should last plenty long enough for the five or six years that most consumers keep a car, and even long enough for the occasional decade-long car owner. Since electricity produced by the nation’s power plants is largely wasted at night—up to 73% of it, according to Perry—people who charge their cars after dark won’t be adding any stress onto the grid.

And because power rates are regulated, utility companies won’t be able to use cars like the EV-02 as an excuse to jack up rates.

Perry says that Nissan hopes to have at least 12 or 15 cities building charging stations in pilot programs by 2012, and some states and municipalities—notably Washington, DC and the state of Oregon—are already on board. DC has over 200 electric bicycle charging stations it plans to hybridize for car charging within the next two years, and Oregon has already started building electric charging stations in the Portland area despite the dearth of actual plug-in electric cars (bully for you, Oregon). No price has been set for the EV-02’s mass-produced descendants, but if the folks in Portland and DC are any indication, the early adopters are ready and waiting.

Slideshow created with FlickrSlidr

Nissan's Greener Electric Cars
Nissan's Greener Electric Cars
Nissan's Greener Electric Cars
Nissan's Greener Electric Cars
Nissan's Greener Electric Cars

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