The $50k battery on wheels

Nissan has its new Leaf coming in August but the company’s global electric vehicles boss doesn’t want to sell you an EV. Nic Thomas reckons you should buy a battery on wheels.

It’s the same car. Buyers of the $50,000 Leaf EV, Thomas says, can view it as a mobile power storage pack that eliminates fuel costs and can cut household electricity bills. At the end of the vehicle’s life, there is still recycling value in the battery pack.

At the Nissan Futures conference, Thomas envisioned electrified zero-emissions motoring, citing the second-generation Leaf as the standard bearer, typifying the maker’s mantra of Intelligent Mobility.

“The new model has been well-received, having crossed the psychological barrier of 150 miles (240km/h) range. For a lot of people, that’s a week’s driving,” he says.

“There’s a new design, with intelligent cruising and intelligent braking, and the e-Pedal, a real slowburner of a feature.”

media_cameraThe Leaf is the best selling electric car in the world.

The e-Pedal enables drivers to accelerate and brake using the one pedal, with stopping power matching the rate at which the foot is lifted.

“When people start driving the car, realise how easy it is in traffic and how much fun it is on a nice winding road, they really love that,” Thomas says.

EVs set to launch in the early 2020s will benefit from decreasing battery production costs — but that doesn’t mean that the vehicles will be as cheap as the cheapest petrol car.

“Affordability doesn’t just mean sticker price,” he says. “In a petrol car, fuel is a constant cost. With an EV, as long as you can get electrons into it, which are substantially cheaper than hydrocarbons, you’ve paid for the battery up front.”

“Then there are things like demand shift. There is a huge surplus of electricity during middle of the day and middle if the night. If we can charge an EV then, first of all we get very cheap energy. There’s further potential to link your battery to homes, apartments, public buildings …”

media_cameraThe Nissan Leaf can be driven with just one pedal.

Nissan has e-Power versions for those not wedded to the full EV idea. In these, such as the IM-Q concept at the Geneva show, a petrol-powered generator charges the battery.

“The beauty of concepts revealed so far is you can do everything in one package,” Thomas says “You can make a relatively compact car with a massive interior and luxurious, smooth, silent, vibration-free ride. Then you have a lot of premium technology … you put your foot down and it goes like a rocket.”

The maker plans a raft of vehicles, both EV and e-Power, and not all will be about zero emissions. In the future, Thomas insists, “all high-performance powertrains are going to have to be electrified”.

media_cameraElectric cars cost much less to maintain.

He also has a strategy for Australia: “Solar panel adoption is pretty strong. If you want to get value from those you have to spend more money to put a battery on the wall of your house. “Don’t bother. A car on your drive that’s also a battery that stops you ever needing to go to the service station, does everything for you in one package — that’s a different model of affordability.

“Cost of maintenance is reduced by about 80 per cent compared with an internal combustion car because you’ve got so few moving parts. Then someone will come along at the end of life of the vehicle and offer you money for the battery.

media_cameraThe Leaf is due to go on sale locally in August.

Shift your assets

In Tim Washington’s view, there are complicated global logistics for delivery of petrol and diesel. “With electricity, the grid is already there,” says the CEO and founder of JET Charge, which is installing EV charge points at the 89 Nissan dealerships selling the Leaf in Australia.

“What would happen,” says Washington, “if people regarded a car as an energy asset first and mobility asset second? What if you bought a car primarily for its ability to dispense electricity to your phone, to power your offices?

“The car becomes one of your most valuable assets because it allows you to do what you want, when you want to do it. The ability to take that electricity where ever you go is incredibly empowering.”

“We’re not ready for 100 per cent of the population to switch to EVs but, for a significant number, we are.”

Difficulties arise when EV owners do not have off-street parking or apartment access. He says most new apartment developments provide for EV charging and public charging points are increasing. Installing a domestic 7kW charger costs from $2000.

Originally published as The $50k battery on wheels