Test Driving the New Nissan EV

Test Driving the New Nissan EV

San Diego to Get 100 Nissan EV

San Diego to Get 100 Nissan EV

By Tom Bartley (3/26/09).

Walking up to the new Nissan Electric Vehicle prototype car, my first surprise was getting into the right hand front seat.  This car was only one of two in existence and driving in Japan is like the UK, on the left side of the road.  I had never driven a right hand drive car before, but I felt more comfortable to see the brake pedal on the left and the accelerator pedal on the right.  The only real difference was using my left hand to release the parking brake and move the shift lever to DRIVE.

I was excited to receive the invitation to test drive the new Nissan EV during its announcement with San Diego Gas and Electric in San Diego on Monday, March 23, 2009.  This was to be a limited rollout using a “mule” and not the actual car, but I knew all that and still wanted to feel what it was like to drive it.  I didn’t pay much attention to the style looks or interior of the car because Nissan is developing the final production model with a different body in Japan.
This electric vehicle was so quiet, I worried just a little about the absent minded driver who would accidentally step on the accelerator without realizing this quiet car was ready to go.

As I eased my foot into the accelerator I asked the company driver if I could floor it.  He agreed and I looked for an opportunity.  Not much distance at first because we started out on the short side of the course along the pier.  The course was conveniently laid out such that the high speed long side would put me into the water if something failed and I couldn’t stop.  Definitely not a golf cart, the accelerator had some real control.  The car felt so comfortable that by the time I turned around and headed down the long side I had forgotten about driving from the right side.

The longer part of the course allowed a quick acceleration to 70 km/h (45 mph) on the speedometer before I tested the braking regeneration, not wanting to test the Port’s capability to recover me out of the water.  Nissan’s more than 18 years of electric vehicle experience was evident by the control smoothness and no transmission design.  Driving the car felt like an ordinary gasoline car with the extra spirit of a turbo kick after an initial start up.

I have driven many of the electrically propelled vehicles, including the fuel cell million-dollar prototypes, and I am familiar with the high torque off-the-line acceleration of electric motors.  Nissan was successful in making this car feel like any other gasoline car I was used to driving on the road.  I can’t say enough about the control system because I have observed how difficult that can be in an electric vehicle.  It’s not a sports car, but neither will parents with kids have any trouble keeping up with traffic or staying out of the way.

The test mule prototype was a square bodied five passenger, four door, mini SUV that looked like an oversized bread box or a shrunken HUMMER.  I saw the car take one trip around the pier track where I estimated the people load to be in excess of 700 pounds.  The acceleration performance seemed to be the same as when only two of us were in the car.  If the car handles the same empty or loaded, that’s HUGE.

Charging options are a standard 4 hour, special 26 minutes, or emergency to get me home.  Nissan and SDG&E are working towards making available pre approved according-to-code installations through the county.

One thing for sure, the car recycles braking energy and the number of brake jobs will be few and far between.
How much is it going to cost?  Nissan is acting coy, but probably around $30,000 plus or minus.  Don’t go away yet; it qualifies for the $7500 EV tax credit, making it somewhat competitive with small hybrid electrics.  Nissan says that the car will save money unless gasoline drops below $1.10 per gallon (fat chance of that ever happening again).  I don’t believe the quoted 90 cents to “fill the tank”, but maybe SDG&E has something up its sleeve with special charging rates in the middle of the night using the smart meters now being installed around the San Diego area.

Ok, I’d like to have one.  When can I get one?  Nissan is planning to provide 100 fleet vehicles in San Diego through SDG&E.  I saw conflicting reports on whether SDG&E was planning to use all 100 vehicles or would offer some of those vehicles to other fleets.  Nissan would like that number to go to 1,000 in preparation for a full blown production and will be accepting “soft” fleet orders during the next 12 months for probable delivery in 2011.  The general public won’t have its turn until 2012.  If I can sell my gas guzzling high performance high maintenance Corvette Classic I might look for a way to get one of the fleet cars.

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

Sprinter PHEVQuestion: What could be more American than healthy competition? Answer: Healthy competition that reduces our dependency on foreign oil. By 2010 you may be filling your “tank” by plugging-in to your electric and natural gas utility. Today fleets turn to utilities to power everything from light electric vehicles to heavy natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.

At the recent Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Institute (AVFi) National Conference, major utilities were there with exciting presentations and demonstrations. Major California utilities included Sempra Energy (SRE), Southern California Edison (EIX), and PG&E (PCG). Major automotive and truck manufacturers showed their latest alt-fuel vehicles. Globally there are over 30 million electric vehicles and over 5 million natural gas vehicles.

Vehicles give utilities added markets for electricity and natural gas, the opportunity to use excess off-peak electricity that is now wasted, and long-term opportunities to capture electricity from vehicles (V2G) when electricity is in peak demand.

Southern California Edison provides electricity to over 13 million customers. Edison’s Gordon Smith presented the ability for 70% of U.S. vehicles to be powered with off-peak electricity. Edison provides electricity to customers with thousands of electric vehicles, forklifts, sweepers, scrubbers, airport equipment, truck stop electrification, ship port electrification, and plug-in hybrids. Over 300 of Edison’s own fleet are electric vehicles. Some of its 240 Toyota RAV-4 EVs have achieved a life of up to 150,000 miles. Edison Programs

Running a utility requires large fleets including vans and trucks. Edison is aggressively testing hybrids and plug-in hybrids. SCE now is testing a DaimlerChrysler (DCX) plug-in hybrid-electric Sprinter vans with a 20 to 30-mile all-electric range through a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DaimlerChrysler.

SCE is partnering with EPRI, other utilities and Eaton Corporation (ETN) to establish a program for Class 5 plug-in hybrid troubleman trucks using the Ford (F) F550. They will offer the ability to drive in an all-electric mode, and to operate in a stationary mode (without idling). The electric mode is perfect for the hours that these trucks are used at work sites and when running hydraulic lifts. The electric mode eliminates emissions, fuel cost and noise.

SCE is also working with other fleet operators through the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to place prototype heavy-duty hybrid trucks in operation, with a goal of leading to production commitments and expanded purchases. Based on initial testing of the trucks at an independent facility, these vehicles are projected to cut air emissions by up to 50%, and use 40% to 60% less fuel, compared to similar diesel-powered trucks. These trucks are likely to become a standard Class 6 offering by International, using an Eaton hybrid drive system.

AVFi presented the “Industry Pioneer” award to the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra utility. Sempra is the nation’s largest natural gas utility, serving 29 million customers. The Gas Company owns and operates a fleet of 1,100 natural gas vehicles. It operates 26 natural gas stations. It helped LAMTA create the world’s largest fleet of natural gas buses (over 2,200). LAMTA is also expanding into buses running on hydrogen blended with CNG and battery-electric buses.

PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase revenues one billion dollars if there is a shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion.

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,100 natural gas vehicles. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced over 2.7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

PG&E is actively field testing both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).

PG&E has ordered four Phoenix Motorcars ) all-electric sport utility trucks (SUTs) for June delivery. PG&E has given Phoenix a conditional order to buy 200. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range using Altair Nano (OTCBB: ALTI) batteries with their unique lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) electrode materials. Both Phoenix and Altair were on display at the AFVi Conference. Altair has claimed a breakthrough in several areas: specific power, battery life of over 10,000 charge cycles, “zero explosions and safety issues” test results, and fast charge capability. Altair Nano Batteries

“PG&E is firmly committed to reducing our carbon foot print by using innovative alternative-fuel technologies,” said Bob Howard, PG&E vice president of gas transmission and distribution. “By adding the Phoenix Motorcars SUTs to our leading clean fuel fleet, we are taking an important step in developing a proven and necessary electric vehicle market. Electric vehicles provide a practical solution to help us reduce our dependency on petroleum-based fuels, keep California’s air clean, and meet the challenges associated with climate change.” PG&E

Along with Edison, PG&E’s fleet was one of 14 in the country chosen to test the plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road. PG&E, partnering with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, also recently placed into service a prototype Plug-in Toyota Prius to demonstrate the benefits of light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles.

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, through which they supply natural gas to more than 200 commercial and private fleets throughout the PG&E system. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets.

Construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is also scheduled to begin this summer. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was awarded a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant for the project. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas and condition it to serve the on-site dispenser during the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated.

The relationship between big oil and big utilities are complex. Oil refineries are among the world’s largest users of electricity. Oil companies are transforming into integrated energy providers that sell large quantities of natural gas to major utilities, making the utility a distribution channel for the natural gas producer. Some energy giants are expanding into wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Edison and BP have a joint venture to build a large scale electric plant that will not run on coal, not on nuclear, not on natural gas. The Carson plant will run on hydrogen and output 500 MW of electricity. By products will include enough hydrogen to inexpensively fuel thousands of vehicles in Southern California. Another byproduct will be CO2 that will be sequestered as part of increasing oil production. Hydrogen power plant

Edison also has an existing hydrogen fueling station in partnership with Chevron.

Currently, fleets are taking the lead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are developed by system integrators and specialty companies. DaimlerChrysler was at the AVFI conference with its 25 mph GEM. 40,000 have been sold. Rumors are flying that in 2008 Toyota (NYSE:TM) will begin fleet tests of its new plug-in hybrid using lithium batteries. Consumer sales may start in 2009. By 2010, Mitsubishi (MSBHY) will start selling an EV to consumers in Japan. Drivers will increasingly use electric power.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

Health competition is leading America to cleaner electricity and cleaner vehicles. Innovative utilities are taking an important role in the transition.

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