There’s something far more important behind the news that Nissan’s Sunderland plant is to lead the charge (ha ha) in battery manufacturing. In 18 months time, you’ll be able to buy a proper full-sized Nissan hatchback powered entirely by batteries.
The car itself will be unveiled in just a couple of weeks. It isn’t just a re-powered version of any existing model. (Our picture is of a concept using a Cube body, but that’s not the real thing.) Nissan knows, like Toyota did with the Prius, that a new technology only gets headlines if it’s dressed in new clothes.
So the electric Nissan will look unique. It’ll make its owner identifiable as a green early-adopter. But it won’t look odd, because it mustn’t shock (ha ha) anyone. Expect a fairly low-drag but acceptable car in the mould of a Prius or Honda Insight.
Nissan engineers insist that the new car will do everything to match the usefulness of your 1.6-litre Focus or Golf. In other words, it’ll do nearly 100mph, and hit 60mph in about 11 sec. (Though the performance will be far sweeter and quieter than a petrol or diesel, as electric-drive cars always are.) It’ll be a five-seater, and it’ll have air-con and all the usual amenities.
Even the cost is comparable to your regular hatch. Though you’ll have to count the cost in a different way. Buy a £13,000 Focus and you have to keep on spending to put fuel into it, service it and tax it. For the electric car, the likely scenario is this. The upfront price will be about £5,000 more, but then there will be a £5,000 government subsidy to bring it back level. But that price is just for the car, batteries not included. Instead you’ll lease the batteries, for about the same cost as your monthly petrol bill. A recharge will be just pennies.
But – and it’s a big but – even if its performance, space, safety, comfort and costs are comparable with a regular car, one thing isn’t. The range will be little over 100 miles. That’s OK for commuting, where you can charge it overnight in your garage or front drive.
For longer journeys, Nissan is working with the authorities and electricity companies to get fast-chargers installed at motorway service stations. But even though these will give you 80 miles of juice in just 25 minutes, that’s a helluva hole in your average speed.
In Britain, the North East is the first region to sign up to provide that charging network, as well as other incentives like being able to use bus lanes and to park free. Other countries and regions worldwide are doing the same thing. Nissan is working hard to get the infrastructure in place before the car goes on sale.
Part of the reason the car is a unique design rather than an adaptation of an existing hatch is that the components are arranged differently. Nissan has developed an easily cooled layered Lithium-ion battery, while everyone else using Li-ion has small cylindrical cells. So the Nissan has thin battery sandwiches all over its floor, and a thicker layer under the rear seat. The motor, electronics and charger are under the bonnet, but they are compact.
Nissan reckons its new battery concept, which will be made at Sunderland, has a lot more development in it. The engineers expect they’ll have doubled range within five years. They’ll have to if Nissan is to reach its bold goal that by 2020, 10 percent of all the cars it sells will be electric.