Although we hope to see a day in the not-too-distant future when all major car companies are riding the electric car bandwagon, right now there are only a few that are brave enough to really take the plunge. Chevy is coming out with the Volt, of course, and Toyota has something in the works, but Nissan is leading the pack in terms of ZEVs.
A note on the lingo: ZEV stands for Zero Emission Vehicle (it’s not the name of a car), as opposed to just EV which stands for Electric Vehicle. The Volt will be an EV, meaning that it will run on an electric motor. But, since it will contain a gas engine to kick in should the electric motor run out of juice, it does not qualify as a ZEV, which is entirely electric.
Nissan has a prototype 5-seater ZEV that will be ready for sale in 2010. Don’t get too excited, though – you aren’t going to get one. At first, Nissan’s car will only be available to be purchased in fleets. By about 2012, though, they will be sold to the mass market. And Nissan promises they will be cheap. I’m not going to hold my breath, since the Volt was also supposed to be “cheap”, and now it looks like it will cost over $40k. But if Nissan’s promise comes true, their ZEV will be cost competitive with cars like the Honda Civic. And that’s before the $7,500 tax incentive being offered as part of the stimulus bill. That means it could cost you less than $20k.
The prototype consists of ZEV guts housed inside the body of a Nissan Cube, with the battery stored under the floor of the car to make the interior all the more roomy. Nissan is driving the car along the California coast to promote the technology. Yesterday, it made its first stop in San Diego, to celebrate Nissan’s new partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric, the region’s largest power utility. SDG&E has committed to purchase a fleet of 100 vehicles, but their commitment to the technology goes further.
The two companies are forming a partnership to study and develop the technology and infrastructure needed to make a charging network work. They will install charging stations in public places and see how well they serve customers’ needs. They will also be experimenting with new technologies, such as high-voltage charging stations that will supposedly be capable of charging a ZEV in 26 minutes (as opposed to hours and hours), and safety devices to ensure that the high-voltage electricity doesn’t cause any unwanted accidents.
Some suggest that partnerships like these could threaten startups like Coulomb Technologies, which is developing its own brand of charging station, and Better Place, which hopes to one day sell/deploy both charging infrastructure and the cars as well. In fact, Nissan itself is supposed to provide the vehicles for Better Place. So why is Nissan developing what could be seen as a competing technology with a different company?
Of course, it's possible that Better Place is in on the collaboration as well. Perhaps information and ideas will be shared between all three companies. On the other hand, maybe not. After all, Nissan is putting a lot into their ZEV program, and they want to make sure these cars sell. Even if they think Better Place has a brilliant idea, it never makes sense to put all your eggs in one basket. By getting involved in multiple projects, Nissan can learn more about what needs to happen to ensure that their ZEVs sell once they hit the mass market.
So maybe this does mean that large car makers and utilities are going to squeeze out the startups and take over the electric vehicle and infrastructure market. But if that means that the world becomes a place where large corporations are actively converting our cars from gasoline to electric...
written by Nick, March 26, 2009
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