Yesterday’s groundbreaking for Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn. battery plant allowed us to do a deep dive with Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning for the Nissan Leaf. The new facility will thrust Nissan and the State of Tennessee into the forefront of global manufacturing of electric cars and the lithium batteries that power them.
First these facts, and then what we learned compiled into a set of Qs and As:
- Annual battery pack production in Smyrna (starting in 2012): 200,000
- Annual Nissan Leaf vehicle production in Smyrna: 150,000
- Number of battery modules in a Nissan Leaf: 48
- Number of cells per module: 4
- Weight of pack: 300 kilograms (660 pounds)
- Amount of lithium in the pack: 4 grams
- Weight of the Nissan Leaf: Approx. 3,500 pounds
- Amount of DOE loan for new facility and retooling: $1.4 billion
- Anticipated number of jobs created: 1,300
The Nissan Leaf Battery Pack
What’s the advantage of producing the batteries in Smyrna?
The battery pack is expensive to ship. Local production reduces logistics cost, protects the company from currency fluctuations, and brings jobs to the United States. The DOE loan helped make it happen quicker.
How long will the battery pack last?
After 10 years, 70 to 80 percent of the pack’s capacity will be left. The exact amount will depend on how much (440-volt) fast charging is done—as well as environmental factors, such as extreme hot weather, which is tough on the battery.
Can customers upgrade the battery pack at that point?
Too early to tell, but the possibility exists—largely because the old battery may have a secondary use for stationary purposes, such as storing energy from solar panels. Nissan is in discussion with a number of utilities and other companies about secondary use. Yet, some customers may want to keep running their batteries even at 70 percent capacity.
Will the next-generation Leaf battery pack have much longer range?
Nissan is anticipating an improvement in capacity at about 8 to 10 percent year over year. This improvement could be applied to greater range or reducing the cost. If customers indicate that they are satisfied with 100 miles range, then future battery packs may be smaller with fewer cells, and therefore cheaper.
What’s the latest progress on DC fast chargers? [These chargers can juice up the Leaf battery pack to 80 percent in about 30 minutes.]
Nissan engineers have reduced the cost to about $17,000, based on re-engineering for simplicity, as well as scale manufacturing. The company believes it can reduce the costs further. The current Leaf DC fast charger is built to Japanese standards, and has not yet been UL certified for North America. Nissan’s lower cost on a quick charger is big news, because most rapid chargers have been priced around $50,000.
Will the DC fast chargers degrade the battery faster?
If fast charging is the primary way that a Leaf owner recharges, then the gradual capacity loss is about 10 percent more than 220-volt charging. In other words, it will bring the capacity loss closer to 70 percent after 10 years.
Will there be a driver-controlled setting to increase regenerative braking?
Yes, it’s called Eco mode. This mode will also limit acceleration to some degree. The car doesn’t offer the ability to shift to low or “B.” Eco mode will be calibrated to minimize a “grabby” feel related to regenerative braking.
What’s the warranty on the Nissan Leaf battery?
It hasn’t been announced yet. Under California emissions laws, the Chevy Volt’s battery pack is regulated to have warranty coverage up to 100,000 miles. But the Leaf is a zero emission vehicle, and therefore is not subject to the same oversight. (Yet, we anticipate the Nissan will at least match competitors for warranty.)
Nissan Leaf Ordering Process
Will Nissan allow dealers to gouge Leaf customers?
The customers have the ability to choose any local dealer—and avoid dealers charging hefty mark-up feeds.
What’s the schedule for test-driving and taking delivery of the car?
Test-drives will happen this fall, during an extensive nation-wide tour. For the first two years, the Leaf will be produced in Japan. Production begins there in September. Deliveries to U.S. dealership will take place beginning in December.
Is Nissan sold out of the Leaf for the first year?
Maybe, but that’s only for the company’s fiscal year which ends in March. Nissan has the capacity to produce and deliver about 12,000 Leaf vehicles between now and the end of March 2011. Nissan continues to take orders for the Leaf.
Will Nissan allow selling or trading registrations, locally or out-of-state?
People will be discouraged from selling their reservation spot. Trading reservations to interested customers out-of-state will be allowed. Nissan will fully inform customers outside the official first markets that they will be driving without the benefit of the charging stations installed in those initial markets in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Tennessee. Therefore, those customers will need to be comfortable with relying exclusively on home charging. Service from Nissan dealers may also be an issue.
Besides the Leaf, what other future electric vehicles will be offered?
Nissan’s next electric car will be a light commercial delivery vehicle, followed by an Infiniti EV. Timing has not been announced. Nissan will produce a fourth electric car, but has not yet divulged any details—although it will not be an electric version of an existing Nissan vehicle.