May 16, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Nissan, which long ago was one of the first automakers to be interested in plug-in hybrids, is back and in the race for PHEVs. After years of skepticism about hybrids and paying little attention to battery power, the company now aims to be the first to sell mass-production EVs. Sifting through the reports, it's clear that some of these vehicles will be plug-in hybrids with up to 100-mile electric-only range (which Nissan, like GM, prefers to call EVs with range extenders). The company's timetable for plug-in cars, using lithium batteries from its partnership with NEC, is to deliver EVs to a few fleets in 2010 and to the public in 2012.
News stories below, right after important news about other vehicles:
GREEN CAR CONGRESS:
Fisker Karma Prototype on Test Track
13 May 2008
Fisker Automotive and partner Quantum Technologies are testing three prototypes in Southern California. The Karma is scheduled for fourth quarter 2009 delivery with production levels of 1250/month by the end of 2010. The company says it has 500 pre-orders for its $80,000 vehicle with an all-electric range of 50 miles and an expected battery life of 100,000 miles.
AUTOOBSERVER: major update on Chevy Volt
Chevy Volt: Traveling Public Roads and Hitting Its Mark
May 14, 2008
By Michelle Krebs
WARREN, Michigan -- General Motors inched closer to making the Chevrolet Volt a reality in November 2010 as the vehicle's innovative gas-electric powertrain is being test-driven for the first time on public roads and is hitting its target of 40 miles on pure electric power.
"Today is a big day," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told Edmunds' AutoObserver in an exclusive interview Tuesday. "Today is the first day it is running on the street on battery power."
Lutz said the Volt's powertrain, comprised of an advanced lithium-ion battery and a small gasoline engine, was installed into a mule vehicle and is being driven on public roads around the automaker's proving grounds in Milford, Michigan. More important, Lutz said, the battery is hitting GM's goal of 40 miles on pure electric power.
"It is reliably meeting its objectives," Lutz confirmed. "Even with a rough calibration, even with the wrong drive unit, the wrong body, etc. etc., it has been hitting its 40 miles on electric power."
Tuesday's road test comes after last week's testing of the Volt powertrain on a dynamometer that simulated real-world conditions, such as varying road surfaces and changing ambient temperatures.
Proving Lithium-Ion Batteries
The successful test of the lithium-ion battery is a giant step in making the Volt a reality. Many critics insisted lithium-ion batteries were a huge risk. However, since GM announced its plans to use a lithium-ion battery in the Volt and signed development contracts with battery makers, others have followed suit.
Only this week, Renault and Nissan announced plans for an all-electric vehicle to go on sale in 2010 using a lithium-ion battery. Mitsubishi already has a fully electric vehicle in Japan running on lithium-ion batteries. Germany's Audi plans to use the batteries in its upcoming hybrid. At the same time, Toyota has said its next-generation Prius hybrid, reportedly debuting at the Detroit auto show in January and going on sale in 2009, will stick with nickel-metal hydride batteries instead of lithium-ion though the Japanese automaker is known to be working on the more advanced battery.
"The reason we point this out (others using lithium-ion) shows the fallibility of Toyota and the American press, which is totally enamored with Toyota," said the always outspoken and opinionated Lutz. "When we say lithium-ion is good and Toyota says they don't trust them and they are unproven, people say we're taking a huge risk."
An assumed risk of lithium-ion batteries is its thermal properties. Frank Weber (FAY-ber), imported from GM's European operations to be global vehicle line executive and chief engineer for of E-Flex Systems Development Team (E-Flex is the GM word for the Volt's gas-electric powertrain), told AutoObserver last August that the biggest challenge is to manage the thermal dynamics of the batteries so that the batteries are the same temperature.
And Lutz insists the lithium-ion battery on the road has passed that test. Lutz, meantime, won't confirm which supplier's battery is in the mule being tested. GM has development contracts with multiple battery makers. Lutz confirmed that in GM's dynamometer tests last week of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries, engineers raised ambient temperatures and shut off the cooling system. The result was what GM had hoped: The battery showed only a slight rise in temperature and the heat was consistent across all of the battery cells with no pockets of intense heat.
Challenges Other Than the Battery Remain
"I can almost say the battery is the least of our problems," Lutz told AutoObserver.
That's not to say GM doesn't face huge challenges in making the Volt work. The challenge now, Lutz said, is the smooth integration of the battery with the gasoline engine that, unlike traditional hybrids that use a gas engine to power the vehicle, kicks in to generate electricity to feed the battery.
GM engineers are grappling with such questions as: When does the gas engine cut in? How long does it stay on? Is it better to run at lesser power and charge the battery slowly or run at peak power and charge the battery fast? How does it deal with extreme cold days in Alaska or North Dakota, which require the gasoline engine to start the car and warm the battery? If the car's GPS or OnStar tells the car it is close to home, is there a way for it to tell the engine to charge the engine just enough to get home and plug in versus charging the whole battery using gasoline in the last 15 minutes? How does it handle wide variations in temperatures with accessories on?
"All of that requires reams and reams and reams of software," Lutz said. "Our task would be simplified if we didn't have the range-extending gasoline engine and the only question would be how fast can we productionize it. Then we could devote all of our time to optimizing the battery. But then we wouldn't have an extended-range vehicle.
"And then," he added, "you'd be back to the thing that has limited the acceptance of electric vehicles: It only gets 80, 100 or 120 miles of range and buyers worry 'what happens if I run out and I can't walk to the nearest gas station to get a 5-gallon can of electricity?'."
Target: November 2010
Lutz said the successful dynamometer and road tests increase GM's confidence that the Chevrolet Volt will debut in November 2010.
"Three months ago if you asked Frank Weber 'November 2010?' he'd get flustered and say he wouldn't answer until he knew more," said Lutz. "Now if you ask him the same question, he's calm and relaxed and says unless we encounter some completely unforeseen obstacle - November 2010 looks good."
Intense Interest at the Highest Levels
Indeed, Lutz said, that's the answer Weber gave GM Chairman Rick Wagoner in his monthly update on Volt only Tuesday morning - November 2010 looked good.
"I'm pleased to say there's no other project Rick spends as much time on than Volt," said Lutz. "He gets a monthly two-hour update from the Volt team. He's as close to Volt as I am. In fact, I have to run hard to stay ahead of Rick in my knowledge level so that I can still answer questions."
Indeed, Volt could be a game-changer -- and the vehicle that defines the legacy of both Bob Lutz and Rick Wagoner.
NISSAN STORIES: Below are excerpts from several reports from the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, AFP, National Public Radio and Green Car Congress:
NEW YORK TIMES
Nissan Plans Electric Car in U.S. by '10
May 13, 2008, By BILL VLASIC
DETROIT -- The Nissan Motor Company plans to sell an electric car in the United States and Japan by 2010, raising the stakes in the race to develop environmentally friendly vehicles.
The commitment -- expected to be announced Tuesday by Nissan's chief executive, Carlos Ghosn -- will be the first by a major automaker to bring a zero-emission vehicle to the American market. Nissan also expects to sell a lineup of electric vehicles globally by 2012.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Ghosn said Nissan decided to accelerate development of battery-powered vehicles because of high gasoline prices and environmental concerns, not just because of the need to meet stricter fuel-economy standards.
"What we are seeing is that the shifts coming from the markets are more powerful than what regulators are doing," he said.
Mr. Ghosn said Nissan envisioned a broad range of electric vehicles, starting with small cars, and adding: "It's not only about a small city car or a small minivan. It can also be about a small commercial vehicle and a small crossover."
Mr. Ghosn was not always enthusiastic about alternative-fuel technology. In a 2005 speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association, he called gas-electric hybrids "niche products" useful only to meet strict fuel-economy and emission standards in states like California.
"It wasn't long ago that Carlos Ghosn was a big naysayer about the role of electric vehicles," said John O'Dell, senior editor at the auto Web site GreenCarAdvisor.com. "Obviously, something has opened his eyes."
Other automakers like Mitsubishi Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries are testing versions of electric cars, and General Motors and Toyota are working on battery-powered vehicles that have small gasoline engines for recharging. G.M. plans to start producing the Chevrolet Volt in 2010, while Toyota expects to offer a similar, so-called "plug-in" hybrid around the same time.
But Nissan, which a decade ago was on the brink of bankruptcy, is the first manufacturer to say it will sell mass market, all-electric vehicles worldwide. The zero emissions refers to those from the car's tailpipe and not those from the production of electricity used to power the car.
Still, Mr. O'Dell said: "Nissan is upping the ante tremendously. They are the first to put it on the line and say we're going to have an all-electric vehicle for a certain market by a certain date."
Mr. Ghosn declined to disclose details of the electric products and said initial quantities would be small. "We're talking about hundreds of vehicles first," he said.
But he said that the company was determined to achieve "zero-emission-vehicle leadership."
With customers in emerging markets like China and India clamoring for cars, the industry has a responsibility to invest in the cleanest vehicles possible, he said, adding, "The question is how we participate in the growth of emerging markets, while doing it in a way that is not in contradiction with the fact that a lot of people are sensitive to the emission levels and the preservation of the planet."
Early this year, Nissan and its French alliance partner, Renault, signed a deal with the California-based Project Better Place to produce electric cars for sale in Israel and Denmark.
Renault will provide the cars and Nissan will supply lithium-ion battery packs. Mr. Ghosn, who also serves as chief executive of Renault, said the Israeli government would encourage sales of electric cars by sharply cutting taxes to levels below those on gasoline-powered vehicles.
"We would never have done this if the Israeli government was not encouraging it," he said. "Whoever puts the most incentive on the table is going to get the technology first."
The goal to sell electric vehicles is part of a new five-year business plan, called Nissan GT 2012, also to be announced Tuesday. It contains goals that are among the most ambitious set by Mr. Ghosn since he took the reins at Nissan in 1999.
In previous plans, Mr. Ghosn set strict targets for cost cuts, profit and return on investments to turn around the company's lagging fortunes.
But now Nissan is healthier. It is expected to report a profit in the most recent fiscal year of $4.1 billion.
The next five years, Mr. Ghosn said, would focus on growth and trust. "Trust is about sustainability," he said. "It's about return, it's about loyalty. In our industry, the companies that are performing best are the ones that have established a high level of trust with the different stakeholders."
But Nissan is being more aggressive about its electric-car efforts. Mr. Ghosn declined to say how much an electric vehicle would cost, but stressed that they would be affordable and comparable with other vehicles in the marketplace.
"We are not interested in some 'Stars Wars' prototype," he said, "but in really bringing a mass market product that everybody can buy. It's really a new chapter in the life of this industry."
He said that as many as 10 million of the 69 million vehicles produced each year worldwide could ultimately be electric-powered, with a concentration in urban areas. "We think that cars sold in cities are the obvious first starting point," he said.
WALL STREET JOURNAL [another story with a misleading headline]
Ghosn Hedges Bets on Emissions
Nissan to Push For Zero Emissions, But Plans Fallback
By JOHN MURPHY May 15, 2008; Page B2
TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn this week declared that he wants the company to lead the world in producing all-electric, zero-emission cars. But he is hedging his bets.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Ghosn said not all the electric cars Nissan manufactures will be purely electric or emission free. He said Nissan would make some models available with an optional "range extender" -- a gas-powered engine that recharges the battery and keeps the vehicle moving after the initial plug-in charge expires. Nissan, he said, aims to sell vehicles that are "pure electric, zero emission. But you always have the possibility of having a range extender."
Such a device would let Nissan's electric car, to be introduced in limited numbers in the U.S. and Japan by 2010 and marketed globally in 2012, compete with similar vehicles planned by rivals General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. Nissan is Japan's No. 3 auto maker by sales volume, behind Toyota and Honda Motor Co.
GM plans in 2010 to start selling the Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with a gas-powered engine to recharge the battery while driving. Toyota is expected to roll out its plug-in Prius hybrid the same year.
Nissan says its electric car will have a range of 100 miles on a single charge. The range extender would allow the car to travel an additional 300 miles before refueling or recharging.
Mr. Ghosn said he wants to help put the world behind the wheel of zero-emission vehicles to address growing concerns about the effect of tailpipe emissions on the environment. Outfitting vehicles with gas-powered range extenders falls short of that goal, but a hybrid compromise might help make Nissan's vehicles more appealing to consumers, who likely will be concerned about the limited range of a purely electric car.
"The more practical solution is the hybrid. It's more consumer friendly," said Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto-industry analyst at UBS Securities Japan in Tokyo.
Several years ago, Nissan debated pursuing hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles, as Honda is, or electric cars in the U.S. Nissan settled on electric cars because of the high cost of producing fuel-cell vehicles and the difficulties in establishing widespread hydrogen-refueling points. Mr. Ghosn said Nissan will continue to pursue fuel-cell technology, which he believes is the long-term solution to power vehicles.
Nissan to make lithium-ion batteries with NEC: report:
Sat May 10
TOKYO (AFP) - Nissan Motor Co and NEC Corp will join forces in the world's first mass production of lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, a newspaper said Saturday.
The two companies plan to spend 20 billion yen (194 million dollars) to build a plant in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, the Nikkei business daily said.
Production will begin early next year under Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC), an equally owned joint venture Nissan and NEC established in April 2007, the newspaper said.
The venture will mass-produce enough lithium-ion batteries for 10,000 electric vehicles at the initial stage and plans to raise production capacity by six-fold in the future, it said.
Nissan, Japan's second largest carmaker, plans to raise its stake in the venture to 51 percent when AESC increases its capital for the project, it said.
Lithium-ion batteries are smaller and lighter than the nickel-metal hydride batteries now used in hybrid and electric cars.
AESC is to ship batteries to Nissan as well as the automaker's French partner, Renault SA. Nissan and Renault plan to sell electric cars in Japan and the United States starting in 2010.
By putting the next-generation batteries in its environmentally friendly autos, Nissan hopes to catch up with its rivals Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co, which lead in green vehicles, Nikkei said.
NATIONAL PULIC RADIO
Nissan Builds Buzz with Plans for Electric Car by Dustin Dwyer
All Things Considered, May 13, 2008 · Nissan Motor Co. announced plans Tuesday to build an electric car by 2010, part of what the automaker says is a strategy to make it the global leader in zero-emission vehicles.
Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn, who unveiled the plan at a news conference in Tokyo, says the company will mass produce electric cars within the next five years. He laid out a simple case for the vehicles: The number of people buying cars around the world is increasing, while the need to reduce emissions is becoming more urgent.
"There is a perceived conflict between the demand for more cars and the demand for a cleaner planet -- 10, 20 or 30 percent lower emissions cannot be the only answer," Ghosn says.
The goal, he says, should be 100 percent lower emissions.
Although other auto industry executives have made this argument, they have estimated it will take at least a decade to get the right technology to build zero-emission cars.
"Today, there is latent consumer demand, but no offer," Ghosn says. "Nissan has an opportunity to mass market an affordable car that is both independent from oil and environmentally neutral."
The company will have zero-emission electric cars on the road in two years for government fleets in the U.S. and Japan, Ghosn says. The cars will be in mass production by 2012.
Nissan has not announced a specific model that will be mass produced. But in March, at the New York International Auto Show, the automaker unveiled an electric-powered concept car, the Denki Cube, which runs on lithium-ion batteries.
Ghosn also warned Tuesday that there are "tougher times ahead," joining the long list of auto manufacturers worried about what will happen to sales if the U.S. economy remains weak.
Nissan's chief executive has faced tough times in the past. Brazilian-born and raised in France, Ghosn is revered for saving Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy after he took the helm not long after the company merged with Renault in 1999.
Many industry analysts were skeptical about Tuesday's announcement by Nissan, which so far has not been a leader in hybrid or electric research.
"It feels like a target that I'm not sure they're going to make," say Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with AutoPacific.
She says Nissan is already behind in developing a new high-powered battery that's needed for an electric car. Toyota and General Motors are both further along.
Even if Nissan has a battery breakthrough, Brinley says, the company will still have to convince people that electric cars are worth buying.
"Particularly with the U.S. market, we haven't been all that accepting of electric vehicles before, so it has to be something pretty darn amazing to really get us to think about it," she says.
It is possible to buy an electric or zero-emissions car in the U.S. But for the most part the cars are tiny and can't travel very far without recharging.
There is the Tesla, a sleek two-seater that goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in four seconds. But its cost -- the 2009 Roadster has a base price of $109,000-- puts it out of reach for most consumers.
Nissan has to do better to succeed, Brinley says. In the end, she notes, what's most important is that the automaker gets electric cars right, not that it gets them first.
GREEN CAR CONGRESS
Nissan to Introduce Electric Vehicle in US and Japan in 2010;
New Business Plan Focuses on Zero-Emission Vehicle Leadership
13 May 2008
Nissan will introduce an all-electric vehicle in the US and Japan in 2010 and then mass-market vehicles to consumers globally in 2012, according to President and CEO Carlos Ghosn. (Earlier post.) The accelerated introduction of EVs reflects Nissan's goal of establishing leadership in zero-emission vehicles as part of its new five-year business plan called "Nissan GT 2012" ("G" for growth and "T" for trust), covering the period from 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2013.
In addition to establishing zero-emission vehicle leadership, the other main commitments of the GT 2012 plan are to establish quality leadership and to deliver 5% revenue growth on average over five years (FY2008 to FY2012). Nissan will support the revenue growth target by a product plan that will launch 60 all-new models in the next five years and more than 15 new technologies every year from 2009.
Nissan GT 2012 reflects the determination of our company to play a major role in the development of a sustainable mobile society. There's a balance to be sought between the potential growth in world markets and the demand for a cleaner planet. We are convinced that the mass availability of affordable zero-emission vehicles is the most significant breakthrough our industry could deliver, and, together with Renault, Nissan intends to be the breakthrough leader.
The Renault-Nissan alliance is also working with Project Better Place on the mass deployment of electric vehicles to select country markets, such as Israel. (Earlier post.)
In 2007, Nissan, NEC and NEC TOKIN Corporation established a joint venture--Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC)--to develop and market lithium-ion batteries for wide-scale automotive applications including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles. (Earlier post.)
AESC is developing laminate-type lithium-ion cells with a manganese spinel cathode material (LiMn2O4). Current cells have energy densities of up to 89 Wh/kg and 171 Wh/L. For the next generation of cell, AESC is working with Nickel-mixed Mn spinel cathode material, along with the graphite carbon anode.
Ghosn said that Nissan's global sales forecast for fiscal 2008 is 3.9 million units. In fiscal 2007, Nissan sold a record 3,770,000 vehicles worldwide, an increase of 8.2%. The main contributions to volume growth in 2008 will come primarily from GOM and Russia. Nissan will launch nine all-new products during fiscal 2008: Teana, Infiniti FX, Maxima, Bakkie successor, Qashqai+2, a mini SUV, Cube, Z and Infiniti G37 Convertible.