August 03, 2009
Nissan Leaf Electric Car 100 Mile Range

Will $20 per gallon gasoline cause the death of suburbs? Why should it? If you can commute between suburbs in an electric car then no need to move to crowded, polluted, noisy, and stressful cities.

YOKOHAMA, (Aug. 2, 2009) - Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. today unveiled Nissan LEAF, the world's first affordable, zero-emission car. Designed specifically for a lithium-ion battery-powered chassis, Nissan LEAF is a medium-size hatchback that comfortably seats five adults and has a range of more than 160km (100 miles) to satisfy real-world consumer requirements.


How can this range only satisfy the daily driving requirements of 70% of the world's consumers? Just how many people drive more than 50 miles each way to work and back?

Extensive consumer research demonstrates that this range satisfies the daily driving requirements of more than 70% of the world's consumers who drive cars.

You can do a 100 mile round-trip commute (if you are so unlucky) and recharge it while you sleep.

And, Nissan's approach makes charging easy and convenient. Nissan LEAF can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger. Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours - ample time to enable an overnight refresh for consumer and car alike.

The 200V outlet will require an electrical wiring upgrade in most American homes. The long range commuters will have to pay for a home electrical upgrade.

Ah, but there's the price.

However, we do know that the Leaf’s advanced battery—good for 100 miles on a charge—costs $10,000 on its own. Nissan plans to lease customers the battery, produced in partnership with NEC, when the Leaf goes on sale in late 2010. According to the New York Times, other EVs will follow.

My periodic debate partner, Jim Motavalli at the New York Times’ Wheels blog, reports that the Leaf will fall somewhere between the Nissan Sentra and the Nissan Altima in size. Price-wise, that probably means the sticker will be something like $25,000-$30,000, assuming that the EV technology will add to the cost.

Dan Neil, accomplished car reviewer for the LA Times, reports the battery stories 24 kwh. If it costs $10k then we are talking $400 per kwh. That high?

This first results of that effort debuted Aug. 2, when Nissan unveiled the LEAF, a five-seat compact, all-electric hatchback with lithium-ion batteries (24 kWh energy storage and max output of 90kW), giving the car a top speed of 90 mph and nominal range of 100 miles – a magic number, Nissan figures, in Americans’ driving psychology.

Here's how I see it: Peak Oil will push more lower class people into cities while the upper middle class upgrades to electric cars and stays in the suburbs. People on the economic edge of suburban financial viability can switch to electric bicycles and avoid the downsides of cities. Even if you didn't do the electric bicycling every day for every trip you could still use it to slash total fuel costs.

Update: If Nissan leases the battery but sells the car then a $30k price is higher than it looks. The Leaf's competition is a Prius that gets 50 mpg. At what price gasoline does it make more sense to drive a Leaf rather than the most efficient gasoline-powered or diesel-powered car? That price (whatever it is) puts an effective ceiling on the cost of commuting. If you can afford to commute at that price then you do not need to make other big adjustments to your lifestyle such as moving to a city once Peak Oil hits.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 03 08:33 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations

Guillaume Theoret said at August 4, 2009 1:40 AM:

Are cities really more stressful? By far the most stressful thing in my life was driving a huge steel deathtrap every day on the road with thousands of other people I had to constantly be watching out for. I couldn't trust any of them to not do something incredibly stupid. After moving into the downtown core and selling my car I am certain I live a less stressful life.

Dan said at August 4, 2009 5:46 AM:

Also and again, NOT EVERYONE LIVES IN A TROPICAL CLIMATE. Electric bicycles are only useful for a portion of the time (sunny and warm), by a portion of the population (those fit and physically able to bike extensively and who also have the extra time to at least double their commute time).

jay said at August 4, 2009 6:23 AM:

What I like about this is that it may push BYD to advance their schedule more rapidly. BYD's cars look more pleasing, have a greater range, and may be less expensive. The race is on.

bbartlog said at August 4, 2009 7:24 AM:

I don't know what suburbs you have in mind, but most of the ones I've seen would be pretty inhospitable places to try and use an electric bicycle. The issue is that the main thoroughfares are highways; if you want to get in to DC or Pittsburgh or Boston (or probably most other American cities) from one of its suburbs, you have to either go some complicated route or else spend some time on a road where the speed limit is ~60 MPH. I do think these vehicles have promise for people that live *in* the city, but they're not going to have much use for suburban commuters.
I also think that a low-power scooter (something like the Tank 50cc) provides a better tradeoff of time for fuel economy than an electric bike, for most people, but obviously situations and opinions will vary.

Randall Parker said at August 4, 2009 7:42 AM:


It probably depends on the city.


Yes, people in Minnesota or Alberta are going to have a harder time adjusting to Peak Oil than people in San Diego or San Francisco.


Given enough people wanting to commute via scooters and bicycles I would expect construction to accommodate them.

Billy Oblivion said at August 4, 2009 10:47 AM:

(1) These are not "zero emission vehicles". They get their power--electricity--mostly from coal and natural gas, which simply move the emissions around.

(2) Seriously folks, CO2 emissions are NOT the biggest ecological problem (much less the biggest problem) facing humanity. Mercury and other heavy metals in oceans, rivers and streams polluting our (and other animals) food chains, plastics in the ocean. Hormones in the water supply. How much un-recyclable material is in these batteries? How much if it is economically unwise to recycle?

(3) It *is* possible for large majority of the people between 15 and 55 to use bicycles, or electric bicycles to get to work throughout most of the country. When it's cold out you just put on more clothes. Did that in the upper mid-west for 2 years, snow, cold, rain, whatever. All it takes is deliberately organizing your life that way. If you don't want to, fine, I don't think you HAVE to. I don't think there is a moral imperative to do it. I don't think you're a bad person because you don't want to. But admit it is because you DON'T WANT TO, not because you "can't". This is America, and we're still free to make these choices. At least until the Malthusians get their way.

Engineer-Poet said at August 4, 2009 11:55 AM:

200 volts is Japanese standard, I believe.  If you wired an outlet to get 240 V 15 A, you could pump 24 kWh through it in under 7 hours; 240 V 30 A would let you charge in under 4 hours, including the tapering-off stage.

Brian said at August 4, 2009 12:02 PM:

If we assume the petrol motor and the electric motor/controller combination have similar costs in large volumes then we can start to plot some return on investment number for the battery.

If you assume (conservative) 5 year life on a $10k battery you need to offset about $167/Month in fuel costs.
Assuming $3/gal and 30mpg we're looking at 10Miles per dollar or about 1670miles / month, plus a 'fuel' cost of about 5c/mile for electricity ($84) and perhaps financing ($26 @ 6%)

Assuming $5/gal we're down to 6Miles per dollar or just over 1k miles/month, this is someone that commutes 25miles/day to work. ($50 for electricity)

These vehicles are not quite economical at today's fuel prices for most drivers, they do set an effective price cap on gasoline. Keep in mind electric motors have better lifespans and less maintenance than internal combustion.
Economies of scale, and minor process improvements will bring prices down, and extend useful life of the batteries even further.

The point I'm trying to make here is not that electrics are necessarily a better choice today, but that they're close enough that with near-term improvements they'll be online before any crushing liquid fuel shortage and associated price spikes.

Average Fuel economy (2006 latest available) in the US (about 22Mpg, new vehicle closer to 30Mpg)

Here is a discussion about the death of lead acid with LiFePO4 at under $350KWh. We are still early in the lifecycle of this particular chemistry so prices will continue to decline over time.

CyclemotorEngineer said at August 4, 2009 12:18 PM:


Commute time depends on traffic flow patterns. For example, yesterday I towed an empty trail-a-bike behind my electric bicycle, through 8 miles of rush-hour traffic in 22 minutes. There was construction, and I managed to avoid passing any vehicles, parked or moving, without allowing at least a car door width of clearance. The same trip would have taken over 30 minutes via car.

Regarding physical fitness, the electric bicycle motor can do none, most or all of the work involved in transportation. My use patterns vary with immediate circumstances, such as available time, appropriateness of perspiration at destination, exercise needs, cargo, riding companion ability, charge availability and route.

I bike in Wisconsin, which does not (yet!) feature a tropical climate. Batteries and bicycles can be used at very low temperatures. Properly designed electric bicycles can be used in the rain. As an experiment, I have not driven my car since November. This experiment has progressed well enough to justify designing a weatherproof electric bike for this winter.

Engineer-Poet said at August 4, 2009 2:38 PM:

Brian:  What are you assuming for electric costs?  The Leaf can use perhaps 300 Wh/mile, so at a flat electric rate of 10¢/kWh the energy cost would be 3¢/mile, not 10¢.  Charging at off-peak rates of 5¢/kWh would reduce this to 1.5¢/mi.

Nick G said at August 4, 2009 4:09 PM:

Price-wise, that probably means the sticker will be something like $25,000-$30,000, assuming that the EV technology will add to the cost.

That's a bad assumption. Actually, an electric drivetrain, produced in comparable volumes, should be cheaper. Power electronics will raise costs due to R&D, but will get reasonably cheap with volumes.

It only has one moving part! Almost no auxiliary systems: very simple or no transmission, no fuel pump, oil filter, etc, etc. The batteries may have a cooling system - that's the only auxiliary system I can think of.

If it costs $10k then we are talking $400 per kwh. That high?

That's for the battery pack, and probably includes about $2k for the non-cell components (battery management system, etc). That cost will drop reasonably quickly.

JAY said at August 4, 2009 5:47 PM:

Gasoline is more likely to get to 20 cents than $20 per gallon.

Wolf-Dog said at August 4, 2009 9:53 PM:

Renault-Nissan is directly working with Better Place to manufacture
these electric cars in such a way that these batteries can actually
be swapped under 3 minutes at swapping stations, and also by 2012
there will be charging pods in most streets of Denmark and Israel,
as well as many parts of Hawaii and Bay Area. Many countries are
interested in this business model, because it would cost no more
than 1 year of imported oil to build charging pods in every street,
and to add these battery swapping stations.

Wolf-Dog said at August 4, 2009 10:31 PM:

Another consideration that adds to the cost of driving a gasoline car is this: Poverty due to the increasing trade imbalance. If we keep importing so much oil without the ability to compensate for it by exporting by the same amount, then this would ultimately impoverish the average citizen by that measure every year, and this would make it impossible to drive a car. Hence a government sponsored program to stop importing oil, is important.

By the way, here is an article that says that the battery swapping business model of Better Place, would considerably accelerate the adoption of electric cars.

Clarium said at August 5, 2009 3:16 AM:

Wolf-Dog, the Nissan doesn't solve the trade deficit problem, unless those things are made in "right-to-work" states, but the profits are repatriated in Japan.

JP Straley said at August 5, 2009 5:31 AM:


If profits are repatriated, 90 - 95% of the purchase stays in the home economy. Actually, foreign companies producing products inside the US will license (and charge licensing fees)on many of the production processes. Thus, tax-free (licensing fees are a cost of production) payments can be made to the home country.

Buy Ford/GM.

JP Straley

Wolf-Dog said at August 5, 2009 7:23 AM:

Clarium is absolutely correct about the foreign made electric cars, but my point was that ultimately if the sleeping giant wakes up, then it might be possible to build even better electric cars in the United States. Note that Tesla already has a $50,000 high end sedan Model S, which can seat 7 people.

Among the battery options there are two options: a 160 mile range version and a 300 mile range version, but it seems that the $50,000 price is for the 160 mile range version of the car. But it is guaranteed that the prices of batteries decline dramatically within 5 years, and by then the battery charging pods (in every street) and robotized battery swapping (similar to gas stations) will be ready in a few small countries such as Denmark and Israel, and also in the Bay Area, Hawaii, and parts of Ausralia, and many other countries are joining the trend.

THE PROBLEM in the United States is that the automobile companies and dealers, are still in favor of internal combustion cars because these cars are more expensive to produce, they have a lot more moving parts, and they require a lot more repairs. A VERY significant component of the automobile industry profits, happen to be repair shops, replacement component sales, etc. A lot of people are getting ripped off by spending a lot of money in annual repairs after the first few years of owning a gasoline car. The electric cars do not have these complicated transmissions, engine oil, air filters, exhaust pipes, radiators, gear boxes, etc. With very few moving parts and cheap electric motors, electric cars can last 50 years, only the battery is expensive, so that this will further save money for the drivers.

But returning to my main point about the foreign trade deficit, the cost of importing oil is devastating because it impoverishes the average American every year.

MsakedMan said at August 6, 2009 4:16 PM:

What isn't being discussed is the fact that within the next few years batteries will be going for 600 miles to a charge AND with the coil transmission of electric power through harmonic frequencies developed by the MIT scientist a couple of years ago coupled with the company working on kinetic electric energy created by the motion of vehicles above driving on their technology there will be wireless transmission of electric charging built in the streets.

nice run-on

Nissan has a video of the wireless electric transfer in the video they posted over at Gizmag last week...pretty cool future

MaskedMan said at August 6, 2009 4:17 PM:

What isn't being discussed is the fact that within the next few years batteries will be going for 600 miles to a charge AND with the coil transmission of electric power through harmonic frequencies developed by the MIT scientist a couple of years ago coupled with the company working on kinetic electric energy created by the motion of vehicles above driving on their technology there will be wireless transmission of electric charging built in the streets.

nice run-on

Nissan has a video of the wireless electric transfer in the video they posted over at Gizmag last week...pretty cool future

Wolf-Dog said at August 6, 2009 5:07 PM:

But credit must be given where it is due: It was Nikola Tesla who made major breakthroughs in the wireless transmission of power, but Tesla was exploited and mistreated by the eternal arch-vampire Thomas Edison.

However, I hope that there will be enough medical research to ascertain that there will not be cancer causing or other side-effects from power transmission by induction and electrodynamic induction. It is already known that strong magnetic fields cause serious health problems, although this is a totally different process.

In any case, even without wireless charging, note that it would cost only 1 year of imported oil for the United States to put charging pods in every street and to add a reasonable number of battery swapping stations. Within 5 years the prices of batteries will decline dramatically, so that the 300 mile range battery of Tesla Motors Sedan model S, will become affordable to more people. By 2012, electric cars will be sold for less than $15,000 without the battery, and with the battery rental program the cost of driving the car will be much less than the cost of using gasoline. This will reduce the foreign trade deficit dramatically, as it seems that more than half the foreign trade deficit of $600 billion per year (nearly 5 % of the GDP every year) is due to imported oil. Once the foreign trade deficit is brought under control (must be considerably less than 1 % of the GDP), then the impoverishing of the United States will stop.

Engineer-Poet said at August 10, 2009 4:04 PM:

Tesla's biggest inventions were exploited by George Westinghouse, not Edison.

Inductive charging systems are a waste of energy and money; if you want automatic charging, robots can handle the task of plugging in a connector.  The reduction of losses and elimination of EM fields is worth a bit of mechanical complexity, and a robotic system plugging into a port on the side of the car is compatible with manual systems which can be made available everywhere for cheap.  Once you're past the gosh-wow factor of "no wires!", conductive systems are clearly the way to go.

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