February 12, 2010
Nissan Leaf Coming December 2010
Chuck Squatriglia in Wired reports on how to get a Nissan Leaf all-electric car and the likely cost. Nissan has given up on separately leasing the battery.
Nissan won’t say what the car costs until April, but it is shooting for a price in the $26,000 to $33,000 ballpark. The latest word is the car could be in the mid-20s after the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. That would seriously undercut the Volt, which General Motors is widely believed to be trying to keep under $40,000 before the tax credit, and make it competitive with the Toyota Prius hybrid.
Suppose it costs $33k before tax break. Will Nissan sell at a profit or a loss? To put it another way: What's Nissan's initial cost of production and, most important question of all, what are the prospects for lowered manufacturing costs for electric cars in a few years time?
Since I believe we are close to world Peak Oil I see a lot riding on the cost of electric cars in the next 10 years. Governments can not afford to subsidize large volumes of electric (e.g. Nissan Leaf) or pluggable hybrid electric (e.g. Chevy Volt) vehicles. 1 million vehicles at $7,500 each would cost $7.5 billion to subsidize. Industrialized countries have too much sovereign debt and can not sustain big incentives.
Nissan says Leaf production begins in Japan in October 2010 whereas GM says Chevy Volt production starts November 1 2010. Given the time required to ship Leafs from Japan the initial Volts might hit dealers first. But the Volt's price tag is likely to be close to $40k before the $7,500 tax credit in the US.
Given a choice between a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt which is more appealing? The pure electric Leaf with about 100 miles range or the Volt with perhaps 40 miles range on electric power and a few hundred miles on gasoline power? Could you satisfy all your driving needs short of vacation trips with the Leaf?
Given the house or apartment you live in is it practical for you to recharge a car at home? How big a premium would you pay to get either a pure electric or pluggable hybrid?
I believe the smaller version of the prius*(which should be cheaper), and vehicles like it, are the right choice for the near future. Battery tech needs to advance further before they become acceptable in terms of price and longevity(safety has been addressed by some batteries like those used in the volt). With regards to peak oil, it will be interesting to see what the limits of synthetic biology are, and how fast they can be reached, with regards to fuel generation. I've heard a 3-8~%(8% being sugarcane) efficiency is achievable now in fuel conversion, I'm pretty sure that can be raised by expanding the range of light absorbed(there are already some bacteria that can also harvest light at infrared wavelength.) and what it's used for(could be to manufacture other molecules, directly to fuel, through nano-wiring to external storage, to create a gradient, etc), by using unevolvable complex structures to harvest energy and accumulate it at rates that might exceed a plant's energy needs(since there are other limiting factors in natural environments such as available matter, that can be overcome in artificial settings, etc). By recycling cellular remnants, nutrients, can be conserved through fuel generating cycles(as one only needs the carbon rich fuel molecules and none of the nutrients, as opposed to food generation where nutrients must be exported). With a high enough efficiency, fuel shortages can be dealt with.
Peak Oil will wake people up, that's for sure. But as personal transportation becomes more expensive, it'll be greatly supplanted as technologies like telecommuting and 3D printing improve. Work and make goods from home (or some nearby center).
The Leaf's battery is 25KWH, vs the Volt's 16KWH. The Volt's smaller battery should very, very roughly offset the cost of adding an onboard generator. So, the cost of the two vehicles should be roughly similar.
Nissan says their battery costs $10K. If so, a sale price of $33K gives a price of $23K for the vehicle without battery. That should be very, very easily achievable with large volume production. OTOH, they'll lose money at small production volumes.
Asian manufacturers have generally pursued a strategy of pricing products assuming large scale production volumes - this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they under-price their less aggressive competitors. That's what Toyota did with the Prius. That's what GM originally planned to do with the Volt.
Now it appears that they're considering pricing the Volt higher to capture the early-adopter premium. That would come at the cost of bad publicity - I think that's why they're still waffling about the price. If you look closely at the Wired article, you'll notice that there isn't any new information: the GM spokesperson simply says that a high $30's price is one of many possibilities.
Given a choice between a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt which is more appealing?
I like the ErEV design - there are no compromises.
Could you satisfy all your driving needs short of vacation trips with the Leaf?
Yes. I only drive about 2,000 miles per year - I commute via electric train.
Given the house or apartment you live in is it practical for you to recharge a car at home?
We have a garage.
How big a premium would you pay to get either a pure electric or pluggable hybrid?
I drive very little, so I use little fuel as it is. Still, I'd pay a $2-3K premium in life-cycle costs to have the feeling of being independent of oil.
Governments can not afford to subsidize large volumes of electric (e.g. Nissan Leaf) or pluggable hybrid electric (e.g. Chevy Volt) vehicles.
This depends on the price of oil and whether the electric car and batteries can be manufactured domestically. For instance, if subsidizing the electric vehicle and its batteries can cancel the oil component of the foreign trade deficit, then this kind of government deficit is beneficial in the long run. In fact, a very substantial part of the US government deficit spending has been used to compensate for the foreign trade deficit. If the domestically spent government deficit can be used to subsidize the manufacturing of electric cars and batteries inside the US, this would create millions of jobs, and so it is a positive form of taxation.
Moreover, it is the business model of the Better Place company to lease the batteries (combining the cost of the batteries with the cost of electricity, getting a final "fuel price" that is comparable to gasoline). It is calculated that if Better Place is paid to put charging pods in every street and battery swapping stations near many gas stations, this would cost about 1 year of imported oil. Better Place received an additional $350 million financing, increasing its total capitalization to $1.2 billion.
Would the billion dollars of subsidies reduce the foreign exchange deficit by a greater amount than the interest costs raise it?
I would say that the net benefit will offset the higher interest costs because of the extra tax revenue that will result from the newer jobs created from domestic job creation.
Where do I get the extra-long extension cord?
I suspect that the fear of running out of power vs the insurance of an on-board generator will skew consumers towards the Volt, all other things being equal.
Not me. The Leaf interests because it fits my driving patterns. I already have an IC auto if I must make long trips.
But man do I hanker for a battery breakthrough. Ugh, $10k in batteries. And they're not going to be massless.
Actually, there is great progress being made in low-maintenance capstone microturbines that will ultimately become more than 40 % fuel-efficient. Because the micro-turbine power generators have very little maintenance, the price and operating costs of plugin hybrids will become much more acceptable. There will be no need for cooling systems, engine oil, transmission oil etc, when these turbines are used as power generators to feed the battery. Thus within a few years the US can become free from oil imports. Note that recently the non-oil component of the US trade deficit started to shrink dramatically, which is a step in the right direction.
Nissan rejected the Better Place model. I wonder if this is part of a trend.
It is very difficult for Nissan to personally take responsibility for the maintenance of batteries, which requires an entire new business model that is dedicated to keeping track of hundreds of millions of used batteries with incredibly complicated databases to figure out which used battery has how many more miles of remaining utility left. This is why the Better Place company is so important, since Better Place is already building a complex network of businesses to maintain and recycle used batteries. For example, if a new lithium-ion battery in California as a range of 200 miles, after a few hundred thousand miles of driving the battery will be weakened and it will have a shorter range of only 150 miles. At that time Better Place will start renting this battery to less frequent drivers who are in Europe , and after another few hundred thousand miles, these batteries will only have a range or 100 miles, but this time they will be demoted to even less frequent drivers at a lower price to Israel which is a smaller country where they drive even less, and finally these used batteries will be recycled for the precious lithium. This is a very dedicated business model, and this is why Better Place will take care of this part. The Renault-Nissan cars that are going to be built for Better Place, will have battery compartments that can be opened from the bottom of the car to be swapped.
Here is a demonstration of the battery swapping station designed by Better Place company. Within 2 minutes the empty battery gets replaced by a charged battery, similar to a gas station.
And in addition, the swapping station will not be used as often as gas stations, since you will be able to charge the car every time you park it, by means of the charging pods in every street. Only for long drives you will need the swapping stations.
But the bottom line is that putting charging pods in every street of the U.S. would cost only one year of imported oil. This is a good deal. And as time progresses, batteries can only get better and cheaper. Thus the swappable battery model is great.
I heard they're renaming it to the "Nissan Queef."
Compared to the amount we have spent bailing out the bankers ($800 billion), the amount required to subsidize large numbers of volts or leafs ($7.5 billion) is chump change.
What costs would be involved in handling disruptions on the scale of 10% (or more) of drivers being forced to abandon their gasoline vehicles because they can't afford oil?
Off the bat I can think of several costs: lost productivity in the hundreds of billions, large upgrading costs in mass transit bus fleets (with increased costs due to the high price - and possible lack of availability - of oil) etc etc
Not to mention we will be forced to help the Canadians upgrade the oilsands AT ANY COST in order to increase production, combined with massive infrastructure costs for ourselves to create gas to liquids plants and coal to liquid plants. No matter how you slice it we're looking at hundreds of billions, not less than ten billion.
Or worse: we might decide to take oil from others via military force which would mean massive worldwide disruption. Read: our allies can no longer afford oil, meaning they can't afford our exports meaning they can't finance our budget deficits by buying our government bonds.
In other words: we can't afford NOT TO subsidize electric vehicles to massively reduce our dependence on imported oil as the price of oil skyrockets on the world market due to reduced supply.
It's a slam dunk no brainer IMO and our government should be all over it.
The downside is that when the dust settles our economy will look more like that of France and be a lot less free market.