Nissan: The global leader in zero-emissions technology
While two electric vehicle manufacturers face bankruptcy, Nissan's LEAF is achieving unprecedented sales success. FDE looks at the reasons behind the model's market dominance, and the company's latest electric vehicle, the eNV200.
One could be forgiven for thinking the electric car industry was running on empty. Coda Automotive, a three-year-old Californian manufacturer of massmarket electric vehicles (EVs), filed for bankruptcy in May this year, while Fisker Automotive, another zero-emission Californian start-up, looks increasingly likely to follow in its footsteps. These headlines, along with developments in combustion-engine fuel efficiency, are casting a dispiriting cloud over the EV sector.
Yet reality is far brighter than these stories suggest. Market demand for EVs is on the rise, with global sales more than doubling between 2011 and 2012, according to the 'Global EV Outlook' report published by the International Energy Agency. The Nissan LEAF has been particularly successful, selling 65,000 models to date (the most of any EV) and taking 49% of the global market share for 2012. The vehicle performed especially well in Norway, ranking second highest in May's car sales, and fifth overall for 2013 to date. The LEAF's Norwegian success is partly due to the government's pro-EV stance: drivers can use bus lanes, access electric-car-only car parks and enjoy 0% VAT. But, as EU deadlines for fleet CO2 targets roll ever closer (an average of 130g/km by 2015, and 95g/km by 2020), the EV's popularity may well spread across Europe, with finance directors striving to bring total vehicle emissions in line with regulations.
Some have already taken the step: the UK's West Midlands Police recently ordered 30 LEAF vehicles to be evenly distributed across ten local policing units, significantly cutting the force's fuel costs and carbon footprint. In Switzerland, Zürich's Green Taxi Initiative is also showing strong interest, with plans to take on 20 Nissan LEAFs before the end of 2013, and for 15% of the city's taxi fleet to be comprised of EVs by 2015. These taxis will be served by an extensive network of fast chargers spread across the city, capable of replenishing batteries by 30-80% in 15 minutes.
A viable alternative
"The global success of Nissan LEAF has proven beyond doubt that zero-emissions electric vehicles are viable," says Paul Willcox, senior vice-president of sales and marketing at Nissan Europe. "Far from being a gamble, as some of our rivals have suggested, our decision to push ahead with battery-powered vehicles will help secure personal mobility for future generations."
Not content with the success of the original LEAF, however, Nissan is continuing to invest in EV innovation and has designed a new model that will arrive in showrooms in June. Built in Sunderland in the UK, this latest generation has an extended range of 109-124 miles, an updated regenerative braking system and heating that is 70% more efficient.
Nissan is also developing the eNV200 delivery van: a combination of the LEAF's best-in-class power train and the spacious cargo area of the NV200 compact van. Specifically designed with fleet managers in mind, its silent running and 0% CO2 emissions allow it access to city centres at all hours. The significant reduction in fuel costs and low maintenance expenses will also be extremely attractive for finance directors.
So far, the eNV200 has been tested by a range of leading company fleets, including FedEx, Coca-Cola and British Gas. FedEx has been closely involved in the vehicle's design, collaborating with Nissan since December 2011 in testing prototypes in London, UK, and later again in Yokohama, Japan. The final version of the eNV200 is expected to debut in the 2014 fiscal year.
"These new models, along with the expansion of LEAF production, will help keep Nissan's place as the global leader in zero-emissions technology," says Willcox. "But these are still early days. Much, much more needs to be done by governments across the globe. Charging infrastructure has to be improved, and global standards for fast chargers agreed upon. Only then will electric vehicles be able to fulfil their very real potential."