How did the Leaf push innovation in other areas besides the battery?
The interiors. We wanted to bring a pure zero-emission vehicle to market, but we wanted to go beyond just the zero-emission story. So the fabrics, the materials, carpet, headliner, parts of the instrument panel—basically all the fabrics that you see inside the vehicle are made out of recycled water bottles. This was first in the industry. Recycled materials had been used in carpeting for homes and businesses, but never within the automotive sector.
Critics might argue that we’re shifting our dependence from oil onto lithium—another natural resource that may eventually become scarce.
An electric vehicle, when you compare emissions, is 60 percent cleaner than a gasoline-powered car. That’s even including the worst-case scenario when the EV is charged 100 percent by coal-fired electricity. And lithium doesn’t burn and dissipate when you charge and discharge it. So any lithium that we actually mine and place in batteries is completely recoverable and reusable, unlike something that combusts and goes up into the atmosphere never to be used again. And our pack has no hazardous materials, no rare metals. It’s basically lithium, manganese, and graphite.
I could forget to charge my car on some nights, couldn’t I?
We don’t forget to charge our cell phones. And the car is smart enough to send you a text or an e-mail reminder.
Are there other ways an electric vehicle means drivers are more connected to the car via their phones or the Internet?
On its own, an electric motor does not necessarily mean you are more connected. But the potential to connect to a smart [electrical] grid or smart charging infrastructure gives a plug-in vehicle more “connectiveness” than a gasoline car. The ability to remotely check the state of charge is a given. There is no need to walk up to the car. You can also turn on the pre-heat and pre-cool from your phone while it’s plugged in at a charging station. And soon, we will have the ability to reserve charging locations or see if such a station is occupied before arriving.
Nissan is able to gather data from Leaf drivers. How do you intend to mine this data, and what are you learning?
We have 15 million miles logged in, but it’s still early. We have collected rich data on battery performance, vehicle use patterns, actual driving profiles, charging behavior. All of it can be used to improve future designs, plus establish solid “norms” to measure against. For instance, we know the average trip is 37 miles for most consumers, well within the recharge range.
Where do we go from here?
Electrification now is no longer an “if,” it’s a “when.” Electrification is a broad definition that includes pure EVs, plug-in hybrids, and fuel-cell vehicles. In order for us to achieve the new 2025 miles-per-gallon targets [passenger fleets will have to average 54.5 mpg], electrification will become far more pervasive across all manufacturers and power trains. Internal-combustion engines are reaching their limit. Electrification is going to spread across the transportation sector.
So when will that happen? Is it when the utility companies step in and build the charging stations? Government mandates?
To achieve mass-market acceptance beyond early adopters, we need to have multiple competitors with multiple vehicle types for consumer choice, availability in all 50 states and in major metro areas, a rich and diverse charging infrastructure concentrated in key population centers, and ability to travel between population centers using quick charging. I think we are five to seven years away from that.