Nissan Leaf Innovation
The Nissan Leaf, a compact five-door hatchback electric car manufactured by Nissan and introduced in Japan and the United States in December 2010, is an all-electric car, the Nissan Leaf produces no tailpipe pollution or greenhouse gas emissions at the point of operation, and contributes to reduced dependence on petroleum. Absent an internal combustion engine, the all-electric Nissan Leaf cruises with a quiet serenity at all times
For innovations, the batteries of the LEAF are iconic. One of Nissan’s advantages is that they make their own batteries. Nearly every other auto manufacturer that is coming out with a PEV in 2011 or 2012 is getting their batteries from someone else whereas Nissan has been developing Lithium batteries since 1992 and they are the only company that used Lithium batteries in their 1990’s EV (the Hypermini). Just as the biggest LEAF innovation was the business model for affordability and availability, again, in the batteries there is innovation in their business model.
Nissan batteries can take whatever Mother Nature dishes out anywhere in the worst corners of the globe. The batteries are covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty, and if this turns out to be “under engineered”, Nissan will pick up the tab, not the customer.
Innovation: Recycled Materials
The car is both designed for recycling and made with recycled parts. The seat fabric is made from recycled water bottles and other interior plastics come from recycled material too. The majority of early LEAF adopters will be eco-minded, but it is more than just that. Nissan claims that when a LEAF has reached the end of its life, it has a recoverability rate of 99%. That is that to say that only 1% of the car will go to a landfill. The other 99% will be reused or recycled.
The LEAF batteries are a combination of lithium, manganese and graphite, which means there are no toxic materials in the batteries making them easier to recycle than some other battery chemistries.
The lithium in a battery is not consumed. When the battery is no longer useful, the lithium can be made into new batteries. This means that not only will the next generation of lithium batteries be lighter and hold more energy, but they will also be cheaper because there will be a steady supply of ‘used’ lithium as metals like aluminum (and lithium) can be reused indefinitely.
Innovation: Connected Car
Next is CARWINGS features of the LEAF. With this, the car becomes a smart phone accessory. The LEAF’s smart phone app connects you to your car so you can check the charge, or turn on the air conditioning. When the car is plugged-in, this feature allows you to use grid power to precondition the cabin. This way you can jump into a nice temp car, ready to drive and while you are driving, little or no energy is taken from your range to condition the cab.
Another connected car feature allows you to set the time that the car starts to charge at night. This allows you to plug it in as soon as you get home, while still paying off-peak rates.
The communication path can go both ways. You can have the LEAF email or text you if it is not plugged in by a certain time such as 10PM. This is a little reassurance that you won’t walk out to the garage in the morning to find an uncharged car.
Innovation: LED Lighting
In a traditional gasoline vehicle, the alternator is a small drag on horsepower that is always there. In return it provides power to recharge the starter battery and to run the accessories. In an all-electric vehicle the accessories such as the headlights are powered by the same batteries that are used to propel the car. So it is important that the accessories be efficient.
The LEAF’s headlights use two LEDs per headlamp in normal (low beam) operation. This uses only 50 watts of power. This is significantly better than Halogen bulbs that use about 130W. And still better than the 90W LED bulbs that are used in other new vehicles today. Low power lights do not mean that you won’t be able to see the road. In fact, at 500 lumens and 5500K color, these wide beam lights ranks very similar to other production HID lamps.
Innovation: Little Things
There are many small LEAF innovations such as noise reduced wiper blades and wiper motors, the shape of the headlights to move air around the mirrors to further reduce wind noise and the navigation system that shows the vehicle’s driving range based on the current battery charge. These are things that make the vehicle more usable. They are not enough in themselves to label the vehicle as a poster child for innovation, but they are nice icing on the cake.
Innovation: Price and Availability
Nissan claims the LEAF is the first freeway-speed electric car since before the LEAF, the options for freeway-speed EVs with more than 70 miles of range were limited to the few RAV4 EVs, expensive DIY or professional conversions, or an expensive sports car.