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Battery dead? Nissan's EV rescue truck is on the way



June 7, 2011 - 1:11 pm ET
Hans Greimel based in Tokyo is Asia editor for Automotive NewsHans Greimel based in Tokyo is Asia editor for Automotive News

TOKYO -- Is Nissan's latest electric vehicle safety net reassuring or more unnerving?

The idea: a rescue truck that speeds to the aid of EVs with dead batteries. Bolted to the back of the 5-ton diesel truck is a 29-kilowatt diesel-slurping generator to recharge the rides.

How's that for green?

Nissan Motor Co. began testing the truck -- dubbed the EV Rescue Vehicle in Japanese -- south of Tokyo today with the Japan Automobile Federation and Japan's environment ministry.

Nissan, which aims to take the global lead in EVs with its lithium ion battery-powered Leaf hatchback, insists it is floating the rescue truck as an additional safety net for drivers with range anxiety -- that sinking feeling you might not make it home.

But it must make some nervous customers wonder: How often am I going to need it?

The Japan Automobile Federation, Japan's version of AAA, has an answer. It says it has ridden to the rescue of broken-down electric cars 86 times between last summer and the end of April.

In 73 cases, it was because the electric vehicle had drained its battery.

Now, though, if a Leaf's battery runs dry and, uh, 'leafs' its driver stranded, the rescue truck can pull up, offer a recharge and keep the Leaf blowing down the road.

Rescue workers arrive dressed like firefighters, complete with goggles, crash helmet and insulated rubber gloves, presumably to guard against electric shock.

They deliver a 20-minute charge with just enough electricity to give the Leaf a 25-mile range. And the rescue truck works with any EV using the CHAdeMo charging protocol backed by most Japan automakers. Mitsubishi and Subaru also sell electric cars in Japan.

The free-of-charge trial service, offered only in Nissan's home prefecture of Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, runs through December. No word on whether it will be tried in the United States.

Nissan hopes the test also will provide a wealth of data on EV driving habits.