Nissan debates its 4th EV
Small city car, sports car and crossover are among the possibilities for U.S.
Photo credit: LINDSAY CHAPPELL
TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn made it clear two years ago that he intends to put four all-electric vehicles into the U.S. market, not just the Nissan Leaf model that it is already selling.
Three of the planned models are known: the Leaf, an electric Infiniti luxury sedan based on the Leaf, and a small electric van that will be sold as a commercial van and taxi. But what will EV No. 4 be?
Nissan is now debating that internally -- as well as what might come after No. 4. Insiders say the company is weighing three possibilities for the U.S. market:
-- One candidate is a small city car -- smaller than the entry-level Nissan Versa but larger than a Smart car. Nissan is developing the next Smart model for Daimler AG in a partnership between the two automakers, but Nissan officials say there is no plan to create a Nissan version of the Smart.
-- The second option is an electric sports car, heralded by the sleek Esflow Concept car unveiled at the Geneva auto show in March. Nissan sees that path as a good way to sharpen the image of EVs in general in the minds of doubting consumers. But Nissan is focused on introducing high-volume products, and sports cars are typically niche products.
-- The third idea would be a crossover vehicle, represented on stage last month at the Tokyo Motor Show by the Townpod EV Concept. The concept, which debuted at the 2010 Paris auto show, is best described as a small minivan with ample cargo space and easy-access wide-swinging rear doors. Some U.S. executives believe the roomy utility of the Townpod makes it more appealing for the crossover-rich U.S. market.
Photo credit: LINDSAY CHAPPELL
U.S. vs. global needs
But the decision on which segment to tackle is complex. The No. 4 EV will have to be developed for a global market, meaning that its U.S. potential is only one consideration.
"It will be a city car," declares Andy Palmer, who as Nissan Motor Co. executive vice president for vehicle planning and program management holds considerable sway over the decision. "It will be in the A/B segment. The car would have to be low-cost. It would be a vehicle where you could potentially accept less range, so you could have a smaller battery. And that would bring the price down."
But Palmer's clarity on the question is not quite the answer it seems. His description could apply to any of Nissan's three considerations -- sports car, Townpod or commuter car.
Nissan North America officials suggest it is possible that the corporation's fourth global EV selection might not necessarily be the U.S. market's fourth Nissan EV model. A small commuter car might be better received in Europe and China, say, than in the highway-heavy United States.
At the Tokyo show, Nissan displayed a commuter concept it calls the Pivo 3. The concept is a bit wild for production purposes. It has only three seats -- one by itself at the steering wheel and two in the back for passengers -- and features four individual in-wheel electric motors that permit the car to turn circles in extremely tight quarters, such as on a blocked narrow city street or in a cramped parking lot.
Future for Pivos
The Pivo 3's earlier emanation, shown in Tokyo in 2007 as the Pivo 2, was an improbable bubble-shaped concept that featured a dash-mounted personal robot. Shiro Nakamura, Nissan's global design chief, who oversaw both the Pivo 2 and Pivo 3, says the new concept commuter is close to a production-ready model but not there yet.
Palmer acknowledges that the Pivo 3, or the next version of it from Nakamura's drawing table, is indeed under consideration for a future EV model -- but not necessarily for the No. 4 EV model.
"After the fourth car, we can begin to think about some advantages that electric vehicles give you in terms of architecture," Palmer says. "Some of the wilder concepts you see, like the Pivo 3 and the sports car, would allow us to make changes in car architecture.
"We think that, after that fourth car, it will be time to start pushing the envelope again to continue our leadership."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.