DETROIT -- Nissan Motor Co. is moving forward with its compact electric cargo van, the e-NV200, revealing it as a concept vehicle at the Detroit auto show.
But Nissan is still determining who will use the van and how to market it in North America.
The electric van is coming to the United States in 2014, says Joe Castelli, Nissan North America's vice president for commercial vehicles and fleet business. And Castelli is confident that the commercial van's flexibility and fuel-cost savings will allow it to fill several roles.
Among possible uses: delivery vehicles for green-leaning companies, mail and some small businesses. The van uses the same lithium ion battery powertrain that drives the Leaf sedan, providing a driving range of 75 to 100 miles per full charge.
"We are running tests to see exactly how people drive their vans and what sort of limits they put their vehicles to," Castelli says.
Nissan is giving the city of New York six specially configured Leafs to use as taxis so the automaker can collect data on how electric vehicles fare in the role. Last year, Nissan won a lucrative 10-year contract to be New York's sole supplier of taxis, providing the nonelectric version of the NV200 starting late next year. The agreement requires Nissan to supply an undetermined number of electric taxis in 2017.
Among Nissan's research questions: How often must cab drivers recharge? Where should the charging stations be? How ruggedly do cab drivers treat their vehicles?
Nissan is conducting tests with Federal Express in London to understand how large-scale delivery companies work.
"Everyone assumes that FedEx wants nothing but large boxes for their vans, but that isn't the case," Castelli says.
Nissan enlisted the Japanese postal system to use an electric van to see how mail carriers might use the EVs in the United States. "The average postal route is only 14 miles," Castelli notes. "The key here is that this vehicle has to fit the need of the user. If it's not practical or it doesn't fit into the balance sheet, it's not going to happen."