Test Driving One of Only Two Nissan Electric Cars Worldwide

[social_buttons]

With one of Nissan’s senior EV project engineers sitting next to me, it felt like I was being expectantly doted on by a protective parent as I drove Nissan’s EV-02 electric test car around a closed course Monday. Given that the EV-02 is only one of two such cars in the world, the reaction was perhaps understandably warranted.

Earlier in the day Nissan had held a joint press conference with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, and representatives from Portland General Electric, to further affirm Oregon’s burgeoning relationship with Nissan to be one of the first and premier locations for the company’s late 2010 electric car launch.

As I drove the test car around the course, it became clear to me that Nissan had developed one hell of a nice electric car powertrain. Having driven both the BMW Mini E and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, I was pleasantly surprised with the sporty responsiveness of the EV-02. Nissan has struck a nice balance between the amount of regenerative braking and driver control.

One of the criticisms I had of the BMW Mini E was that its regenerative braking was far too harsh. I asked Lance Atkins, the Nissan engineer sitting next to me in the car, to discuss Nissan’s decision making process about this issue from an engineering perspective.

“It’s a little bit of customer preference on how much regenerative braking you get when you let off the accelerator pedal,” said Atkins, “But we like it to be somewhere between a standard automatic transmission and perhaps a stick shift vehicle, which has a little bit more deceleration when you let off the gas. We like to blend the rest of the regen into braking as you hit the brake pedal so it has a very natural feeling compared to the other vehicles your customer is driving.”

Not so earth shattering to think that Nissan has the customer in mind, but when I asked BMW this same question about the Mini E at the LA Auto Show last year, the response I got was basically that BMW knows what’s best for the customer and the customer will take it and like it. I wonder who’s going to win this battle?

Compared to Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, it’s a hard call. Both cars felt very responsive and sporty, but I think I have to give the edge to Nissan in this one. One thing I did like about the i-MiEV was that it had a switch that allowed the driver to choose between an economy mode where regen braking was increased and range extended or a performance mode where the car behaved more aggressively. I also asked Mr. Atkins if Nissan had considered this type of option for the Nissan EV.

“We in the Nissan EV test group have thought some about that,” Atkins remarked, “We’ve done research and made some recommendations to the design group, but I don’t know what the final decision of the design group is going to be though. For sure it’s something we are aware of and have talked about.”

The EV-02 represents only what the guts of Nissan’s upcoming electric car will look like. The exterior looks like, well, a bland test mule. But that’s on purpose. Mark Perry, Nissan’s director of product planning, assured me that the final Nissan EV will look nothing like the EV-02. It will, however, have seating for five, go at least 100 miles on a single charge, and sell for between $25,000 and $30,000.

When I got out of the test car, Mark Perry asked me if I was ready to buy it. I was met with laughter when I asked if I could buy the EV-02 right there, but I was only half kidding. Although Nissan has said publicly that their electric cars will initially only be released to commercial and government fleets, Mark confided in me that if the appropriate charging infrastructure is in place in Portland, Nissan would go ahead and release the car to the public alongside sales to fleets.

So get cracking Portland! Go forth, install charging stations, and multiply, and ye shall receive the Nissan EV bounty. You’ve got 18 months.

Peruse the gallery below to see the Nissan EV test mule up close and personal.

 

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.