Hawaii Set to Juice Up; Getting Nissan LEAF, Electric Car Factory and Battery Swapping

As Dan Quayle so famously elucidated for us back in the 80s, “Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is a part of the United States that is an island that is right here.”

And, as a tropical island paradise in the middle of the Pacific that is right here and part of the US, Hawaii’s got a lot going for it. Surfing, lush rainforests, sandy beaches, mesmerizing volcanoes, amazing weather, universal health insurance, a compact footprint and nice people. But along with all that stuff, by the very nature of its being so isolated, Hawaii also has some ridiculously high gas prices caused by a constrained resource supply.

Which is why Hawaii has decided to try and get away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and move to electric cars.

Given that is has such compact footprint, mild climate and high fuel costs, the reigning paradigm in the electric car world is that Hawaii is the place to be. We already knew that battery swap super stars Better Place had inked a deal with Hawaii to start a battery swap program in the state in 2012, but in the last week some other key announcements have come to the surface which are starting to make Hawaii look even more promising.

To LEAF or not to LEAF?

Nissan’s strategy for their LEAF electric car has always been to introduce it in a few select places initially, and add more places as capacity ramps up over the first year it’s on sale (2011). Up to now, those initial launch markets have consisted of regions of Oregon, California, Tennessee, Georgia, Arizona, and Washington. But two days ago, Nissan announced that Hawaii would also be among the first to take delivery of their electric cars.

“As part of the Hawai’i Clean Energy Initiative’s goal of moving towards 70 percent clean energy by 2030, we believe that the introduction and expansion of electric vehicles will give consumers more choices and reduce our state’s overdependence on fossil fuels,” said Theodore Liu, Director of the state’s Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, in a statement.

Right now average fuel costs in Hawaii are $3.56 per gallon. With most every other state (except for Alaska) hovering around $2.80-$3.00 per gallon, you can see how much Hawaii gets hammered on that front. Although electricity prices are also relatively expensive in Hawaii (at an average of 26.71 cents per kWh), Nissan says that driving the LEAF in the state would still about 1/3 the price per mile of driving a gas car that gets 25 mpg.

I’m not really digging that overly rosey comparison, but even if you compare the 5 mile/kWh LEAF to an equally well-equipped 30 mpg Corolla (each coming in at about the same final sale price to the customer after the $7,500 Fed tax credit for the EV), the LEAF would be about 5.3 cents per mile to operate and the Corolla would be about 12 cents per mile — a roughly 55% savings in operating costs. Still pretty damn good.

In Fact, Why Not Just Build the Electric Cars There in the First Place?

Yesterday, South Korean EV manufacturer CT&T said they were planning on building an electric car factory in the island state. According to the company, the facility would eventually produce 10,000 cars a year and employ 400 people.

Although the CT&T vehicles are technically classified as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles — they can’t go faster than 40 mph and only have a range of 60 miles — the way CT&T sees it, their cars are perfect for Hawaii. “The islands portray themselves to be perfect for our types of vehicles,” said Joe White, chief operating officer for CT&T in an AP article. “The speed limit here, 25 to 35, fits perfectly into our type of vehicle.”

CT&T and the state are working closely to help the company find a site to build the factory and reduce the number of regulatory obstacles in the way of construction. All in all, the company expects to invest about $200 million in the factory and associated projects.

During the announcement, CT&T 12 models at the Hawaii Capitol, including a hatchback, golf cart, mini pickup and police parking enforcement vehicle. Their cars will range in price from $8,000 to $12,000 depending on options and configurations.

You can read the full Nissan press release on the next page.

Sources: Nissan, Associated Press

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.