ROLLE, Switzerland –Motor Co. Ltd. plans to create a dedicated social community for its global electric-vehicle buyers through the use of blogs, forums and applications that will allow drivers to compare their motoring skills.
A SIM (subscriber identity module) card in the car will communicate directly with a global data center, allowing EV owners to do such things as use their cell phone to call the car and tell it to heat the interior on a cold morning while it still is plugged into the electric grid for recharging.
The system means Big Brother will know where the car is at all times and how it is being driven, but owners concerned about privacy can opt out, says Thomas Smith,marketing manager for EVs in Europe.
“It’s a tradeoff,” he says at a presentation of the social networking plans at Nissan Europe’s headquarters here. “Most people will want to have the features the system offers.”
Among other things, a central computer will be able to advise drivers on how to improve their electric range. A second electronic advance in Nissan’s 5-seat electric hatchback coming to the U.S. and Japan next year, a new navigation system created with partner Clarion Co. Ltd. will offer other range-extending features.
Nissan’s navigation systems currently provide drivers a choice of the fastest route to a destination, shortest route or one without superhighways.
The upcoming EV, which makes its world debut Aug. 2 during an opening ceremony at Nissan’s new global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, also will offer a “least energy” choice that takes into consideration hills and traffic lights, as inclines and stop-start technology both consume more energy.
In addition, the new navigation system will know where recharging points are located. If multiple stops are programmed into a day of shopping, for example, it can suggest a wired parking place nearby.
“Range anxiety is not as much a real limitation as something people worry about,” says Smith, noting the navigation features are aimed at reassuring drivers they won’t be stuck with a dead battery.
Nissan’s upcoming global EV will be built in Japan and later at its Smyrna, TN, operation for the U.S. market, funded in part by a $1.6 billion U.S. Department of Energy loan to Nissan. The essential components, including the navigation, will be used by Nissan alliance-partnerSA as well.
Nissan andhave signed 26 agreements with various governments, utilities and other partners in an effort to prepare an infrastructure for their electric vehicles.
“We only place our cars in countries that show they want to have a network,” says Jerome Lacroix, who is helping develop Nissan’s EV presence in Europe. Without an infrastructure, he says the cars would not sell.
“We believe the ultimate answer is the ZEV (zero-emissions vehicle),” says Nissan Vice Chairman Colin Dodge. “We want to front-run it. We decided we want to be the people who take the technology out of the lab to the mass market. It is definitely the way the world is going. It will mature faster than most technologies, because the prize is so big.”
Before gasoline prices skyrocketed last year, Smith says most governments held only vague interested in electric vehicles. But for the last year, many have approached Nissan and Renault about their EV project.
In early July, the Dutch government became the latest to announce electric-vehicle plans, consulting with Nissan but not involved in a formal partnership.
The Netherlands plans to offer incentives of E8,000 ($11,000) to EV buyers, with a target of 10,000 charging points in the country by 2015 and 200,000 EVs by 2020.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance asks for four things when it makes a deal with a government: A forecast of the estimated market, a commitment to install enough quick-charging stations for the anticipated market, incentives for consumers and education programs.
Portugal was one of the first countries to sign a memorandum of understanding with Nissan after Renault launched the alliance’s EV wave in January 2008 with Project Better Place in Israel.
Portugal will put 750 charging stations in Lisbon and 400 in Porto, the two largest cities. The government, which will offer consumers an incentive of about E4,000 ($5,500) to buy an EV, estimates 20% of public fleet purchases from 2011 onward will be electric vehicles.
“We’re going to put a program together where the lifetime cost of our C-segment car is the same as an internal combustion C-segment car,” says Larry Haddad, a Nissan product planner.
At first, this will require government incentives of up to E6,000 ($8,000), he explains. Calculations are based on oil prices at about $80 a barrel, a cost of E1 to E2 ($1.39 to $2.80) for charging the battery and 9,321 miles (15,000 km) in annual mileage.
After five years, volumes and technical advances should have driven down costs, negating the need for incentives to make EVs competitive.
The government incentives are not brand-specific, and Nissan is aware that other auto makers’ electric cars will benefit by the advance infrastructure work it is doing.
Motors Corp., AG’s Mini brand, Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz Smart Cars all have announced electric-vehicle projects for the near future. Additionally, PSA Peugeot Citroen will sell a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MiEV plug-in minivehicle.
Renault will launch its first EVs in 2011, and in 2012 will join Nissan in a mass marketing campaign. By then, Renault will have four EVs: a retrofitted Kangoo and Megane (to be called Fluence); a purpose-built EV city car; plus a larger car likely using many elements of the Nissan 5-seat C-segment electric hatchback.
Nissan says it plans to grow an entire EV range, and its design center in Europe presently is working on four EV projects.
Dodge says Nissan initially weighed whether to concentrate on hybrids or go directly to electric cars. “We are going to have hybrids for rear-wheel drive and for some big front-wheel-drive cars.”
But Nissan executives decided to jump into electric cars, because, “he who goes first will always be ahead,” Dodge says. “owns hybrids. We heard from our competition that electric vehicles were silly, and we didn’t think so.”