Saturday, April 3, 2010

Is the Nissan Leaf an Evergreen?

The gardeners at Renault Nissan have been working hard and have turned over a new leaf. They have designed and built an all electric plug in car called the Leaf. They claim the car will travel 100 miles on single charge. The car is equipped with 24 kilowatt hours of lithium batteries and has a mass of 2,700 pounds. With this size battery and this mass it is likely the car will have a range of 100 miles in a city such as Topeka Kansas. In San Francisco with all of our hills the range will likely be reduced to 80 miles. The car will certainly be a good city car and meet the requirements of a small niche market. The price for the car has been set just above $32,000 and there will be federal and state credits resulting a cost of about $20,000 if one were to purchase it here in San Francisco.

This all sounds great on the surface a “zero” emissions car of the future that does not use oil from a far off enemy of the USA. Well the vehicle is not zero emissions. The average kilowatt hour of energy generated in these ignited states has 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Transmission losses plus the loss in converting the AC electricity to DC will increase the emissions to 1.6 pounds of carbon dioxide for each kilowatt hour of stored battery power. The car will therefore emit 0.4 pounds of carbon dioxide if the full range of 100 miles can be reached. This is about the same emissions as a Prius that costs a similar amount and can be driven continuously on a 1,000 mile highway trip.

Nissan is not forecasting sales of a million Leafs a year they say they will be happy with 50,000 sales a year. Of course they will be happy with just a small number of sales as they are likely loosing money on each car they sell for $32,000. I do not want to repeat my arguments on the high cost of the lithium battery pack but Nissan and their battery partner Panasonic do not likely have batteries that cost half the cost of A 123. If they do, it just means A 123’s death will come sooner. My take on the leaf is the battery pack costs about $20,000 and the car costs Nissan $37,000 and losing $5,000 on a vehicle is worth the publicity they get since all the $5,000 came from the grants our federal government gave them to build a factory to assemble the Leaf in the USA.

The Leaf will launch towards year end and this tree Nissan has planted will not be an evergreen. The leaves will fall and then compost when the political climate changes after a few elections and a government that realizes the subsidies are just helping a few and wasting money decides to end the subsidies. Perhaps the Green Machine is an old fool and is wrong but I do believe there is no fuel like an old fuel and fossil fuels are very old.