Posted on: Sep 08, 2010
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First Look: 2011 Nissan Leaf

Here' the bottom line: Nissan wants to be the world leader in electric cars. This does not include hybrids, but full-blown electric vehicles that require absolutely no gasoline. Nissan and its partner Renault have decided they're tired of utilizing other automaker's hybrid technology. Say what? Yes, the Nissan Altima hybrid uses borrowed technology from Toyota. It's not enough to rely on other's technology if you expect to get anywhere in the developing green auto technology market.
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With General Motors set to release the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, you can bet that this will only be the beginning of an amazing new era. For Nissan-Renault, the answer was simple: develop and build your own green technology and get it to market - fast. As a result of their hard work, the all-new Nissan Leaf is scheduled to launch this year. Unveiled last August in Los Angeles, Nissan dealers nationwide are just beginning to receive their first shipments. But before anyone goes out to buy one, let's take a look at the specifics.

It is a five-door, five-passenger hatchback powered by 48 laminated lithium-ion battery modules and a high-response synchronous electric motor that generates a total of 108 horsepower. It's interesting to note that the battery pack is located directly beneath the front and rear seats to keep weight down and centered for improved driving stability and handling. Due to this configuration, Nissan is claiming it'll achieve up to 100 miles on a single full charge. However, it will take close to eight hours to recharge using a 220-240 Volt power supply.

Concerned about it looking like an ordinary hatchback? In order to avoid this, designers gave it a short-nosed front end with protruding headlights with the airflow channeled up and away from the door mirrors to reduce wind noise and drag. The distinct silhouette and high rear end were designed to maximize interior headroom while minimizing overall drag. Once behind the wheel, you'll be pleased to see a well-laid out dash that looks like it came right out of "Star Trek." With solid build quality, it has smooth and stylish lines with a bright blue colored illumination.

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The seats are well bolstered and headroom, as expected, is generous enough. Go into the back seat and passengers are also treated to comfortable seats with an upright position. The luggage area allows enough space for a large suitcase with additional room being hampered by the charging plug and cord. Because this is an all-electric car with an all-electric motor, one problem that arose for engineers was how would pedestrians know the car is coming without being able to hear the engine? Hmmm... good point.

The solution they found was to fit an engine bay mounted speaker that gives off a low-pitched whistle at speeds up to around 20 mph and in reverse. Ah, but wait... what would an annoying whistle sound like inside the car? Surely that will hurt the ears of passengers. Engineers have designed the system to be completely silent for passengers inside. There's also an option to change the car's setting to an "eco" mode. The on-board computer automatically dials down the air conditioning and throttle response while boosting regenerative braking.

If Nissan's numbers prove correct, this will result in an improved ten percent driving range. Overall performance of the Leaf weakens when in this mode, but not enough to make you fall behind on the freeway. In addition to having smart-phone connectivity, the Leaf comes equipped with Nissan's own ?range management? system. This nifty thing allows drivers to phone the car and request it to do tasks such as charge the batteries or even turn on the air conditioning.

Whenever the requested task is completed, a message will be sent back to the driver informing them. The navigation system also informs the driver where the nearest recharging station is located. With a base price of almost $33,000, owners are eligible for various tax incentives including a special home recharging kit. For those requiring basic transportation to and from work and desire to have a positive environmental impact, then the new Nissan Leaf is your ticket to a greener conscience.


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