The Electric Cars in Nissan's Future
In December of last year, Nissan issued a press release that laid out its future intensions regarding meeting the needs of the 21st century. One of those needs is to reduce its CO2 output, from both its vehicles and also its factories. At last months Tokyo Motor show, the Head of Nissan -- Carlos Ghosn -- went further and publicly pledged that by 2012 Nissan will have a pure EV on sale.
To find out more about this pledge, also to get an insight in to the mechanical background of the recent PIVO2 concept car, I contacted the Nissan Press Office. They arranged for me to interview Minoru Shinohara, the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of their Technology Development Division. So at the beginning of this month, I took a trip out to their Advanced Technical Centre or NATC.
Based in Atsugi, NATC is about a 90minute Train ride or car journey (vastly depends upon the traffic though) west from Tokyo. It lies close to the foothills of the Japan Alps and on a clear day you can see Mt Fuji near by. The building is quite new, having been just opened in May of this year and is a miriad of eco-energy saving features. I was given the opportunity of viewing some of these features on a quick tour of the site. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed. But I can report that is seemed a fantastic place to work and create the ‘Green Future’ Nissan has committed themselves to.
What I also saw and was very glad that I did, were three pristine examples of its 1997-2000 Hyper-Mini EV. This two seat city car was created to provide real world data as to how EV’s could integrate within society. Minoru Shinohara later told me, that Nissan built about 300 of them. Many are still on full operational duty, and are still supplying Nissan with the real world data that it needs to achieve its 2012 pledge of a real pure Electric Car. I was also told however, that the new EV city car will not be a two seater and will not resemble the Hyper-Mini.
My first series of questions to Minoru Shinohara, a Nissan employee of almost 30 years was about its latest EV creation- the PIVO2 Concept car.
What is the roll of the PIVO 2 and how much of its technology will make it into production?
The PIVO2 is a complete integration of all of Nissan’s future Electric Vehicle related technologies, in to one vehicle. All its elements, such as the Batteries, the in wheel motors and the By-wire systems are all very practical solutions. So we will differently put them all into Electric Vehicles and into production vehicles in the Future. The PIVO2 is just a Concept Car, but each element will see production but not together in one vehicle like this, I do not think so.
Of these elements, the Battery technology is the most possible. But the in-wheel motor will appear but not in the first generation of our EV and By-wire systems will come even later. We are confident that we will get governmental approval for By-wire systems, but when in the future we cannot say exactly. By-wire actually, is already fully in use within aircraft and also in cars for braking and engine-throttle control. We have a lot of challenges to make, to produce a complete By-wire system that is reliable and so get legal approval for the road. The benefits though are going to be immense and will have a significant impact on Vehicles and Vehicle manufacturing. The whole infrastructure could be changed as they way we design and build vehicles will change. It will mean that we can build each component separately and then package them in any way we require within a vehicle for ideal space efficiency. It will mean that the role of the vehicle manufacturer could change, as we no longer need to have a close relationship between each element. Although the EV and the By-wire system are closely linked, By-wire systems will also come into normal cars in the future.
So (sadly) the PIVO2 will remain just as a Show Car?
Yes, the PIVO2 will remain as just a Show car, but we will display it in other places and events. It does show the possibilities of how all these systems once put together could produce a vehicle that is very different in shape and form to a normal car. It also shows the benefits of the variable chassis technology. This will eventually come to production, but after the in-wheel Motors. It will not be produced as a complete vehicle, as there are too many other safety issues to overcome with this design. We may however use a PIVO2 like test bed to further prove the technology integration, but it will always remain our test vehicle and not for real world situations.
I would like to go back to the past of Nissan EV Concept Vehicles and look at two vehicles in particular. The Hyper-Mini and a Micro UV produced by a subsidiary firm called Autotech. What is the history of these vehicles and will you use that EV knowledge in a future EV?
We put the Hyper-Mini in to the market to gain real world experience. We wanted to know how the battery will work and its durability over a long period of use. The mission its self, was in two parts. The first was gaining this real world experience and the second was to create a market and awareness of EV’s.
Currently we have no market in Japan and also globally, except for a very small number of small vehicles in some Cities. We need to show the attractiveness and show the example of what EV’s can do. We need to show how they will work in the real world. For EV’s are not replacements for normal vehicles. Our new EV will not be a replacement for our ‘March’, a B-segment supermini (compact 4/5 seat city car). For an EV has a different value and different attractiveness. It therefore has a different role within the city- that is my view. So we need to show this attractiveness in a real world scene. The Hyper-Mini was one way of creating this awareness and a market for EV’s. We feel that the Hyper-Mini did not create a significant impact and so will remain just a limited production ‘Trial’ vehicle produced by us. It was though a very important real world experience for us. The two roles of its Mission of creating a market and gaining Engineering durability- were a success. We will do this Mission again in the future with another EV.
Can you tell me more about the Autotech Micro UV I saw at on Nissan’s stand at EVS 22 last year?
This was a collaborative work with a government sponsored program and we are monitoring its results. We do not though have a close link with this vehicle or its manufacturer. But it does however show another possibility of what an EV can be like the future.
One of the biggest markets for EV’s in Japan is the ‘Senior Car’ market for the older generation. Nissan is one of the only large vehicle manufactures not to have their own product in this market. Will we see one from Nissan in the future?
This is one option- one of many very many for an EV. We need to think more and more as to how the EV will act in the city. This example is for elderly people, but the EV has a significant advantage of a non-emission vehicle. So it can go into a building without any problem and be used within a city environment as a commuter. This and the Autotech UV are just one of many options for EV’s. For we need to think of how the EV will be in the future. The Autotech is an example of ‘Mini Mobility’ – a vehicle that is much smaller than a normal car. We also need to think of ‘Micro Mobility’ - like the Segway with one or two wheels. These kinds of future considerations are necessary. For inside the Cities we need this kind of personal mobility and between cities - may be a more public kind of transportation. The EV is not just a single entity and not a replacement for a normal car. It is a whole mobility transformation- that is our view. That is why I think the EV is very important.
Going back to your decision to produce a City Car in 2012. Will it be totally new from the ground up as a dedicated EV platform or be a modification of an existing IC engined platform?
I cannot answer the product planning kind of issue, but I can say how it can be made from a point of view. I think we could do both. For if we can utilise an existing A or B segment vehicle it will make good economic sense in a practical way. But if will create a dedicated EV platform then we can do more regarding the ideal packaging and overall attractiveness of an EV design. So we need to think of both and we need to combine some modification on both ideas. We will do whichever we do.
Where would you regard the best position in the driveline, for an Electric Motor? Would it be an in-wheel application, in the front wheels or differential application in the rear wheels? Or would it be a combination of the two or different altogether?
This is a good question but I cannot give you a single answer. For there are many factors to consider when designing an EV? Do you aim for good driveability or range or good packaging? These are still issues we are working on. So we cannot say which is the best way at the moment to the ideal solution.
You say you are going to have your own Hybrid Technology in the future- is this a Series or Parallel application or combination of the both?
It is a debate and everyone has their own view. So there is not a definite answer I can give you at the moment.
What is your view on Plug- in Hybrids- can you give me an insight into your thinking of these systems for the future?
The Plug in Hybrid is very important for Nissan and we are doing advanced engineering in this area. We do see the Hybrid as having an important part in CO2 reduction. But Nissan believes that it will have an evolution and one evolution is the Plug-in Hybrid. We know that a Hybrid has a 40% reduction advantage of CO2 compared to normal vehicles. But we think the Engine its self will have its own future development progress of a 30% reduction in CO2. At the moment a Hybrid can use the best Engine efficiency range but in the future this advantage will be reduced. Only the advantage of 5 to 10% will remain by the use of Regenitive Braking. So one way of enhancing the advantage of the Hybrid is to go for an external plug-in of electricity. But the Plug-in Hybrid needs a large Battery pack so it could be a cost challenge for us.
You are also demonstrating you liking of Lithium-ion. Do you see that as the ideal type of battery for an EV?
Yes, I do feel the Lithium-ion is the future for both our EV’s and Plug-in Hybrids and also Fuel-cell vehicles. The market is currently quite small for this kind of battery but I see it developing significantly in the future. Currently, the Hybrid has Ni-cad Batteries and Li-ion will replace these. There is a big future for this kind of battery.
What are your views of fuel cell technology and the infrastructure? Is it a standalone vehicle type or a part of the pure EV’s future?
Currently, we see the Plug-in Hybrid as part of the future of the current Hybrid and the Future Cell as part of the future of the Pure EV. It has though two major challenging issues of both cost and infrastructure. So this is not a short-term goal and it is someway in the future from commercialisation. We need more time, but it will happen.
Taking about infrastructure, if you do produce a battery electric city car in 2012, will Nissan be involved in the infrastructure to make it a success in the market?
I see a close collaboration of government and world business with ourselves to make this a success. I do not think that Nissan are able to do it by our selves. We need good communication between us all to make the EV a success.
Nissan is a global company and produces different vehicles for different markets. This is a reflection of the markets requirements – will this mean that different EV strategies will be required in different markets?
I think the market requirement might be different for each region- like the driving range. But the EV is a very strong answer to the future reduction of world emissions and not just in Japan. So we will continue to think how we will apply the EV to each different market globally.
Against this, some governments are less receptive to new technology like EV’s. How will Nissan deal with this?
We have been starting several discussions with overseas cities and governments. So we think that, not only in Japan does there exist a possibility for future market for EV’s but globally as well. But the most important thing is to prepare a good EV and not just tell a good story of what we want to do. When we have our EV, then we can further define these plans for its future market introduction.
Toyota are currently benefiting from the global popularity of the Hybrid vehicle. Do you want Nissan to enjoy the same popularity with the pure EV in the future?
I do not know if Toyota is concentrating on just the Hybrid. For Nissan, we need to think more than just the pure EV is necessary to reduce the Global CO2 problem. We think that the Diesel engine will have a big part to play and also CVT Technology. We think CVT will make a 10% reduction in Global CO2 car emissions. Currently we are manufacturing about 1 million units out of a market of 3 million units so we will think that it could have a major future impact.
Would you see Japan in the future, leading the world in battery EV application technology - as well as the current Hybrid technology?
I hope so, but Nissan is a global manufacturer and CO2 is a global problem. We have established a battery manufacturer but it should not be a pure Japanese company. If we can have very good worldwide partners in this borderless world - this will be good for us. We do not see Japan as the sole leader of future technology - this is a ten or twenty year old concept.
Is Nissan’s EV Technology going to be shared within the Alliance – between Renault and Dacia as well?
From the technology viewpoint my answer is yes. All our technologies are shared within the Alliance- that is the basis of the relationship. But the vehicle its self and the application of this technology and its development are very different.
So Renault will benefit from this technology in the future, as France has significant potential as a global EV market - being reliant on nuclear power (non CO2).
Yes, Japan also has a high portion of its Electric power developed by Nuclear energy so it to would benefit from future EV technology.
Will Nissan get involved in the future, with other green non- vehicular technology, to help further in the reduction of global CO2?
Nissan is basically an automotive manufacturer, but we do get involved in other areas to create a clean and safe future society. Nissan needs to focus not only on the Vehicle but also on the people and the Environment it operates in. Like how the drivers drive is very important. Perhaps a 20% reduction in CO2 could be achieved from ECO driving- even without high-tech expensive technologies. A development of the current car navigation system could help reduce the traffic density and so help the reduction in pollution. Our approach should not just be on the vehicle but also on the traffic and the drivers. That is what at Nissan call our Triple Layer Approach, to the reduction of CO2 - Vehicle - People and Society (traffic). We think this comprehensive and synthetic approach is most important for the Global future and for our future as well.
Thank you for your time Minoru Shinohara and giving us an insight into Nissan’s future green thinking.
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