Typically, a gasoline-powered car has a range of 400-500 kilometres or more between fill-ups, and diesels can go up to 1,200 km before more fuel is needed. Nissan acknowledges that the 160-km range of its as-yet-unnamed and unseen electric car might be a tough sell.
"It is a marketing challenge, certainly," said Mark Perry, director of product planning and advanced technology strategy for Nissan North America.
Another challenge is infrastructure. For instance, will apartment buildings and parking structures be built or retrofitted with electrical hookups? Will governments install quick charging in enough places to reduce "range anxiety?" And who will pay for the power?
Car makers and environmentalists are now, together, arguing that two-car families of the future will own a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle for long drives and heavy-duty chores, while an electric vehicle will do the commuting and will run errands.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn pointed to a new agreement his company has struck with the State of Oregon as an example of co-operation that works between car companies and governments. In Oregon, Nissan plans first to place electric cars in fleets operated by governments, utilities and local corporations. The car could be in dealerships by the end of 2010 or early 2011, Perry said.
But the car itself remains something of a mystery, though Perry did say the car would seat four to five people and would have a trunk. It will also be fast enough so that "you're more than able to get a speeding ticket," he said. As for pricing, Perry said it would be comparable to that of a similarly sized and equipped gasoline-powered car.
Nissan's Ghosn also made it clear that consumers would not be buying the batteries of its electric cars. "The technology is moving too fast for that," he said.
Rather, consumers would buy the electric car and lease the battery. That would allow for battery upgrades as the technology evolves and ensure proper disposal of the units, which contain toxic substances.
Ghosn said leasing a battery and paying for the electricity to charge it each month would cost about the same as a month's worth of gasoline.
The promise of electric cars, then, is a fun, clean, practical and affordable driving experience. No wonder 9,500 people have signed up to live with the Mini E.