In Tokyo, Nissan Weighs Three Choices for Next Electric Car

By · November 29, 2011

Carlos Ghosn and Pivo3

Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn approaches the Nissan Pivo3 electric commuter concept.

The Tokyo Motor Show is known as the global coming-out event for the most improbable concept vehicles. The 2011 show is no exception. As I perused the exhibitions this morning, I quickly dismissed the many outlandish plug-in concepts as eye candy—with just about zero chances of going into production. That is, until I ran into Mark Perry, Nissan’s electric car guy for the Americas, who cautioned me to take another look at the “zero-emissions” concepts on the Nissan stage. “These are not pure design fantasies,” said Mark. “One of these three will definitely go into production, and all of them have an equal chance.”

Mark pointed to these three electric vehicles: the Pivo3, a tiny three-seat urban commuter with crazy pivoting wheels; the Townpod small utility vehicle; and the sleek Esflow electric sports car that promises zero-to-sixty-two in less than five seconds. He turned to me and asked, “Which would you put into production?”

Mark reminded me that Nissan has committed to making and selling four distinct all-electric models, and three of the slots are taken—by the LEAF compact; an upcoming Infiniti mid-size EV; and a small commercial delivery truck. “We’re aiming to have 1.5 million cumulative Nissan electric cars on the road by 2015 or 2016. Which one of these will bring the highest volume?”

Mark explained that it could be five or six years from now before the fourth Nissan mystery EV is on sale, but that the decision has to be made very soon. Here’s a unique opportunity for the community to weigh in. I know the folks at Nissan read our articles and comments—so speak up, folks.

Coming up with the right decision will require some prescient thinking: How many competitors will be making EVs in 2015? The choice has to yield maximize volume for global markets, not just the U.S. Imagine a much more developed public charging infrastructure five years from now. Will government incentives have long vanished? Where might gas prices be?

Door Number One, Two or Three?

At first, Mark seemed to be leaning toward the Esflow electric sports car. It is pretty damn cool. “Think of what it could do for the Nissan brand,” he said. “It could be the 240Z of EV.” Although Mark referred to it as the “sexy easy decision,” you have to consider it as the most expensive of the three choices—and therefore likely the lowest volume.

The two-seater is screaming fast by virtue of two electric motors—one for each rear wheel; has 150 miles of range; a dramatic wrap-around windscreen. “That’s a halo,” said Mark.

Nissan Esflow electric sports car
Nissan Esflow electric sports car
Nissan Esflow electric sports car

Then, we turned out attention to the Pivo3, which seemed the easiest to cross of the list. It’s a little urban commuter—very similar to the one on display at the Honda booth—with a compact three-seat body that’s less than three meters long. The styling of the concept is super sharp, and the configuration of the driver in a central position makes it very funky.

“But project yourself five to 10 years from now,” said Mark. “There are so many variables. Will there be a big movement to small cars?” I suppose he was thinking about cities in Europe and Asia, but we nominated potential cities in the U.S. where parking is a premium: New York, San Francisco, Chicago? The Pivo3 can practically pivot in a circle to squeeze into tight spots. It fits into conventional parking spots in a sideways position, and can park itself. “I’m torn,” said Mark. “It’s a tough sell for the United States.”

Nissan Pivo3 urban commuter concept
Nissan Pivo3 urban commuter concept
Nissan Pivo3 urban commuter concept

We spent the most time talking about the Townpod, which was unveiled at the 2010 Paris Auto Show. You have to look past all the concept-y auto show flourishes to see a small—built on a C platform—practical utility car that seats five, and can adapt to a wide range of passenger and cargo configurations. “It’s smaller than a Nissan Rogue but bigger than a Nissan Juke.”

To me, the Townpod’s practicality and accessibility to potential mainstream buyers make it the hands-down winner. But maybe it's too similar to other electric deliver vans, like Nissan's or the Ford Transit Connect. What do you think?

Nissan Townpod electric small utility concept
Nissan Townpod electric small utility concept
Nissan Townpod electric small utility concept

More To Consider

I snagged a few other bits of information from Mark, which more astute observers of the EV scene might already know—but I found them intriguing.

  • The Infiniti electric car coming in 2014, despite being larger than the Leaf, will have 20 percent more driving range.
  • Despite projecting an image as an all- electric purist, Nissan will definitely be putting a plug-in hybrid into production in the next few years.
  • There are no plans to use liquid cooling in future Nissan electric cars. Mark raised his eyebrows and tilted his head—you interpret that—when I suggested that the liquid coolant could be the culprit in the Chevy Volt lab-based fires.
  • Finally, the version of the Nissan LEAF going into production in late 2012 will have driver-selected options—call them modes, if you like—to modify braking and/or acceleration. Earlier today, I posted about the Honda Fit EV’s hard-regen and coasting features.

Maybe these four news nuggets will help you make the decision about which of the three Nissan concept cars on display in Tokyo you want to see on the road in 2015.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.