Electric cars are far from mainstream at the moment; when you see one pass on the road your head is turned out of surprise more than anything else. But the car industry is changing fast and Nissan are betting the Nissan LEAF will be the one to lead the charge. We caught up with Nissan at MWC16, where they unboxed the latest model of LEAF, talked to us about how electric vehicles (EVs) are going to power your home, and the future of autonomous driving.
Nissan LEAF unboxed
Cars are not the first things you think about when you get to the biggest mobile communications exhibition in the world. Unsurprisingly, Mobile World Congress is full of phones and other associated bits of tech like VR headsets, but EVs are a bit different to cars using your run-of-the-mill internal combustion engine – they are completely connected to the Internet of Things. That’s why the new Nissan LEAF was ‘unboxed’ like a smartphone at the event.
Like any phone these days it is only as good as its apps, and the updated NissanConnect EV App was the star of the show, containing a dizzying array of features that would make your Samsung Galaxy weep. Want to know how many more miles you’ve got in your batteries? The app can tell you that before you leave the house, and point you to the nearest charging station if you're running out of juice on the road. It’ll help you find your LEAF in a busy car park and also warm up the inside so you can be toasty warm when you get in. It’s a pretty smart way of using all the benefits that come with the car being completely connected.
“In a fully connected, fully mobile world, in-vehicle connectivity is an absolute must for today’s drivers,” says Gareth Dunsmore, Director of Electric Vehicles for Nissan Europe.
Given the limited capacity of the batteries compared to petrol-powered cars, EV drivers are prone to get range anxiety, the dread we have all felt when the red light starts flashing on your petrol gauge. The new Nissan LEAF comes with a beefier 30kWh battery, which promises to extend the range of the car to around 155 miles, up by 26 per cent. That should cover the daily commute with plenty of energy left in the batteries, which you can take full advantage of when you are parked up at home.
Transportation contributes nearly 23 per cent of all energy-related greenhouse gases and this is expected to rise to up to 50 per cent if no action is taken on climate change. That is why the Paris Declaration on Electro-Mobility and Climate Change from the COP21 climate change conference set a target of 35 per cent of new cars sold to be EVs by 2030 if global warming is to remain below 2 degrees. Although government incentives have helped fuel the double-digit growth in electric car sales in the UK, further action needs to be taken to hit this target, and Nissan hopes that their Vehicle 2 Grid system (V2G) will help change public perception of EVs.
“Climate change and affordability are not disconnected,” says Francesco Giacalone, EU product manager for EVs at Nissan. “An electric car contains as much energy as the average household uses in two to three days. Change is going to come when the customer realises they can use this energy for powering the house”
This is not the first time we have seen the electric car industry make moves to provide stored energy for the home, the Tesla Powerwall notably grabbing headlines in 2015, but Nissan's is the first to take the power directly from the car.
The V2G system kicks in when you plug in a LEAF when parked up at home. During peak hours the electric car will feed energy into the homes, powering your energy draining-devices like the TV or toaster, and charge itself at night when energy prices are cheaper. This enables the car to reduce the owner’s overall energy costs, and balance the draw of energy from the grid, a big boost for making renewable more manageable and affordable. In fact any excess energy available can even be sold back to the grid, reducing costs further.
Already being trialled in Denmark, the system is planned to roll out across Germany and the Netherlands in the near future.
The future of autonomous vehicles
Electric cars are one thing, but autonomous vehicles are the hot topic on everybody’s lips at the moment. Barely a week goes by without Google’s self-driving car hitting the headlines or another rumour about the mysterious Apple car, but although we are yet to see them on our roads, most major car manufacturers have got their fingers in the autonomous car pie. Nissan is no different.
The company says they are at Intelligent Drive Stage 1, where their cars are still learning the way of the road. They currently have more than 200,000 EVs on the road feeding data back and are using it to follow the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen (small improvements), continuously updating the car’s drive and efficiency over the air. This data will be used to develop Nissan's future generations of autonomous cars and build the technology to help them deal with obstacles driving on public roads throws up.
“The biggest problems we have in the industry are the maturity of the technology, the infrastructure and the legislation,” says Giacalone. “The technology is there already and we could have cars on the road in five years. The challenge is the infrastructure and the legislation.”