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article imageOp-Ed: The battle for the electric car — Nissan Leaf vs. Tesla Motors

By Jeff Evans     Apr 23, 2014 in Technology
The electric car could be considered to be the next great frontier in the evolution of the automobile, and there are several different contenders for this title.
There are many variants of the electric car, from plug-in hybrids to gas backup electric cars such as the Chevrolet Volt. However, there are only 3 companies that currently have a fully electric plug-in vehicle. Mitsubishi has the i-MiEV mini-car, which sold a whopping 24 cars in the U.S. in the month of March. Such low numbers of sales for a vehicle preclude it from further discussion. However, there are two contenders that do sell their electric vehicles in larger numbers: Nissan and Tesla.

Contender 1: The Nissan Leaf

Nissan is expanding its recall related to passenger s side airbags and seat sensors to include 2013-...
Nissan is expanding its recall related to passenger's side airbags and seat sensors to include 2013-2014 models from Nissan and Infiniti, including the Nissan Leaf.
Nissan USA
The Nissan Leaf is currently the top-selling electric plug-in car in the U.S. with 2507 sales in March 2014. It is the less expensive plug-in electric contender with a government subsidized MSRP of $21,480 US. In many ways, it is your standard modern vehicle with reasonable interior space and all the modern amenities. It has an 80 kW motor and 24 kWh battery. The leaf can travel 73 miles (117 km) on a single charge and the battery can be recharged in as little as 5 hours at home using a charger dedicated for vehicle charging.
There are concerns with the Nissan Leaf for vehicle range and there are rumours that Nissan will be attempting to double the range of the Leaf in order to combat “range anxiety”, a term that indicates that most people are not comfortable owning a vehicle that can only travel 117 km before needing a 5 hour recharge.

Contender 2: Tesla Motors

The Tesla P85+ all electric car and its charging station.
The Tesla P85+ all electric car and its charging station.
Stan Honda, AFP/File
Tesla Motors is an automobile manufacturer with a product line that consists only of electric vehicles . Currently, Tesla is aiming strictly at the high-end auto market, with their least expensive model, the Model S, beginning at a price of $78,970. By aiming at affluent markets, Tesla builds their automobiles to be powerful and to have a much greater range than the Leaf. Even the base Model S has a 0-60 acceleration of 6.2 seconds and a minimum battery life of 370 km, more than three times the range of the Nissan Leaf. A full charge of a depleted Model S battery can be done in as little as 8 hours with a home charger, and Tesla appears to be building an infrastructure of public charging stations called "Superchargers" that a Tesla owner can purchase access to and enjoy free use of. The supercharger stations claim to provide up to 50% battery charge in as little as 20 minutes.
Tesla Motors appears to have become popular in the electric vehicle market almost in spite of itself. The company has no dealer network, relying exclusively on direct sales. This has upset many dealers and has led to some states banning sales of their cars, as the state require cars to be sold through a dealer. In spite of this, the Tesla sold just under 20,000 Model S vehicles in 2013. The technology itself is also a limiting factor because of the production capacity of such batteries, but they have recently announced plans to build the world's largest battery factory with a price tag of $4-5 billion US.

Who will win the electric car battle?

The electric car is still in its infancy, but the battle has already begun. Tesla and Nissan are the first entrants, but often, the earliest entrants are not often the ones that dominate. As it stands, the range of the Nissan Leaf confines it to short trips within the city, and is only viable for those who do not need to travel far from home each day. Even with the home charger, you could be waiting a while if your battery is low, and may require a second (gasoline powered) car which would relegate the Leaf to being a neat toy.
The approach of Tesla Motors is most impressive to me. It is logical that the largest current obstacles to electric vehicle ownership are range and “re-fulling time”. For the mass market, production capacity and cost/benefit ratio vs. gasoline powered cars are also considerations. The cost of battery technology and innovation of such technology would go hand-in-hand with these goals.
Tesla has a customer base that is willing to effectively subsidize the growth and development of their electric car technologies, they appear to be pioneers in the concept of an electric charging infrastructure and are leading the way in increasing battery manufacturing capacity.
If any other company has intentions on becoming a viable competitor with Tesla for the electric car market, they will likely need to match Tesla in infrastructure and technology development. It is also conceivable that with such a growing technology, infrastructure and battery production capacity that Tesla could license these assets out to other manufacturers.
There are other potential contenders in the electric car market. I was driving in downtown Vancouver, B.C. during the week of the Vancouver Auto Show and drove by a BMW i3, which is now being manufactured for sale with a price, power and driving range that slots between the Leaf and the Model S.
The most interesting part of this whole comparison of these vehicles is that it really is not about the car, but more about technology development and business model. Who will win the battle? One cannot predict the future with certainty, but currently it appears Tesla Motors has a strong lead.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Tesla motors, nissan leaf, Electric cars, BMW i3
 
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