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EVolution: The evolution of the EV, Part 2 — Speed Evolution

The first part of this series took us to the development of the first mass-production EV, the Nissan LEAF. And, from the moment of its birth, its potential as a partial solution to the problems of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions meant...

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2013/07/18

The evolution of the Nissan LEAF
The first part of this series took us to the development of the first mass-production EV, the Nissan LEAF. And, from the moment of its birth, its potential as a partial solution to the problems of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions meant development continued at a furious speed. To find out just how fast that development is proceeding, let’s take a look at the advancement of the Nissan LEAF.

The world’s first mass-production EV, LEAF, went on sale in Japan in the fall of 2010, and then later in regions all over the world. And the minor change model, released just two years later, has improvements across the board. Energy efficiency, equivalent to mpg in gasoline cars, has improved 14%. It is 80 kg lighter than the first model. And luggage space has been increased by 40 liters. What’s more, the driving range on one charge has increased from 200 km to 228 km. Generally speaking, in the car industry a minor change refers to something cosmetic, perhaps a change in the shape of the front bumper. In those terms, the Nissan LEAF has undergone the equivalent of releasing a new model.

There are a variety of factors that have helped make this change possible. For example, an entirely new power train unit combines the original motor and inverter into one unit (see illustration). Also, adding a heat pump system to the original element heater has reduced the electricity required to heat the car. And there are several more factors that have made LEAF lighter, and thus use less electricity.

And from a usability standpoint too, the new model is miles ahead. The battery display on the dash now displays not only in a bar graph, but as a percentage as well. And the new navigation system allows you to choose the most energy efficient route, meaning you can worry less about your remaining battery power. To have achieved all that in just two years is unprecedented in automobile development.
Nissan LEAF’s new powertrain
EVolution_main002.jpg
Prior to the minor change, the units that powered LEAF were positioned separately within the body of the car. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, they use multiple electronic parts, which if they were positioned too closely affected each other’s performance. And secondly electronic parts are sensitive to vibrations, so it was necessary to position them where vibrations would be the least. Additionally, if the parts were placed close together their own vibrations would sync with the others and cause noise. Of course, placing them apart, though, meant that extra wiring was needed.
In the minor change model, all the electronic parts are placed together in the motor room (what would be the engine room in a gasoline car). To achieve that the electronic circuitry and unit placement had to be completely redesigned, but by guaranteeing durability, it was possible to reduce vibration and noise beyond that of a normal vehicle, and come up with a smart, efficient solution.

Read more about the e-Powertrain
Why do EVs evolve so fast?
So, what is it that has allowed EVs to develop so quickly? One reason is that almost all of the parts that go into an EV are electronic, an area which itself is developing at a rapid rate. But perhaps the biggest reason is the expectations of EV users. One good example of that is the story behind the battery display on LEAF’s dash.

It started when LEAF’s chief vehicle engineer, Hidetoshi Kadota, attended a LEAF Owners Meeting in the USA. The moment Kadota asked people to tell him what they wanted, hands flew up across the room, and he was bombarded with enthusiastic requests. The most common of them was for a battery display like everyone was used to on their smartphones. Kadota explained just how difficult that was to achieve (see sidebar 1), but at the same time he was so moved by the enthusiasm of so many owners, he felt he had to try and do something to answer their requests. And so, when he got back to Japan, Kadota and the development team set to work to create a percentage display for LEAF’s dashboard.

Most of the advances in the LEAF minor change model have been precipitated by requests from owners. It is the enthusiasm and passion of EV owners that have spurred automobile manufacturers into action, and accelerated change.


The next EVs.
As we have seen, the evolution of EVs in the twenty-first century has happened at a precipitous rate. And waiting just around the corner is the next stage, not just the evolution of one individual model, but the diversification into a whole family of electric vehicles. Going beyond passenger cars used for everyday transport, commercial vehicles, luxury cars, and new personal mobility units, EVs are beginning to diversify to cover all our mobility needs, and broaden our mobility horizons.

Read the first article in this series:
"EVolution: The Evolution of the Electric Car, Part 1 Electric Cars Came First."