When Nissan introduced its Leaf last year, it became the first major automaker to enter the modern pure-electric-vehicle market, which was previously populated almost entirely by tiny carmakers such as the Palo Alto, California, company Tesla Motors. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that his company would invest more than $5 billion in electric cars through 2013, and that it would soon become the world’s largest electric-vehicle maker. Then in March, Nissan made its most direct assault on the little guys—it unveiled an electric sports car.
For now, the Nissan Esflow is a concept, but Nissan is considering full production. It’s not a stretch: The Esflow is based on the same batteries and motors that power the Leaf. The rear-drive Esflow carries a 975-pound, 36-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, compared with the 24 kilowatt-hours found in the Leaf. To partially offset that extra weight, the concept uses a feathery carbon-composite body affixed to an aluminum chassis. Rear-mounted cameras replace side-view mirrors, reducing drag. Fixed seats sculpted into the bulkhead eliminate seat frames and the motors that adjust them. Likewise, the accelerator, brake pedals and shifter are electronic, eliminating the mechanical steering column and pedal assemblies.
Bob Yakushi, the director of product safety and environment for Nissan North America, says the Esflow should travel up to 150 miles on a charge. (The Leaf gets about 100 miles.) Propelled by two rear-mounted 107-horsepower motors, the Esflow scoots from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds, with a top speed of roughly 120 mph.
Tesla’s $109,000 Roadster has been on the market now for three years, but the Esflow illustrates the challenges that lie ahead as global automakers get into the high-end electric market. Nissan has the resources to undercut Tesla on price, along with a trusted name and dealer and service networks that no start-up can match. Just a few years ago, pundits predicted that Tesla would revolutionize the car business. What it may have done instead is to wake sleeping giants.
Top Speed: 120 mph
Driving Range: 150 miles
Batter Capacity: 36kWh
Production Date: Unknown