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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Electric Dreams Could Come True

Air Date: Week of

The Nissan Cube is an example of what Nissan’s electric fleet of vehicles will look like. (Photo: Sharon Yarbrough)

Nissan pledges to build a zero emissions electric car by 2010. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with John O’Dell, senior editor of the website Green Car Advisor, about what the car will look like and how and when we might see a fleet of electric automobiles.


GELLERMAN: Nissan motor company has announced plans that could leave other car companies eating its dust. The Japanese automaker says it’s coming out with a whole fleet of plug-in electric vehicles that will put a smile on your face as you buzz past gas stations. John O’Dell is senior editor of the auto website greencaradvisor.com and he joins me on the line. Hi, John. Thanks for joining us!

O’DELL: Well, thank you much for having me. Appreciate it.

GELLERMAN: So what does Nissan have up its sleeve?

O’DELL: If we knew that we’d be writing tons of copy. What we do know is that the company has said in the past that it will launch a commercially viable all-electric, which means battery-electric, car in the United States in 2010. They’ve sort of signed it in to concrete now. It’s official, it’s part of Nissan’s new five-year plan. Carlos Ghosn went public with that the other day.

GELLERMAN: He’s the, he’s the head of Nissan.

O’DELL: The head of Nissan and of its French partner and co-owner, Renault. But in any event, he’s gone past the point of no return. He’s made a global promise to do this, and it would be pretty embarrassing for the company if they weren’t able to follow up on it.

GELLERMAN: So they’re playing it close to their chest. We don’t really know what these cars are gonna look like?

O’DELL: We have an idea. They showed a car at the New York auto show earlier this year that they said would provide a lot of clues, and that car was a modified version of a vehicle that is a big seller over in Japan called the Nissan cube. You could say it’s a Nissan version of the Scion xB – a very boxy – it looks sort of like a refrigerator box on wheels.

GELLERMAN: And they’re gonna have more than just this boxy cube?

O’DELL: Yes. Ghosn has said that he intends to have – you have to remember, the man’s French – sexy cars, with electric power. So we’re expecting to see sedans, sports coupe and more utilitarian vehicles as well.

GELLERMAN: You know, Mr. O’Dell, if there’s a plug-in electric car in my future, in your future, where’s all that electricity coming from?

O’DELL: Well, there’s a debate about that. One operating theory is that most people would be using the vehicles during the day and recharging at night when demand for power is relatively nil compared to what it is on a hot afternoon.

The Nissan Cube is an example of what Nissan’s electric fleet of vehicles will look like. (Photo: Sharon Yabrough)

GELLERMAN: Of course, these are zero emissions from the tailpipe of the automobile. There’s still emissions that you have to have – producing the electricity.

O’DELL: Correct, yeah, there’s no free lunch. When you’re making electricity, you’re producing CO2 and other emissions, and in some places it’s cleaner than others. Power plants that burn coal are relatively dirty, even if the coal’s relatively clean. They’re a lot dirtier than plans that generate power from natural gas, hydroelectric, wind. Yeah, we’re going to see a – a slow revolution in this country, but a revolution nonetheless in how we generate power and how we use it.

GELLERMAN: With all these drivers in the future pulling up and plugging in, do we have the grid infrastructure to handle this much of a demand of electricity?

O’DELL: The theory is that yes, we do, and we’re not talking about putting ten million electric cars on the road tomorrow. We’re talking about hundreds, and then thousands, and then tens of thousands, and it’s going to give the electricity providers time to build up what they need to build up. One of the things that’s still sorely lacking – and it’s the case with all alternative fuels – is a national infrastructure so that you can get in the vehicle and drive it from, you know, here to there and have fuel everywhere you’re at.

GELLERMAN: We have a company here near Boston called A123. They make batteries, and they can get what one hundred sixty thousand miles, they say, without any gas.

O’DELL: Oh yes, it’s doable. Electric cars existed before gasoline cars almost, and at one time there were more electric cars on the roads in the U.S. than there were anything else, back in the nineteen-tens and twelves. But to make them reliable, to make them run the way we expect our cars to run, is still a challenge. But yeah, a hundred, two hundred miles on batteries, zero tailpipe emissions – it’s all possible, it’s – and we’re gonna see it. It will be coming.

GELLERMAN: So back to the future.

O’DELL: And faster than a lot of us used to think.

GELLERMAN: John O’Dell is senior editor of the website greencaradvisor.com, part of the Edmunds’ family of auto information sites. Mr. O’Dell, thank you very much.

O’DELL: I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and your audience.

GELLERMAN: Happy motoring.

O’DELL: Thank you.



Green Car Advisor Website

Nissan’s Home page


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