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EV's computer combats will-I-make-it anxiety

Automotive News reports on the Nissan Leaf's onboard computer.

Automotive News

OPPAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co.'s new electric vehicle comes with a computer system aimed at allaying drivers' fears that they will be stranded midtrip by dead batteries.

The system taps navigation maps, cell phones and a 24-hour global data center to keep drivers apprised of how much farther they can drive.

"One of the fears of customers is what happens when you run out of electricity," Nissan r&d chief Mitsuhiko Yamashita said last week at Nissan's Oppama technical center before the car's Aug. 2 unveiling. "This charging support gives drivers a secure feeling and will help EVs become more widely accepted."

The navigation system shows a map with the driving radius of one-way and round trips possible given the car's current charge.

It can calculate whether the vehicle is within range of a preset destination. The car also tracks all charging stations within range in case its lithium ion batteries need more juice.

All of this will be updated continuously through a real-time connection to a global data center that will operate around the clock. The car uses mobile phones to connect the information technology system to the Internet. Mobile phones also will be used to communicate with the car when it isn't moving.

Customers can use the phones to check the status of their batteries while they wait for a recharge.

Drivers also can dial in before starting their drive to remotely start the car's air conditioner and thereby extend battery life. That sounds counterintuitive, but here's why it makes sense: When people get into a hot car, they typically turn the air conditioner on full blast in an energy-intensive attempt to cool off. But starting the air conditioner in advance at a weaker setting before getting in helps conserve the battery's charge.

Nissan plans to make the cars at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant and in Japan and Europe. The Tennessee factory will have capacity for 150,000 vehicles a year. Production is scheduled to begin in late 2012. Nissan aims to sell three electric models by 2013.

(Source: Automotive News)