Nissan has selected AeroVironment to install home charging stations for the Leaf, the all-electric car coming to Japan and the U.S. later this year.
The AeroVironment chargers will provide 220 volts of power and charge a Leaf fully in about eight hours. Nissan is working with utilities to ensure that the charging takes place after the peak power hours (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and likely past the mini-peak (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) when the American family atomizes and goes off to play video games and watch YouTube videos in isolation. An electric car, to the grid, can be like adding a new house to a neighborhood so timed charging will be necessary to prevent brown-outs. AeroVironment came out of the defense industry: it specializes in tech for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Nissan is taking a multi-faceted approach to charging with the Leaf. It is working with Ecotality, among others, in the U.S. on public charging stations. One thing Nissan won't do in the U.S.-- support battery swapping stations from Better Place. Instead, Nissan will try to work with companies that can build 480 volt chargers that can recharge a car in about a half an hour. Renault-Nissan is working with Better Place in Israel and Denmark (Check out the Leaf test drive here.). Over time, the company will try to determine what charging strategy works best in which regions.
Ford, meanwhile, unveiled a new Focus at the North American International Auto Show. The car, which will come out in 2011, features a 1.6 liter or 2.0 liter EcoBoost engine which leads to a 10 to 20 percent jump in fuel economy. EcoBoost engines sport features that are usually found in diesel engines but they run on gas instead. Late last year, Ford unfurled a new Fiesta, bringing back an economy car badge that's been absent from the U.S. market for years. (Ford will also come out with an all-electric Focus in 2011 and a plug-in hybrid the year after.)
Energy efficiency is the dominant theme at Ford these days. "Fuel and energy is going to cost more," said CEO Alan Mulally told a group of reporters in December. Between 2004 and 2009, Ford's fleet mileage average climbed 19.2 percent and average emissions dropped 16.1 percent. Granted, the company started with one of the lowest fleet averages, but it had the most improvement over that period. Although Ford will come out with electric cars, most of its gains in efficiency will come through improving gas engines.
The shift toward energy efficiency will mean trucks and big SUVs will drop from 59 percent of the company's business to 39 percent by 2011 while cars will grow from 32 percent to 38 percent, according to Sue Cischke, Ford's Chief Sustainability Officer. Engines will also get smaller and lighter.