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How to drive an electric car that doesn't need a charger

Nissan's e-Power system helped create Japan's bestselling car. Can it push electrification into the mainstream in Singapore?

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Glenn Tan (far left), the deputy chairman and managing director of Nissan importer Tan Chong International, with Yutaka Sanada, regional senior vice-president, Nissan Asia & Oceania seen here with the Nissan Leaf. Mr Sanada said Nissan has tested the Leaf extensively to make sure that it would work well in Singapore's climate.

Singapore

ONE of the most significant launches at the ongoing Singapore Motorshow 2019 can be found at the Nissan stand, but don't expect to spot it easily.

It's called e-Power, a system based on the drive unit of an Electric Vehicle (EV) that draws electricity from an on-board, petrol-powered generator. It gives a car the silence and instant response of an EV, but instead of charging a battery the driver buys petrol for the generator.

The technology will be available here in the second half of 2019 in the Nissan Serena e-Power, a seven-seat Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV).

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Electric wonder

The display car at the motorshow belongs to Glenn Tan, the deputy chairman and managing director of Nissan importer Tan Chong International. He enjoys driving it so much that he prefers it to his GTR, a fearsomely fast Nissan that car enthusiasts speak of in awed tones.

"When you drive a turbocharged car like the GTR in Singapore, at the low end it takes awhile to pick up. With a turbo, there's always lag. But the Serena e-Power, it's the reverse. You step, and it's immediate!" he told The Business Times.

That's a sentiment echoed by Yutaka Sanada, regional senior vice-president, Nissan Asia & Oceania. "I'm driving a Note e-Power in Japan. Why did I choose it? Simply because it's fun to drive. It's quiet, so I can enjoy the music in the car," he said.

The Note e-Power is an electrified version of Nissan's popular compact hatchback. The e-Power model's blend of EV drive with petrol convenience has proven popular in Japan, so much so that it was the country's bestselling car in 2018. That kind of success has given Nissan the confidence to press ahead with electrification. By 2022, the brand wants to sell one million electrified vehicles a year, Mr Sanada said.

Singapore is very much a part of that plan. Mr Tan said that by then, the entire range of Nissans in Singapore will offer electrification, either with full battery drive or e-Power technology. "With every new model, we'll introduce a different segment with e-Power drive. That's going to make the driving experience completely different. Our brand will stand out from the others," Mr Tan said.

E-Power may be new to Singapore, but Nissan is on familiar ground with EV tech in general. Japan's number two carmaker launched the Leaf, the world's first mainstream battery-powered car, nine years ago. 380,000 people have bought them, and for much of its existence the Leaf was the world's single bestselling EV.

As a symbol of Nissan's EV expertise, the Leaf is invaluable, which is one reason Tan Chong Motor Sales is displaying the latest generation model at the motorshow. The other? It is going on sale here in the second quarter of 2019, said Mr Tan. Barring any large changes in current Certificate Of Entitlement prices, it should cost between S$140,000 and S$150,000, he estimated.

Mr Sanada said Nissan has tested the Leaf extensively to make sure that it would work well in Singapore's climate.

But customer surveys have found that the cultural climate here suits the car, too. "Consumers now are a little bit more savvy. To them modern technology in a car is now EV," Mr Tan said. He added that Singaporeans do realise that driving a car has an environmental impact.

Ultimately, though, he expects the driving experience of an EV to be the main reason people give up fossil fuels. "Once you drive an EV, you feel it's completely different from an internal combustion engine. And I think more and more people are starting to think: 'This is something I want to try.' The power delivery, the smoothness, the quietness, it is something that in the past people might say was strange, but now it's the reverse," he said.

By way of analogy, he pointed out that when everyone was using normal mobile phones, most people found smartphones strange. "But now everybody has a smartphone, right?" he said.

Tough sell

For all that, EVs have been a tough sell in Singapore. Despite being available for years, they make up a tiny portion of the car population - there are fewer than 500 here, and for every one EV there are more than 1,300 fossil fuel cars.

But Nissan is confident it will succeed where others have failed because its electrification plans will include every model. Other brands typically add a standalone EV or two, or a handful of plug-in hybrids.

Nissan will watch the rollout of e-Power cars here closely, too. The company plans to use Singapore as a pioneer market, before introducing the technology to other markets in the region.

Like it or not, then, Nissan is bringing electrification to our shores. But at least one fan of the Nissan GTR is willing to bet that Singaporeans will love it.

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