The Nissan LEAF is the most widely sold electrically-powered vehicle (EV) today, with over 300,000 units sold worldwide since being launched 7 years ago. Early this year, deliveries of the much improved second generation began in North America, Japan and Europe and Nissan expects to extend its leadership in this sector of the market.
Although it may seem that Nissan only ventured into EVs during the past 10 years, the company has roots which go back to the production of an EV in the late 1940s. This is through its acquisition of the Prince Motor Company (which was the originator of the Skyline) that had earlier merged with the Tokyo Electro Automobile Company (TEAC).
TEAC had been established during the 1940s where there was a switch to a peacetime economy. Some 200 employees of the Tachikawa Aircraft Company moved to the new company and one of their initial projects was the development of an electrically-powered car. One reason for this was the extreme shortage of petrol at the time.
Cars that ran on electricity were not unknown as there were such cars in Europe and America in the early 20th century. However, as the internal combustion engine became better and using petrol was more convenient than using electricity from a battery with limited supply, electric cars eventually faded away.
In 1947, TEAC succeeded in creating a prototype 2-seater truck (with a 500-kg load capacity) that was powered by an electric motor that produced 4.5 horsepower motor. It was named ‘Tama’ after the area where the company was based. It had a top speed of 34 km/h and was named Tama, after the area where the company was based.
Next, the company created its first passenger car. With two doors and seating for four, it could reach a top speed of 35 km/h and, with a lead-acid type battery, a cruising range of 65 kms. The engineers came with many unique ideas in the design and construction of the Tama, among them the battery compartments.
The two compartments were in the cabin floor, one on either side of the body. Each battery case was provided with rollers so that spent batteries could be quickly exchanged with freshly charged ones. With its innovative engineering, the Tama took top honours in the performance tests conducted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1948.
The 3.2 metre long Tama (1.2 metres shorter than today’s Almera) came in passenger car and truck models, and both were available in petrol and electric versions. In 1948, the Tama Junior, a compact passenger car, was born and followed in 1949 by the Tama Senior, a medium-sized model.
Just like the EVs that were on the roads 20 years earlier in America, the Tama cars did not catch on and eventually, production had to cease. By 1951, the Tama Motor Company (which TEAC changed its name to) had to merge with Prince Motor and 15 years later, Prince itself became part of Nissan during the period of consolidation in the Japanese auto industry.
It’s not known how many EVs were made by Tama but some units have been restored and one of them resides in the Nissan Heritage Museum (also referred to as the Nissan DNA Museum) that is within the grounds of the carmaker’s Oppama factory.
Edaran Tan Chong Motor will be selling the second generation of the LEAF later this year. If you want to know more about its availability, contact any authorised Nissan showrooms (locations listed at www.nissan.com.my).