How the Nissan Leaf Solves the Electric Car Range Problem with Smart Display

The Nissan Leaf, the company's forthcoming all-electric sedan, can travel around 100 miles on a single charge. Whether that range is big enough for the American motorist is known as the "range problem."

It's easy to dismiss the range problem with driving statistics. The average American has a daily commute of 16 miles in one direction—a 32-mile round trip. The Leaf owner with a charger at work or at home would have an additional 68 miles of charge available each day for errands or whatever. That seems like a very comfortable buffer for normal daily urban or suburban driving.

The range issue isn't quite that simple though. Along with the facts about drivers' needs and the car's actual range, there is the issue of "range anxiety": how the driver thinks and feels about the car's range. Even if the Leaf can accommodate most daily driving, a driver might still get anxious about whether it can. Furthermore, the potential hassle of getting caught without a place to charge up on the occasional trip that pushes or exceeds 100 miles might seem like more trouble than it's worth.

Given this issue of confidence and psychic comfort, I'm surprised that Nissan hasn't done more to highlight the way the Leaf uses information technology to keep the driver informed about her range. Check out the features that the Nissan representative points out beginning at around 3:35 in this test drive video from GigaOM (I can't embed it here, apologies).

In that video you can see how the driver's current available range is actually illustrated on the display's real-time map. The driver can also use the map to locate nearby charging stations, and calculate out how using the air conditioner, or going into their unfortunately titled "eco mode," will affect the current range.

When people talk about the range problem, the discussion usually focuses on the battery technology, the availability of charging stations and how quickly we'll get more, and people's driving habits. But having this kind of real-time information about range and charging stations is equally important, if not more so, when it comes to making the Leaf a practical car, and one people can feel confident driving. Nissan should be doing more to highlight these features, though their importance will surely become evident when the car is released.