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The roots of the Nissan LEAF

How old is the electric car? A lot older than you might think.

The Tama Electric Car – on display in the Nissan Showroom until December 13 – was built way back in 1947. That makes it six decades older that Nissan’s current LEAF electric vehicle.

The Tama and one of Nissan HQ's friendly Fairlady showroom staff

The 1947 Tama on display next to its successors

About the size and shape of a modern minicar, the Tama had a maximum output of 3.3kW and had a top speed of a stately 35 kph (22 mph). For three years until 1950 one of its roles was to serve as a taxi (for people in not much of a hurry, presumably).

Compared to the LEAF’s 80kW output, its 3.3kW was modest, but it had a respectable range of 65km off a single charge of its lead acid battery – about half current electric cars. Battery cases on either side of the car were on rollers so that they could be pulled out and the batteries swapped easily. (You can see the battery case under the passenger-side door in the photo above).

The license plate says "Tama Electric Car"

The Tama Electric Car Co. eventually merged into Nissan

As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun – and the electric car is, in fact, as old as its gasoline sibling. (In 1897 New York had a whole fleet of electric taxis).

If you are interested in the reasons why electric cars lost out to gas cars you could check out the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Its sequel, “Revenge of the Electric Car” is showing now, and features Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. For those in Tokyo the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan will be holding a special showing on December 1.

The Tama's top speed was a relaxed 35 km/h (27 m/h)

And here’s a video of a Tama test drive:

There are signs the EV’s time has finally come. Plenty of EV vehicles from major automakers will be at the Tokyo Motor Show this week. Nissan will have several on display, including the ESFLOW electric sports car concept, the PIVO 3 concept and, of course, the Nissan LEAF.

Tony McNicol

Nissan Global Media Center

Cars, Technology, Zero Emission

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