In 2008, Nissan was gearing up to go all-in on electric cars. The Leaf was still two years away, and it needed to get its tech out in public. What we got was one of the company’s biggest misses: the Nissan Cube EV.
The Cube EV was a way of testing the tech of the Leaf without showing off what it looked like, as Nissan notes in its blurb about the car in its historic collection:
This car is “Cube” Z11 remodeled to EV for the anticipatory development of Leaf. The rollout for the press and the test ride event were held in 2008. Since it was manufactured to examine specs of lithium ion battery to be mounted on Leaf, the vehicle dimension was almost the same as that of Cube on the market.
While that centers the car on being more of a prototype, Nissan made it look like this thing was going to go on sale, and on sale in America, no less. The concept version, the Nissan Denki Cube, debuted at the New York Auto Show in 2008.
I am unable to continue without mentioning that those wheels ruled, as did those headlights, and the car’s Cool Box:
The Denki Cube arrived amid official declarations that Nissan would put EVs on sale here. That’s after Nissan let American journalists drive the regular first-generation Cube here in the States, and trucked a couple around to various schools. America did get the second-generation Cube, but for a year or two it seemed like we might get the last of the first-gens.
Nissan let the press drive a running electric Cube in 2009, emblazoned with EV-02 on the side.
Nissan doesn’t seem to have any pictures that I can find of the interior, but an old review from CNET shows that the rev counter was replaced with a giant battery charge dial. Each unit was marked with a lightning bolt. Incredible.
The British CAR Magazine has a slightly simpler description of how the car is a Leaf preview under the skin:
Ignore the current-shape Cube body – it’s merely the guinea pig for the platform hidden underneath. It houses a bank of lithium-ion batteries and promises to drive and act like a proper car.
What is “a proper car” to CAR Magazine? One that’s fast, apparently:
This is an EV that can match Nissan’s Infiniti G35 3.5 V6 in the torque stakes, and level peg it to 30mph. Plus it can reach 80 percent charge in 30-60 minutes, but there’s no emissions and no noise. Well, there is some noise if you really shove it into corners. It is almost impossible not to be impressed. Transitions from hard braking to hard throttle can be jerky, but this will easily be remedied between now and 2010.
This is all with very mild specs. It has an 80 kW (107 horsepower) motor and a battery range of about 60 to 75 miles (100 to 120 km), though Nissan claimed it’d be up to 100 miles by the time it would go into production in 2010. Nissan didn’t seem to give hard battery specs (or reporters in 2009 simply didn’t care to ask), but CAR notes it has 660 pounds of them onboard:
Nissan’s EV uses the latest laminated (to disperse heat) lithium-ion modules, which are about the size of a small (closed) laptop or TV dinner. Twenty four of these modules fit inside a special case, which weighs 100kg, and there are three cases in the EV we tested.
Popular Mechanics drove the car as well, and in a cached version of the no-longer-live review, echoed similar statements about fast acceleration as well as fast charging. A high (480) volt system would get the car to 80 percent range in 15 minutes, and PopMech expected at least some Americans to experience that. The magazine detailed Nissan’s EV plans, including the Cube EV to U.S. shores:
Nissan has laid out an extraordinarily aggressive plan for its new EV operations. Over the next few years, the company plans to launch a series of innovative test programs, starting in Israel and Denmark, then expanding into Portugal and, in 2010, the United States. The first American version of the EV-02 will be limited to fleet applications—a good idea, considering it will offer Nissan and its carefully selected customers a chance to run a relatively controlled, real-world test.
It seems like the electric Cube was a fine car to drive, a fine EV to own. This is no surprise to any Leaf owner. The cars are good. One problem with the Leaf, though, is that it’s a strange medium-size hatchback that looks like a Prius left in the sink. What it is not is a lovable, adorable little asymmetrical box that has, and I cannot give this sufficient emphasis, little lightning bolts in the grille:
Look at them! They are whimsical. They are adorable. They are everything that an EV needs to be a desirable car and not just one that is theoretically responsible. Americans don’t want responsible cars. We buy pickup trucks to haul air and giant crossovers to drive alone. We need goofs and gimmicks, and the Cube EV has them.
What stuns me is that this car never went into production at all. When Nissan put the Leaf on sale, it left it all alone in dealerships. There was no companion car. There was no crossover one size up. There was no compact sedan a size down. There was no luxury model from Infiniti. There was nothing. And that’s still the case, a decade after the Leaf went on sale in 2010.
We’re still waiting on a sister car to enter production, with the Ariya not even out yet. We needed something like the Cube EV, something accessible, affordable, and with a little lightning bolts on it.