NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Earlier this week, I became one of the first people on U.S. soil to drive the Nissan electric minivan. If all testing goes well, it may be in U.S. Nissan dealerships approximately a year from now.
Recall that Nissan delivered its first all-electric LEAF family car in December 2010, and passed 110,000 units earlier this year. The carpool lanes in California are so jammed with LEAFs, it almost looks comical.
For all of Nissan's success with the LEAF, however, there are many people who simply want some form of larger and/or taller car. As is oft-discussed in the auto world and in online forums, some people need to fit in more people, some people need to fit in more luggage, and yet others just prefer a taller car because they are taller, older, or have stiffer backs.
The electric car world is screaming for more minivans. Tesla (TSLA) figured this out a long time ago.
Tesla plans to start manufacturing the Model X minivan in 2015, if the development schedule is fully executed; they originally scheduled first deliveries for December 2013. Just by showing a concept car in February 2012, Tesla allegedly has taken more than 12,000 deposits ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 apiece.
However, the Tesla Model X will likely cost close to $80,000 to start, and have an average selling price of at least $105,000, with fully loaded models going for closer to $135,000. That's a lot of money. What if you wanted to pay one third as much -- $35,000 -- for an electric minivan?
That's where Nissan comes in.
If Nissan delivers its new electric minivan for $35,000, you would be able to buy three of them for the expected average price of one Tesla Model X. That may be an attractive proposition for many U.S. families and small businesses.
Fortunately for Nissan, it had already developed a highly utilitarian minivan, which it is already selling around the world. It's becoming a taxicab favorite in the world's largest cities, and I'm seeing more of them every day serving as urban delivery vans.
Given the physical properties of a front-wheel drive minivan, it was extremely easy to repurpose for battery-electric drive. Production started in May 2014 in Nissan's gigafactory in Barcelona, Spain, for deliveries in the European markets.
I drove the Nissan electric minivan only briefly, but some impressions are clear:
1. The seating position is bad:
The distance between the pedals and the steering wheel is way too short. It is ideal for people with extremely short legs. The steering wheel does not telescope. To make it comfortable, you would need it to telescope away from the pedals almost two feet. As it stands, your legs need to be short, but your arms need to be long like an Orangutan. (I am 6 feet tall, with normal, human arms.)
2. There is lots of headroom:
This compensates in part for the lack of a telescoping steering wheel. You can sit more upright, without coming even near hitting your head in the ceiling.
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