This is truly a vehicle ahead of its time; marketed by the Japanese auto giant Nissan as, “the combination of sedan, SUV and minivan”. The original design of the Altra was inspired by the Nissan R’nessa, the station wagon built by Nissan between 1997 and 2001, the body of the R’Nessa together with an electric motor is what was named as the Nissan Altra. In lieu of an internal combustion engine, a magnet neodymium electric motor was put into the Nissan Altra, able to generate 60 kW of power. This vehicle is the first electric car to utilize lithium ion batteries - the first Li-On batteries were manufactured by Sony and provided power to the vehicle to travel up to 230 km. A full battery recharge can be obtained after five full hours with a charge discharge cycle of over a thousand times. The battery array was built into the floor of the vehicle to provide additional crash impact resistance and lowered the center of gravity due to weight distribution.
The Altra was first introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show back in December 1997 and was put into production from 1998 to 2002. Only 200 vehicles were ever built and these vehicles were utilized for fleet vehicles services such as electric utility companies.
Aside from the innovation of using lithium ion batteries, which the company called its third generation battery after the lead acid battery and the nickel metal hydride battery, the power density of its battery array increased exponentially. The battery was controlled passively, which limited the battery from overcharging. For its motor controls, there was a 32 bit RISC computer which governed function and other actions of the vehicle. Other innovations include, keyless entry, power windows and mirrors and regenerative braking with four wheel anti lock braking.
Official releases from Nissan pegged the maximum range of the Altra at 120 miles or 190 kms and in 2000 the Environmental Protection Agency pegged the mileage at 117 miles per gallon in city driving and 130 mpg when on highways.
Despite its many features and innovations, the Altra was way ahead of this time. Do remember that when the vehicle was unveiled the consciousness regarding electric vehicles and alternative fuels was pretty much stifled by low gasoline prices as well as other still present concerns such as range anxiety and high cost of purchase.
The Altra, because of its R’nessa roots, measured in at a length of 4,680 mm, a width of 1,765 mm and height of 1,690 mm. This alone lives up to the promise that the Altra continued the R’nessa tradition of versatility as well as spacious and comfortable interiors for both driver and passengers.