Think of it as the Leaf's great-grandfather.
The success of the Leaf has made Nissan one of the leading players in the electric vehicle segment. Now, the company is highlighting a much earlier chapter of its EV story by shining a light on the Tama.
Gasoline was still hard to come by in Japan in the late 1940s, but powerplants were still churning out electricity. An EV seemed like the obvious answer. Around 200 former workers at Tachikawa Aircraft joined the Tokyo Electro Automobile Company. Their first product in 1947 was a small pickup, and this four-seater passenger car became part of the lineup soon afterward.
Power came from a DC motor producing 4.5 horsepower (3.3 kilowatts). Two lead-acid batteries sat in compartments underneath the vehicle. They could roll out to make switching out the batteries easy. The 40-volt, 162-amp-hour powertrain allowed for 40 miles (65 kilometers) on a charge. The top speed was a leisurely 22 miles per hour (35 kilometers per hour).
The models were successful enough for the company to grow its lineup with the Tama Junior a compact passenger car in 1948 and larger Tama Senior in 1949. Tokyo Electro Automobile Company eventually changed its name to the Tama Motor Company and again later to the Prince Motor Company. In 1966, Prince became part of Nissan, including bringing the Skyline to the automaker's lineup.
Nissan is currently preparing to write the next chapter in its EV story by debuting the next-gen Leaf in early September. The hatchback will be available with the company's ProPilot driver assistance tech that will be able to handle acceleration, braking, and steering in a single lane of the freeway. Base models will reportedly be capable of a range around 150 miles (241 kilometers), but an optional, higher-capacity battery will potentially allow over 200 miles on a charge.
Gallery: Nissan Tama
Long before LEAF: the 1947 Tama electric car
On the cusp of the next-generation Nissan LEAF that arrives later this year, we look back at the company's early EV roots
During the 1940s' switch to a peacetime economy, around 200 Tachikawa Aircraft employees moved to the newly established Tokyo Electro Automobile Co., Ltd., which embarked on the development of an electric car. One reason for this was the extreme shortage of gasoline at the time. In 1947, the company succeeded in creating a prototype 2-seater truck (500-kg load capacity) with a 4.5-horsepower motor and a new body design. It was named "Tama" after the area where the company was based.
Its top speed was 34 km/h (21 mph). Next, the company created its first passenger car. With two doors and seating for four, it boasted a top speed of 35 km/h (22 mph) and a cruising range of 65 km (40 miles) on a single charge. The former aircraft maker employed many unique ideas in the design and construction of the Tama, such as its battery compartments.
The Tama came in passenger car and truck models, and both were available in gasoline and electric versions. In 1948, Tama Junior, a compact passenger car, was born. Then, in 1949, came the Tama Senior, a medium-size passenger car. In 1951, this company merged with Prince Motor, which in 1966 became part of Nissan.
The Tama electric car replaceable battery
The battery compartment was in the cabin floor of the Tama electric car. There were two such compartments, one on either side. Each battery case was provided with rollers so that used batteries could be quickly exchanged with freshly charged ones. Thanks to such engineering, the Tama took top honors in the performance tests conducted by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1948.
1947 Tama electric car specifications
Overall length/width/height: 3,200/1,270/1,650
Wheelbase: 2,000 mm
Curb weight: 1,050 kg
Seating capacity: 4
Cruising range per charge: 65 km (40 miles)
Motor (36V): DC series-wound, rated at 3.3kW (4.5 hp)
Batteries (capacity): Lead-acid battery (40V/162Ah)
Top speed/economical speed: 35 km/h (22 mph)/30 km/h (19 mph)
How times have changed: The 1947 Tama headlight, left, advanced for its day, looks so simple compared to the modern lighting of the upcoming next-generation Nissan LEAF.