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, Tachikawa Aircraft (later Tama Cars Co.) embarked on the development of electric vehicles. 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 it was produced.
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 June 1948, Tachikawa Aircraft changed its name and commenced operations as Tokyo Electric Cars Co. Tama Electric Cars Co. became Tama Cars Co. These two companies were responsible for the Tama Junior (1948 compact passenger car) and Tama Senior (1949 medium-size passenger car). In 1952, it became the Prince Motor Co., Ltd, and in 1966 Prince merged with 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: 3,035/1,230/1,630 mm
– Wheelbase: 2,000 mm
– Curb weight: 1,100 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) / 28 km/h (17 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.