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Both First And Last: 2002 Nissan Altra

front left

This is perhaps the newest barn find we’ve ever featured, but it has been sitting on display at the museum for years and it’s future is currently uncertain. The museum is going to sell it. The Alta was an electric car based on the Nissan R’nessa, a small tall station wagon never imported into the US. About 200 were produced for testing in California from 1998 until 2002. The Altra was the first Lithium Ion powered production automobile and this one was the last one built. They were fully equipped for the day with electric windows, A/C, anti lock and regenerative brakes and keyless entry. This one has only about 25,000 miles on it. It has been on display for years, way past the shelf life of the batteries. The problem, of course, is how to replace the batteries and how much it will cost.

inside front

Inside, it’s pretty much like new and like any other upscale Japanese car of the day.

back seat

The individual back seats look pretty comfy and roomy. The batteries are under the floor.


The motor is a 62 kW magnet neodymium electric permanent magnet synchronous motor, controlled by an advanced computer for the day.


This is where Nissan started, the Tama Electric Vehicle, Nissan’s first electric car, built in 1947. After the war, with the US occupying the country, gasoline was scarce. Japan had lots of electricity, so the aircraft engineers at Tachikawa Airplane, which became became Nissan, designed the Tama. It had about a 60 mile range and a top speed over 20 MPH.


The rear looks very conventional except for the badges. With the batteries under the floor, it looks normal when you open the hatch. Call me a tree hugger, but this would be a great driver. It would be like having a Leaf with lots more room for less money depending on battery costs, and it would be unique. If it’s not possible or too expensive to purchase a battery perhaps another museum would like to purchase and display the car. Perhaps someone has a better idea (besides crushing it). Your comments will be interesting to read.


  1. Terry

    I hope it doesn’t get crushed

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  2. RayT Member

    If the Museum had a “Tama” and was putting it up for sale, I might be interested! The Altra, not so much. A typical dull, not-so-attractive (to me, anyway) Japanese car, made even more dull by low performance, short range and a big investment to replace the batteries. The technology in this is probably closer to the Baker Electric than the Nissan Leaf.

    Best bet for a potential buyer would be to find whatever engine Nissan plugged in to the gas-powered version — never heard of a “R’nessa” — and install it. Even with the price of digging up the ancillary bits (radiator, fuel tank, etc.), I suspect the cost would be less.

    I remember seeing a couple of Altras around the Nissan HQ in Los Angeles at the time. They, like Honda and Toyota, always had strange cars kicking around for evaluation. Drove a few, but not one of these.

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  3. Eric

    It’s interesting never heard of one… pound for pound I’ll stick with the Prius V… at least I can do 70+ in the prius…

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    • David

      The technoligy of the Leaf and even the Tesla, is based on the Altra’s technology. This car’s value is based on it’s historical significance. It was the first production car to be powered by Lithium Ion batteries. As for the Prius V, how far can you go on batteries only? Uh, nowhere, really? It’s a hybrid. The Altra is electric (only) The Altra has a range of 120 miles. And this Altra would certainly go over 70 MPH. The new Prius Prime will have a range of 50 miles.It will be the best plug in hybrid yet.

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  4. Mark S

    A little new to be a barn find don’t you think.

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    Too new? Why not see this car NOW fresh from a museum then in 20 years (God willing of coarse) having sat out and rusted in the elements during that time or having been crushed then not at all? I see this particular car as a barn find before it is actually one if you will.

    This vehicle was conceived in response to the California Air Resource Board the in- famous C.A.R.B mandate in California. For a great speed read see the movie “Who killed the electric car” I believe you can still view it on Netflix. Surely anyone who appreciates automobiles and can get past it doesn’t have a Hemi or Chevy V8 mentality to be collectible can understand the importance of how these cars came about and the need to save them.

    I won’t go into details about the film but… the Asian manufactures took the mandate serious that stated that if you want to sell vehicles in California a percentage had to be zero emissions. The Ford and Chrysler came up with golf karts while GM had the jump and came the closest made the EV1….but killed it. Thankfully when the smoke cleared we now have the Prius today. Although many will argue until the end of time the Nissan above is a very important vehicle.

    Many have been crushed and destroyed. More often when a car like this is donated to a museum key proprietary components are removed to prevent the vehicle to be operational. Hopefully it is only the batteries . In 2008 many concept stage electric vehicles were coming out of the woodwork during the skyrocketing fuel prices and bringing very good money.

    I think a savvy buyer could snag this for a song and have quite the ride. I would add a set of aftermarket wheels to shed the monotone look. At the moment it doesn’t make sense to the masses because fuel is cheap now and are back to buying the more profitable trucks and SUV’s but we are only in the eye of the storm. The fuel prices are about to go right back up.

    Great choice!

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  6. Steve D

    Hi there,

    Can you please provide which museum the car is at or the musuems contact info?

    Getting this car back on the road might be a challenge I am willing to take on, I’ve done crazier things .

    Thank you,


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  7. Oddimotive Cason Oddimotive Cason Member

    I remember these around the Nissan Gardena HQ, along with the Hypermini, which was alsovmade to meet the CARB mandate.

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  8. Vetatur

    Just plop a 2.5-liter Sentra engine in there. Batteries are bad for the environment (how are we gonna dispose of these old ones?) and an unrepairable 14-year-old car is just depressing. Plus, electric power has to come from somewhere. Find an engine out of a wrecked car (reuse) and ride your bicycle when you can (reduce) and try to recycle the old batteries and whatnot.

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