Despite its richly deserved position as the ‘go to’ electric car, the Nissan LEAF is starting to lose the game of top trumps, particularly when it comes to range.
Nissan needs to remedy this in order to retain the position of electric market leader, which it has grasped so tightly since the LEAF went on sale in 2010. And it will, according to one analyst.
Writing for The Street, Anton Wahlman makes several convincing deductions to suggest that Nissan will launch a new LEAF with a 135-mile range by the end of 2014. The anticipated price is $33,000 – a $4,000 increase over the current generation.
Wahlman argues that while the lack of a telescopic steering wheel (trivial as it sounds, this is a major reason why buyers look elsewhere) and faster battery degradation than rivals have hurt sales somewhat, outright range is the outstanding problem with the current LEAF.
He’s right. The LEAF’s 84 miles autonomy is less than the BMW i3 (80-100 miles) and even the Fiat 500e (87 miles). It will get worse for the Japanese automaker later this year, too, when the Volkswagen e-Golf (118 miles) and the Kia Soul EV (124 miles) arrive.
Although the latter two vehicles’ ranges are currently based on more lenient European NEDC test cycles, the e-Golf is still anticipated to achieve closer to 90 miles range in EPA tests due to a host of efficient innovations, so clearly something must be done.
The second part of the argument, which you can read in its entirety here, focuses on the need for speed.
It is widely expected that 2016 or 2017 will be the year that 200-mile electric cars at last become affordable, so if Nissan wants a 135-mile LEAF to make an impact it needs to move fast. That means launching a car this year, or early next year at the latest, with the competitive advantage shrinking month-by-month. Put it like this: in 2016 Tesla is expected to launch the Model E for around $35,000 – which would you rather?
So it’s clear why Nissan should launch a new class-leading LEAF within the next 12 months, but why will it?
The first clue is that Nissan has recently sent out surveys asking LEAF owners if they would be prepared to pay more for an electric car with a 150-mile range. As Transport Evolved notes, the most expensive option for respondents in a multiple-choice survey was that of paying $5,000 more than the current model – that isn’t much, which suggests that Nissan has made ground in battery technology.
The second clue is Nissan’s absolute desire to be the undisputed leader in what it believes is the future of personal mobility.
“We will not relinquish our lead in electric vehicles. Despite the naysayers, this is the era of electrification and electronics,” said Nissan’s product chief Andy Palmer this year.
“It is inevitable, and Nissan is at its forefront. This is what powers Nissan. It is our momentum now, and it is our momentum for the future, and I pledge that Nissan will maintain its leadership in EVs.”
Palmer sounds convinced, and Nissan has demonstrated a willingness to invest huge capital in bringing electromobility to the mass market. Already more than 100,000 Nissan LEAFs have been sold worldwide, so why stop now?